In this “I Want Your Job” special edition episode, Jim Cavale is joined by Teamworks Founder and CEO Zach Maurides to talk about Zach’s background in sports and tech, the founding of his company, and the recent announcement that INFLCR is joining Teamworks.
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LinkedIn: Zach Maurides
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LinkedIn: Jim Cavale
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Highlights from the interview:
11:03 – Zach Maurides describes the realities in the marketplace that led Teamworks to see the potential in a partnership with INFLCR, besides just the shared vision between the two CEOs
17:18 – Zach discuss the beginning of sports technology, around the end of the 2000’s, and the changing thought processes that are bringing technology more and more into the sports world in a way that can benefit everyone
23:40 – Zach shares advice from his father that set the stage for his recruitment into college football, and talks about the first and only official visit to Duke before committing there
25:55 – Zach describes the ecosystem of athletics he experienced while a student-athlete at Duke, and talks about a class assignment that would help him develop the concept that would one day become Teamworks
31:25 – Zach builds out software that helps several Duke athletic teams, but decides to pursue a job at a software-as-a-service (Saas) company to educate himself on selling software to the higher education market
33:40 – Zach talks about meeting and recruiting his cofounders, Shaun Powell, Mitch Heath, and Justin Baker, and shares some of the qualities he believes anyone starting a company should look for in those early business partners
41:10 – Zach discusses some of his early customers, the early adopters who believed in the concept and solution that Teamworks could provide even before it was a polished product, and how their support and dollars (effectively early investments) helped him develop Teamworks into the platform it is today
44:25 – Zach explains the value and advantages provided by his geographical location, and talks about how the organic, aggressive company growth (powered by lean business practices) provided the value he needed when it was time to secure funding
48:25 – Zach presents Teamworks’ responsibility to rewire the sports industry in a way that helps athletic organizations embrace technology, and encourages them to use technology to make their processes more efficient, so that professionals can increase their time interacting with and empowering more athletes worldwide
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Full Podcast Transcript
Jim Cavale: Wow, Zach, I mean, it’s kind of surreal right now to be sitting here inside of Teamworks, a place that you have rolled out the red carpet and hosted me at over a dozen times since I started INFLCR two years ago. You’ve mentored me personally. You’ve invested privately in the $2 million seed round we raised. You’ve given me access to your key people, from your co-founder to key people in your marketing, HR, finance team, to help me along the way.
And, to be sitting here today as partners, just a couple years after I met you and started INFLCR, like, it’s surreal, bro.
Zach Maurides: Yeah, no doubt. I mean, I think back to that time when you first came out here, we got introduced by one of my former teammates, Mark Thompson, and just, you know, I… it is, I think it’s very cool. I mean, I remember when you first came in, I mean, obviously, you’re a great dresser.
So it’s like, “Okay, this guy has got the right shoe, you know, he’s lined up, he looks fantastic.” But, you know, I just remember being very impressed by you and your passion for what you were… you were, you know, at that point where it was just kind of a seed, you know, just getting started. And, and I had the benefit of getting exposed to a lot of folks these days that are, you know, starting things in the world of sports technology, and you stood out, right.
And I’m like, this guy, I, gut feel, this guy is going to do something special. And, you know, I knew I wanted to get involved. I knew I wanted to invest. I think, you know, I probably didn’t tell you, but when you walked out the door, I’m like, “I think this guy is going to do something, I want to be a part of it.”
But, you know, as we kept meeting and kept working together, you know, I mentor you, and some of the other folks, you know, I think that’s just part of success, right? I mean, I am where I am because other people said, “Let me help him.” And I got to turn around and do the same for folks that I think are trying to bring value to the same group of people that we are committed to serving.
But as we kept moving through and kept building the relationship, you know, it went from, “I think this guy is going to do something great, I want to invest in him,” to “how can we be on the same team? You know, how can we get to a point where we are literally working together every single day?” And, you know, that’s what… that’s what led us to this day. And I think it’s a great day for you and I, but I think it’s a great day for… it’s a great day for the people that have joined us on our respective journeys. And that, I mean, you know, not just our employees, but the thousands of athletes that are using our technology every single day. I think it’s very exciting.
Yeah, I mean, you think about between our two companies, the thousands of teams, the tens of thousands of athletes that use our product, each of our products on a daily basis. But I also think about, like, right now, on this conversation are two former college student athletes. One played at a much higher level than the other. I was a DII guy. You played at Duke.
But we both come from this athlete-focused mindset, and how we’ve operated our businesses, and it permeates through our teams, through the Storyteller Summit you came to with all of our users and clients there. We’re focused on athletes.
And you know, our last podcast episode with John Wildhack, the Syracuse University Athletic Director, we were talking about the Fair Pay to Play Act. And where we ended summing it up is, if we just keep the athletes first, everything else will just work itself out. And that’s kind of how I look at both of us and how we’re trying to drive these businesses. Let’s just keep empowering athletes. Let’s just keep serving storytellers. And everything will work itself out.
You know, I mean, I think that’s one of the things that is so simple, right? It’s such a simple ingredient to a successful business but so many businesses miss it. When you have a clear, uncomplicated true north, right? Decision making happens at such a faster pace, right? So when the solution to every argument is, “what’s right for the athletes?” Man, it just cuts through things quickly, right? It just gives you clarity as individuals and as a business that I think, you know, it is in large part probably a huge part of why your company has grown so rapidly.
