On Building An Online Sports Network

Sean Leary
Founder, Sports Thread
1
Founders
22
Employees
Sports Thread
from Denver, Colorado, USA
started July 2016
1
Founders
22
Employees
895K
alexa rank
16.5K
followers
207K
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My name is Sean Leary, I am an entrepreneur from Colorado and I am working on building the largest online sports network in the world.

My company Sports Thread Inc. has built a social media platform which is one of the top 200 Sports Apps in the world on the Apple App Store and a network of digital products and services that reach well over 2 million people per year.

on-building-an-online-sports-network

What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?

My story starts as a high school baseball player. I was invited to try out for the USA National Baseball team as part of the National Team Identification Selection (NTIS) program and through that process and playing travel baseball I won a scholarship to attend Pepperdine University. I had dozens of other opportunities to play D1 sports but felt that Pepperdine was the right choice for me.

After choosing Pepperdine, the school committed an NCAA recruiting violation for giving athletes scholarships through a grant for which they hadn’t qualified. This impacted multiple teams on campus, they had to take postseason bans, and dozens of athletes who lost their scholarships - I was one of them. Although these athletes and I had not done anything wrong in accepting a scholarship that was awarded to us by our team and our school, we all had to make decisions on what to do in regards to attending a very expensive college without a scholarship. My choice was to leave and play Junior college baseball and try to work my way back to D1 sports.

I went and played JUCO ball for legendary coach John Altobelli at Orange Coast College. While at OCC I performed on and off the field and started working on getting my next D1 opportunity lined up. I was spending hours a day researching contact information for D1 coaches and emailing them with videos of myself playing. The only other option at the time was to pay an agent thousands of dollars to promote me to colleges. I felt that the process was antiquated and wanted to do something to help athletes network with college coaches without having to pay such a heavy fee.

I came up with the idea to start a social networking platform that would connect athletes to college coaches. I signed on to play at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and moved out there to pursue my baseball career, degree and to flush out the idea of my new company. While at ORU, I wrote the initial business plan and spent the summer between my Junior and Senior year at home raising money to start the company.

Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?

I graduated from ORU with my degree in Business Administration and had raised around $1 million to start the company. I moved home and began working on the minimum viable product to take to market. Once I had a project, I needed to raise more capital to market the product. I started flying to Silicon Valley to meet with a friend of my father’s who then introduced me to Dick O’Donnell who became our Chief Marketing Officer. Dick had an incredible career working for over 400 companies in Silicon Valley including being the VP of corporate marketing for Borland, TIBCO, and BEA Systems.

For the next few years, Dick worked with me to refine the product positioning and the go-to-market strategy. I flew in and out of Silicon Valley multiple times to attend meetings Dick had set up for me with his former colleagues and bosses like Marc Randolph, Vivek Renedive, Steve Kirsch, Ram Menon, Andy Cunningham, and many others all of whom are industry leaders in their fields and gave incredible advice and helped mentor me.

I took Dick and his network’s guidance and mentorship to refine our business model to include a broader feature offering, a broader total addressable market, and an influencer marketing B2B strategy to launch the product and get the initial user base established.

We launched the Company in late 2017 and have since scaled it to include a Software-as-a-Service component that is used by nearly 100 organizations, the social networking application which is ranked as one of the top 200 apple sports apps in the world, and an ad network which reaches well over 2 million people annually in the youth sports market. We have reached our current success thanks to the employees and contractors who work for Sports Thread, the investors and partners who believe in us, and the leadership and mentors who have shown us how to win.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

The company is thriving today. We have matured from the days where we were developing a product, to bring it to market, to having a variety of widely adopted products and services which impacts over 2 million people per year. Not only have we achieved market penetration with our product and service offering, but we have also achieved monetization of those products and services.

The more people with different skill sets and viewpoints you can get to help you, the better your company will be and the more rounded of an entrepreneur you will become.

We have launched and are in the process of scaling up our advertising network which reaches over 2 million people per year and will reach tens of millions as we continue to grow it. We work with dozens of leading brands that want to sell their products and services in the youth sports space and love working with them to help them reach their target audience while supporting our user base with their goals on our platform.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

One of the biggest lessons that I have learned is that you have to evaluate your progress on a long-term basis, but achieve success by hitting short-term goals. So many people feel that they need to make their business an overnight success when that is impossible, there is no such thing as an “overnight success story”.

All successful companies take years of hard work and dedication to become successful. For years of dedication to be fruitful though, you have to have a well-laid-out plan which you break into small achievable steps, then work through those steps over and over again setting new ones and achieving them until you have built something over time.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

There are a lot of great tools out there for businesses to use. We use a lot of software licenses which helps to keep costs low and have the right tools to succeed. We use the Adobe suite for producing marketing materials, Quickbooks for accounting/bookkeeping needs, and Gsuite for company communications, etc.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I am always looking to find new lessons and learn from people. The more viewpoints and knowledge you can take in, the better chance you have to succeed.

The best resource I have found has been to find mentors who have succeeded where you want to, although you need to pursue your education in addition to having mentors. Some of my favorite resources are:

The A16Z podcast

Essential Scrum by Kenneth Rubin

Get to Aha! by Andy Cunningham

Platform Revolution by Geoffry G. Parker

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Only The Paranoid Survive by Andrew Grove

That WIll Never Work by Marc Randolph

I will also look for white papers on whatever topic I am trying to learn.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

You need to seek out help. One of the biggest mistakes I see most people make - especially young entrepreneurs is to think you can do everything on your own. You can seek out help and advice from mentors and do the work yourself once they tell you what needs to be done and how to do it. This is a great way to cut costs and educate yourself. Find people who have succeeded in the fields that you are lacking knowledge in, and ask them to help you. The odds are someone helped them along the way and they will be happy to pay it forward by helping you!

The more people with different skill sets and viewpoints you can get to help you, the better your company will be and the more rounded of an entrepreneur you will become.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Yes, we are looking for “Client Success Managers” who work with our Software-as-a-Service clients and advertising salespeople. If you are interested, please email [email protected] with your resume!

Where can we go to learn more?

The best place to learn more about Sports Thread is to download our app from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store and try it out! Also, feel free to reach out to me on Instagram or connect with me on LinkedIn, I am always open to trying and paying forward all the help and advice I have gotten along the way.

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Sean Leary, Founder of Sports Thread
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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