As part of The Players’ Impact Blog, we like to have periodic Q&A sessions with awesome people building new companies. I was interested in learning more about sports tech outside of the US, so sat down with Marcos Araujo, Founder and CEO of Esportudo, Here we go, Marcos…I’ll Q, you A…
1. OK, Marcos, what’s your background? Tell us about what you are working on:
I am a first generation American Brazilian who grew up in Marlborough, MA. I studied Finance at UMass Amherst, worked in Sales and Marketing and have been a massive sports fan all my life.
I am working on changing the way fans in LatAm engage and consume sports media.
2. Why are you so passionate about this space? What are the big things you want to change in the industry? Why is now a good time for this?
I have been a sports fanatic all my life. Sports allowed me to connect with my family and friends and taught me life lessons along the way.
I want to change how content gets delivered to fans and how they consume it. I want to make “so so” fans into die hard fans, and die hard fans into sports savants through knowledge and content.
The Sports industry is always “good” because no matter what people will love their teams. The technology that we are creating today makes it the best time for us to introduce Esportudo to LatAm.
3. What’s it like working on a company where all your customers are in another country?
It is one of our biggest challenges today. Although all of our products are digital and it is easy to reach our market, I do wish I could walk down the street and tell everyone I see to check out our platform, or even ask them market research questions. On the other end, it has made us extremely proficient in our digital campaigns. It has given us hands on experiences that we now offer to our partner brands.
4. Can you tell us about some of the early successes you are personally proud of? What have you done to drive growth and user satisfaction?
Early on, we we’re pumped when we first hit 10k followers on Instagram, or the first time a writer told us they wanted to join our team. Recently, hitting 1 million monthly page views and reaching 250k social media followers.
5. How about challenges to date?
Keeping up with new opportunities that arise due to our team’s current bandwidth.
6. For folks not in the industry, what are a few things we should know about and how are you trying to solve them?
Almost every single person in the world has a passion for sports. To many, sports are a way for them to be entertained, stay fit, get motivated, escape reality, meet people and more. We are helping these people reach what they love most about sports faster and easier.
7. Since we are a group of athlete investors and entrepreneurs, who is your favorite athlete (past or present) and why?
I have two favorites! Michael Jordan and Ronaldinho. Jordan motivates me to work harder and harder everyday. Always aim to being the best, and even when you are considered the best, to always keep your spot at the top. I used to watch “Michael Jordan to the Max” every week as a child. Ronaldinho showed me that passion is all you need to succeed and to always be yourself, plus he’s a World Cup and Libertadores winner for my favorite teams.
8. Nice! What player most excites you today?
9. As an entrepreneur, what are your words of wisdom to athlete entrepreneurs in TPI?
There is so much room for improvement in the sports vertical and the sports world is ever changing. Stay on the lookout for the teams that know how to adapt and change how fans engage their passion for sports.
10. In one emoji, characterize your life as an entrepreneur:
11: Love it. Looking ahead, where do you see Esportudo in 5 years?
As the number one source for sports media in LatAm and expanding into other regions of the world.
Cap tip to Marcos for his fun and insightful answers to our questions. Please note, The Players’ Impact is not currently an investor in Esportudo — we are sharing their story for the “love of the game.” Check out @Esportudo and leave a comment here!
As part of The Players’ Impact Blog, we like to have periodic Q&A sessions with awesome people building new companies and brands. I was interested in learning more about fashion and brand development so sat down with Lou Joseph, Founder and CEO of Alps & Meters, Here we go, Lou…I’ll Q, you A…
2. Right on! Lou, what drives you? What are the big things you want to change in the industry? Why is now a good time for this?
I’m driven by a passion for the tradition of skiing and alpine sport, and a reverence for traditional methods of making. As a brand, we’re eager to share our old world values and deliver a new expression of performance sportswear, inspired by our sport’s rich history. The time is right…with significant sameness in the marketplace, luxury outerwear and fashion tailwinds at our back, and a rising consumer demand for smart products with versatility and utility. Alps & Meters is poised to take advantage of this shift.