And I think… I know, it’s a big part of why Teamworks has grown so rapidly. Because we know who we’re here to serve. There’s no confusion around that. Right? Every conversation we have internally starts and ends with what’s right for the athlete.
And, you know, even when we talk with our partners, we talk to the universities and professional clubs and Olympic NGVs and NSOs, we tell them, you know, “You’re not our customer, you’re our partner.” And we are partnered in serving our shared customer, which is the athlete, right. But that clarity, that’s why we’re sitting here today, right.
I think that’s… that’s one of the things when we talk about when you and I first met, one of the reasons I felt you were going to be successful: you had that clarity in terms of how you’re going to build your company. You were going to build your company around serving those athletes, but also, you know, you… because you’re a former athlete, like, it wasn’t, you know, you weren’t an outsider looking in who’s trying to guess at what is the experience, what is the need, what are the… what are the fears and desires of an athlete. You’d been there yourself. And while today’s athletes may have some different experience, you know, you had that built-in empathy, that built-in connection. And I think it’s that focus, and it’s the passion for what you’re doing that gets you to where you are now.
So you said earlier, this is a big moment, not just for our employees at INFLCR and Teamworks, not just our customers in the schools and pro teams that use INFLCR and Teamworks, but this is also, I think, a big moment in sports tech, right? Because right now is an interesting time where you have athletes, young athletes, who are natives to technology. You know, you go back to just my son right now, five years old, has known nothing else but the phone since he was born. And for most of the student athletes now, especially the freshmen and sophomores, they really came up in an era where the smartphone was there. And so that means that they’re more native to social media. They’re more native to using their calendar on their phone. They’re more native to doing things academically on their phone, reporting things on their phone, right.
And what we do as companies, Teamworks and the Teamworks app, INFLCR and the INFLCR app is really directly delivering value to the student-athlete or the pro athlete in a way where the time is now, they need as much as they can technologically to make their off the court or off the field experience to be optimal.
Without a doubt and, you know, look, this… this merger of our two firms that we’re talking about, this acquisition doesn’t… it doesn’t happen without that reality. Meaning, as much as I’m bullish on Jim Cavale, and Zach Maurides and Jim Cavale want to work together, you know, when we had… first had this thesis, we went out and we talked to athletes. We talked to athletes that were using INFLCR. We talked to athletes that didn’t have a solution like INFLCR.
And you know, what’s, what is readily apparent is that the athlete today, social media is… it’s more than just a way to tell their story. It is how they communicate their reality to the rest of the world. It’s how they connect, you know. It’s their language. It’s how they communicate. And as much as they are, you know, native to it, I think even you and I, we’re immigrants, right? I mean, we, we have experience. We’ve learned it as a second language, right. Facebook came out in my freshman year. I think Duke was one of the first 10 and, you know, MySpace, but there was no Snapchat. There was no Instagram. There was no Twitter.
But these kids, since, you know, adolescence, since… since, you know, they picked up a phone, right, a smartphone for the first time, which is something that, you know, 2-year-olds are doing today, you know, it has been their language. And as we talk to the… to the kids that don’t have a solution, don’t have a way to really get their story out, it was a need, right. I mean, they felt muted. They felt like there wasn’t a whole part of their experience that wasn’t being shared.
And I think as much as, you know, even, you know, I think this is true for athletes at all levels, I mean, and we talked to some of the kids that are at Division II in Division III, and, and one of the things they want the world to know is, “I’m working just as hard as those guys at… and guys and gals at the, you know, the Power Five institutions that are getting all the media attention. And my way to share my story is I want to put out like, ‘Hey, you know, here’s what’s going on in the weight room today. Here’s what just happened on the practice field. Here’s, here’s how I’m feeling.’”
And I think as we talked to the teams that are using INFLCR, those athletes feel empowered. They feel like, you know, they’ve been… they’ve been given that ability to tell that story. And that the delight is evident, right? I mean, we talked to… we talked to the guys over at Duke Basketball and how it’s delighting the athletes. It’s not… it’s not, “Oh, here’s something you have to use.” The athletes are like, you know, it’s like, there’s this relief, you know, it’s like, “Yes, I want this.”
And that’s what we love to see in a product, right? The product, like, I’m not even coming in and having to mandate or train. It’s like, “How soon can we get this going?” And that was the signal toss that, you know, we knew we were onto something here, we knew that this was… this was more than Zach, you know, at finding a, you know, which is certainly an important component that the two founders, right, the two CEOs have a great relationship. But this was clearly, as we look at it, and strategically, how do we improve our ability to serve our core customer, the athlete. This was a no brainer.
And as you look at, you know, what we can do together now, joining forces, you look at all the teams you serve that we don’t serve, yeah, you look at all the athletes you serve that we don’t serve yet, you look at all the value you can now bring the marketplace, this is a part of a bigger vision, right? We both want from a sports tech standpoint to bring athletes every technological advantage, convenience and value that we can. It just so happens that I’ve started with INFLCR and you started before that with Teamworks. But you know, you know, company x is out there right now doing something.
And so this is just the beginning of our two companies coming together under the Teamworks roof and saying, “Hey, we’ve got INFLCR for you. And, eventually, it’s going to integrate with Teamworks, which you’re already using. And eventually, it could also integrate with whatever.”
