Thursday, April 4, 2013
Streamlining The Sports Recruiting Process with FieldLevel
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
How do you take a process--recruiting of athletes--and make it more efficient, without getting in the way? That's what Los Angeles-based FieldLevel (www.fieldlevel.com) has been working on, making it easier for coaches to network and exchange information on athletes. We spoke with co-founder Brenton Sullivan about the company's platform, and how it's hoping to transform the athletic recruiting process.
What's the idea behind FieldLevel?
Brenton Sullivan: What we are is a private social network and platform for coaches to connect with each other, to exchange information on athletes. What makes it really different, is our platform empowers coaches. It's exclusive only to verified coaches. We focus on connections, helping them further their reach, expanding their Rolodex, and helping them share information on athletes in a more efficient manner. We've been wildly successful in helping junior college players find four year schools, and helping high school athletes get offers to colleges they'd never known about otherwise. The baseball community has really taken to it, because we've set it up how coaches already operate. It doesn't come in and introduce a new process, it empowers the process they currently have.
What is that process?
Brenton Sullivan: We're enabling coaches to discover athletes, and once they do discover them, evaluate them in an efficient manner. Ultimately, we're streamlining the process of continually recruiting athletes and learning about them, helping them to engage them as early as the sophomore year, and continuing to follow up, take notes, and track where they are in the process. It's much like a sales team might use software to find leads. We're enabling those coaches to connect to one another and find athletes. It enables promoting coaches, primarily the high school, club, and junior college coaches, to help athletes find the right match. We think of it as a Match.com for sports, and helping athletes to get out there and find the right school. What's unique, is it's coach driven. We're not the company which tells athletes to jump on our site, and we'll spam you to schools and find you a place. Instead, it's only athletes invited by their current coach, and they're now part of the platform, and their coach can act on their behalf. That's how recruiting works now, and continues to work with our technology.
Why is technology important here?
Brenton Sullivan: In the past, if you were recruiting for a school that didn't have a huge budget, that recruiting was very localized. The reason why people are looking for something like our platform, is that the general purpose networks out there like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter don't offer the same kind of utility, follow the rules, and ends up getting you spammed by athletes and get the wrong coaches contacting you. Coaches are looking to use technology more efficiently, so they can connect in a more effective manner with the people they want to, but still have the rules around our industry and how the industry operates.
How'd you start the company?
Brenton Sullivan: My business partner, Kai Sato, and I, went to rival boarding schools. They were very small shcools--he went to Cate, which is inland from Ventura in the Santa Barbara area, and I went to The Thacher School, and we both ended up at the University of Southern California. When we arrived at USC, we began to talk about how we struggled during the recruiting process. Our coaches did not have relationships, and I ended up walking onto the USC baseball team, and Kai ended up walking onto their club lacrosse team. I was in the entrepreneurial program, talking about ideas on how some of the best entrepreneurial ideas come about, and discussed personal pains of ours. We realized that if a process could be put into place, we could not only educate athletes, but empower our coach, and that would have helped us to arrive at the right school. Athletes are bombarded by scouting services, by third party services, who promise to get your information to the right coaches. We thought--there has got to be another way. This private coaches network was the topic of a business plan we wrote for an entrepreneurial contest. Form there, we got interest from incubators, angel investors, and venture capital. Instead of that, however, I decided to get more experience in the area, and became Director of Operations for Baseball at USC, so I get learn more about that world. I then put together a team of four founders, two on the technology side, and myself and Kai on the business side. We worked night and weekends, fleshed out the concept, and in July and August of 2008 we launched the product, took on some angel funding, and started the process.
It looks like you were able to get over that initial hurdle you often find as a startup, and have gotten people--particularly in baseball--to use your product. How'd you get over that hurdle?
Brenton Sullivan: We really put the customer at the center of our business, something that many entrepreneurs miss out on. We actually sat with tons of junior college baseball coaches. I remember driving for three and four hours to sit in their offices, and ask them what their needs are, and to show them what we had from a technology standpoint. We asked them how their process works currently, and told them that we didn't want to change what they're doing, we wanted to enhance what they're doing. We took that feedback, and developed it into a really streamlined, minimal viable product. We tested it, and sat down with coaches to gather more feedback. We were lucky to have people get behind us, see where we're going, and give us a bunch of feedback. Coaches started talking about us, and we got a great reputation in baseball helping both coaches and athletes, so they started asking for our products.
What's the big thing you're looking at now?
Brenton Sullivan: There's a concept out there in baseball called Moneyball. It's a big topic. That's the quantitative analysis of statistics to find players. But, we believe that the process doesn't work at the high school level, because those statistics are not reliable. What we're focusing in on, is qualitative analysis. We think it's really powerful in our platform. Coaches are on our platform, staking their reputation. When they're in there, they put in a summary of an athlete. It's their personal opinion, which is kept private from the athlete, which is only shared with recruiters. Because of that, they're very honest and it includes lots of great information. Although people love statistics, athleticism, testing, velocity of pitches, and things like that, this also allows a coach to present a description of a player to recruiters on the platform. Eventually, we think this could be used on a pro level to draft athletes, so that they can see what their high school coach was saying when the player was a sophomore, you can get a timeline of each athlete in the ecosystem, which will be even more valuable for people scouting them. It gets more valuable as you get up the hierrachy all the way to the pros. We've been working with professional teams to introduce that Moneeyball 2.0, adding the qualitative side, and that has been going very well.