3. What’s the Boston startup scene like?
Boston is an exciting startup environment, and while the city doesn’t have the cache of Silicon Valley or other hot epicenters of activity, there are many soft-goods companies emerging with fantastic product. It also has fantastic gravity and entrepreneurship in the areas of apparel, footwear, and fashion. Nike’s very first retail store was here, as are the Reebok and New Balance headquarters, and one of PUMA’s innovation hubs. For Alps & Meters, Boston’s proximity to the mountains of New England make it an ideal setting.
4. That’s right. I just finished Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog and never knew that about Nike. Now that you’re up and running, can you tell us about some of the early successes you are personally proud of?
Truly, Alps & Meters is most excited by the many partnerships and relationships that we have built to date; including our Management Team, investors, early stage adopters/community members, product creation partners, factories, photographers, and other creatives who have helped to shape our brand. During the 6 months of September ‘16-March ’17 Alps & Meters was able to achieve its launch season sales goals and sold out of our small batch inventory very quickly. Satisfying our customers and retail partners is our #1 priority, and we are very happy with the levels of service and attention paid to these stakeholders at each touch point with the brand.
5. For folks not in the industry, what are a few things we should know about and how are you trying to solve them?
One of the reasons I launched Alps & Meters was because of the sea of sameness that I was seeing in the mountains, from Stowe to Aspen. I realized that there was an opportunity to do something truly unique. We believe that our community shares our belief in simple, timeless, alpine traditions, and we’re blending the past and present to create sportswear that is exciting the market. Our Forged Performance product creation philosophy means that our garments blend classic construction techniques, natural materials, and contemporary technologies. This philosophy has been very well appreciated by our “Gentleman Sportsman” consumer base.
6. Since we are a group of athlete investors and entrepreneurs, who is your favorite athlete (past or present) and why?
Outside of my passion for alpine sport, I’m a soccer fan and have always been drawn to the sport for its rich history, exciting club and national tournaments, worldwide footprint, and overall culture. Before starting my soft-goods career I actually played professionally in the Netherlands for a short time. My favorite athlete is George Best, the Northern Irish soccer player. He was an artist with an iconic persona whose genius made him a hero at the Manchester United soccer club, and a celebrity on par with the Beatles. He had style, grace, grit, and a magic touch with a ball at his feet. He was a true classic and a one of a kind individual on and off the pitch.
7. That’s awesome. I hadn’t heard of George Best before! At TPI, we think the sports industry can fuel growth in startups directly or indirectly related to sports. How could you see sports impacting your business?
Like entrepreneurs, athletes possess great commitment, passion, and belief in their craft.There are many parallels between sports and start-up endeavors; each requires drive, teamwork, and an ability to continue moving forward in the face of challenges, set-backs, or competition. The understanding to be forged between athletes and entrepreneurs can be significant when considering the investments of time and energy required in sports or in business. Both can be incredibly competitive and demand maximum commitment, support, and hard work.
8. As an entrepreneur, what are your words of wisdom to athlete entrepreneurs in TPI?
As an entrepreneur, I adopt a beginner’s mentality and am constantly seeking coaching from a variety of individuals (fellow entrepreneurs, teammates, etc.) to develop the Alps & Meters venture in a manner that aligns with my near and long-term vision for the company. I’m certain that all athletes know the powerful impact that a great coach or teammate can have on their performance. It’s the same situation on the field of entrepreneurship. Seek out supporters, confidants, and advocates that can assist you with your business endeavors, and listen to their trusted advice.
9. Great advice. In one emoji, characterize your life as an entrepreneur:
10. What’s been your hardest business challenge to date?
Alps & Meters’ most difficult business challenge has been management of our cash flow; due to our thoughtful brick-by-brick brand building style, Alps & Meters has not yet adopted significant amounts of capital, and while we have been extremely efficient with our capital allocation, the ongoing growth of the venture will demand further cash support. We’re hoping that new and existing investors share our vision for the design of a high taste, global, luxury sportswear label.
11: Makes sense. Let’s close with the future: where do you see Alps & Meters in 5 years?
I’m hopeful in 5 years time that Alps & Meters will be recognized globally as a luxury alpine sportswear brand that delivers first class quality, and exceptional white glove experience to our consumers and retail partners.
