Like many college basketball players, Daveyon Ross found it difficult to keep track of his performance by hand.
"I had been one of those players shooting 500 to 1,000 jump shots a day, tracking them manually," he recalls. Even at the N.B.A level, coaches often employ up to five managers to note players' statistics during a practice. After all, as Ross puts it, "you can't improve what you can't measure."
The experience led him to build ShotTracker, a startup that makes sensors for individual players and teams. On Wednesday, ShotTracker announced its biggest score yet: $5 million in a seed funding round, including from N.B.A. legend Magic Johnson, and the league's former commissioner, David Stern. Both investors have also joined the startup's board of advisors.
ShotTracker sensors are placed in players' shoes, the basketball, and rafters above the stadium to track movement in three dimensions. The device then beams out the statistics in real-time (i.e., box scores, player efficiency ratings, and shot charts) to agents, coaches, parents, or fans through a series of apps. The cost for a team product starts at $3,000, and users can individually pay for a subscription for more data. While that might sound pricey, it's paltry compared to SportsVU, a stats provider used by top N.B.A. teams, and reportedly holds an annual price of $100,000.
"[The product] will revolutionize the game not only because it automates the tracking of detailed player stats, but also because it's an affordable solution for basketball programs at every level," Johnson said in a statement. He recently flew out to ShotTracker's Kansas City headquarters to experience the sensors in action, at which point he and the co-founders negotiated a deal.
The twice inducted Hall of Famer, who retired from the N.B.A. in 1991, is no stranger to the world of business and investing. He's the chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, has partnered with Starbucks to launch a series of coffee shops, and heads the Los Angeles Dodgers' parent company. More recently, he invested in Jopwell, a tech recruiting startup and Inc. 30 Under 30 honoree.
Tackling the wearables market
With the wearable tech industry expected to top $34 billion in sales by 2020, Ross and his co-founder and CEO, Bruce Ianni, concede that competition is strong. Existing devices from tech giants FitBit and Jawbone help players monitor their biometrics, such as heart rate and skin temperature, while tech startup Hoop Tracker sells a smart watch and software to keep track of a player's performance. But Ross insists that ShotTracker is unique because it's a product for players of all ages and levels, from high schools to the N.B.A. (Klay Thompson, the shooting guard for the Golden State Warriors, is one of many professional athletes using ShotTracker to improve their game.)
Having a glossy list of investors and an N.B.A. endorsement is a huge benefit, but ShotTracker's greatest potential may well be in high schools and colleges. Stats aren't just for coaches, says Ross, but for aspiring players and their parents as well.
And therein lies ShotTracker's staying power, according to Magic Johnson. "While there is competition in the consumer space for fitness wearables, there is not much competition when it comes to tracking comprehensive performance stats for teams," Johnson tells Inc. via email.
"ShotTracker is very different because the data is in real-time and the system is affordable for basketball teams at all levels," he continued. "Imagine the impact on player development when every high school team has access to the stats currently reserved for the pros? The fact that ShotTracker TEAM is affordable expands the market significantly, and that gives ShotTracker staying power."
Lessons from a previous startup
Before ShotTracker, Ross founded a content platform called Digital Sports Ventures to stream sports videos and highlights.
In 2011, he sold the company to Digital Broadcasting Group for an undisclosed amount -- at which point the company was streaming more than one million videos daily. "It was an emotional roller coaster like no other," Ross said about selling his startup. "The things I learned from that business helped influence what we're doing here."
Digital Sports Ventures had raised capital in the depths of the 2008 economic recession, a moment that Ross characterizes as "definitely one of the lows of my career." While funding was tight, he learned to get creative and resourceful, and to stomach putting out a testable product, rather than a perfect one.
In the early days of ShotTracker, back in 2014, the company released an "imperfect" product (a sensor for individual athletes.) "That's the reason we were able to get the feedback to bring the team product to market," Ross says.
When pitching Johnson and Stern, he adds, it helped that both of the ShotTracker co-founders have personally invested millions in the company. "When they [investors] see how much of your own money is in the deal, it checks a box for them that's like, these guys are not preparing for failure," he said.