theWeb3.News Audio Experience
Sandy Khaund, a visionary entrepreneur and business leader with an extraordinary track record, with over 25 years of experience across Fortune 500 companies, startups, and venture capital, Sandy’s journey through the ever-evolving landscape of technology and sports has been nothing short of remarkable.
Sandy currently serves as the Founder/CEO of Credenza, a groundbreaking blockchain sports tech startup that’s reshaping the fan experience and digital rights management. He’s also a Partner at Mindspring Capital, a global SportsTech investment firm, and the Chairman of Rock Daisy, a pivotal analytics platform used by numerous major sports franchises. Beyond his professional endeavors, Sandy is a passionate advocate for education and social impact, with roles ranging from being a visiting lecturer to co-founding initiatives like the Weiji Foundry. He has also ventured into the world of literature, co-authoring “21st Century Sports: How Technologies Will Change Sports in the Digital Age.”
Sandy’s dynamic and diverse background, combined with his forward-thinking approach, makes him a true trailblazer in the worlds of technology, sports, education, and philanthropy. Today, we dig into his insights, aspirations, and the futuristic visions that continue to drive his extraordinary journey.
Hey Sandy, Can you share some of your earliest memories or experiences that you believe laid the foundation for your future entrepreneurial spirit and leadership?
When I was 10 years old, I desperately wanted an Atari 2600, which all my friends had. I lobbied my father incessantly until, at one point, he said, “why do I have to pay for games? Why don’t you just make them yourself?”. That question changed my life. So even though we didn’t have a lot of money, my father bought me a Commodore VIC20 computer instead. Not only did I start writing games, but I started writing games at home and selling them to my classmates at school during our weekly computer time. They would pay me a quarter, I would go on their computer and type in the code in about five minutes. Then they spent the rest of the time playing a game while I moved on to the next customer. That was 40 years ago and I suppose I’m still doing a version of that today, though I think the decimal points have moved a bit since then.
Your educational background is quite impressive. Can you share how your academic journey, from a BA in Physics to an MBA from Wharton, has shaped your entrepreneurial thinking and approach to problem-solving?
I’m grateful for all of my educational experiences. I was fortunate enough to attend three different higher education institutions and they each played a role in making me who I am. Obviously, the classwork had an impact on me. But more important were my professors and classmates all of whom inspired me and taught me to increase my game. I was also afforded opportunities because of the specific schools where I was enrolled. I am constantly reminded of the lessons of my experiences in school and often quote professors and cite experiences that were seminal in my daily decision-making process.
You have an impressive career spanning multiple Fortune 500 companies and startups. Can you share a defining moment or experience that significantly contributed to your personal growth as an entrepreneur?
I started my first company when I was 26 years old. Looking back, I broke every rule that I use to assess entrepreneurs today. My idea didn’t reflect what was going on in the market and it didn’t solve a real problem. The team didn’t have the proper skills, they didn’t compliment me very well, and they didn’t share my commitment to the company. It was during the heart of the dotcom boom and I just really wanted to be an entrepreneur. I have a friend that uses the term “wantrepreneur”. There’s something glamorous about starting your own business. I’ve met many people who spend years at a big company describe themselves as entrepreneurs because they like to talk about ideas or think starting a business inside a large company is the same thing. It’s not.
Entrepreneurship is hard. It’s constant sacrifices. It’s calculated risks. It’s a roller coaster ride. You have to have conviction in the idea and you have to have a commitment to the process. It’s constantly thankless and there are moments when you question your sanity. I’m reminded of the part of Walter Isaacson‘s biography of Elon Musk, where Musk was distraught that both Tesla and SpaceX were near bankruptcy in 2008 and he was searching everywhere for enough capital to survive. He lost sleep, it jeopardized his personal relationships, it destroyed him emotionally, and he lost his swagger. We’re talking about the world’s wealthiest man and one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our generation, but he was practically days from extinction of what would ultimately become his two greatest triumphs. If you give him credit for nothing else, there should be some admiration for the fortitude he showed in persisting through the lowest of lows. That’s what entrepreneurs are about.
You’ve transitioned from corporate roles to startup leadership. How did you adapt to the unique challenges and opportunities in the startup world, and what lessons did you learn from these transitions?
