We’re sitting down with RIoT Accelerator Program (RAP) participants to learn their stories, find what inspires them and share with the community.
TraKid was founded in January of 2019 by founder and CEO Brandon Kashani and has since grown to a team of seven. I (virtually) sat down with Brandon to discuss TraKid, the challenges of scaling amidst COVID-19 and Brandon’s inspiration to become an entrepreneur. Brandon was friendly and engaging with a fascinating backstory. He graduated high school at age sixteen and has lived and traveled all over the world. Outside of work he is a skydiving instructor with 2500+ skydiving jumps under his belt and enjoys travel and the outdoors.
Q: What does TraKid do in a nutshell?
A: We make wearable tracking devices for children and market them to amusement parks. It’s a daily rental model. Parents can rent the band, download the app and keep track of their child.
Currently an average of about 40-50 kids go missing in a park each day. The procedures to find these kids are really outdated. Park employees use walkie talkies and search the park based on a parent’s description.
Our hope is that, when parents use TraKid and their child goes missing, they can simply log on, find their child’s location and walk to them without even involving security in most cases.
Q: What inspired you to start this company?
A: Overall I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. Everyone owns a business. I grew up in that environment and had my path set for me by my parents from the time I was 11 – go to school, study chemical engineering, graduate, get a job with Exxon, Shell or BP and then open a company in the oil and gas industry and go into business with my family.
But I hated chemical engineering after my first two years in school. I finished high school when I was 16. Since I was so young, I didn’t really like college. But during my final semester I took an entrepreneurship class. In that class I was assigned to come up with entrepreneurial ideas and engage in customer discovery and that’s where the idea of TraKid first came to life.
I reached out to ten amusement parks and only heard back from one: King’s Dominion. I set up a time to talk with them. I was expecting a casual conversation, but when I walked into the room, there were about ten people, many fairly high up in the company.
I told them it was just a class project, but they said they were very interested in my idea. As we discussed, I saw market-fit, the potential of this opportunity, and realized this is what I wanted to do.
Q: That must be tough to be in the amusement park industry right now, under COVID-19. How is TraKid handling that?
A: It’s been tough. The hardest part is staying on top of salaries. We just hired someone new. Three of our six employees were hired in the last two and a half months.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, though, is that there is no date we can plan around. Even if it was years out, I could work with that if I just knew what to expect. Currently we’re operating on two different timelines. One in which amusement parks open in the next three months and one where they open in January 2021.
Shanghai Disney opened up. We’re waiting for the early results on that opening. If that goes well, the other Disneys will follow. And then the second tier parks will open. However, if there’s another Fall wave of the virus and things close again, it looks like it may be January when parks begin opening.
Q: What’s your favorite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: I want to have my own thing. I prefer not to work for a big corporation, for people who basically decide my career path.
I’ve also started to really care about the mission behind the TraKid product. At first I was only focused on the financial opportunity. But during my customer discovery phase, I spoke to about 150 parents. Out of 150, almost 100 had experienced losing a kid in a public place. I could feel how nervous they were as they shared their stories and relived those moments. There were terrifying details. Some children were only lost for five minutes but it felt like a day to their parent. I could relate in some ways because I have a younger sister and want to have kids eventually.
Speaking to these parents changed my focus. I still want to make money of course, but I also have a mission of preventing separation of parents and children. Now my main goal in being an entrepreneur is to do good and try to give back.
Q: What companies or mentors have been especially helpful to you during your time in the RAP program?
A: RIoT has been really amazing. We raised almost a half million dollars as a company in November, but as we’re an early stage tech company with both hardware and software components, the money we raised can go really fast. Because of our limited budget, we’ve needed to make a lot of connections and RIoT has been awesome to introduce us to manufacturing engineers, consultants and mentors and we’ve progressed a lot. We even hired one of our mentors to become the COO of our company.
Working out of HQ has also been a huge help and allowed us to meet people like Jason Widen who has provided a lot of support.
Q: Do you have any other role models or companies that have inspired you, either prior to or during your time in RAP?
A: Marshall Brain (Founder of HowStuffWorks and other startups and Professor at NCSU). My idea started in Marshall’s Entrepreneurship Senior Design class and he has remained one of my personal advisors. I meet with him on an ongoing basis and he is a huge help to me.
Q: Any advice for entrepreneurs?
A: if you have an idea, don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone and pursue it. You’ll figure it out. I got a lot of pushback from family and friends about giving up a high salary job to pursue a startup that didn’t pay me for a year and a half and now pays very little. It’s been difficult, but it all comes together. When you need to make money, you figure it out. To get by, I managed social media for a friend, engaged in part-time work, etc.
Another piece of advice – any time you can talk about your idea/company, do it. I’ve made so many connections by talking about TraKid while waiting for takeout at restaurants, at parties, or at the beach. There is so much value in networking and meeting people.