The recent announcement that Grand Rapids Drive founder and President Steve Jbara joined forces with Royal Oak-based startup WaitTime LLC had been five years in the making.
WaitTime CEO Zachary Klima said he had leaned on Jbara for guidance since 2004 when he launched the company, which uses a proprietary system to measure crowd density around restrooms and concession stands inside arenas and venues.
“He’s introduced me to a lot of people and brought me under his wing,” said Klima, whose company has internally raised $20 million since its launch. “We had an opportunity to welcome him into the company with an investment. It went from a more informal arrangement to ‘Ok, let’s do this’.”
Jbara joins WaitTime as the organization’s chief strategy officer, becoming part of a cast of strategic partners and investors that include the likes of Jeffrey Jordan, son of NBA great Michael Jordan.
“I’ve known Zach for a couple years now and we’ve always shared best practices back and forth while he grew his business and I had a couple that I had started and sold,” said Jbara, a serial entrepreneur who remains active in several ventures. “I decided to lean in a little more and help him out. It’s such a cool technology and the upside of that company is huge.”
WaitTime’s patented system is currently implemented in 10 venues throughout the country, including Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis and American Airlines Arena in Miami, which are the homes to the NBA’s Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, respectively. The Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia also utilizes WaitTime.
The information gathered by WaitTime’s technology is fed through digital signage around the venues and also displayed through the WaitTime app. This information is designed to show attendees to the shortest lines, minimizing time away from their seats.
“We wanted to keep a cap on our growth,” Klima said about WaitTime’s 10 participating venues. “We wanted to prove things out before we poured gas on the fire. And, in tandem, we’re building relationships with Cisco and IBM — they’re helping to sell our software now.”
The Palace of Auburn Hills, formerly home to the Detroit Pistons, hosted WaitTime’s maiden voyage, but currently, WaitTime is not available in either Little Caesars Arena or Comerica Park in Detroit.
“We are talking to all of them — in the very near future, that will change,” Klima said.
In addition to enhancing fan experience, WaitTime’s goal is also to increase concession sales, and use its digital signage and app interface to generate sponsorship dollars.
With a growing list of what Klima called “bulletproof references” from satisfied arenas, one of the primary barriers standing in front of WaitTime is convincing the old guard to take a chance on new technology.
“We’re selling the future,” Klima said. “You have this group of executives that have been in the industry for quite some time and haven’t seen anything like this because it’s new. It’s not a building standard.”
With the Grand Rapids Drive competing in the NBA’s G-League, Jbara brings both his own savvy and a thick list of sports contacts to benefit WaitTime.
“We’ve seen now the ROI from installing the software — it’s beneficial for the concessions but also the fans,” Jbara said. “As soon as you can get (guests) fed and back to their seats, the more they’ll come back to use it.”