Business of Soccer Managing Editor Christopher Savino, CPA and Marketing Editor Wes Harris exclusively interviewed KYCK CEO and Founder Mac Lackey (@MacLackey) and Product Lead Reid Phillips (@ReidDollas) via conference call to discuss KYCK as a startup, its products, and the company’s future.
It has been a year since KYCK moved its mobile application away from the beta phase and it was made available to the public and broader soccer community. At the same time, the digital media startup with a focus on the soccer industry had completed an initial round of seed funding that provided the company with more than $1 million from investors.
In those twelve months, the company has been quiet about its current and future products. It is difficult to find KYCK in the news and that is because it has not been. Companies and particularly startups thrive off free marketing and advertising from the positive buzz created by consumers and users – supposedly part of “an intentional under the radar strategy.”
Despite what appears to be a growing presence on the mobile application, we are left to wonder what is next for KYCK and whether investors are excited about the company’s future. KYCK CEO and Founder Mac Lackey reassured us that KYCK is growing and very much active within the soccer industry and community.
An entrepreneur and investor himself, Lackey has several years of experience with multiple startups including InternetSoccer.com. Launched in the late 1990s, InternetSoccer.com was the first company that merged his interest in both soccer and technology. Within two years the company had been sold to a media company based in Europe, retaining Lackey to run operations in the United States.
“It’s actually important for context to remember that when we launched Internet Soccer back in the late ’90s, most of the energy back in those days was around what everyone called portals – so Yahoo! and Excite. We wanted to be these one stop locations for news, weather, stocks – anything you could think of – and we believe that soccer as a category was so big that it needed a niche focus and so we created this vertically focused platform around soccer, but in those days it was hierarchical and you had to literally search and categorize everything.”
The domain is back in the possession of Lackey and KYCK after having re-purchased it, this time from the U.S. Men’s National Team almost two years ago. It is now a site used for development purposes in order to test KYCK’s technologies though it closed to the public.
“We’ve been using it as nothing more than an experimental domain to try some different KYCK technologies. If you had been following it, you would notice the things on their change from time to time because we’re playing around with new stuff. No real immediate plans with InternetSoccer. We’re just using it as a test bed more than anything, right now.”
The focus is on KYCK and its technologies. To the average consumer, the two available products appear simple yet functional, providing users with a platform to interact with others who share a passion for soccer while also receiving real time alerts and news about their favorite clubs. The application allows a user to build a detailed profile to follow the game at a personal level and provides a social framework to share that information with your friends and people that share have similar interests.
“I want to say it’s basic but then again we did build an entire social framework from the ground up. Technologically, we did a lot but to the consumer we provided them just the social framework.”
KYCK is about more than its current application. KYCK is interested in disrupting the soccer industry. Much in the way startups such as Uber disrupted private transportation with the use of black town cars and SUVs for its limousine service; KYCK seeks to do the same in the soccer.
“Over the past year, we’ve realized as we spent time with some of our strategic partners and contacts in the industry that we believe the industry is ripe for innovation and what I would even say is true disruption because so many of the installed platforms in soccer – domestically and globally – are pretty dated and unlike a lot of other industries – take any industry (i.e. travel, education, etc.) – they’ve all been somewhat disrupted by technology. Soccer has not truly been disrupted.”
KYCK is in the process of building new tools and innovations with its partners, which Lackey described as “game changing.” Unable to expand on what exactly those products and technologies are, it is clear the company is focused on filling the void in this niche market with its advanced offerings.
Shifting the discussion to investors, it was previously noted that KYCK had raised $1 million during its initial round of funding. The company sought additional investors to raise additional capital. Lackey is not willing to accept all investors interested in funding the company. He prefers investors to share common interests and prove to be valuable to KYCK’s future success.
“Up to this point, I think we have raised about a million and a half in total and it’s been almost exclusively kind of handpicked – what I think of value add angel investors that we may have talked about in some past coverage. We really wanted a group of investors that represented all of the categories that we were interested in going for – a digital media expert in Silicon Valley, an internet CEO in New York, a gaming expert in Seattle. We’ve continued that trend; really carefully choosing our investors and we’ll raise a little more capital likely.”
Lackey is willing to avoid two types of investors – first are investors that do not understand the sport and are unable to comprehend the potential for the industry; second are traditional investors concerned about margins and conservative growth.
“If people are not really familiar with it then they underestimate its size or its importance domestically and those investors we may not line up on the scope of the opportunity. The others I would think of as traditional, somewhat conservative investors that are going to be more focused on margin and what your profitability horizon looks like where we’ve proven we can get profitable already, but our interest is in aggressive growth – that’s why we do startups versus traditional businesses. If someone doesn’t really lineup on those two points then they clearly would not be interested in an aggressive soccer startup.”
In two years, the company achieved profitability – a challenge for the majority of startups seeking to develop a quality product prior to monetization. KYCK did so without revenue from its mobile application. Its revenue was generated from licensing technologies and building custom tools for strategic partners.
“We hit profitability in May of this year and we’ll add investors just to be what I would classify as aggressive. We have some opportunities to invest in new things and we don’t feel like we need the capital for core business as much as to be opportunistic at this point.”
KYCK has plans to for more revenue streams and to integrate additional, unreleased technologies into its current products. Lackey expanded,
“One of the things I’m actually most excited about is the fact that we – we want to be profitable. We certainly want to generate revenue, but we really haven’t turned on a lot of our technologies or the revenue streams that would come from them. Sponsorship and advertising – we’ve a little bit there, but we haven’t really turned it on. E-commerce, which is a really big opportunity for us going forward – we haven’t really showed the world the technology we built. It’s not integrated yet, although we’ve built a lot.”
Despite KYCK’s current offerings and technologies as well as ability to generate revenue and become profitable, there remains significant potential for collaboration with clubs and organizations, something Lackey advised his team has not focused on to date.
“We need to start talking to some of these groups about how they can collaborate with us, but at this point we just haven’t put a lot of energy into that.”
Product Lead Reid Phillips added,
“Quickly after we launched some of those tools, we realized that the parallel was there for youth clubs and the ability for a club to manage their social media across Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. and communicate with their members through one portal rather than having to manage a Facebook page or a Twitter account and a Google+ account, all separately saying the same things.”
Unconcerned about the analytics behind what is available in the iOS App Store, Lackey claims neither him nor the team follows user adoption and usage.
“We stopped following the user metrics about nine months ago to focus on some new stuff – mainly because myself and some of the others found it very distracting. As much as I would love to see a hockey stick of users, we also knew we weren’t promoting it or trying to sell it or do anything with it. It’s really more of an innovation bed for technology.”
Lackey did leave us with something to look forward to – the fourth quarter of 2013. KYCK plans to launch its latest product this year “with 400,000 plus existing profiles in our platform.” Learning from his previous experiences with startups advising each company was sold prematurely, he has a long term vision for KYCK.
“If there’s anything that drives me at KYCK, it’s the fact that we have this really significant opportunity at scale and it’s global. My view is we’re going to build something incredibly valuable. We’re not in any hurry to sell it or flip it or do anything like that. We’re really passionate about what we’re doing and we want to build something pretty big and truly game changing because if you build disruptive and game changing that actually helps consumers and kids and parents – there’s lot of value created.”