Like most college freshmen, Zach Maurides didn't have a clue how to manage his time. The Duke student-athlete played offensive line on the school's football team, and juggling class with team commitments proved too much for an 18-year-old to handle. "I spent several mornings my freshman year running the stadium stairs at 4 a.m.," he says, "because I'd forgotten an appointment or showed up late."
The problems persisted. More missed meetings. More punishment. Finally, Maurides hacked together a solution in the form of an app as part of a computer science class assignment.
Fast forward to today. When the first round of the March Madness men's basketball tournament kicks off on March 17, the NCAA will be using the app Maurides created to help himself manage his schedule. The platform, called Teamworks, helps coaches stay on top of their teams by letting them update athletes' individual calendars and message them in real time. This year, for the first time, the NCAA will use it to send important messages to the schools involved, coordinate with staff and personnel, and quickly file the forms necessary to keep the tournament moving smoothly--a process that, until now, was done by paper.
And it all started in Maurides's college classroom.
Maurides grew up in Glenview, Illinois, a town just outside Chicago. "I was the kid that had a lemonade stand," he says, "and built a zipline and was charging neighborhood kids to use it, much to the chagrine of my mother."
In a sophomore year computer sciences class at Duke in 2004, Maurides was presented with an assignment: create an application that solves a difficulty in your life. Maurides thought about his own scheduling issues.
"The root cause of that problem was that all these adults who control my schedule--trainers, coaches, equipment staff, athletic medicine--all depend on me to keep it straight," Maurides says. "And they don't do it out of a desire to have me be the center of that, but they do it out of necessity, because it would be impossible for them to have a staff meeting every single day to talk about the schedules of 100-plus athletes. They'd never get anything done. So I wanted to kind of flip that problem around."
Maurides talked with administrators in Duke's athletic department and identified pain points. He found that, while individual branches--medicine, strength and conditioning, compliance--operated efficiently, the breakdown occurred when they needed to coordinate with each other.
Maurides realized his own scheduling difficulties were symptoms of a larger problem. He brought on Shaun Powell, a University of Nevada-Las Vegas student with a mutual friend, to help build the platform. Within a year, Maurides had convinced his football team to use it. The school's men's lacrosse team soon followed. He graduated in 2007 and set the software aside for a few years while working for a cloud services company. Soon, though, the entrepreneurial itch came back.
When Maurides was young, his father started a law firm and a real estate business. "He always encouraged my sister and me to get an education but said that at end of the day, it would be great to be in a position to run our own business. The entrepreneurial mindset has always been a part of my life," he says. "And I'm Greek, which means my grandparents did have a diner."
After Maurides's father heard about the Teamworks idea, he made a good point : "If Duke has this problem," he told his son, "then every school in the country has this problem."
Maurides decided to go all in. Having worked from high school through college, and with no debt thanks to his football scholarship, he bootstrapped, funding the startup with his own savings and investments from family members. The initial financing totaled just under $300,000.
Maurides cold-called Northwestern University, a few miles from his Illinois hometown. He pitched Teamworks to the school's football team, then offered the first season for free. The team got hooked. Within a year, it became Teamworks' first paid client outside of Maurides's alma mater. Word quickly spread through the sports world. The entire Big Ten Conference became a customer next, then the NFL's San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals.
Saving the day
For those who organize it, March Madness truly lives up to its name: Three weeks, 14 cities, 68 teams, coaching staffs, medical personnel, bands, cheerleaders, lodging, travel, referees, security. No one knows what will happen, and everything needs to be able to change at the drop of a hat. To the fan, the tournament's unpredictability is it's allure--there are 9.2 quintillion possible outcomes for how a 68-team bracket can unfold. To NCAA staff, this means huge amounts of communication, mountains of paperwork, and no easy way to handle it all.
Until now. Teamworks' messaging system will replace normal email. Its scheduling feature will let teams know their agenda on game day and when it has access to the facilities for practice. The 70-page manual normally sent to the teams and faxed back will be completed via the app.
This is the first time the NCAA will use an app to house this information and communicate during the tournament. Since many of its schools were already using it, the association decided to give it a go. "We were looking to make it easier on our teams," says Ron English, director of the Division I men's basketball championship. "Because as you might imagine, once you get to this stage, it's very hectic. There are a thousand details the teams have to go through to successfully manage their way through the tournament."
Especially important, for the sanity of NCAA administrators, is the mass communication tool that collects contact information for every team's point of contact upon their signing up. The NCAA can then quickly message every team, one team, or those playing at specific sites. It allows the organization to quickly know who has and hasn't filed appropriate forms, who has read their messages and who has listened to voicemails. English says that if this is a success, the NCAA will discuss a broader use for Teamworks across other college athletic championships.
Pricing for Teamworks, which is considered a software as a service (SaaS) platform, varies depending on the level required by the user. While Maurides won't give exact figures to what his clients are paying, he says that it varies from a few thousand for the smaller organizations to "six figures" for the professional teams. The 26-person company just opened new headquarters in downtown Durham, North Carolina.
Mass communication tools are hardly new, nor are collaborative schedulers, which makes Teamworks' success somewhat puzzling at first. But Maurides points out that most of the existing platforms were optimized for sedentary work forces. While Teamworks is compatible with desktops, its focus is on mobile, for coaches, trainers, and athletes that are constantly on the move. The platform isn't strictly for use by sports teams, either--a school bus company in Illinois is now a customer, and some of the country's biggest athletic apparel companies have inquired about using the software for their employees.
But all this is just gravy for Maurides. "The most exciting thing I've had," he says, "is when we were just totally broke early on, we got that second, third, fourth client--it's just earth-shattering."
"I run my own business because I would not be the best employee. The only way for entrepreneurs to keep properly engaged is to go and do that. For me," he says, "the last five or six years have been the most exciting part of my life."