Since launching in August 2017, Rep the Squad has disrupted the sports jersey market by offering a range of them from the NFL (Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos), NBA and MLB essentially for rent. The subscription based service will send jerseys for use, which are then to be returned for other jerseys. Essentially, you get fresh jerseys to wear on a monthly basis.

It is a novel idea that just got even a bit more creative. Now, users are being told they can trade-in counterfeit, outdated and unwanted jerseys in exchange for a discounted membership and guarantee of authentic jerseys. The 1st month of a membership is discounted by half and get another free month once the jersey is received.

I recently spoke with Rep the Squad CEO Brian Watkins to learn more about what caused him to come up with these cool ideas and how the company is doing in its infancy.

How did the idea to create a subscription service for jerseys first come about?

Watkins: It was an idea that came about when a passionate sports fan loves the next evolution in retail revolving around access and experiences versus ownership. I am the guy who promises his son a jersey until I get down to the team store. Once I see the price, I am always talking about how great a hat would be versus a jersey. 

My co-founder, Alex Beg, is the sports nut. He has some painful memories hanging in his closet. This combined with my passion on the current shift in consumption originally led by Netflix helped bring our idea to life. 

If you think about some of the new models from Netflix to Rent the Runway and Le Tote to Gamefly, you see an evolution of access where people are moving away from owning everything.  By creating these access platforms, consumers can try things and expand their closets without making purchases.  When you combine passionate sports fans with access vs. ownership, you get Rep the Squad.  We are the Netflix for passionate sport fans.

Did you bootstrap or have you received investment? How has either affected your startup phase and growth?

Watkins: The idea was initially tested within Madrona Venture Labs. It is a fantastic environment that allows entrepreneurs to work on and test ideas with a strong support team to help build the concept, validate the model, and build the actual product.  Once we validated the model, we raised a seed round of $2.5M last year from notable investors including Madrona Ventures, Maveron, Brand Foundry, Aspect, and several professional athletes including Golden Tate, Russell Okung, and Lance Moore.  

Given my prior experience in venture backed companies, I knew this idea was great for venture support vs. bootstrapping.  With the funds raised, we have been able to rapidly test marketing, expand into multiple markets, and optimize operations for profitability at an accelerated pace.

What was the process of taking the concept from idea to reality?

Watkins: While inside the lab, a great deal of time was spent validating and proving the model. They actually shut down a lot of ideas during the process in order to pick and support high potential concepts. First, there was significant customer research both in terms of in-person interviews and online surveys trying to assess use cases, customer segments, and the value proposition. With themes learned, we tested social acquisition campaigns which we could compare across other similar companies to understand customer acquisition costs. After that, we actually built a temporary website and started to acquire customers.  And lots of quick runs down to the team store to make sure we had the right inventory. Finally, we refined the original model to show how Rep the Squad would scale over time based on the actual information learned during our alpha/beta test.]

What's the theory behind this new promotion of trading in counterfeit, outdated and unwanted jerseys in exchange for a discounted membership?

Watkins: One of our core beliefs is supporting the fans, players, and leagues they play for. When fans wear authentic jerseys, they feel closer to the player, the player actually receives the royalties, and the leagues have a more engaged fan base. Seriously, everyone wins.  

Therefore, when fans have out of date jerseys they no longer want to wear, we want to help them let go of the old, so they can embrace their team once again as a fan. 

As for counterfeits, from our original work, we estimated over 25% of all fans wear counterfeit jerseys to games. We went out to interview a lot of these people to learn why. The two key themes were access and affordability. Rep the Squad solves both of these issues by allowing access to a wide variety of player, style, and team options all for less than $20 a month.