I mean, you look at that modern athletic programs, and what they’ve done is they have built an ecosystem of support around our athletes, right? So, they’ve hired professionals that are addressing the athletic development of the athletes, the psychological development of the athlete, the academic development of the athlete. You know, in every way that you can think about developing a human being, they’ve got specialists. And then along with those specialists, they’ve given them resources, like facilities, you know, resources, you know. We didn’t just hire a nutritionist; we gave them the ability to buy the right food and get it in front of the athletes.
And again, I think increasingly, today, modern photo programs are turning to technology. We’ve done what we can with human beings. We’ve done what we can with facilities. How can we leverage technology?
It’s the new arms race.
A hundred percent. And, you know, I think the, you know, the, when you look at how our athletic organizations, number one, delivering better outcomes for their student athletes, and number two, how are they being more competitive? They’re turning to technology for differential advantage. And, you know, this is, you know, enabling athletes to tell their story in social media, it is inherently a technological problem. There is… you cannot throw facilities at this problem. You cannot throw human beings at this problem. You have to utilize and leverage the right technology to solve that problem.
And it is a core component to the athlete’s experience. And, you know, to not have a solution, I think today is, is tantamount to muting their voice. And on the flip side, having that solution in place, that piece of the total tech stack in place, it’s liberating.
All right, so now, let’s back up. This is a great time. For sports tech, what we’re doing can continue to be at the forefront of that. And that’s what we’ve been talking about so far as how we’re putting power into the athlete’s hands, and it’s exciting.
But let’s go back a decade. So it’s 2009. And sports tech, let alone technology as an app-based mobile-used component, let alone in general software as a service in the cloud is all pretty new. I mean, Amazon kind of invented the cloud, I guess, in 2006. Okay, that was only 13 years ago, okay.
So 10 years ago, a decade ago, you’re just on a movement where you’re going off of your college experience, you’re now on this journey with Teamworks. And you’re building a company in a space that doesn’t yet have a line item on the budget to the college athletics organizations you’re selling to let alone a roadmap to get user adoption because it’s not as much of a norm to use technology, especially on your mobile device, as it is 10 years later today. Talk about the journey, especially in those early years, of being part of the forefathers of the sports tech movement.
Yeah, so, I think, you know, first you’re fighting a battle to just simply get people to think of technology as, you know, a tool that’s in their arsenal to accomplish their goals, right. Just getting,10 years ago, getting head coaches, athletic directors, GMs to think about technology as a way that they can win, as a way that they can, you know, accomplish the goals that they’ve set for the organization on and off the field.
Then, you know, the next phase is, “Well, we’ve got a website, why do we need another website?” Getting them to actually think about, you know, technology as a multifaceted problem. So, I mean, we, you know, I would say five years ago, you had a lot of folks saying, “How come I can’t have one piece of software that just does everything for me?” And I would say, “You know, how come your head basketball coach isn’t doing architectural design, balancing the books for the athletic department, and also handling the medical care?”
Because we are going to have to specialize in technology just like we are with people, right? We’re going to hire the best head basketball coach and we’re going to ask him to coach basketball. We’re going to hire the best architects and ask them to design our buildings, right? So five years ago, I think you’re starting to get people to think about, we’re going to need specialized technology. And I think today now is… and look, this has happened in other industries, as you have organizations finally saying, technology is a part of how we’re going to win. Technology is not going… we’re not going to have a one-stop shop. In fact, we’re going to have a multi-faceted approach to leveraging technology. And now what you’re just beginning to get, as folks are saying, let’s craft a roadmap. But let’s make sure that it’s a roadmap where all those different pieces, they’re fitting together and moving and working as one just like we would want an organization, right?
So we’ve gone from, let’s hire… and if you think about technology like people, we need to… “Hey, we need to invest. We need to hire.” Okay, now we need to hire specialists. Now we need to hire specialists that can work together as a team. And that is where the platform comes in. And that is where we go, “How do we take companies like, for example, Teamworks and INFLCR, that are… that are joining forces and create a cohesive tech stack that’s going to help us set up our athletes for success, on and off the field of play, during and after their athletic careers.
And that’s where we’re at. That’s the journey, right. And it’s 10 years of plowing that, plowing that row. And I think what’s really exciting now, as we’ve kind of, I think, fought as thought leaders to get organizations to make that investment, delivered value so that they want to invest more, guided them towards kind of a right mindset and approach that that’s worked well in other industries, what’s really cool now is to see the innovation that’s coming through that lane that we’ve opened up, and all the exciting value that’s coming to these organizations.
So sports is in your DNA, grew up in Chicago, your father, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, he worked with athletes with his law practice that you’ve been around at a young age. Tell the story kind of growing up in Chicago, wrestled, played football, end up at Duke.
Yeah. So, you know, I think that, obviously, you know, my family, one of the rules was, you’re always, I think they wanted to keep us tired, right. So if the kids are tired, they’re easy to deal with. So the rule was, “You’ve always got to be involved in a sport.” And, you know, just given my size, I took to football, right? Always… always was kind of a bigger kid. And, you know, was, as I like to joke, I was good at hitting things with my face, right. So, you know, got into wrestling, my father, that was his sport in high school.
