I met Darden School of Business School of Business alumus, Ken Zamkow, during my time in New York City on this year’s HackCville Startup Trip. Ken welcomed our group into his Lower East Side office space and showed us to the office roof deck – complete with coffee, cookies, and a breathtaking skyline view of the city. Just steps away from the Williamsburg Bridge, Chinatown, East Village, and Soho, Ken’s workspace at The Yard is just the kind of place you expect to find an entrepreneur like him.
Since his time at Darden, Ken has moved to the city and, among other things, launched an app called SportsGuru. In Ken’s words, “SportsGuru is a new app that allows fans to record short videos of themselves with their reactions, opinions, and analysis on all things sports. We make the videos look more professional and fun by adding automated graphics and other interactive features, to make the videos look like a real sports show. And the entire navigation and user experience are built around sports, making it easier for our sports-fan community to discover unique points of view about their favorite teams. In other words, we’re building a fan-powered digital sports network.” His inspiration, like many of us at U.Va., was drawn in part from the incredible basketball program here in Charlottesville (shout-out to Tony Bennett). “As a U.Va. basketball fan, I was frustrated in the last few years that, despite having a great team and being a top seed, we would barely get video coverage on mainstream media, and there is only so much video that local media or the school can produce given limited resources.” His solution? Build a platform that lets informed fans talk about what they want to, when they want to.
Some of the advice Ken gave us while visiting his “office” (AKA sweet rooftop overlooking the city) was to network and use the connections you make wisely. He has most definitely followed his own advice. “Darden gave me a great network that I’ve been fortunate to be able to leverage over the years for advice, introductions, partnerships, and investors.” His professional experience has also been an invaluable asset in the development of SportsGuru. “I’ve worked in sports video for over 6 years before starting SportsGuru. I sold video streaming technologies to the NFL, NBA, NCAA, and number of sports networks, websites, and apps. So, I knew the industry well and had contacts I could leverage.”
From inspiration to ideation to production, Ken and his team have incorporated SportsGuru as a company, raised an initial investment, built a team, created a working prototype, and found a great office space in the Lower East Side. For now, SportsGuru is still in its beta testing stage, but in the long run, Ken sees SportsGuru as becoming a trusted sports media destination where fans come to catch up on whatever is happening in sports.
In regards to HackCville, Ken has only good things to say. “I found out about HackCville last year through an NYC alumni group while I was still developing the idea for SportsGuru. I thought HackCville was a great initiative to get more Hoos involved in tech.” He also thinks us students and HC’ers are pretty great – “The questions, feedback, and suggestions we got from the students on the startup trip were at a very high level and showed thought and understanding of what we do as a technology, media, and sports company.”
The startup trip culminated at the Wahoowa Alumni Mixer where students and alums alike mingled and networked. Among those in attendance was Mr. Ken Zamkow and when I asked him what it is he has learned from the “world of startups,” he told me the truth – and it was pretty great.
“Launching a startup is a long series of never-ending challenges. Some of them you deal with once, and then don’t need to worry about much again. Some are cyclical and keep reappearing throughout the life of your company, just in a different shape and very different scale. You need to persuade potential partners, investors, employees, and users that your idea is good, and that you are the right person to pull it off as an entrepreneur. You need to execute by building the right product, and getting users on it. This is just the beginning of the road for us, and making mistakes earlier rather than later is very important, so you can also make adjustments sooner. What I’ve learned throughout this process so far, is that as long as you work hard, treat people fairly, and carefully consider your options when making decisions, but then trust your gut and move quickly, then most of these challenges will resolve themselves– only to make way to bigger and more complex challenges of course. And if a certain obstacle doesn’t get resolved, then learn from your mistake, correct it for next time, and move on.”
So there you have it, future entrepreneurs, straight from the world of startups.