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The Smarter Football Saga: A Lesson on Pivoting

Written By: Bob 6 July 2010 Other Posts By: Bob

This is a story about a company that has taken numerous pivots in different directions.  Smarter Football started as a consulting company in 2007, pivoted to a software company in 2009, and is pivoting to a Publishing Company in 2010.

The following post is 90% stream of consciousness, 10% editing.  So take it easy if there’s bad grammar.  :-)

The Smarter Football saga really started in early 2007 when I started Pennza Mobile Detailing with Nick Pennisi, a life long best friend that I’ve known since grade school.  Mobile detailing is a way of saying “We don’t have enough money to buy a detailing shop, but we will use this to our advantage by making the entire detailing process easier for customers by not forcing them to get two rides to drop off their car and pick it up at the detail shop.”  The business model was amazing if you don’t consider how “not high tech” it was.  We reached break even after less than two weeks and were making $140 on each job.  The main issue was that each detail took 2-3 hours to finish and we were doing the labor ourselves.  We also didn’t like detailing cars, but it paid the bills and helped us not go corporate.  Later that summer, we were thinking about how successful Pennza has been, so we decided to try our luck at starting another company doing something we enjoyed.  The marketing ran itself (Thanks Adwords!) and we were still detailing cars a few times each week, so why not take a chance?

We both loved football, Nick had experience with recruiting with the Rutgers football team, and I loved the excitement of starting a company, so we jumped in.  I had no previous knowledge of football recruiting, and Nick was still new to it, but we decided we’d take time to learn and then go from there.  We thought a consulting business would be easy enough.  We’d talk to recruits on the phone, have fun talking football and helping them out, then we’d bill them for our time.  Not exactly scalable, but it would be fun experience for us entrepreneur-newb college kids.  We made a logo from Crowdspring, found a designer in through random freelancer websites and were on our way to becoming millionaires.  The only issue was that we weren’t able to make a sale or create any revenues.  We wrote blogposts and advertised but there were no bites.  We were only doing this part time while also running the detailing company and going to college (yeah, we couldn’t forget about college, I was the president of my fraternity and had to keep up my 3.7 Gpa!!).  After a while, we realized this project was a failure.  We weren’t trained in phone consulting, we didn’t have any experience in football recruiting except books we read, and we had no partnerships or strategic advantages.  FAIL.

Later, Smarter Football was resurrected.  I wanted to get back involved in computer programming (I took classes in high school and got a 4 on the AP test, I thought I would be a comp sci. major before I became a “business guy”).  I talked to Nick and we decided we’d resurrect the project, but instead of consulting, I’d build software to help kids get recruited, show them the rules, and get their names in front of coaches.  We started building the software.  Along the way, we found more competitors, bought office space, re-hired our designer, and used the same logo.  We tried advertising, blogposting, partnerships, but again, weren’t able to create sales.  No sales = no viable business.  We tried offering free trials, getting coaches to tell their athletes about the product and even giving it away for free, but we weren’t table to find traction and produc-market fit.  Once again, Smarter Football was six feet under.  FAIL (#2).

Now, Smarter Football is back and as non-tech as ever.  After FAIL #1, we considered many alternatives to the consulting model.  One of those possibilities was creating a magazine.  We thought it would be a good idea because our reputation would not be judged on whether our clients get recruited to play college football, it would depend on our content.  So our reputation would be decided by our work, not the outcomes of our work.  Also, because we are college graduates (yeah, we graduated along the way), we have decent writing skills and would be able to interview people based on their experiences and show people real world examples of how to succeed and fail in recruiting.  The downside is that in order to break even, you need to order magazines in build and sell between 5,000-10,000 magazines on a first run (or risk losing money).  Nick & I are profit hungry people who have never fallen for revenues over profits like many web 2.0 startups over the past few years.  It just isn’t in our blood to take on that kind of model with the possibility of losing a lot of money.  Don’t forget we’re recent college grads still living off a detailing company we started while in school.

Enter Hacker Monthly.  As a regular reader on Hacker News, I was quote surprised to find this gem of a magazine.  I was even more surprised to see the model it was using as I never heard of MagCloud before Hacker Monthly.  Hacker Monthly and MagCloud revived Smarter Football from its second death bed and we’re now in the process of finishing interviews, learning how to create a magazine, creating a web presence, writing great content, and helping kids get recruited.  The first magazine is set to debut September first and we should have the functionality of taking preorders before the end of this week.

There’s no “how to get recruited” magazine and we may be ready to experience FAIL #3, but we’ve grown our Facebook Fan page from 65 to 1,000 in under a week and we’re excited about the possibilities of avoiding FAIL #3.

It’s also really cool to tell your friends that you just got off the phone with former Heisman Winner Chris Weinke, current stars like Green Bay Right Guard Josh Sitton, or past NFL players like Hannibal Navies.

We’re in the middle of giant process of “learning” and “doing”, but if you know anyone that plays high school football and wants to know how to get recruited, send them our way.  We’re ready to not fail.

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