By: Amari Dryden, @Amari_Dryden
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Ken Zamkow, founder and CEO of SportsGuru Inc. Ken worked in several marketing and business development jobs and recently launched his own new sports video app. He was gracious enough to offer up his wisdom on how he developed a new way for fans to express their opinions on their favorite teams and how every experience in life can prepare you for the challenges ahead.
What has your journey been from graduation to now being the founder and CEO of SportsGuru Inc.?
I’ve always been involved in digital media in my career. One of my first real jobs was my own company. It was a web development firm where we built websites and online systems for other companies. One of the main things I learned was that in agency businesses like that, it is very difficult to scale. That was one of the reasons why I chose to go to business school and get some more tools on how to grow a business.
Following business school (at the University of Virginia), I started working for a larger media company where I helped them develop video services, but I realized I really missed the startup mentality, so I joined another video startup which is how I got into into the sports industry. At that company we sold video streaming technology to different types of news and sports companies.
My job was to close those deals with organizations like the NFL, NBA, MLB and large sports networks. Working there for about six years is how I learned more about the sports industry and realized sports is what I’m excited about and what I want to continue doing. I came up with the idea for SportsGuru partly after seeing what types of content is published and what isn’t by larger players in the space, and noticing my own experiences as a sports fan.
What inspired you to create SportsGuru and what goals do you have for your business?
I’ve been either an entrepreneur or involved in startups for most of my career. It’s something I have a passion for. At some point I started noticing both as a fan and as a sports industry professional that I was having a hard time finding enough new online video content about some of my favorite teams. For example, I realized there was very little user-generated video around sports, and the videos that are out there were difficult to find. In parallel, I realized when following sports of my alma mater the University of Virginia, which is big basketball school, that it was difficult to find a lot of video content even though the team was ranked very high. I thought: ‘wouldn’t it be cool to see what other fans like me are thinking?’ Instead of having those conversations that you’d typically have in person, wouldn’t it be cool to move those conversations to a video platform?
That’s how I came up with the idea of launching SportsGuru. SportsGuru is a place where we allow sports fans to record short videos of themselves talking about sports. We make those videos look more professional and fun by adding automated graphics on top and create this community that allows fans to engage with each other around sports.
That combination of my passion for entrepreneurship – knowing that I enjoy working on startups and building new products, together with wanting to be a viewer on this platform to hear what other fans are saying, that was the inspiration for SportsGuru.
Viewers these days and especially young audiences don’t necessarily just want to see the polished show with professional actors or hosts, not just in sports but in everything. They value authentic and genuine opinions of other people like them and that’s why we see the popularity of YouTube and Vine stars. I think this is why reality television became so popular, because people enjoy that sort of seemingly informal content coming from other people. People appreciate genuine voices and we want to bring that to sports.
How have your experiences in business development in technology helped you branch out and create your own business?
These things build over time. Everything that you do whether it’s your education or your job experience or your life experiences ultimately prepares you for the next challenge. There’s always going to be a next challenge and you’re always going to need to draw from previous things. It was all a continuation for me because every company that I was either part of or that I started, I had to draw on all my previous experiences to get there. It’s how things naturally progress. I can’t put a finger on something like ‘since I did this, I can do that’ but it all elevates you towards the next level as long as you work hard and have a plan.
What challenges do you currently face and have overcome after creating your own app?
When you launch a new company and typically launch a new app, every stage has its own challenges. When you first start out, you have to persuade a lot of people around you that your app is a good idea, you have to get funding and build a team, etc. After that you need to actually build the technology and that comes with its own set of challenges. Now we’re at launch stage so our biggest focus is getting more users on board. All these things will continue together. Everything I mentioned in terms of team-building, funding, designing the right product, and getting users or customers are ongoing in the life of a business. They take on a different shape depending on what the size and stage of the company you’re in. Those will be the main themes we will see over the next few years just at different scale.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
The creativity that’s involved and also building something new that didn’t exist before is a lot more fun, because you just have much more room to navigate and try different things. At this stage of the business you also see results much faster. You can work on something and within a few days or a couple weeks you can already see results which in larger companies or in later ages of a company you go through a much longer process to get things done.
Your app is in beta testing right now. What do you hope to learn from the beta testing?
We’ve definitely learned how people interact with our app. That’s given us a lot of insights that we will continue using in the future. Basically being able to learn what makes someone launch the app, whether it’s because there’s something in the news about their favorite team or their favorite athlete and they want to respond to it, maybe they’re bored and want to check out some content, etc. That’s been a very valuable and will continue helping us as we go after larger audiences.
What advice do you have for students who want to get into the sports tech world?
My first piece of advice is to get as many internships and projects during the school year as possible because it’s a great resume builder and teaches you a lot of skills that will make you marketable to other organizations. Whatever projects you can do for companies for a semester or as a sport internship is very helpful.
Think about what other skills you can bring to the table that make you more versatile and more competitive compared to others. For example in my world which is more business and marketing, when we see a marketing intern who also happens to know how to use Photoshop in a basic way or knows how to edit videos or knows how to edit basic HTML newsletters, etc. those all help in adding skills where we don’t need a second person to do that. Having these types of additional skills can help.
I would recommend networking as much as you can. Schools offer different treks to go meet with companies. If there are clubs that are dedicated to the sports industry. If you have friends or family friends to where you can get in touch with more people. Look at companies that you’re interested in and see where they are located and next time you’re on break and can travel or happen to be close to where you are, see if you can go meet with them.
Try to do internships and projects at different types of companies to see which ones you like best. See if you like a larger or smaller organization, younger or more established, a sports franchise or a vendor who provides services to sports franchises, etc. Working for a vendor, I.e. a company that sells products or technologies to leagues or sports franchises can also be a way into the industry.
If you’re really passionate about this industry and want to succeed in it, you should spend your first couple years in an entry level position working as hard as you can, gaining as much knowledge and skills, but once you have that under your belt you will be much more indispensable to the organization.
We would like to thank Ken for his time and insight and we wish him the best in all his future endeavors!