Project Varsity Shoots for Success
The fans go wild! That's what Trevor Goss is hoping for next month when he plans to launch a new sports networking Web site for the high school athletic community.
"There are many athletes, coaches, fans, journalists and college recruiters out there who want to share photos, videos, data and other content about their high school athletics community, but there is really no one platform that brings all the info together," said Goss, founder and CEO of Project Varsity. "And currently a lot of those people don't end up distributing it as quickly as they could."
Goss, 25, already knows this industry well. He played football at Georgetown Preparatory School in Washington, D.C., and was recruited to play at Cornell University in New York, where he graduated in December 2005 with a degree in hotel administration. He dabbled in commercial real estate, but changed his game plan recently to commit full time to Project Varsity.
"Having gone through the athletic recruiting process, I have an inside look on what it's like," said Goss, who spends most of his time working out of his Washington, D.C. apartment and in Reston, Va., where the technical parts of the project are being created.
Goss notes that, today, college recruiting isn't done much differently than it was 20 years ago. "Mostly coaches want to see video, or a few schools are sending DVDs." But that realization led him to believe new technologies could improve the system.
"There's been a revolution in video distribution recently and we see it as an opportunity to completely revolutionize the landscape of collegiate athletic recruiting," he said. "Teams can share photos and images from their games and coaches don't have to drive all over the place looking for recruits. They could go online and search through the site and do it all from their desktops." He estimates that there are about 25 million people in the high school athletics community.
The Project Varsity system differs from social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, where communication is peer-to-peer. Project Varsity has a hierarchical system, with the coaches at the top. Additionally, it requires credit-card authorization from coaches and recruiters who are trying to contact players or other group members.
"We didn't want to have people scam the system," said Goss. There is no fee charged to the credit card, but it validates the user's name so an athlete, for example, knows that a coach, and not an imposter, is trying to contact her.
"Security is one of our biggest concerns," said Goss. "You're going to get bad actors on any system and the trick is to design it in such a way as to minimize how people could exploit it."
Goss recently interviewed about six firms to build out the site and chose ExcelaCom of Reston, which he found through his stepfather, a former vice chairman at Verizon Communications and Project Varsity's principal investor.
Project Varsity currently has about $100,000 in seed capital, according to Goss. He is considering fattening up that fund, but is not sure if it will be a private placement or if he will turn to venture capital. "Most of our expenses will be for personnel, and it's still unclear just how much additional money we may need," he said.
The site, which will have all user-generated content, is designed to be advertising-supported. Project Varsity provides the framework for users and is working to simplify the process so that a non Web-savvy parent, for example, feels comfortable with the technology to be able to upload video or photos.
The genesis of the company was sparked by Goss's dad, who put together a basic Microsoft Word "sports resume" when recruiters were scoping out Goss when he was in high school. "It included information about my abilities, statistics, how fast I was and pictures," said Goss. "We got a big response out of it. Coaches said it was so helpful to have some information at a quick glance, which saved them a lot of time having to find out the information by themselves."
Today, Goss said he sometimes refers to his father as "chief creative officer" because of his good ideas for Project Varsity.
In October 2006, Goss was poking around Facebook and noticed that a friend had posted his sports photos, including pictures from playing college football. "It got me thinking -- I wonder if you could use this as a recruiting tool, kind of like what my dad had done but with 2006 technology. All these pieces are digital in one way shape or form. You can make the process a lot smarter."
Goss said he had the concept, and although knew "enough about Web architecture to be dangerous," teamed up with Praytush Kumar, a graduate student at University of Virginia's Darden School of Business who previously studied at the Information Institute of Information Technology in India. Kumar serves as chief operating officer.
Goss has been talking to high school coaches, mostly in the D.C. metro area. "We'd like to 'knock it out of the park' in this area and then use subsequent buzz to get into other markets," he said. He's gotten a lot of support from his Georgetown football coach, who is still with the school.
ProjectVarsity.com is scheduled to go live Aug. 9 with statistics and other data on about 12 to 15 sports such as football, lacrosse, basketball, baseball, soccer and swimming and diving. "The goal is to eventually include everything like badminton and fencing," said Goss.
The site is free, although the firm is considering a paid-subscription model for users that want to upload higher quality video to help offset the storage cost for Project Varsity.
"Building a company and changing the way people do things doesn't happen overnight, but I hope at this time next year we'll have a strong buzz going in the D.C. area and that if you want to know anything about high school sports, we're the place you look to find it."
Summary: Project Varsity founder Trevor Goss had an idea for a business gleaned from his experience as a football player in high school and college. Although he didn't have deep Web experience at age 25, with the help of friends and family, he found resources and teammates to help him bring his concept to the online marketplace.
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