All of my brothers played sports and I remember the day when our Little League field finally got a mechanized score board. It was a big deal, but I can imagine the parents, coaches, and fans of those teams would have been even more pumped if something like founder Ted Sullivan’s GameChanger existed back. This awesome app lets parents and fans of amateur sports games follow along in real time while the coaches keep track of the scores.
Working late and can’t make it to your kid’s game? He’ll probably still be pissed, but at least you can stay involved on some level.
Ted has always been involved in sports–including a stint playing professionally in the baseball minor leagues–and his company is a great intersection of his interests. Keep reading to find out how Ted went from baseball player to startup co-founder with more than 20 people working in his New York City office…
So I like to start with the basics. Where’d you get your funding?
Angels. Lots of angels. They’ve been very, very supportive… [We had] a small group of five or six people in the first round for like 100K and then the next round six months later was like 250 and then six months after that… It just continued to grow and so here we are. We only raise from angels and we have about 15 or 20 individuals involved now.
How many founders do you have?
Two of us. Kiril Savino is the CTO and co-founder. We did 50/50 from the beginning and he’s an incredible technologist, incredible engineer. I’ve been really lucky. We’d be nowhere without him.
How’d you guys meet?
You know, it was funny. It was like a founder blind date, as we always call it. I came up with the idea and I was looking around for someone to help build the site. I really wasn’t even thinking that I’d be able to find a potential co-founder or someone I could work with in the long run. It was really like, who can I find to build a prototype to see if I could go raise money or do whatever. See if this thing even works…
Anyway, long story short, we go meet and neither of us realized it at the time, we didn’t even realize it the whole lunch but Kiril was there thinking that he was pitching me on his idea and I was there thinking I was pitching him to be the technology side of my idea. As Kiril tells the story, CEO/Sales Guy/Better Talker always wins the battle. He thought my idea, I guess, was better and we were off to the races.
How many people do you have working for you now?
About 22, actually, which is crazy to think about. We’ve grown really fast and things are going great. We have an incredible team and we’ve got big, big plans.
Is everyone there in your office in New York?
Everyone except two people are here in New York. And that’s a key piece to what we think in terms our culture and what we’re doing.
Judging by your website it seems like you guys have something pretty good going on in terms of office culture. Do you want to talk a little about that?
You know, we do and I certainly can’t take the credit. That’s something that’s guided by the founders but it’s really organic in terms of the fact that it comes from that collection of people. Not only the individuals but also how they interact with each other and who we put together. Or, I can’t even actually say “put together.” We hired good people who organically then create a really strong culture.
I think there’s a little bit of luck to that, a little bit of guidance and weekly rhythm and things to encourage it but then it comes down to whether or not these people interact with each other and like each other. Do you create an environment that gets them to work together well? Things like that.
And we’re still at the early hire phases so each person has a significant impact on that culture. But the combination of both senior folks who have done a lot of amazing things and could probably work wherever they want and then the young bucks that are right out of school; they really work well together.
When did you guys launch?
The product launched in January of 2010. So we’ve been at it for a couple years with the product on the market.
Let’s talk a little bit about the product itself!
Really the app is used in two different ways. It’s used to replace paper and pencil scorekeeping at an amateur sports event and it’s used by parents and fans of that team to follow along. Because it’s a free app, there’s nothing that stops some random person from downloading the app from the app store and watching three innings of a Yankees game and using our app to mess around and keep score. That doesn’t really provide us any value but we might get a download out of that.
So really the business is to give teams and the coaches of a team a tool that give them a much more efficient way to keep score and manage all of their stats in real time. Then we turn that data that they’re collecting into a really compelling stream of digital content for mom and dad or grandma and grandpa or local high school fan or anyone who might want to follow a youth or high school team. Our business is that coaches use it for free and mom and dad subscribe.
How did you come with this? What sparked this idea for you?
Without getting too into my background, I’ve been involved with amateur sports for a long time. I grew up playing sports. I played college baseball and then was drafted and played professional baseball in the minor leagues for a few years. My brother, who also played professionally and played in college, the two of us started a sports camp company in the D.C./Maryland area. That was when we were still in college. That was my first step into entrepreneurship and running a business in amateur sports.
