I grew up in Ottawa the capital of Canada and it was there where my love affair with hockey began. I have always followed my hockey career from the age of nine until present day. I have played junior hockey, college hockey, prep school and professional. I played seven years professionally winning two championships and have played all over North America. I attended SUNY Potsdam and graduated in 2014 with my bachelor’s degree in business administration. It was while at school where my interest in entrepreneurship really took flight. I started a business on campus and studied entrepreneurship as a part of my degree. Today I am active in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Eastern Ontario and continue to be a champion for innovation in the sports industry. In 2014 the coach and general manger of the team I was playing for was fired. I was the captain of the team at the time and the owner had me take over the team and manage it for the remainder of the season. This was a really cool opportunity for me to apply all of the things I had learned at school into the teams business side of things. After a few more years of playing and working in the front office for a couple different teams I ended up in Cornwall, ON in 2017.
One night I broke my finger during one of the games and after going to the hospital was told that I would need surgery and would miss at least nine weeks before being able to play again. Unable to work my other labor job or play I was in a bad position with no income coming in. A few days later I had a meeting with the owner of the team and requested to be employed as the sales and marketing director to boost the teams marketing efforts and attendance. A couple days later I was given the job and began meeting with team staff. One of those was my soon to be life partner and co-founder Shannon Ferguson. Right away we hit it off and fed off of each others energy. We had similar drive and were motivated to make a significant change in the teams overall brand. After the season ended we continued promoting the team in the community throughout the summer while generating revenue by selling sponsorship. All summer we kept hearing over and over from business owners that they didn’t think they would get enough out of their sponsorship. What they really wanted was something digital, something that could drive fans into their establishment and something that allowed them to track their return on investment while allowing them to collect customer data. Nothing in our traditional inventory like rink-board ads, wall signs, scoreboard ads or coupons in the game day program could satisfy that need. After coming home night after night from hearing the same thing from business owners we knew we had identified a pain point in the sponsorship industry and started brainstorming how we could solve our problem. One night we had the aha moment and thought what if we could create an app that offered discounts and deals to sports fans from the sponsors of their favorite teams. That would allow our fans to engage with our sponsors while allowing the sponsor to track ROI and customer insights. That was how FanSaves was born!
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
My co-founder and I started our SaaS startup with pennies in our bank accounts. At the time we both had side hustles that pretty much covered living expenses but didn’t have any additional savings or anything to invest into the company. We knew in order to take a run at starting our own business that we would have to be resourceful and strategic in how we managed our capital. First thing we did was a KickStarter campaign and which allowed us to raise $3,600. That got us up and running and then since then we have been able to obtain and utilize over $250,000 worth of non- dilutive capital in the forms of grants, government loans, and pitch competition earnings to maintain 100% equity between the two of us in our company. All of this happened over a two-year period which saw us battle through a lot of adversity as we grinded our way through our startup journey. We lived really lean over those two years while our app was in development, and had to weather the storm financially to keep the company a float.
My co-founder and I are both non-technical co-founders meaning we didn’t physically code the app ourselves so we outsourced and have now brought development in house. When we first had the idea for our startup neither my co-founder nor I had any experience in tech other than some graphic and website design so the whole development process and has been a huge learning curve for both of us as founders.
What books are you currently reading?
Angel by Jason Calacanis, The Brave Athlete by Lesley Patterson and Simon Marshall
And your recommendation for entrepreneurs to read?
Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore, The AirBandB Story by Leigh Gallagher
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits?
How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
I think everyone was a little skeptical at first, most people didn’t understand the sponsorship industry or the pain point we had identified so we really had to defend our idea for the first few months of the business. I think if you believe in something and can prove validation and traction then it doesn’t matter what other people say. Trust yourself and double down on your dreams.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
Our ability to be resilient, our resourcefulness and our scrappy nature as founders are three huge factors that have allowed us to get to this point of success in our business.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
“Sales is about building relationships not selling” is something I wish I knew years ago. LinkedIn is an incredible to available to all entrepreneurs to build connections and relationships in any industry anywhere in there world.
What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?
Apply to everything and show up!