Cap tip to Lou Joseph for his thoughtful and insightful answers to our questions. Please note, The Players’ Impact is not currently an investor in Alps & Meters— we are sharing their story for the “love of the game.” Check out Alps & Meters and leave a comment here!
As part of The Players’ Impact Blog, we like to have periodic Q&A sessions with awesome people making an impact in sports and entertainment. Knowing very little about the film industry, I wanted to chat with Emily Best, Founder and CEO of Seed&Spark. So here we go…I’ll Q, you A…
All of a sudden I was learning to make a feature film. As producer, I had only produced plays and shorts at that time, and it’s not the same. We needed to raise I think $85,000 to shoot on location in Maine for the 21 days plus the preproduction. We had to travel in most of the crew. We had raised some money from friends, family and fools, and we were $20,000 short six weeks before we were going to leave for Maine.
Crowdfunding had sort of just woken everyone up. Our filmmaker friends knew about it, but our friends’ parents didn’t, and those were really who we wanted to reach. So we convened one night and said, “OK, what are we going to do? What is a crowd thing, a funding thing that everyone recognizes?” That’s when we settled on a wedding registry, because everybody’s touched a wedding registry. We made a list of all the things we needed to make our film, and we put it on our WordPress website with a PayPal link, and we sent it to everyone we knew with little more than the promise of your name in the credits.
We needed $20,000. We raised $23,000 in cash and hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans and gifts of locations, goods like coffee and picture cars, services, production, tons of extras, people just loading — you know, “Can I spend a day on set and help you move things?” It was really astonishing, and it built this incredibly active community.
Of those almost 700-some people who contributed to that first campaign in some capacity, everywhere the film went on its festival run around the world, somebody who contributed to the campaign or somebody who knew somebody who contributed to the campaign showed up.
That was when we sort of thought, “Wow, maybe we’re on to something.” But it was really talking to financiers and other filmmakers that it started to occur to me that maybe this is something that we should codify and offer. The real catalyzing moment was a moment of profound cognitive dissonance. We had just premiered the film and were traveling to festivals, and women were approaching us to say “thank you, I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to see a movie like this.” And then a sales agent said TO MY FACE: “Well, if you could put some lesbian erotica in it, we could sell it.” And I thought: this system is broken. That’s how it started.
2. Wow, very interesting and love how it came about. Now that you are up and running, what drives you and your team at Seed&Spark? What are the big things you want to change in the industry?
There are two major problems in the industry that also represent massive business opportunities: the first is that while movies and shows with diverse/representative casts perform better by every metric, they just don’t get greenlit as often, leaving billions of dollars on the table. In part that’s because those movies and shows are typically made by diverse writers, directors, cast and crew — who only have overall little more than 15% share of the jobs. The real problem here is sustainability for artists: the industry is set up so that artists (who because they love their job should be ok doing it for free) are the last in line to recoup anything from what they make. And the only people who can afford to make things without getting paid tend to be fairly privileged. So it just perpetuates the cycle that people who can afford to make stuff get to keep making stuff, and so on. It’s an ecosystemic sickness: the lack of artist sustainability drives the lack of diversity in content and so forth.
3. Already rooting for you. Now you are headquartered in LA. What’s the Los Angeles startup scene like?
It’s really diverse. I’m certainly not surrounded exclusively by people who are making frivolous apps. The entrepreneurs in my community are working on hard problems that represent billions of dollars in opportunity in Health Care, in entertainment, in diversifying the workforce, in empowering freelancers…When you go to an event in LA, there is always an incredible blend of creative, social and technical entrepreneurship.
4. Can you tell us about some of the crowdfunding successes and/or films you are personally proud of?
I love them all as if they were mine. But a few really worth noting:
REZ was the first big “hit” on our site from a crowdfunding perspective — they raised double their budget in the first week of the campaign before the website even worked that well (in 2013). Dominique DeLeon was making the film his deceased film school friend wanted him to make. But you can watch the pitch video (still one of my favorites) or stream the completed film on Seed&Spark.