I really love the market and I really love sports. Fast forward a number of years and I ended up leaving that business. That business is still around; it’s the largest youth sports camp in the D.C./Maryland area and my brother runs it full time but I left that business in terms of full-time six or seven years ago now, went to business school, and then started working for a tech startup in New York that was doing mobile apps. So Gamechanger really was at the crossroads of those two distinct backgrounds.
Why did you choose to base your company in New York? Is it just where you were or was there something about New York that was particularly appealing?
Unfortunately it’s the boring answer which is just that I was here. I met Kiril here and we were both working nights and weekends, seeing if this was actually going to be a real business or not. We were here and his wife and kids are here and my wife is here so that’s where the business was.
I mean, as you’ve probably read in the press and everywhere else, it’s an awesome place to have a startup. It’s amazing even the difference since 2008/2009, when it was still the early, early days of just having an idea, especially in this neighborhood where we are, here at Union Square.
How has it changed?
I think in two ways in particular. One is the whole sort of semi-organized meetups, for lack of a better term. Everything from the New York Tech Meetup, which is huge now and is sold out for eight or nine hundred people once a month and then hundreds of other smaller, local, community meetups. Some that are very, very specific, like for a certain type of technology…
In addition—I don’t know if it’s the chicken or the egg—but when there are more startups there are more investors. Most of the big venture firms in Silicon Valley and Boston have offices here or they at least have some individual who’s based here. The whole angel investing community is a much stronger community…
Some of it probably is, you know, the pendulum always swings a little too far. My take is it can get overheated as well. Sometimes there are too many startups, sometimes there are too many investors. The market evens it out over time; it sort of goes in waves. But it’s been fun to see and it’s certainly a great place to run a business…
The fact that I can, in a given day—not even a given day, a given morning! I can go have breakfast with an investor, meet with a media company and pitch a VC and be back in my office by lunch time. There’s very few cities in the world where that can happen.
Let’s switch gears a little bit. You mentioned your wife earlier. How would you say having a startup has affected your personal life?
(Laughs) You know, I’d say it’s 1000% better, primarily because I’m happy. I think that for any relationship to work, both people need to be happy at their core, they need to be challenged, things like that.
She is in maybe not a typical startup in terms of a tech startup but she was one of the first ten people at a digital marketing agency that’s now 40 or 50 people so she’s been through the same type of startup growth. They’re doing a lot of innovative technology stuff so in many ways we understand each other’s business. That’s really helpful as well.
Of course there’s a bit time commitment but I can say this (and I know it sounds cheesy and everything else) but I definitely wouldn’t be able to get this far without the 100% support and encouragement she gives me. And it’s not even support; it’s like, you should go do that.
And we also have a three month old now too so that’s a whole other variable in the equation.
Congratulations! Do you have any advice for other people who are getting a startup going?
I got a lot of advice since I was starting—and I consider myself still starting, in a lot of ways, even though I’ve been at it for a few years now. We’re still in the early days, I think.
I have a few pieces of advice that I’m sure are not particularly unique. One would be that selecting a business partner is like selecting a life partner that you’re going to marry. It’s just such a critical dynamic between the two people. I think the ideal is, obviously, shared passion about whatever you’re going after.
In my opinion, one of the things that is often overlooked is that it’s really important to not have overlapping interests and skill sets. You know, a lot of people just out of the business school I went to who have just graduated reach out to me and are like, hey, can you chat, and it’s two guys who have been working at the same place and doing the same thing for 10 years. And they’re both super smart but they do the exact same things and they have the same set of skills. I think that you have to divide and conquer in the early days.
I was pitching investors while Kiril was buliding the product. I’m doing the interview, and Kiril does not care about that. He does not need to have his name in print; he does not need to be a point of contact for investors. In fact, he’d probably prefer not to be. I think that kind of overlap is really critical.
Number two is focus. Focus is just so important and it gets more important as you get success. A lot of people think it’s the other way around, right? Like, we’re a little successful, now we can take on more things. Actually, you have to get more and more focused as you get more success because the fact is you’re going to get more opportunities to do different things. Everybody is going to have a different idea; everybody is going to want to partner with you if you’re getting traction and they think you can be helpful to them in some way.
I think it was Fred Wilson who said that to be a good startup CEO, you have to be a master “no” sayer. You have to say no like ten times a day in order to stay focused on the few things that your company is going to do really well.