I think wrestling was a really interesting experience for me because it’s a solo sport, right? As much as it is a team sport, and you compete as a team, you’re out there on the mat one on one. And you talk about being kind of alone and exposed. And it’s a sport that I think, number one, so, not only does it develop you physically in many ways, it can be beneficial for other sports, but the physical toughness that it develops, the kind of emotional fortitude that you develop from participating in that sport, I think a big part of why I made it to the level of playing football at a Power Five institution on scholarship is a result of kind of the skills and abilities both physically and emotionally that developed on the wrestling mat.
And, and then, of course, in the… in the spring. And my high school, if you didn’t have another sport, most of the football coaches or track and field coaches. So if you didn’t have a sport, you came out for track and field. But, always was involved in sport. You know, my father is a big sports fan and would come to all my, you know…hardworking attorney, long hours, but I don’t think I can remember him ever missing a game, a match. And frankly, I think showed up for a lot of practices too.
And I think like a lot of kids, you know, when you’re doing something that you’re getting that positive reinforcement from your parents, like it’s hard not to… it’s hard not to, you know, form a bond with that activity, you know. Started getting recruiting… recruited for, you know, by college teams, and you know, from day one, you know, my father, you know, his, and I’m grateful for this, this guidance. But he was like, “This is about getting the best education, you can,” because he knew that, you know, even if you make it to the next level beyond college, I think through some of his experience representing professional athletes, he knew that that was, you know, that was a blink in your life.
And, you know, maximizing your opportunity to get a great education, that’s what was going to be kind of the lasting impact. And so, you know, when we started going on official visits, the first official visit I had was Duke, and, you know, Duke University at the time, the football team was struggling, frankly. It was… of all the places that were recruiting me, they weren’t playing the best football at that time. But I went down there. And you know, number one, it’s an incredible place. You walk around, I mean, you look, you look at the architecture, you meet the people, it’s impressive. I met my… met the guys that were going to be leading me, the coaches; met the players on the team.
And it just felt, like, it felt right. And, you know, I will say that, you know, as a story, I would go forward, you know, we continue to struggle on the football field. But that experience was important for me. Right? I took a lot away from that.
But, you know, ultimately concluded that official visit, and knew it was where I was going to be going and committed on that visit. And I think on the way to the airport, I had four other officials setup, and I called every single coach and was like, you know, this is it, this is where I’m going on, you know, I’m off the market.
And it’s the best choice I’ve ever made in my life. I mean, everything I have today, my business, my wife, you know, some incredible relationships, and not to mention the education I received, all result of that decision.
It’s amazing how it all culminates from a… from a decision like that. And, you know, for me to listen to it, I know that the next part of the story is where you, not only play at Duke, but you experience the problem that you became so passionate about that Teamworks was birthed.
Talk about that experience.
So, you know, when I… when I came into Duke in 2003 as a freshman, and I would say, you know, my perception is that, you know, Duke was kind of ahead of the times, in the sense that they had really made a robust investment in constructing that ecosystem around the athlete and beyond just, you know, kind of the standard coaches and, you know, athletic trainers, and the strength coaches. They had sports psychologists, nutritionist, life skills coaches, academic advisors, tutor-mentors, I mean, you name it, there were about 15 different professionals that were working with every single student athlete in those various kind of areas of their life.
And their shared mission was, “How do we set up each one of these kids to be as successful as possible on the field, in the classroom, and when sport ends?”
Now, the reality of my experience was that that ecosystem of support and kind of the sheer number of people involved in the complexity of it had grown a lot faster than the systems and processes that supported how all of those people work together as a cohesive unit, and how they connected with the athlete in an effective and efficient manner.
And so, a lot of times, those amazing, you know, professionals, their well-intentioned efforts would generate negative results. And, you know, a simple example of how that might manifest was just the management of my time. So as you can imagine, each one of those professionals is trying to get a piece of my schedule every single week. One person is texting me. This person is emailing me. This person is putting on a whiteboard. This person is telling me face to face. This person is, you know, dropping a piece of paper in my locker.
And so, we got all these adults that are counting on an 18-year-old with no time management skills to keep it straight. So what ends up happening? I end up double booked each in two places at the same time, or, “Hey, Zach, we need you over here at this time, and 30 minutes later, we need you over here except, crud, those two places are 40 minutes apart. So when I was playing ball, you show up late and miss an appointment. Run the stadium stairs at 4 o’clock in the morning.
So, well, just suffice to say that, at the end of my freshman year, I was in incredible cardiovascular fit.
But I was offensive lineman, so running stadium stairs was definitely not my jam. And, you know, fast forward, I’m in my sophomore year, and I’m taking a technology course. And we were given the assignment to conceptualize, you know, a piece of software that would… and, and really conceptualize and build a prototype for a piece of software that would benefit us in our lives. And, you know, I made the decision to try and solve this problem.
And the problem as I saw it wasn’t that we had people that didn’t want to do the right thing, athletes that didn’t want to show up on time. The problem was that we didn’t have the right system to communicate and work as a team, and so built a very rudimentary version of what would eventually become Teamworks.
You know, after I turned it in, was talking with my father about kind of the assignment and shared with him, you know, the impetus for it. And you know, my father is somebody who, you know, entrepreneurism has been in my family since my great grandparents immigrated here. I mean, that’s why they came to America was to start a business.