AMERICAN TRIAL is a documentary in production that is staging a mock trial — with real witnesses and real lawyers — for Eric Garner’s murderer. It’s at the limits of what documentary cinema can help us examine, and we got this incredible letter from Eric’s widow while it was crowdfunding.
KEEP THE CHANGE crowdfunded on Seed&Spark and won the jury award at the Tribeca Film Festival. It stars all autistic actors and is just a marvel of a film.
MATTER OF BLACK is what would happen if Shakespeare could have written on #BlackLivesMatter — a short film currently streaming in our cinema.
5. Since we are a group of athlete investors and entrepreneurs, have to ask, who are your favorite athletes (past or present) and why?
First on the list is Serena Williams (duh). She embodies so much of what we need to see in the world right now, but she’s doing it by just being absolutely excellent. Also, because I am a working mom, when it was revealed that she won the Open while pregnant I have to be honest, I cried in womanly pride. Just absolute GOAT.
Chris Webber. I was 10 when I started watching the Sacramento Kings and we had season tickets all through the Bench Mob years. Honestly, could I say the entire Bench Mob (I think it was Barry, Delk, Funderburke, Martin and Pollard and also Peja)? That’s sort of how we feel at Seed&Spark sometimes — a rag-tag team of specialists whose powers combined are greater than any of us could be alone…
And then the entire Women’s World Cup team of 1999. I’ve played soccer all my life and that was the first time it really felt like women soccer players had the national stage. They loom large in my mind forever.
6. If you could have one athlete back Seed&Spark as an investor, who would it be?
Magic Johnson is someone who has been investing for a long time, but more than experience I just hear really great things about his investment team (which is everything to an entrepreneur — the relationship to my investors is one of the most important to vet!).
7. We think the sports industry can fuel growth in startups directly or indirectly related to sports. How could you see sports impacting Seed&Spark?
Many athletes also have a lot of visibility in underrepresented and under-resourced communities — whose stories (and geographies!) are often not represented in mass media. Athletes’ sphere of influence has always crossed over into show business (I mean, Sports is a show business of its own). Seed&Spark’s platform brings Hollywood-level opportunities to the new and diverse voices who will shape the next generation of our stories — and our culture. Athletes are on a constant road show — traveling all across the country gaining visibility with fans in every major market. They have a unique ability to elevate the visibility of up and coming creators on a national scale — and we have the ability to bring resources to those communities.
8. As an entrepreneur, what are your words of wisdom to athlete entrepreneurs in TPI?
You will have to get good at doing a lot of things that are unfamiliar, and even boring, in order to build and run a company. Business details, contracts, legal terms, investment documents…Don’t pass it all off before learning about exactly what you’re doing.
9. Ok, fun stuff. What’s your favorite movie snack?
Ugh. No one will like me after this. It’s Good N Plenties.
10. Eew. In one emoji, characterize your life as an entrepreneur:
11: Lastly, where do you see Seed&Spark in 5 years?
As a new studio model, perhaps in the way the original United Artists intended but did not have the technology to make happen: where creators are paid fairly, retain majority ownership of their IP, and audiences are constantly getting a fresh supply of new and diverse voices. This studio is agile and allows a much faster cycle from idea to execution, so it remains responsive to the way demographics, tastes and technologies shift.
Cap tip to Emily Best for her thoughtful and insightful answers to our questions. Please note, The Players’ Impact is not an investor in Seed&Spark — we are sharing their story for the “love of the game.” Check out Seed&Spark and tweet at @Emilybest or leave a comment here!
As part of The Players’ Impact blog, we periodically pose entrepreneurial related questions to current and former athletes. Thanks to Hayley Wickenheiser for sitting down with us and sharing her background, her ventures, her shootout skills, and what she likes about TPI.
Off the ice, Hayley’s achievements include: Sports Illustrated number 20 of 25 Toughest Athletes in the World, a two-time finalist for the Women’s Sports Foundation Team Athlete of The Year, named multiple times among the Globe and Mail’s “Power 50” influencers in sport, and named among QMI Agency’s top 10 “Greatest Female Athletes in the History of Sports.” In 2011, Hayley was appointed to the Order of Canada “for her achievements as an athlete and for her contributions to the growth of women’s hockey.” She was inducted to Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2015.
