Anna Hu, Brizi: Transforming sports entertainment through tech

 
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Brizi CEO and Co-Founder Anna Hu tapped into a unique opportunity for increased engagement with fans at sporting events. Brizi allows fans to tap into special cameras to take photos of themselves live in the crowds.

The Forbes 30 Under 30 awardee joins #movethedial to delve into the jump from the corporate world to start-up life, who moved the dial for her and what sporting technology trends to look out for in 2019.

1. Having clients like the NBA and partners like Canon are testament to what a great idea Brizi is. Where did the inspiration from Brizi come from?

My family is filled with entrepreneurs who inspired me to start something of my own. Throughout my early career in tech, I was always on the outlook for unique opportunities.

Back then I recognized that fans spend a lot of their time at sports games using the camera app on their phones, at the same time it was crazy how excited fans get when they see they see themselves on the big screen inside the venue.

That's where the inspiration for Brizi came from, and by no means was it an overnight success. I was able to work with my co-founder Sami to develop the idea into a business, and over time, we refined it with feedback from customers and mentors. It's really powerful to look back through all the challenges we overcame while learning to celebrate the small wins and even the big ones like winning customers in the NBA and having our strategic relationship with Canon.

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2. Having worked as a technologist in Microsoft and Apple, what changed as you moved to co-found your own tech company?

Everything. The level of risk versus rewards are completely different. Going into startups forces you to optimize for long-term outcomes versus immediate gains like getting a good compensation package for now. Most importantly, there is this notion of extreme ownership at startups, where you have total ownership of your time and your results, there's no pointing fingers at a startup because we just don't have time for those politics.

We trust our team members and emphasize collaboration. At Brizi, we have unlimited vacation and flexible work hours, we even have a massage chair in the office and a nap room, it makes sense because we are all adults. It's also because the work you do at a startup requires creativity and thoughtfulness.

Jumping into startups from corporate means having true impact because you set the direction and you own the results, there's no safety net.

3. What technology or sports technology trends should we look out for in 2019?

Last year we saw the rise of privacy concerns and the fear of AI causing turbulence in the economy and having us ask ourselves "What kind of society do we want to be?". I predict an exponentially growing emphasis on authentic human connections in the years to come.

In sports, we see open-bar areas becoming more popular, and some of the top brands choosing to forego signage and logo exposure for high-touch engagement opportunities with consumers. It's all about the experience and who you experience it with.

So all around us some of the best ways to reach a consumer is just by adding a little bit of value to their day, helping them capture special moments with the people they care about, and holding on to meaningful memories.

It's good to be reminded that there's more to life than technology, and that connection and shared experiences will always be a core human need.

4. Having done plenty of successful fundraising for Brizi, we’d love to hear more about your “soft-circling” method.

I found fundraising challenging because Brizi doesn't have an exact tried-and-true business model where I could just walk in and say we're "SaaS for this" or "a marketplace for that". There was no magic formula except for finding the right investors that understood our business fundamentals and didn't care for "hype".

I would direct the credit to the soft-circling method for fundraising to David Cohen at Techstars, where he taught founders about how to build momentum across investors. Think of each meeting with an investor less like an individual deal and more like one of the stakeholders in a complex enterprise sale. Everyone needs to be on board before you can close the round, so you're really just trying to rally up as much support as you can.

When you've got enough momentum, and have sufficient leverage, that's when you would actually negotiate the terms of the deal, whereas often entrepreneurs try to negotiate terms at a time they don't have maximum leverage.

5. A question we always love to ask is who moved the dial for you? Someone who really championed you in your career and got you to where you are today!

If I had to only pick one person I would say my co-founder has moved the dial for me. I went through some unfortunate experiences with people who I thought were my mentors and supporters. My co-founder stood up for me, always backed my decisions, and reminded me to not put up with toxic people in business.

I think the startup journey is really about the people you build your venture with, and that's why culture and people is the #1 thing we value at Brizi.

We have very high bar for hiring and annual week-long retreats to collaborate on our culture manifesto, last year we were lucky to have spent it in Tuscany!

Brizi allows fans to capture high-quality aerial photos, without having to wait for themselves to appear on the big screen!

Brizi allows fans to capture high-quality aerial photos, without having to wait for themselves to appear on the big screen!

6. As Forbes 30 Under 30 winner and hard-working co-founder, we want to hear who or what inspires you?

I'm inspired by my friends, I guess that's why I keep in touch with them, they're not famous or anything. I don't really get the notion of being inspired by famous people because we don't actually know their story outside of their public and carefully-crafted image. I don't think there's a perfect path nor is there a precise way to be, and we're all just here trying our best to make a difference.

7. On International Women’s Day, have you any advice for women who might be inspired by reading this and want to start out on their own entrepreneurial path?

"Give first" -- it's Techstars' mantra. It has been instrumental in Brizi's journey. When you can add value to someone even if it doesn't directly help your business or goals, it opens you up to opportunities you weren't even thinking of down the road. And this effect amplifies itself over time. You deliberately create a virtuous cycle, and this is what great business communities are made of.

I wouldn't be here today without the generosity and insight from everyone who offered their help in some way.

By: Róisín Nestor