Jeff Raikes on Backing Agile Sports, a Startup Focused on Football, Built on Microsoft Tech

3/23/09Follow @gthuang

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I contacted the Raikes School program director (David Keck) and some of the students (now the Agile Sports leadership team), suggesting that they initiate a software project to help improve preparation of players. The Agile team members responded to the suggestion and came up with something much better than I’d envisioned—what is now Hudl Pro.

X: Talk about your role as an advisor to Agile Sports, and your decision to invest. Which areas of your expertise are the most relevant?

JR: I enjoy working with very smart folks who are passionate about how technology can improve work and lives. The Agile leadership team epitomize this. Their hard work paid off with some outstanding solutions, Hudl and Hudl Pro. I introduced them to several of my sports contacts, and seeing their positive reaction to Hudl made it easy for me to decide to invest. Whenever they feel my experiences in business and software over the last three decades are helpful, I’m glad to provide advice—might be on sales and marketing strategy, or business/team structure, or working with investors, etc. But these are very smart, dedicated folks who are driving the ultimate success of Agile.

X: Given your experience at Microsoft, what is special about Agile’s technology and business strategy, and what does the team need to do to continue its success?

JR: There are at least a couple of important ingredients to their success, that build off their smarts and passion for software.

1. They listen very closely to their customers—to the point where they can envision ideas and features that are technologically possible, but the customer might not even know to ask for them (because they don’t understand what the technology can do). In my experience, this has been part of the most successful software products. A customer might not know to ask for digital ink annotations on video, but Agile could see the value and then “delight” the customer with that as part of the solution.

This thoughtful, active listening to the customer began with the inception of the company and I believe was part of their training at the Raikes School. E.g., originally the suggestion was some sort of video game-like preparation approach. They considered that idea, realized the limitations, listened to problems the Husker coaching staff wanted to solve, and created Hudl—that’s exciting stuff!

2. They have some very strong software talent and excellent knowledge of the latest in technology. E.g. they were one of the earliest users of Windows Presentation Framework, underlying software technology that enabled the ink annotations on video. I had them demo this use of WPF to Bill Gates and Ray Ozzie—they were blown away by the idea.

X: How do you see the future of Web-based sports software playing out? Will systems like Agile’s be used by the Mariners, Seahawks, or Huskies anytime soon?

JR: I envision Agile solutions being used by sports teams, from high school to college to the professional level. Once you get past the “old school coaches,” i.e., ones who haven’t grown up using and being comfortable with computer technology in their everyday lives—which of course is just a matter of time!—coaches and players see how easy it is use technology to significantly improve player-coach communication, playbook usage, and player preparation.

[Editor's note: Graff said Agile had talked with the Seahawks, but not the Huskies yet. But nothing has been announced.]

X: OK, I have to ask. Who is harder to tackle in the open field, Gates or Ballmer?

JR: Well, I think I’m the hardest to tackle! But of those two, I’d say Bill would be the toughest in the open field. I’d use Ballmer as my blocker!

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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