EMERGINGEmerging Capital Partners

EMERGING Fund: An Interview with Partner Padma Rao, Chief Investment Officer

Recently David Bagley, Investment Director of EMERGING Fund, had the pleasure of speaking with Padma Rao, an innovation partner in the EMERGING Fund.

Rao has an extensive background in technology and marketing, including as the Marketing & Product Executive at Grubhub, CMO of Tapingo, and as a consultant and advisor for various startups. 

Today, however, she has her hands full as the CEO of Bankroll, the world’s first and Philadelphia’s only authentic luxury sports entertainment venue. The venue offers unrivaled audio-visual capabilities, a fine dining experience, a theater-like ‘box seat’ venue, private dining spaces, and endless amenities that combine the world of entertainment, technology, and luxury. Let’s see what she had to say about her new venture.

RAO: I came to this field as a technology person. I had left Grubhub and was on the street, so to speak. I’m an advisor for Bullpen Capital, another venture fund, and I asked one of the managing partners, Paul Martino if he had anything for me to do. I came on as a fractional interim CMO for Bankroll, and within eight months, I became the full-time CEO. 

While this is not my first CEO gig, he was still taking a chance because my background is not in this space. But we’ve known each other for over 10 years, and I’m a go-getter, make-it-happen kind of person, which is why I’m currently standing in the kitchen and learning all this stuff. But there are really two things this opportunity has given me. One is coming from the place where I’ve always worked in the physical world and the digital world and trying to combine those two things. They always feel like they sit adjacent to each other rather than organically embedded into one another.

And so, I asked, what would the world look like if things didn’t exist the way they did today and you built them from the ground up knowing all the things you know about technology today? It would just look different. It would feel different if everyone was kind of at the same level, right?

And then the second part was actually getting to manifest that. Now I have my own playground where I get to make that happen. I mean, the team at EMERGING thought I was insane because we’re opening in the next 10 days, and in December, I changed our POS from Aloha to Toast. That’s because there were a lot of things that we wanted to do, and while Aloha said they had the capabilities when it came down to it, and we’re asking for APIs, they didn’t have what I wanted. 

And again, unfortunately for them, I’m super technical. So, I was like, no, that doesn’t work, and that’s not what you promised. Toast, while not exactly what we needed, was definitely way closer and understood what we were trying to accomplish. And so we moved to Toast, but it takes someone like me to have the courage to do something like that because I’m not afraid of technology. 

I already know the things that are going to happen. I know how to have the conversations and shortcut some of the salesmanship that happens in between and some of the redirection you get when you’re trying to implement these things. It’s a lot to ask of operators, to have that kind of technical expertise when doing this. And so, a lot of this is my Petri dish, getting to figure all this out. 

The other part is what would the world be like if we understood and knew how consumers wanted to consume technology but in physical spaces. And how do you use technology to bring people together instead of being in a physical space with everybody just looking at their phones? I’m super excited about it if you can’t tell.

EMERGING: That’s great. Also, the build-out that you’re doing here is ridiculous—the dollars they’re spending to build an amazing place. I don’t know if you want to share anything, but it’s mind-numbing what you guys are doing.

Rao: So we took an old movie theater, the Boyd Theater, close to Rittenhouse Square, which is in the heart of Philly, and the space next to it where there used to be a Gap. We renovated the whole thing. We felt like it was in the vein of the viewing experience, the fact that it was an old movie theater.

And then we spent over $20 million on renovations. It includes $2 million for the kitchen and over $3 million in tech. I think I might throw up just saying these numbers, but we’re super proud. 

They’re putting the furniture together as we speak, and you can feel the vibe, and it just works. The luxury works, the screens are not too much, and it doesn’t feel like a normal sports bar with crap all over the floor. 

We had to make the investment because part of the bet was the luxury piece of it and making it an outstanding venue. Our space is highly configurable and covers a spectrum of different types of spaces. Everything from what looks like a normal restaurant to an 8×12 foot screen in the front with 50 viewing seats and a private bar upstairs. There are also spaces that we call “the bungalows” where you have your own screens that you can program however you want. 

And there’s a couch with a table and then the central marquee space which is like a traditional bar area. It’s like you’re walking into an old-school movie theater, two floors high with two staircases—we left all that in place. And then there’s a bar in the center of it. 

You probably end up in this situation a lot where you go to a business dinner with a bunch of random people that you don’t really know, and you’re sitting next to two people that you’re not really excited about sitting next to because there are other people you’ve targeted. Or, you’re at some place where it’s your turn to go, like a putt, putt, and it’s like, no, I’m talking to the person I came to this event for, and I can’t take my turn. You take my turn. This space plays that middle ground—an activity that creates a casual moving environment, but, at the same time, it’s not a cold start with a bunch of strangers at a dining table.

So, we’ve kept the website down, so nobody knows what the space looks like unless you actually come to see it. Somebody just posted, and we doubled our social media to 1500. You actually can go to our social media, it’s on Bankrollphl, and you’ll see it’s just pure brand. You can’t even tell that we serve food at this point. But that’s part of it to me. I want you to walk in feeling the luxury and what part of that luxury is high-end food, the way that you want it. It’s the type of seating that you want and the type of viewing that you want. All of that is configurable for you.

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