Omaha-based Client Resources, Inc. has been a staple in the area’s tech community for almost two decades, but a sports-tech startup recently spun out of the company’s innovation lab is breaking new ground across the country.
“About four years ago, we knew we wanted to grow CRI,” said Sue Thaden, CEO of CRI. “We brought in [an outside consultant] from California who evaluates growth strategies for technology companies. We were fortunate to have her come in and evaluate our company’s maturity level and where to invest to grow.”
Through her evaluation, the consultant told Thaden and her team that with CRI’s combination of IT talent resourcing, their innovative culture and “Get it Great” company motto, and their portfolio of clients on the solutions business side, the company had a clear differentiator in the market and should be opportunistic on a product.
“So, we built an innovation lab,” said Thaden. “If you have an idea for a project, you pitch it to the [innovation lead group]. If they approve it, then there’s a pitch session once a month where you pitch to the whole team, and you try to recruit people to work on your innovation project.”
Startup vision within a corporation
Innovation projects through the incubator have to focus on an emerging technology and benefit CRI’s clients or the community. Thaden said that CRI has pulled great things from the lab into the company.
For example, CRI does mobile development for large banks, but the bank’s customers may have a phone that’s over five-years-old. Through the innovation lab, CRI built a fully-automated platform for mobile testing across all phone platforms.
In 2015, UNO was building Baxter Arena nearby CRI’s office, and moving from a Division II school to Division I. The nearby progress at the university sparked an idea at CRI.
“The [innovation lab] had come up with this really rich mobile notifications platform,” said Thaden. “As we were demoing it, we thought it would be really cool [to pitch] this to UNO as a mobile fan-engagement solution.”
Creating a mobile platform for fans
Getting fans engaged enough to come to events is a challenge that nearly all schools face. The saying around college sports is “empty seats don’t buy merchandise and hotdogs.”
Thaden said the team moved forward with pitching to UNO while also conducting research to see what the collegiate and high school fan engagement market looked like.
“Our research told us it was early but ripe,” said Thaden. “We pulled the product out of CRI and started a brand new company called From Now On, and started off by going after the collegiate market. From Now On is focused on being the game day app in collegiate and high school athletics.”
The end product is a mobile-native platform for collegiate and high school sports that does everything from letting fans purchase tickets to watching and listening to games. The app also takes advantage of home screen notifications where upwards of 98 percent of people get information off their phones.
Schools can also use the app to generate additional revenue with advertisers. Thaden said statistics show that over 40 percent of college sports fans make over $100,000.
Winning big in the sports market
After getting UNO live on the platform in 2015, the next two years were spent perfecting the pitch, understanding the market and gaining traction.
“About a year ago, we probably had around 20 schools, and now we have 60,” said Thaden. “We have some huge, national strategic partnerships that are probably going to come to bear by the end of the year that will really explode our growth.”
A big win for From Now On was being contacted by a leading Big 10 school, one of the most influential collegiate athletic programs in the country, according to Thaden.
“The school had been with a company out of Silicon Valley that was private equity funded and had an amazing executive team,” said Thaden. “That company won a number of deals last year. We’ve taken eight of those away from them in the last 30 days. We’ve risen above the Silicon Valley company to be the premier partner in collegiate athletics for Division I, Division II and Division III.”
Winning big with customers
Thaden said without the app being of high quality and the opportunity for schools to uniquely design it for their brand, From Now On wouldn’t be at the table. She added that schools say they choose From Now On over their competitors because others have failed to deliver guaranteed features and requests on schedule.
“We’ve met expectations, and we’ve exceeded expectations in the delivery of our product and the upgrading of the feature set,” said Thaden. “We’ve been on the market for a couple of years and a national multi-media rights holder selected us as their number one national digital partner.”
From Now On provides coaching on how schools can use the product and its features like analytics reporting in order to maximize connection with the fans and generate revenue.
“We just did a customer survey, and we got high ratings on our support and response time. People love working with our team,” said Thaden. “We joke about this to our clients [and say], ‘We hope you love our platform, but we hope you love us at the table so much you never leave us.’”
Christine McGuigan is the Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News.