Wickenheiser’s passion for sport is matched by her desire to give back to the community in her work with organizations such as Lace ’Em Up, JumpStart, KidSport, Project North, Right to Play and dozens of other organizations. She has traveled the world to support those efforts, including trips to the furthest northern communities of Canada and as far away as Rwanda and Ghana.
Hayley was born in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan and is a proud mom to her teenaged son, Noah. She has received numerous honourary degrees and graduated with Honours with a Bachelors in Kinesiology from the University of Calgary in 2013. In 2016, Hayley completed her Masters, running a study that is researching the connection between physical activity and the neurology of autistic youth.
2) Well, that’s ridiculously impressive! I’m a bit speechless, but let’s get into some fun questions. What was your first job?
3) What are your favorite memories playing hockey and were there any business lessons you learned during your time in the sport that you have taken with you?
Far too many good memories, so many lessons — probably the biggest is about resiliency and never giving up on yourself!
4) How have you been able to leverage your sports relationships post playing days in business? Is there a player you admire for his/her work off the rink?
I really admire Andrew Ference and the type of athlete/person he is. He is firm in what he believes and as a player was always thinking ahead about life after sport and could manage both.
5) Nice! A familiar face for me in Boston! Tell me a bit more about your latest business ventures. What are you working on?
A few things. First off I am co-owner of www.rockonclay.com which is an Athletic balm made of glacial clay from the rain forests of British Columbia. We have a lot of pro and Olympic athletes using it with great results. I am also CEO of Wick Hockey and we do international development of the game around the world www.wickhockey.com and I run “WickFest’, the largest female hockey festival in the world with over 7,000 people attending every November in Calgary. I am co-chair and investor in Highmark Interactiveand also investor in other companies such as Prosmartsports, DeliverGoodand PlayCityApp…so lots going on!
6) Wow, that’s all incredible. A nice mix of industries and businesses, but all seem right in your wheelhouse. So why do you think more and more athletes are getting more involved as entrepreneurs or startup investors?
I think athletes are comfortable with taking risks, are used to thinking long term and setting goals and admire hard work and effort. Competing in elite sport and investing are very similar. It’s fun, there are no guarantees but the upside is tremendous.
7) What financial tips would you offer younger players reading this?
1. LIVE BELOW YOUR MEANS….always!! When you start your career or whether you have millions, live below your means then you are always at peace and not stressed
2.Invest young, even if its 25 a month, starting somewhere it can add up
3. Trust very carefully, make sure you do your homework on who will help you with your finances
4. Educate yourself, read books, watch clips, you are in charge of your money ultimately-don’t be in the dark as to what is going on
5. Spend money on experiences not things :)
8) If you took 10 penalty shots with me as goalie, how many goals would you score? :)
9) What types of startups or markets interest you the most?
I love the fields of tech and medicine so that’s where I would gravitate to. Maybe a combo of both as well as sports wearables and the technology to make those is very interesting to me, but I have a wide range of interests. Sustainability would be one as well.
10) You have been a part of The Players’ Impact (TPI) from early on…what was appealing about TPI?
I love the fact that other athletes who have lived a similar life I have are involved, combined with some very smart VC folks to guide the way. The doors and opportunities as well as the line of thinking align with how I see the world of business as well. Plus its fun!!
This was so much fun! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and looking forward to building this out with you Hayley! Go Canada!
The Players’ Impact is an investment and funding collective for professional athletes who value a business network of entrepreneurial-minded athlete investors. For more information, feel free to shoot a note to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @playersimpact
As part of The Players’ Impact blog, we periodically pose entrepreneurial related questions with current and former athletes. Thanks to Maurice Evans for sitting down with us and sharing his background, his business, his thoughts on playing me 1 on 1, and what he likes about TPI.
1) What’s up Mo ? Tell us a little about yourself — your background, where you grew up, family, etc.
I was born in raised in Wichita, KS. I attended Wichita State University for two years, before eventually transferring and graduating from the University of Texas. I come from strong sports family. Most everyone in my family competed at a high level in their respective sports. I come from a very close-knit family and I have two children, my daughter, Reese (7) and son, Roman (4).
