Inked Sports was founded by a student manager who noticed the time and effort it took to be a student athlete. The NCAA did not allow college athletes to profit off of their name, image, and likeness (NIL) in any capacity, meaning most athletes were left with little to zero experience when they graduated. The idea was to help college athletes capitalize off of this opportunity with a solution that can scale to all college athletes. The core concept of helping college athletes for free never changed, and the product was designed specifically for the needs of both customer bases.
Tyler Shooshani co-founded Inked Sports, a platform for influencer marketing that connects collegiate athletes to brands for sponsorship opportunities. They have onboarded 85 athletes (and the number is climbing) and five brands are interested in sponsoring them.
Who are you and what are you working on currently?
This is my name: Tyler Shooshani. I am a 22-year-old Senior at USC majoring in Business Administration with a focus on entrepreneurship. I have been a student manager for the USC football team for the past three years, where I am responsible for setting up the locker room before practices and games, assembling and assisting drills during practice, traveling to away games, warming up the players, and monitoring all football equipment on game days.
Currently, I am the co-founder and chief executive officer of my venture, Inked Sports, a new influencer marketing and awareness-building platform that connects collegiate athletes with brands for sponsorship opportunities. The business is headquartered in Los Angeles, California. Our platform is and will remain fee-free for all college athletes. We charge brands a 20% transaction fee on the deal value to facilitate the complete deal process, including procuring athletes, sending offers, executing deals, and identifying key results from influencer investments.
What is your history and how did you develop this concept?
As a student manager, I observed the time and effort required of student athletes. Most athletes began their days at 6 a.m. with exercise and, if injured, rehabilitation. They would then hurry to class, wolf down lunch, return to practice, and possibly attend additional classes before returning home when it was already dark to complete their assignments. I felt terrible for these athletes because their dedication to their sport prevented them from developing professional abilities.
Additionally, and most notably, the NCAA at the time did not permit college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL) in any capacity (including starting their own business), leaving the majority of athletes with little to no experience after graduation. However, an opening presented itself. Contrary to the NCAA’s amateurism policy, California announced that by 2024, collegiate athletes in California will be able to profit from their NIL. I anticipated that other states would soon follow suit, so I sat down and asked myself, “How can I help college athletes capitalize on this opportunity with a scalable solution?” Inked Sports became the answer.
As my co-founder, Max, and I continued to meet with professors and business professionals for feedback on the idea, certain aspects of Inked Sports evolved over time. But the fundamental principle of assisting college athletes for gratis has not changed. Then, we engaged in extensive consumer discovery with both athletes and brands to guarantee that our product would be tailored to the requirements of both customer bases.
My motivation for creating Inked Sports is to assist athletes in feeling represented. 98% of collegiate athletes do not make it to the professional level, leaving 490,000 athletes with little to no support from agencies. We developed a system that enables college athletes to act as their own agents and manage NIL opportunities in less than 15 minutes per day.
How did you transform an idea into a product?
The procedure was lengthy but extremely fruitful. We began by collecting as much information as possible by interviewing multiple college athletes and brands. We ultimately decided to develop a mobile app for athletes and a web app for sponsors because we believe it is the most logical product for both consumer groups. In general, college students use their phones far more frequently than their laptops, and we wanted to make it as simple and convenient as possible for college athletes to use their NIL. For brands, we desired to develop a web application with a simple front end and a complex back end in order to generate substantial value for brand managers who continue to use our product. We even have an internal motto for our brand’s web app: “To make NIL deals as simple as Facebook ads,” and we know we have achieved this through the product development led by the three co-founders.
Currently, only the athletes’ app is available. Since day one, we have received remarkable feedback, and we are thrilled with the initial responses from college athletes. The most significant aspect of our launch, however, was when other college athletes reached out to us, requesting an invitation to join the platform. It’s one thing to reach out to a large number of athletes and have a certain percentage download the app and create an account, but it’s an entirely different sensation when college athletes you didn’t contact reach out to you and want to join Inked Sports. As a founder, there is no better sensation than when your brand develops organically. Sincerely, it is challenging to express into words.
What marketing strategies did you employ to expand your business?
As the student manager for the USC football team, I was able to communicate with a number of student athletes about what NIL meant to them and how we could devise the most practical solution. In addition, the majority of these men were my close acquaintances, with whom I had spent nearly every day for the previous three to four months. Consequently, the ability to obtain genuine, honest feedback was crucial to the success of our product. The value proposition is straightforward: we guide athletes through the entire procedure and assist them in profiting from their NIL for no cost. Therefore, they required little persuasion.
Approaching brands was somewhat more difficult. Despite this, we ended up having over forty or more conversations with social media and influencer managers to investigate the influencer industry and how we can contribute value to a rapidly expanding sector. Five brands have already expressed interest in working with us and sponsoring athletes on our marketplace once the brands’ web application is complete.
How are you doing today? What are your future objectives?
One of my future objectives is to finalize the development of our brand’s web application so that we can ultimately assist the 85 (and growing) athletes on our marketplace in capitalizing on this exceptional opportunity. A personal objective would be to drastically alter (in a positive way) the existence of a college athlete through Inked Sports.
Nico and Devin, my other co-founders, and I collaborate closely. Nico is our chief product officer and oversees the development of our athletes app and brands web app. He assisted in conducting several athlete and brand interviews and designed the user interface and user experience for both applications.
Devin is our CTO and is responsible for all of our technological development. We anticipate granting him a much larger tech team in the near future, and I’m personally thrilled to observe Devin’s leadership abilities in action.
I manage day-to-day conversations with athletes and brands, create and implement our marketing strategy (with the aid of our amazing marketing intern, Shanna! ), meet with potential investors, rework and fine-tune our business model, and oversee all of our legal work. We meet every week to discuss how to place the company in the best position to succeed regardless of individual responsibilities. We are all aware that our individual skills enable us to perform our respective tasks, but we are always willing to assist one another when we can.
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Since the inception of Inked Sports, what have been your primary learnings?
Be patient, but act quickly.
It is acceptable for people to dislike your idea. This is the time to hear a distinct viewpoint on your company, which can be extremely beneficial.
Be receptive to any suggestions your team may make.
Ensure that whatever you do in life you are passionate about it. It makes labor so much more enjoyable.
What were the most difficult challenges you overcame? What were your greatest errors?
Our greatest obstacle has been executing the creation of our technology. I am so proud of all the hard work we’ve put in to get to this stage; now it’s just a matter of carrying out the plan.
This experience has taught me that creating excellent software requires a significant amount of time and resources (money and experience). We cannot wait for college athletes and brands to ultimately receive the full Inked Sports experience once our technology is complete.
Which tools and resources do you suggest?
In the spring of 2021, we participated in the Blackstone Launchpad fellowship. I strongly encourage anyone with a firm to apply for the fellowship. It aided in the expansion of the Inked Sports network by introducing us to numerous individuals with whom we are still in contact, and provided us with a wealth of learning opportunities through the numerous presenters and activities in which we participated.
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