I’ve enjoyed most of my corporate roles, but the keys for success in those roles are very different from that of an entrepreneur. Corporate roles require understanding the organization, the people who make the decisions, and the networks that need to be activated to let a product reach its final state. You’re not only responsible for innovation, but how that innovation can integrate within the system of that large company. Great ideas often fail in a large company because it can be like when a body rejects an organ–the host just can’t handle it. When you do it properly, you can have a huge impact as I did on occasion at Microsoft, when we had a footprint of billions of computers running Windows, or Ticketmaster where we had hundreds of millions of tickets.
Start ups don’t have that same level of scale or instant impact, but the networks and corporate bureaucracy disappear. That’s a blessing, but also a curse. Without guardrails and checks & balances, it’s very easy to do something wrong or get out of control. Reading Michael Lewis‘s book “Going Infinite” about Sam Bankman-Fried, you can tell that’s exactly what happened. They had the magnitude of a large corporation, but acted like a start up without the systems that keeps a large company in line. That was a recipe for disaster. They say process is the enemy of creativity, which is why bigger companies often fail to innovate. They have to do that to manage the risk. Start ups are not so limited. The track of navigating the two routes as you need to remember how to manage that risk-reward profile properly. It’s why I prefer startups.
With your extensive experience, you’ve been involved in various industries. How has this diverse background influenced your personal growth and ability to innovate in different sectors?
I think the most valuable part of my diverse experience is that I’ve never felt relegated to look at any problem the traditional way. I once heard a story that Steve Jobs once took his team out to the parking lot of Apple headquarters and walked towards the BMWs that were in the parking lot. He then began to extol the virtues of BMW‘s design to his team, encouraging them to think about how those principles should be applied to computers. Apple has always had the most beautiful products and I think it’s because they’re not afraid to draw inspiration from other walks of life. It’s amazing that the automotive industry could have such an impact on the computing industry, and it feels like the favor was returned when Tesla felt like the automotive equivalent of an iPhone. When innovating on products, it’s best to draw inspiration from as many sources as possible.
Credenza, your blockchain SportsTech startup, is an ambitious project. How has your role as Founder/CEO at Credenza impacted your personal development, and what key entrepreneurial skills have you honed through this venture?
This is the fourth company I’ve started and I’d like to think I get smarter with each start up, but if I’ve learned anything with Credenza, it’s that I will always have a lot to learn. I’m frustrated by some of the mistakes I made during the first year of Credenza, and I feel like I’ve been better in Year 2. That said, it’s still very difficult to maintain a vision and aspiration while simultaneously trying to properly operate and take care of the mundane requirements that I always like to refer to as “founder tax”. I’ve had hiring mistakes in all my companies, I’ve made strategic mistakes at all my companies, and I’ve made product mistakes. It happens. But I’ll ultimately judge myself on my ability to course correct from those mistakes.
In addition to Credenza, you’re a Partner at Mindspring Capital. Can you tell us how your work in venture capital has expanded your perspective and contributed to your growth as an entrepreneur?
As an entrepreneur over the years, I’ve been turned down many times. I mean many, many times. At some point, my pitch meetings felt more adversarial than collaborative. Ultimately at the end of the day, the power structure makes for an awkward conversation, and, as I get older, my patience for this type of conversation wanes.
So when I joined Mindspring Capital, I moved to the other side of the table and I wanted to be different. In some cases, I provided extensive feedback to entrepreneurs, even when we said no. I was proud of myself until I realized that it just wouldn’t scale. I still try to provide that feedback for entrepreneurs that I’ve taken a particular liking to, but cannot fund. But I have more sympathy now for investors that don’t get back to me on time or don’t provide as much feedback as I’d like. Also, you really understand the odds. For every 50 businesses we reviewed, we may have met 5, and maybe invested in 1. It’s easy to be dismissive or cynical without realizing it and disrespect is never intended. I never took it personally as an entrepreneur, but my empathy did increase after I’d spent enough time as an investor.
Your involvement in education, from being a visiting lecturer to creating Inventors University, suggests a commitment to knowledge-sharing. How has your passion for education influenced your personal development and your entrepreneurial journey?
I really enjoy being a subject matter expert and sharing my wisdom with other people, much like the concept of a maven in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point”. I also feel a responsibility to provide the service because I don’t think anybody really did it for me when I was in my teens or 20s. I certainly had teachers and professors who were committed to me, but I didn’t get exposure to industry and I didn’t get exposure to understanding what my career would be like after college. I’d like to think that much of my work around education and mentorship has been to provide a lens into what I do on a daily basis. Given I am a relatively happy guy who feels blessed with a career that has given him purpose, I find it valuable to expose my world to others as an example of one approach to a career.