2) Very cool. Hey, what was your first job?
My first job was when I was 16 working for a moving company. We were paid $10 an hour and told there was only one rule, “always be working!” Needless to say, I didn’t last very long! I learned quickly, you can move a lot of furniture in a hour.
3) What was your experience playing professional basketball and were there any business lessons you learned during your time in the NBA that you have taken with you?
I enjoyed my 11 years playing professional basketball. It was a testament to the many years of sacrifice and hard work, not only from myself, but all of the many people who supported me a long the way.
I learned many lessons from playing professional sports, none more so than those I learned while participating in the 2011 labor negotiations. Sports business is very lucrative, however it’s largely predicated upon brand preservation and globalization. This is what has lead to major growth in revenues for the major sports leagues.
4) How have you been able to leverage your sports relationships post playing days in business?
I have done well to stay relevant and connected with respect to the sports world. I am still very passionate about sports business. I am currently playing in the Big3, the new 3-on-3 basketball league for recently retired NBA players. The Big3 platform has increased exposure for everyone involved.
5) That’s great. I know I have enjoyed watching the first season. What has life been like in The Big3?
The Big3 has been a blessed experience. It’s been great to reconnect with former teammates, players, and most of all it’s great to reconnect with the fans. The Big3 is certainly here to stay and it will only grow and expand in the coming years.
6) Tell me a bit more about your latest business venture, ELOS:
ELOS is a business I founded in 2016. Our business model is one that leverages technology to assist athletes with brand management, transition, and support services. Many athletes struggle to effectively transition beyond the game. As a result, 60 percent of NBA players and 78 percent of NFL players file for bankruptcy with in 5 years of retiring.
7) Why do you think athletes are getting more involved as entrepreneurs or startup investors?
Athletes are more cognitive of their personal brand value. Social media is stronger than it has ever been and for that reason alone, it has allowed players to have more visibility which leads to more opportunities, many of them entrepreneurial.
8) What financial tips would you offer younger players reading this?
If players can grasp the simple concept of remaining debt free while remaining gainfully employed, this will serve them well as they transition in and out of sports.
9) Not to side track us, but if I played you 1 on 1 to 21, what do you think the final score would be? :)
If we played, I have to be honest and say I think it wouldn’t be pretty lol. I grew up playing lots of 1 on 1. I think I could probably get 21–0 or 21–1 lol.
10) Wow, thanks Mo! Moving right along…What types of startups or markets interest you the most?
I am most interested in sports tech. However, I am more diverse when I am investing alongside others such as in our TPI model.
11) Very cool. OK, you have been part of The Players’ Impact (TPI) since we first started the group…what was appealing about TPI?
What is most appealing to me about TPI is the ability for players to come together to collectively leverage their brands, resources, and relationships to advances companies in the entrepreneurial realm. This has never been done on a large scale and I believe TPI can be the first.
Love it. Great stuff. Thanks for chatting with us Mo and looking forward to building this out with you my friend!
The Players’ Impact is an investment and funding collective for professional athletes who value a business network of entrepreneurial-minded athlete investors. For more information, feel free to shoot a note to email@example.com or tweet @playersimpact
As part of The Players’ Impact Blog, we like to have periodic Q&A sessions with athlete investors, athlete entrepreneurs, and impressive founders of sports tech companies to shine a light on various great people making an impact.
Thanks to Ben Reynolds, Co-Founder and CEO of Spalk, for participating in our first Founders Q&A. So here we go…I’ll Q, you A…
1. Alright my friend, so what’s your background? Tell us about what you are working on:
Hi, I’m Ben, Co-Founder and CEO of Spalk.
We’re in the business of sports commentary. We built software that synchronizes fan commentary to existing live sports streams. This means fans are able to pick a commentator to suit their preferred language, style or preference while sports bloggers, influencers & athletes can commentate live games from anywhere in the world.
We sell this software into rights holders & broadcasters around the world to help them deliver demographically targeted commentary to their subscribers. Just last week we had one of our biggest weeks to date, signing one of the biggest streaming platforms in SE Asia and also delivering over 4 million views for FIBA on their U19 World Cup.