And my… so I think I’m like a lot of families where entrepreneur isn’t a dirty word, and my family it was an honored profession, right? It was the goal to own your own business. And so my dad listened. And, you know, he said, “You know, if, you know, Duke, supposedly, has got some pretty smart people. And if they can’t figure this out, my guess is nobody can. And if you can build a solution to it that works, there’s probably an opportunity to build a business.”
And so, with his encouragement, you know, found my, my technical co-founder, a guy named Shaun Powell, who took what I had built, which, thank goodness, I’ve been out of the code base ever since then, and turned it into something that our football team could start experimenting with and using. And so we rolled it out, and I think was in 2005, late 2005, with the football team. And all of a sudden, you know, we had less people missing meetings. We had, you know, more cohesiveness. All of a sudden, from the athlete’s perspective, they had one place to go, one source of truth. For those staff members, all of a sudden, they’re not stepping on each other’s toes. You know, they’re kind of working and moving as one. And I think that’s when we knew we were on to something.
And you know, from there, I continue to get other teams on board at Duke and just kind of experiment and learn until I graduated and fall of ‘07. And at that point, you know, I knew that I really wanted to pursue building Teamworks into a business. I knew that, you know, I think this is what I want to do with the rest of my life. I don’t think I quite understood just how expansive it could become, just how many organizations we could bring it to. But even though I had that desire, I did not feel qualified at 22 to run a software company.
And so, you know, I was very intentional. I sought out a position at a company called SciQuest, which was a, you know, late-stage software as a service company selling into… selling an electronic procurement software platform into institutions of higher ed. Today, it goes, the company… the firm goes by a different name. But they sell their software into multiple verticals. But back then, their primary business was selling to universities and colleges. And about 90% of universities, colleges were buying their software.
So I said, “Let me go work here and learn from a group of seasoned executives, how you build a company, selling software to universities.” Got a job at the very bottom of the food chain as an analyst on one of the product teams, and was super intentional about my time there. I mean, I was going there to learn from the folks at the top, and I wanted to have relationships with the top.
And so, you know, I figured out what gym the CEO was working out at, and when he was working out, and I made sure I got a membership, and I was there at the same time. And, you know, I not only did I recruit an incredible mentor, but today, I can tell you one of my closest friends, you know, in the world of Stephen Wiehe, who was the CEO of SciQuest at that time. And, you know, Steve, got to know him, and he really, you know, embraced what I was trying to do and encouraged me and, you know, started a relationship where he, you know, helped me figure out how do I turn Teamworks into a real company. And so, continue to work at SciQuest and run Teamworks on the side until 2009 when I left, right around time that SciQuest was… Steve was taking SciQuest public, and made the decision, you know, on the back half of 2009 to go, you know… and of course, we’re, we’re in the middle of the worst economic downturn.
It’s a good time to start.
It’s great time to… you know, “hey, I got a great job at a great company, we’re in the middle of the great recession, I should probably quit that job”. And, you know, and just kind of started a long walk to where we are now. But that’s how we… that’s how we finally took the leap, right?
And, obviously, to build any successful business, you need an amazing team—talent, talent, talent—right? Early on, Mitch Heath, was a guy that you were connected with.
And co-founder, who along with Shaun really helped you get this thing from initial momentum. And then also a book that you always talk about that, you know, is a classic, in especially the technology space, Crossing the Chasm, taught you a lot about the realities of winning over a market. And the difference between early adopters and laggards.
And, and so talk about Mitch and talent, and then talk a little bit about the customer base that you went out to begin acquiring because both have complex background to that.
Yeah. So I think a couple things. You know, early on, for your co-founders, I mean, I think you need to focus on finding people that, number one, are really, really, really smart. Because that’s going to be the DNA of your organization. And you want to make sure that you start, you’re setting a really high bar.
Number two, I think you got to… you got to have people that are really resilient. I think a lot of startups, they got talented people that can do the jobs, and they just can’t get through the tough times. And there are a lot of tough times. And I think in both Mitch and Shaun, they were just incredibly resilient individuals. But number three, you got to find people that are complimentary. And so, in both of them, I had guys that everything I wasn’t…
Yeah, yeah. And I think, you know, the story of both of them is different. You know, I met Shaun, way back in ‘05 when we were, you know, saying how do we take this thing from a prototype to something people can use, and he was actually roommates with the TA of the class that I was in. So when I… I went back to that TA and I was like, “I think we want to try and build this thing.” And he’s like, “I think my roommate can do it.”
And you know, Shaun is just this brilliant individual. He was working at actually another startup at the time. And so he’s a little bit older than me. Have gotten out of college, working in another company, that company ended up getting acquired by another company. But right around 2009 where Shaun had kind of been working on it part time, that’s when I turned to him and I said, “You know, what if,” and at that point he’d been a contractor, okay. But I… I’d known him long enough, I’m like, this is the guy that’s going to, that’s going to help us get off the ground. So I kind of made the same proposition to him that I… I think I had made to myself where I said, “Why don’t you quit your job? Come work for me for nothing. Be my co-founder. Let me give you some equity. And let’s, let’s see if we can get this thing off the ground.”
Mitch, I met him in the spring of 2010. So that was the spring of his senior year. And I think he had finished basically all his courses that he needed to for his… I think he was an econ and public policy, double major. So he picked some pretty tough subjects at Duke.