You’ve written about the impact of technology on sports in the book “21st Century Sports.” How has your experience as an author contributed to your growth and understanding of the evolving sports and tech landscape?
Fortunately, I was only asked to write a chapter, as I don’t know if I have the patience to sit down and write a book through the whole edit process. I was trying to create a foundational understanding of Blockchain, which is not always easy without going into some sophistication of the technology that can be intimidating to readers. The chapter I wrote forced me to educate the reader without coming off as condescending. As an entrepreneur, I’m required to do that on a day-to-day basis. I feel like I am pretty good at it, but I will admit days where I make mistakes, and could do a better job telling the story.
As an angel investor in eight startups, what criteria do you use to evaluate investment opportunities, and how has this role shaped your entrepreneurial mindset and decision-making?
When I look at any start-up, the three things I look for are team, traction, and technology. With the team, is there a strong leader with sufficient intelligence, relevant experience, domain expertise, and/or networks to get the idea to the next level? Are there complementary teammates who will augment as well as challenge the skills of the leader? And is there room for growth or the ability to step aside when the company ultimately scales and others may need to be brought in?
With traction, what social proof is there that shows that this is a meaningful product. That’s not always easy because some of the most innovative products are ones that will scare customers at first, and I hate to dismiss somebody because the market isn’t ready for it yet. Sometimes, patience is critical with start-ups, especially early on. So this is more important for Series A startups and less important for seed stage. And finally, how unique or defensible is the product or technology. I’ve seen a lot of interesting companies where I just truly believe that three kids in a Stanford dorm room could probably put it together in a few weeks. Then, I’ve also seen other companies that have significant domain expertise and a special sauce that makes that product truly special. Those are the ones I get more excited about.
I do look at Credenza with this lens and feel we stack up pretty well when looking for investment. With that said, as the operator, on a day-to-day basis, I change the lens and think of it more as operations, product, capital, and revenue. If I get those things right, it will support the overarching “Team, Traction, Technology” mantra.
Given your experience as an angel investor, are there any particular sectors or technologies that you believe will be transformative in the coming years, and how are you planning to support and invest in them?
I think generative AI continues to capture the lion’s share of the enthusiasm in the market and rightfully so, but it’s important to think about how these LLM‘s will be sourced. They thrive on data and inputs and I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface on data collection. Device connectivity in the proliferation of physical items will contribute to the power of these models and will only grow in importance. And, of course, given I’ve spent the last eight years of my career on the Blockchain, I think, the impact of a universal identity, and the management of assets, attributes, and actions associated with those universal ideas will be seminal and creating a new version of what the Internet means to all of us.
Credenza’s Passport and smart contracts are innovative elements of your business. How have these technologies contributed to expanding your customer base and creating new business models?
I’ve been working on blockchain-related businesses for the better part of eight years and, while I am sold on the technology, I feel like the implementation is rarely developer-friendly and/or customer-friendly. Most blockchain-related products are focused on the upper crust of people knowledgeable about crypto speculation or NFT collectors. The problem is that the core value propositions of those types of products are exclusivity and scarcity, whereas I believe the most important aspect of Blockchain is the exact opposite: inclusivity and abundance. Our focus is on utility as opposed to asset prices and the utility should be far-reaching. Blockchain is a technology with numerous use cases and infinite accessibility, but products need to be written to exploit that, not negate that. With Passport, we’ve built a universal data profile platform that is intended to respect a user’s privacy, be easy to use, and make the blockchain a foundational technology as opposed to the core value proposition. Who cares if you are on the blockchain–just deliver a user experience that couldn’t have been created before. In addition, we’ve built Passport to be easily integrated into any and all applications to create a proliferation of integrations. We’re not trying to limit the value proposition to only the elite, but rather allow as many people as possible to enjoy the benefits of this technology.
Your involvement with Rock Daisy, a top analytics platform, indicates expertise in data-driven decision-making. Can you share how data analytics and insights have played a role in growing your businesses and those you work with?
Rock Daisy is the company I wish I had the skill to build myself. The founders are two remarkable engineers and also are great guys. I have seen how their domain, expertise and creativity has allowed them to penetrate some of the historic names and professional sports. There is a lot at stake with sports teams on the field, so they will look for every advantage and analytics has done that in revolutionizing the game since the concept of “Moneyball” was introduced 20 years ago. As for Rock Daisy, I’ve also seen their ability to continue to grow and adapt through challenging market, pandemics, and better funded competitors. They’re going after additional markets now and it shows their willingness to not be complacent, even though they could continue a comfortable business.