Prior to Spalk I worked in Venture Capital, investing in high-growth technology companies in Asia.
2. Very cool. So, Ben, what drives you? What are the big things you want to change in the industry and why is now a good time for this?
It’s quite a funny story really. My business partner, Michael, and I started Spalk in our apartment when we started doing our own audio only commentary on our favorite live sports. We soon built this huge audience of viewers but recognized our audio was 2 to 3 minutes out of sync with the live TV.
After building the first version of Spalk we had broadcasters around the world signing up to use us to power their multi-lingual commentary & fan engagement.
We’re really excited by the global opportunity for Spalk and by how quickly the industry landscape is changing. Driven by the move to mobile, Spalk is positioned perfectly to take advantage of this shift.
3. I love it! Where are you based and what’s the local city startup scene like?
I split my time between Auckland, New Zealand — where our engineering hub is located — and New York.
Originally being a Kiwi, New Zealand is a great country to have started the business from. Given it’s size (4 million people) it was really easy to network our way to executives at the major TV networks, which is what we did for our early customer adoption.
However, New Zealand is a really hard place to grow a startup from! Which is why I now spend most of my time in the USA and the UK.
Some of the other advantages in continuing to locate our engineering team in New Zealand is that salaries are lower than the USA, but the education system is very good and it’s obviously an English speaking country. This means we get the advantages of hiring developers at a similar level of talent to the USA, but at half the cost.
4. Fascinating. Can you tell us about some of the early successes you are personally proud of at Spalk?
The biggest reward as an entrepreneur is seeing users and customers succeed by using your product or service.
In our case, it was pretty exciting in June 2017 when we launched our partnership with FIBA — the international basketball governing body — at the U19 World Cup. We ended up delivering 90 commentators in 5 languages over 30 games to over 4 million viewers. FIBA had previously never been able to offer commentators as it was too expensive and difficult for them to fly commentators around the world. Suddenly with Spalk, they had not just one, but 90 commentary teams all around the world participating in commentary and improving their entertainment product. It was hugely statisfying to see FIBA succeed by partnering with Spalk.
There’s countless examples like this, from small colleges who are able to get notable alumni commentating college games, through to broadcasters who can offer multi-lingual commentary. It’s really motivating to successfully solve someones problem!
5. 90 commentators in 5 languages! Impressive. So for folks not in the industry, what are a few things we should know about and how are you trying to solve them?
The sports media landscape is changing, and fast!
90% of American’s are on their mobile phone while they are watching sport! 1.1m American households ‘cut the cord’ and cancelled their cable subscription in 2016!
The proliferation of mobile devices and internet connectivity has altered the sports media landscape forever and Spalk is really trying to pioneer what this next generation of sports consumption looks like. It’s all about consumption on the users terms and having a product that treats them as an individual rather than the traditional bundle package that cable companies offer.
6. Hey, I was actually 1 of those 1.1m this Summer. OK, since TPI is a group of athlete investors and entrepreneurs, who is an athlete you look up to?
I really admire Greg Norman, both for his performance on the Golf Course and for his talent as an entrepreneur!
I met with Greg recently and it was really interesting to hear about the family values and long-term view that sits at the core of his business, Great White Shark Enterprises. He has been incredibly successful at building brand equity in The Great White Shark name along with developing a sustainable business that spans multiple industries and asset classes.
7. Picking the Australian golfer I see! I have always heard great things about Greg and his Enterprises so it’s good to hear about his values. As an entrepreneur yourself, what are your words of wisdom to players in TPI?
Even if it’s just a Tweet or a short email, startups thrive on collecting data points & feedback from users to build and improve their business. This data helps guide product strategy & direction and will ultimately help the startup build a better solution for users’ problems.
While, it’s not possible to give feedback to everybody, if you do come across a service or product you really like or don’t like, I’d definitely recommend sending a quick Tweet to the founder telling them why/why not.
9. In one emoji, characterize your life as an entrepreneur:
10. What’s been your hardest business challenge to date?
I struggle to pick out a particular event, but I do think the most under-rated quality an entrepreneur needs is the ability to deal with the constant swings from huge highs to massive lows.
