FiberTree and GameWisp: Meet two unsung stars of Pandoland 2015
Away from the main stage, one of the more interesting entrepreneurs I met at Pandoland last month was Pavel Redko. His Atlanta-based company FiberTree is trying to build a wireless roadside network for a world of connected vehicles.
“I’ve been building networks and working in telecommunications for close to ten years now,” Redko said. “And I know the ins-and-outs of it from both the construction and engineering sides, and I know that it is not going to hold up. There are a lot of problems that the traditional networks aren’t going to be able to overcome, that we are going to run into in about a year or two the way that everyone is scaling.”
For Redko, the problem is that soon our roads will be filled not only with drivers using devices on the move, but also with cars that are Apple and Google devices unto themselves.
There are many companies working on expanding the capabilities of vehicle-to-vehicle communication, as well as connecting vehicles and passengers to Internet applications and networks, but few thinking about the problems that may arise once every car is a one-ton moving iPhone.
“Nobody is looking at the backend of this because everyone is assuming that they can just rely on the carriers like AT&T and Verizon,” Redko said.
According to the FiberTree founder, big problems await companies like Google and GM which haven’t been considered in terms of network reliability accompanying the advent of self-driving cars. “These networks can’t keep your call from dropping and you are going to trust your life to them in autonomous vehicles?” Redko asked. “That’s not going to happen, [telecommunications networks] are chasing their tails trying to fix the same issues that arise on a daily basis, and there isn’t going to be a technology jump until about 2020 when 5G comes out.”
For the deployment of FiberTree’s device, Redko has a pretty innovative solution that opponents of cell towers -- especially those fake tree ones -- will find interesting: Build the network access points into roadside signage. The tradeoff for access to signs, especially for franchises and businesses like McDonald’s and Subway, would be that FiberTree would give access to WiFi for those businesses and their customers, as well as profit-sharing if networks like Verizon and AT&T eventually want to use the access points.
As Redko said, “It’s a lot better than putting a large cell tower in the middle of our neighborhoods.”
The technology is in its beta stage, and Redko is currently on a site acquisition push to build out the network.
It’s a pretty bold concept, and one that makes sense when considering how many big Internet companies and automakers are diving into the connected/autonomous car race. It could also be a potential cash cow depending on how successful the project becomes.
Another company I met at Pandoland, which doesn’t have as audacious a business plan as becoming the telecommunications network for cars but is still going after another growing, untapped market, is Nashville’s own GameWisp. Their target: The world of e-sport celebrities.
E-sports, the world of video game competitions, has continued to become a major industry with massive competitions attended by thousands of fans, the continued growth of streaming and media sites such as Twitch, and mainstream investors like Mark Cuban backing companies in the space.
GameWisp is trying to cater to both the growing e-sport fanbase and the gamers who are suddenly finding large numbers of followers and even groupies.
“We build software tools for YouTubers who focus on gaming and Twitch streamers that have large audiences,” GameWisp founder and CEO Michael Anderson told me as we sat in the restaurant adjacent to the Marathon Music Works.
“We’ve found that people are coming and watching these people not just for the games, but for their personalities and because they are celebrities,” he added. What GameWisp actually does is allow those gamers who find themselves the focus of e-sports’ fans to actually find some financial benefit from their newfound popularity. The company’s platform allows e-sports celebrities to engage and monetize their audiences, in a format similar to fan clubs, which give curated and individualized experiences or special access to member fans. “We found that people were using various platforms to give these experiences and try to make money, but they were left to their own devices to deliver on what they had promised fans and keep track of it all,” said Anderson. “So we’ve automated that entire process.”
Access to the e-sport celebrities is at a cost to members, and GameWisp takes a small, flat rate as the middleman and host platform for the exchanges.
Anderson ended up in Nashville after having arrived at Vanderbilt as a computer science Ph.D student. He believes that Nashville is a great place to start a company, even after spending time in Chicago as part of a recent class of the Windy City’s Techstars program.
While most conference attendees think all the action is on the stage, there is often a lot more happening in the quiet shadows and random encounters at the open bars at tech events.
If you’re a VC looking for a hot new property, or someone trying to break into the startup world, you never know when and where you might find a kindred spirit.
Especially, I found, down at Pandoland.