Being a board member of several non-profit organizations and a co-founder of the Weiji Foundry reflects a commitment to social impact. How has your involvement in these initiatives contributed to your personal growth and sense of purpose as an entrepreneur?
It’s all about making a difference in the lives of others. To the world, you are one person, but to one person, you can be the world. I seek opportunities to have a positive impact on lives. Whether it was Inventors University, where we taught young girls of color how to write code on their very own Raspberry Pi that we bought them, or Weiji, where I wanted to be a port in the storm of Covid by offering summer stipends to let college students, many of whom lost internships to the pandemic, do something productive by letting them start a business risk-free and learn if entrepreneurship is for them. Each of these experiences has led me to ratchet up my mentoring and roles in the development of young people.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to include both of my kids in a number of these initiatives. It has been important for me to stress the importance of philanthropy by engaging with their community and the world at large in a meaningful way that can bring about change. My prioritization of this work allows me to serve as a role model, while their involvement instills a sense of responsibility in them that I hope serves as a foundation of their value system for the rest of their life.
Looking at your entrepreneurial journey, what were some significant setbacks or failures, and how did you overcome them to fuel business growth and personal development?
As someone who has had to shut down two companies, I have endured the biggest failure possible as an entrepreneur. With the first company, it was disappointing but I had already soured on the business andI was already accepted to business school, so it felt like I was just moving on to better things. That was proof that I didn’t care much about the business, which is why I should have shut it down much sooner. WIth the second business, I gave three years of my life, complete with blood, sweat, and tears to make it work. When I decided to shutter it, I cried that final night. But the next morning, I woke up having slept like I never slept before. I forgot what a toll the experience took on me. At first, I thought that would be it for me as an entrepreneur and I would never want that burden again. But I came to realize that I needed the all-encompassing drive and the sense of purpose for a mission. I knew I wanted to again work on something I cared about so deeply that I’d cry if it went away. Four years later, I was back at it and that mentality has dominated my life.
In your opinion, what is the most significant impact you hope to have on the world, either through your business ventures or philanthropic efforts, in the next decade and beyond?
I have two teenagers, whom I think are absolutely amazing. I tried to support them with love, respect, care, values, and motivation and encourage them to make an impact on the world. Ultimately, that is my most important contribution— two thoughtful, compassionate, well rounded people who have an impact on society. Everything else is just smaller versions of my role as a father.
As someone with experience in both startups and established corporations, how do you envision the future of entrepreneurship, and what advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to thrive in this evolving landscape?
The obstacles that are required to start a business have gotten lower with each business I’ve started.
In my 20s, it was expensive and difficult to get on the Internet and our company’s server. It was sitting underneath my desk. In my 30s, we used AWSs to host a website and store files and most business had moved online. In my 40s, we were using scalable servers without having to make expensive hardware investments and the network of tech entrepreneurs had grown considerably thanks to tools like LinkedIn. And now Credenza is leaning on decentralized networks and serverless computing, while the services available to entrepreneurs, not to mention the knowledge sharing that happens through sites like StackOverflow and YouTube have made every human being a potential entrepreneur.
But this continued democratization can be the catalyst for an even more important part of the evolution of entrepreneurship. We need more female founders and we need more BiPOC founders. The face of entrepreneurship is evolving and I take pride and pleasure in helping this next generation feel the confidence to start their businesses.
What legacy do you hope to leave through your various roles and initiatives, and how do you aim to inspire future generations to pursue entrepreneurship, innovation, and social impact?
They say you spend the first half of your career thinking about your resume and the second half thinking about your legacy. I agree with that. Whether it’s entrepreneurship, philanthropy, mentorship, or fatherhood, everything is about having an impact that is durable beyond my years on this planet. I always talk about making my dent on this universe. I think that happens by creating products and innovation that make people’s lives better. I think it happens by supporting the causes that help people beyond your sphere of influence and people who face challenges you can’t understand (lack of resources, discrimination, etc), most of whom you will never meet and will never know what you did for them. I think it’s by the 1-to-1 connection that can completely change the course of someone’s life for the better, whether it’s counseling them on their career or just being a sympathetic ear to those facing challenges who need someone to know they are loved. And I think it’s from the patient, loving, caring stewardship I try to provide for my kids to make them into better people. There are no guarantees that any of my efforts will have the “dent the universe” effect, but it’s important for me to engage in all of them to justify the gifts and great fortune I’ve been given with all the truly amazing people and lucky breaks that made me who I am today.