And, you know, I think Mitch hates it when I say this, but I have to say, I mean, he’s a perfect SAT, straight, straight A, you know, econ, public policy, double major from Duke, had an incredible job, already lined up with one of the top consulting firms right out of school. And I got connected with him because a mutual friend reached out and said, “Hey, there’s this guy who’s a senior at Duke. He wants to intern at a local startup. Are you guys interested?”
So he comes in the spring of 2010. And, and is working with us and like, within, you know, within a few weeks, I’m like, this guy is off the charts brilliant, and the exact opposite of me in every way possible. And, you know, I think it was not only his ability, as an individual, but just the balancing effect that I knew he was going to have. I mean, Mitch and I, I think in a lot of ways are like Yin and Yang. And so, he came on board, that summer, actually, I convinced him first and foremost to like, to go back to that consulting firm.
And basically, they had a program where once you got a job, you could defer for a year, because a lot of folks that they would sign would want to go do, you know, Teach for America or volunteer or whatever. And so, I convinced him to defer for a year in that position. So I’m like, great, I got a year to sell him on, you know, fully walking away from this. And over the next 12 months, managed to convince him to, you know, just go ahead and say, you know, what, I’m going to walk away from this great opportunity that I’ve worked hard for four years to create to step into this other opportunity that I see, as you know, potentially being, you know, I then… you’d have to ask him, but I think he saw, he saw a lot of potential in what we were doing, and saw that as a better life outcome, and he jumped in the boat with Shaun and I.
And really, you know, there was… the fourth leg of the stool, Justin Baker, and he’s a guy that I had gotten connected with, you know, in the fall of ‘09 and was helping me with all these other projects I had going on, and everything else.
And, you know, he was the… he was, as much as Shaun was kind of the technical guy, and Mitch was the process guy. And maybe I was the business and sales guy. Justin was the culture guy, the heart guy.
He was the guy that just had incredible off the charts EQ. And, you know, same thing right around end of 2009 convinced him to focus full time on Teamworks and helping us to build a culture. And he’s the guy that would come in your office and say, “We’re running fast, things are going really, really well. And this person is about to burnout. We got to pull him. We got to pull him off the field. We got to give him some… we got to get him a breather, give him some oxygen.” He’s also the guy that will come in and would come in my office and tell me the emperor has, you know, got no clothes on, he speaks the truth.
And so, you know, I think, you know, that early team in, just super resilient, really complementary skill sets. And, you know, just… it came together. It’s what we needed to get through those early years.
And so, you fast forward to today, you’re almost at 3000 teams, you’re serving teams, throughout college sports, a market where you started and have really taken ownership of and then you’ve gone into new markets, American pro sports, NBA, NHL, MLS, MLB, NFL, abroad, EPL, Australian Rugby.
That’s where you are today. It’s a massive impact. And it’s continuing to grow, not just from quantity of teams that you’re serving, but the investment per year per team, which continues to increase because you’re able to offer more with the suite of features that the Teamworks has to offer. An example of that would be the Academics offering that you’ve recently come out with for college sports organizations, and time management tracking, which is part of the new compliance that college athletics organizations have to do to track the time of their student athletes and not go over with how much they ask them to commit with their hours.
You look at all that stuff, the journey to get there, and in how you had to have early adopters just as much as you had to have Mitch and Justin and Shaun jump in early to help you. You had to have schools jump in early and say, “You know what, we’re going to do this with you, and we know, we know you’re new, but we need it. And we’re going to give you feedback, and we’re going to help you.” And not every school is ready to do it. A matter of fact, you wouldn’t want every school to do that.
Talk about that.
Well, I mean, that takes us across in the chasm, right. And I think you’re… you know, and what I tell a lot of entrepreneurs, when you’re trying to get in a new segment, be careful. Be careful about who you engage with. You need to get the right psychographic profile.
You need those early adopters, those innovators, the right first few customers, you know, the Duke footballs, the Northwestern footballs, the Stanford footballs, the Arkansas footballs, you know, those first few groups, those are the ones that look at you and go, “We know it’s not perfect. But we believe in where you’re trying to get. We think you can get there, and we’re going to help you perfect it.” Now, where you got to be careful is you sell to a pragmatist at that stage when you’re not perfect. And a pragmatist needs it to be perfect. They need to have, “Well, how do I do this? How do I… what about this problem? What about that?” You got to have all the right answers. Your product has got to be polished. It’s got to be honed.
And so, you know, I think… but, you know, again, those, those early customers, and we were bootstrapping, okay. So they weren’t, they were early investors, right.
I mean, I, you know, I, a lot of people, you know, that they… they read about, you know, the startups that make it to the end, and sometimes those startups have… and I think increasingly today those startups have had access to capital from day one. And it’s one of the things is great is that the venture ecosystem has only gotten more robust. But for us, we bootstrapped for the first five years.
You know, I mean, it was… I think it was until 2014 that the four of us started paying ourselves 1,000 bucks a month. I mean, we had gotten to a point where, you know, two out of the three guys are living in my house. And, you know, we’re… we’re living off credit cards and everything else.
And so, those first few teams, not only did they believe in where we were going and helped us refine the product, but they were early investors, and they helped us sustain the business until we, you know, we had gotten the product market fit solved. And then you know, once you have a product that’s creating compelling value, you got to learn how to communicate that value to the people that can help and do that in a scalable and efficient fashion. And we call that go-to market. But you know, with the… I think the backing, the support of those organizations, we got to the point at the end of 2015 where, you know, we’re kind of looking to our left and our right, and, you know, we got 20 people, and we’re doing over 2 million bucks a year in revenue, and people are loving it.
