6 Questions with Ron Moravek, CEO SportNinja
Ron Moravek was formerly the COO of EA Sports, and the SVP of Nexon America; a pair of technology companies that are each recognized as innovative players in the digital technology world and are individually valued at over $12 Billion. However, he’s also a father of four active boys that keep him running around from ice hockey rinks to swimming pools keeping up with their athletic adventures. Find out what he’s up to now as he talks about his new startup - SportNinja - and their mission to become THE platform for amateur sports.
What prompted you to start SportNinja?
My co-founder Neil and I were talking about Hockey and the pain that still existed in the youth leagues around official paper scoresheets. I had personally been working in Software for 20 years with companies like EA Sports, so we were laughing about how crazy it was in this day and age, as everyone having a phone in their pockets, that we were still using paper to track data and to submit official hockey scoresheets. As we continued our discussion, I explained to Neil how my kids Lacrosse, Soccer, and Water Polo leagues were dealing with the same issues around paper. At that point a light bulb appeared above our heads and we threw around the idea of creating a business around solving this problem.
We began by looking across the ecosystem of products like TeamSnap, Sports Engine, and Stack Sports. What I found most interesting was that each company was trying to solve the problem, but was also driving their revenues by charging non profit leagues and volunteers for tools. It made sense because they need to make money to survive, but what didn’t make sense was that no one seemed to be looking at the larger opportunity to create a community around these tools and to provide further value to that community. It reminded me of a recent book I had read called “The Ultimate Question” which focused on good profits and bad profits. To me it just didn’t seem right to charge non profit leagues for simple tools; rather, it made more sense to look for a win-win opportunity around building a community.
When I was working at Nexon in Los Angeles I learned a great deal about providing free games and platforms that relied on a portion of those players or customers actually converting to becoming a paying customer. Nexon is a world leader in this type of revenue model and is focused on retention, player satisfaction, and providing value as a platform. As we were thinking of solving the paper problem in amateur sports and building a community I had a ‘eureka’ moment. I realized that like the Free to Play games space, there could be an opportunity to do the same thing with a sports agnostic platform where we could provide free tools to the amateur sports ecosystem. Once the ecosystem existed, we could build a marketplace, social interactions, the ability to track your teams, and ultimately the ability to better navigate your sport and track your progress through years of playing. A truly engaged Lifetime of Sport! At that point we decided to build a prototype and get out to the volunteers and leagues and get feedback on our vision.
What have you learned speaking with Volunteers and Leagues?
In short - we learned a ton! I guess what became evident to us was that the scoresheet was connected to a lot of other pieces; schedule, roster, volunteer management, etc. We knew we couldn’t be all things to all people and we wanted to remain sniper focused when getting started, so we decided to focus on doing a few things really well; the digital scoresheet and key management features.
Even though we had this grand vision, we wanted to start small and make sure our platform is the absolute highest quality on the market. We decided to add a web browser interface to the platform where most of the the admin tasks would be accomplished as doing that on your phone is just not realistic. We came up with the concept of “enterprise lite functionality,” wherein the users would enjoy functionality typically only available in enterprise products like Salesforce, Sharepoint, or expensive content management systems.
We learned from volunteers that much of the key challenge was the process around roles, approvals, and who had permission to do things so we set up our platform to make that fully customizable. Finally, what we heard from volunteers and parents was that there was no way for parents or participants to navigate the commercial side of sports. There is no “Yelp for Amateur Sports” so this confirmed our suspicions that there was an opportunity to provide value in our platform for both providers and users.
SportNinja is launching for Hockey first, are there plans for more sports?
Absolutely. We intend to try to bring our platform to Basketball and Soccer in 2019 along with looking at an opportunity around ESports. My 20 year background in Gaming makes me a little biased towards wanting to get involved in this massive new trend.
What is SportNinja’s greatest strength?
I like to think our greatest strength is our guiding philosophy and mission. It is our intention to provide a platform for all participants that increases the enjoyment of sport. We intend to do that by first providing “Support” in the form of tools, followed by working to “Engage” our users with a deep set of features that enhance their experiences; finally we want to “Grow” with our community and extend our functionality into new areas of technology like video highlights, FitBit, Player Card gamification, a broad marketplace and more.
Many Sports technologies out there seem to be web based - why invest in a mobile app?
This is an easy answer - try to think of anyone you know who doesn’t have a phone? Mobile devices have, fortunately - and at times unfortunately - changed the way we live. Virtually everyone has a smartphone and rely on them for everyday banking, news, sports, entertainment, almost every aspect of our lives. We need to provide a very high quality mobile application that works as seamlessly and effortlessly as instagram, facebook, snapchat or any social platform or tool.
Community Support seems to be a big theme with SportNinja - can you talk more about that?
Well, along with our focus on quality and community we need to work very closely with all participants to see what works, what doesn’t, what we missed, what we did well and where we failed. We are focused on having the highest net promoter score to ensure that we get the most out of our users, and that everyone should feel 100% confident that they would recommend SportNinja to their friends. This isn’t going to be easy - but that’s our goal.