For example, there’s days where one minute you’ve got hundreds of commentators on the platform commentating and then next minute the server crashes, then an customer emails with really good feedback, then a employee dials in sick, then you win an awards show, then the next thing happens, so on and so on.
The entire entrepreneurial journey is one big roll-coaster ride and it is so important to have the endurance and the patience to focus on the long term rather than being overwhelmed by the short-term highs and lows.
11: Let’s end on one of those highs. Big vision, where do you see Spalk in 5 years?
Our strategy is to build the Uber for Sports Commentary.
We want to continue growing our community of sports commentators calling amateur & college games and by continuing to sell our software into larger broadcasters, we plan to launch a marketplace to help commentators get gigs! In the same way YouTube & Twitch have built communities of creators around gaming, we are doing the same thing for sports!
Cap tip to Ben Reynolds for his thoughtful and insightful answers to our questions. Please note, The Players’ Impact is not an investor in Spalk — we are sharing their story for the “love of the game.” Check out Spalk and as Ben said, give feedback! Tweet at Ben Reynolds (@benreynoldsnz) or leave a comment here!
Why would I ask a former NBA player out to dinner? Am I crazy? Why on earth would he say yes?
These were questions that (luckily) did not run through my mind a few months ago. Back in February, I had a random idea to build a virtual angel investor group of professional athletes who were interested in investing in startups. Why? I’m honestly not sure. I had this over simplified thesis that today, 100 athletes invest in 100 different startups and 99 of those fail. Why not try to find the 1 startup that has a higher chance of success and have 100 players all invest in that 1 startup together? Then as a group, we can leverage the power of the crowd in two ways — on the front end as we assess the startups and then on the back end to help grow the businesses.
Anyway, I thought I’d try it. What the heck, right?! I built a website and created a Twitter handle and set out with a small goal of 5–10 players and one startup pitch call every two months or so. The Players’ Impact was born. That first weekend I built the website, had my first 50 or so Twitter followers, and was quickly connected to a few players who were interested. On day 2, I hopped on the phone with former NBA player, Maurice Evans. We had a great phone call, and I told him as we were hanging up, “Man, I have no idea what I’m doing, but I think if we build a group of 100 really smart people like yourself, we could do something pretty cool.” He agreed!
As it turned out I was traveling to the same city “Mo” now resides, so after we hung up, I texted him to see if he wanted to get dinner in a few nights when I arrived. Sure enough, he picked me up at the airport, we went out for some great BBQ, and he and I chatted about business and startups for a couple of hours. We had a great time and have become friends ever since. Honestly, if I didn’t have dinner that night, this athlete investor network idea probably would have been filed away, alongside the 100s of other random ideas I’ve had over the years.
Luckily that dinner conversation was great and it gave me the confidence to push this side project along. And as it turns out, there was a lot more interest than I realized! The entrepreneurial and investor athlete network has grown well beyond the 5–10 goal. We now have more than 75 players interested and engaged! What has been so impressive is the thoughtful referrals of the great people who are joining — far exceeding anything I ever expected.
The Players’ Impact (TPI) has Stanley Cup champions, Super Bowl Champions, current MLB pitchers, Summer Olympic medalists in track and field, Winter Olympic Women’s hockey stars, current NFL linebackers and everyone in between — the best part though is everything these folks are doing off the court, rink or track. We’ve somehow attracted some of the smartest, most entrepreneurial minded athletes in the US and Canada. It’s not about the number of goals scored or medals won, it’s connecting like-minded business people with each other and talking to great entrepreneurs. And it’s truly been awesome to see it all unfold.
Fast forward to today. We’ve met so many great entrepreneurs and people in the sports industry. We’ve made a few investments, but the more important piece in my mind is the community and trust that is being built. Just a few weeks ago, former NHL player Bryce Salvador came up to Boston and we went to the PULSE @ MassChallenge demo day together to learn about some new healthcare technologies. It was remarkable to listen to someone so passionate about concussion health chat with a founder of a concussion startup. Below is Bryce demoing some Virtual Reality for physical therapy!
Who knows where this group will evolve to, but it’s already been great to see it develop over recent months. Looking forward to continuing to grow this group and seeing what happens next!