And we, you know, and, oh, my gosh, we can help more than just college football teams. We can help all sports, pro teams are using it, you know, I think we could take this overseas, you know, so. But those early… those early believers, those early customers, those early investors, if you will, finding the right people to get behind you is critical.
Okay, so then you begin raising institutional capital VC, right, Seaport, General Catalyst, raise of series A and series B, out of Raleigh in North Carolina, Durham, sorry, but, you know, the triangle, while it’s above average tech market in the southeast it’s still not Silicon Valley, right. But you’ve been able to use that as an advantage. I mean, it’s amazing quality of life here. Duke is right here, North Carolina, Wake Forest, just down the road, North Carolina state so there’s talent coming out of school.
There’s a lot of advantages here you’ve been able to leverage. So you have this institutional capital you’ve been able to raise here, but also, you’ve been able to build a real team right here.
So, I mean, a couple things. I mean, number one, you’re right, I mean, you have an incredible pool of technology talent here. You’ve got the Research Triangle. So you’ve got a lot of folks that, you know, people don’t know that Red Hats, you know, original headquarters is in this area, the largest privately held software company in the world, I believe, still today, SaaS is headquartered in Cary, North Carolina, just a few minutes down the road from Durham.
So you have a lot of senior engineering talent, but also you got Duke, UNC, NC State, ANT, NC Central, Wake Forest, you know, UNCG, UNC Charlotte, you know, ECU, I mean, within, you know, couple of hours, you have 10, 15 institutions that are pumping out great entry-level engineering talent. So you’ve got all the… all the ability and IQ that you need to staff a business, you’ve got way lower cost of operation than you’re going to have out west, right.
And, oh, by the way, if you’re starting a business in college athletics, you got plenty of folks in your backyard to study, study and learn and sell to. I also think that, you know, increasingly being outside of the Valley, being outside of kind of, you know, the Boston and New York area is, you know, more and more investors are realizing that in kind of what I would say, maybe less, areas that have less density of venture capital are producing better businesses, okay.
So if people are throwing money at… I’m telling you right now, you give me $5 million, day one, when I start Teamworks, I probably learned the exact same lessons that I learned without that money, except they cost me way more.
Right. And so, when Seaport Capital is looking at us at the end of 2015, we’re not a company that’s burning cash, because we can’t, right, we have to grow organically. We’re a company that’s growing at an aggressive rate. But we’re… we’re doing it making more than we’re spending, right, so we were a better business. We were… we were a leaner business. And I think, you know, is it harder to start a business without that money? Sure.
But I think there’s an old saying, “If the training is hard, the battle is easy.” And I think, you know, again, those early days, those five years of struggle, four young guys that really didn’t know what they were doing, I mean, that was our… that was our training ground. You know, beat us up, made us tough and taught us those hard lessons.
Create, you created good habits that creates fiduciary responsibility if you have the capital.
No doubt. That’s right.
Because essentially, what are you as the CEO with the capital, you’re an investor? Okay, so as we go back to where you are today, where we are now, under the same umbrella, INFLCR continuing to build its brand, continuing to get more athletes their content in real-time, so they can build a brand for themselves, Teamworks continuing to bring a full-circle streamlined system for athletes to manage their life off the court or field. Now we’re together. There’s a lot at stake here. There’s… there’s a lot of amazing opportunities here for athletes. And so, as we look forward, and look at this whole athletes focus, how do you sum up what’s at stake? What… as much as this is all a blessing, what is the responsibility?
So I can tell you, I think we have a responsibility at Teamworks, and we talk about this a lot. We have got to rewire this industry. This industry needs a technology makeover. And there are… there are… it is full of passionate people that care deeply about serving athletes. But we have a responsibility to help the industry invest more wisely and more efficiently. And technology is going to do for this industry what it’s done for healthcare, what it’s done for construction, what it’s done for, you know, countless other industries.
It is going to help this industry get better at doing, at serving its intended purpose, which is developing athletes, serving athletes. And I’ll tell you right now that the road that we’re going down to construct that platform, to construct that ecosystem, where these organizations can have the right solutions in the right areas and have them in an integrated structure, if we don’t do it, I don’t know who does or at least not anytime soon. And… but, you know, isn’t it great to have a fight worth fighting for?
It’s a… it’s amazing to have a fight worth fighting for and to wake up passionately every day to fight that fight. But it’s even better to fight it together with other people…
…as many people as possible when we can rally together who are passionate about it as well. You know, you talked about intelligence and people that we’re complimentary to you, and I see this team here now, you know, hundred-plus folks, once again, so complimentary to one another and I know with our, you know, 25 or so at INFLCR so far, we’ve tried to really build a team that complements each other. But one thing I know that everyone has, there’s no complimentary aspect about it, everybody has rallied around it, is that athlete focus. And it actually goes through the customer.
