Sometimes you just want to ride a mechanical bull. But before you can saddle up, you have to sign a release of liability waiver indemnifying the tavern of any responsibility lest you get bucked off and break something. Smartwaiver provides easy-to-use, digital release of liability waivers for just such scenarios. Co-founder and CEO Mark Silliman sat down with BendTECH to talk about his fifth startup, lessons learned and how big wall climbing relates to entrepreneurship.
Startup Spotlight: Smartwaiver
Founders: Mark Silliman and Andy Laakmann
Star Wars decor: Indeed a cardboard C3PO and R2-D2 reside in the office.
So what does Smartwaiver do? You know the piece of paper you sign at the climbing gym before you can climb — we hand that to you on an iPad. We provide digital release of liability waivers to more than a 1,000 businesses including gyms, yoga studios, preschools, trampoline parks and sports leagues. We make the waivers easy to use and sign. We can collect and analyze data from the waivers for our customers. And we spend on a lot of time on integrating hardware, the iPads and kiosks that the customers of our clients’ use.
We’re like the MailChimp for waivers.
What inspired your company? Andy and I had a previous business, and Major League Baseball contacted us to create a digital waiver. We told them to go find one, and they came back and said they couldn’t. We didn’t believe them, but after hunting around ourselves, we didn’t see anything like a digital waiver either. That was about three years ago.
Aren’t there other companies that do digital documents? Sure, but they’re not designed to do what we do. They usually target individual documents for individual users. Smartwaiver is designed for having tens of thousands of people sign the same thing. We provide digital waivers for the NFL Super Bowl Experience, Nascar’s Inside Track events and BCS bowl game festivities.
We really focus on the usability and efficiency of the waiver signing process. Throughout the year I like to visit our customers and observe how people are using Smartwaiver. It’s amazing the insight you gain by stepping out of the office and watching your product being used in the real world. For example, a popular bar gathers hundreds of digital waivers for their mechanical bull ride each night and was struggling with using the keyboard at their Kiosks. I went down there to see why it was an issue and discovered that people were actually stealing the keyboards! So we were able to offer an alternative and suggest it to other customers.
Do you have a legal background? No. We have an attorney on staff. But our customers actually provide the verbiage for their waivers.
Have you raised any money? We’re self funded.
Where does your revenue come from? We charge a monthly fee for our software. We have more than 1,000 paying customers.
So how is business? We fought hard for our first 100 customers. But since then we’ve been growing fast with little traditional advertising. Most of our customers find us via word-of-mouth or they see the name of our company on the waiver. This is the fastest I’ve ever gone to profitable with any of my businesses. We were in the black at 18 months. And we’re growing fast. We’ve had more than 3 million people use our waivers.
What lessons have you learned? It always takes you longer than you think. Also it’s important to keep it simple across the board, but especially with your product. I’ve definitely lost profit in the past by making more and more stuff to add to the product. Sure there’s all types of features that people would love, but keep the goal simple.
What’s next for Smartwaiver? We’re focusing on handling incoming customers. Customer commitment and service is a big part of what we do. We provide real-time customer support through a chat box on our site as well as a phone number. Every person here does customer support. I also routinely read through all the chat logs to see what people are asking about and figure out how we can improve.
A random fact that will blow people’s minds: I’m a longtime big wall climber. I used to do a lot more before I had kids. I now have three daughters. The biggest wall I’ve climbed was 2,000 feet high. It took me 10 hours to go up, and another eight to come down. I think big wall climbing is the best school for entrepreneurs–it teaches you to deal with stress and how to take calculated risks.
And then there’s this …
Should you ever find yourself inside Smartwaiver’s offices you’d be hard pressed not to notice the paintings of rock chucks wearing costumes and set in scenes from World of Warcraft, Star Wars, etc. I’m not gonna lie: They’re mesmerizing. Silliman says he orders a new one each time the company hits a milestone.
Next up in #50startups … We’ll tell you more about Cairn, a local company that is providing subscription boxes to outdoor enthusiasts.