People outside of our industry will ask me, “Are you guys B2B, B2C?” I say, “Well, we’re B2B2C.” Because, yeah, we serve athletes, those are the consumers we serve. But athletes don’t pay for our product. And they’re not the starting point for our product. The college athletics department is, the pro sports front office is, they’re the middle man, if you will, to being able to impact the athletes. And so, when we think about our customers, when you think about your customers, the opportunity for them to fulfill what you said, we need a makeover, we need technology to come in and really do a makeover in this industry is big for those customers. It’s going to save them time. It’s going to create efficiencies that are going to help them not only help athletes more, but maybe spend some time with their families at night when they usually would be back at the office, printing out and writing up reports that could be digitized, right? So there’s a… there’s a big benefit in it for the customer as well in between us and the athletes.
No doubt. I mean, I… it’s interesting, right, I mean, a lot of the end users that we talk to at Teamworks that are working at these institutions, these clubs, serving the athletes, you know, first thing they’re going to tell you is, you know, I’m spending 30%, 40% of my day doing things that aren’t really my core competency. I’m an athletic trainer, and my job is to prevent and treat injury.
But I spend 30%, 40% of my day shuffling paper, dealing with schedules, just trying to communicate. And, you know, if we can, and, frankly, our mission is how do we come in and how do we get… get that 40%? How do we eliminate? How do we get down to 10%, 5%? So that we can focus on our core, you know, kind of our core competency; and for a lot of folks is this gives me the ability to spend more time engaging with my athletes, less time on my administrative duties and more time, you know, treating the athlete, more time talking to the athlete.
You know, it was interesting, when would first start go out and sell this to football teams, they, you know, sometimes we get folks who go, “Well, I don’t, I don’t want to lose the… I don’t want to lose the connection of my athletes. I don’t want it to become all digital.”
And I was like, “Let me stop you right there. Because what this is about is having you spend less time on administrative tasks so that you can spend more time face to face with your kids, because that’s where you’re going to have impact.
That’s where you’re going to… that’s where, you know, particularly at the collegiate level, that’s where you’re going to influence those young men and women and help develop them into what they can be.” So I think, you know, number one is that.
Number two is, yeah, I mean, we look, you know, I think particularly in college athletics, folks are overworked. You know, it’s, it is, it’s, it’s difficult right now with the year-round schedule with some of these sports where there’s not a break, there’s not a breather. And you know, finding balance, finding ways to get time back to invest in your own health as a coach, as a support staff member, to invest in your family, your relationships at home, that’s valuable, too.
So, you know, if we can cut 30%, 40% out of your day, and you have the opportunity to spend more time with the athletes that you serve and spend more time investing in yourself, put that life vest on so you can help other people, spend more time investing in your relationships at home, right, we’re making things better.
No doubt about it. Who are some athletic directors, front-office folks that you guys have worked with at Teamworks who’ve had a big impact on your worldview of this industry that we’re trying to make over so to speak?
Oh, man, you know, gosh, I think it’s… it’s hard to like, I mean, there’s so many incredible leaders in this industry, so many folks that I’m so grateful to get exposure to. I mean, just recent interactions, I mean, just yesterday, we had, you know, Gene Smith and Janine Oman and six of their peers from Ohio State down to visit us here, I mean, I think there… there’s an organization, there’s a group of leaders that are like, same thing, they know their true north, and they’re not there… what I love about what they’re doing, they’re, they’re not just doing, you know, what, what the conference is telling them the minimum they have to do to develop their student athletes. They’re… they’re so aggressive with how can we constantly do more and their Bucks Go Pro program where they’re, you know, working on how can we invest not just in education, not just in the physical, mental health, not just in the athletic success? Now, how do we build programs to make these kids the most employable college graduates in the country? How do we start weaving that into their experience? I mean, I… it’s just so cool to learn about what they’re doing.
You know, I had the opportunity earlier this week to grab dinner with Sam Wilcox, somebody that has played a big role in Teamworks’ history, I mean, back in 2010, when he and Kevin White, you know, made a decision. And remember, neither one of those two administrators, neither Dr. White nor Stan were at Duke when I was a student athlete. So as much as, you know, I might have liked to get Duke department-wide as a customer out of nepotism, you know, they had to sit back and take a hard look at it, but they were bullish on what we were doing and they wanted to be aggressive with using technology to empower their athletes.
You know, some folks that I think are just really pushing the envelope, Michael Kelly that, you know, South Florida; Vicky Chun at Yale; Chrissi Rawak at Delaware, like, every time I sit down with her, I’m just like blown away with just how creative and resourceful she is in everything she does as a leader of Delaware athletics. You know, Samantha Hu at William & Mary. Last week had a chance to sit down with Mack Rhoades at Baylor and learn about all the things they’re doing there. And again, same thing that you talk about, a leadership team from top to bottom that’s gotten their priorities straight.
They’re all about the athlete. What do we do to empower kids? And it’s not just the tagline, right? All those folks… it’s not… they believe it at their core. But all those folks I just listed also believe that technology is going to play a role in how they do that going forward.
I love it, man. It’s exciting times. It’s exciting to see where we’re going to go together with INFLCR with Teamworks, and a lot of those brands you just named, we both work with, some of them we don’t, INFLCR doesn’t work with yet.
Well, we’re going to handle that, right. We got to get you introduced.
But man, I appreciate you. I appreciate your belief, your team’s belief in what we built at INFLCR and so pumped to be under the same umbrella now, building our brands separately but together because, ultimately, we’re helping the same end user and that’s the athlete.
Jim, I’m fired up about the next chapter. No doubt. Thank you.