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Shawn Green was a recently retired Major League Baseball player when he came up with the idea for Greenfly – a content-sharing platform that’s now used by sports teams, leagues and brands of all sizes across the globe, with everyone from PSG superstar Neymar to the players in America’s Premier Lacrosse League using it every day.

With a 14-year baseball career behind him, Shawn initially took something of a hobby approach to his new venture, but after building a working prototype of the tool he decided he needed a more experienced business head involved to help Greenfly realise its potential, so he called his cousin, Daniel Kirschner.

Shawn and Daniel grew up together in the Bay Area of Northern California, but while Shawn was off hitting home runs and stealing bases for the Toronto Bluejays, LA Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Mets, Harvard graduate Daniel focused on opening up access to technology, working in senior roles across law, technology and business. When he moved back to the west coast to become head of corporate affairs for Activision Blizzard, the pair started spending more time together - and having seen the opportunity to do something really special with Shawn’s new concept, Daniel quit the videogames industry to become president and CEO of Greenfly.

Inspired by his own interactions with the media as a player, Shawn’s original idea was to build something that would make it easier for broadcasters to source video content remotely, but soon after Daniel came onboard the focus changed. “We realised pretty quickly that once you've built a platform to get content from people, it's also really easy to give it to them as well,” says Daniel. “But when you're sending an athlete a piece of content to share it's not going on TV, it's going on social.”

In many ways, Greenfly was ahead of its time, with Daniel and Shawn exploring the possibilities offered by self-produced video long before the rise of Snapchat, Instagram Stories and TikTok. “Often when we approached organisations in the early days they would tell us that wasn’t the kind of video they did,” says Daniel. “Nobody says that anymore.”

Shawn’s background in Major League Baseball hasn’t just opened doors for Greenfly, it’s informed almost every aspect of the business. Having somebody on board who had a real insider’s understanding of how sports organisations worked gave Greenfly a significant advantage when pursuing deals around the world, whether it was with MLB, the NBA, Germany’s Bundesliga, or the Rajasthan Royals, the first Indian Premier League cricket club to sign up. “Shawn understands the dynamic between the players, the owners and all the different components; the politics of those places and who makes the decisions,” says Daniel. “That’s been incredibly helpful.”

Shawn’s time as a world-class athlete also gave them a unique perspective on how sports stars might use the platform. “We have over 800 Major League Baseball players on our platform, so when Shawn was at spring training they kept coming up to him and saying, ‘I didn't know you were involved in Greenfly. I love Greenfly, I use it every day!’,” says Daniel. “I think one of the things that's really been crucial to our success is that we've built a mobile app that's really easy to use and has a consumer experience, even though it's part of an enterprise platform.”

In a world where fans often have allegiances to particular individuals as well as teams, organisations must now aim to harness the power of their stars’ audiences as well as their own – and Greenfly has made sure that its tools benefit both. In fact, one European football club went so far as to call it ‘Operation Win-Win’.

“Athletes are a very powerful amplification of a sports organisation,” says Daniel, “but just because the organisation's getting a benefit doesn't mean the athletes don't want it. Sometimes we find that the commercial side of sports organisations are hesitant to ask athletes to do anything more than train and play. However, players invariably view it as a favour because it’s also helping them build their personal brand. If we go into a club and put a couple of athletes on Greenfly, every single member of that team is going to ask for it. Everyone wants compelling content to share.”

This reciprocal, collaborative spirit often extends to the specific usage of Greenfly as well. Daniel offers the example of a big NBA star who used photos supplied by the league via Greenfly to create a TikTok video for his personal account. Then there’s the case of Washington Wizards power forward Rui Hachimura. As the first Japanese basketball player to be drafted by an NBA team, the team were able to supply him with Japanese content to share, which has helped the Wizards to build an audience base in a country over 6000 miles from D.C.

It’s not just about the players either. Some teams have utilised their fitness staff, cheerleading teams and celebrity fans to create content and build that affiliation, particularly during the COVID shut down when there was no competitive action to rely on.

At the end of 2020, Greenfly took this approach to the next level by launching Engage – a web-based tool that can be dropped into any existing app or website to source content from fans. “A lot of our existing customers were putting fans onto the Greenfly app in order to get content from them,” says Daniel. “It didn't really make sense to bring fans into this private network experience, so we created this really simple, elegant tool instead.”

Engage’s first taste of a major event was when Shawn’s old team the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series in October. With all the spectators at home rather than inside the stadium, the team put out a call for video footage of fans watching the climax of the crucial sixth game, which clinched the Dodgers their first title since 1988. “They put together a really beautiful video of fans reacting to the final moments and put it on social,” says Daniel. “It was one of their best-performing videos all year.”

Daniel only expects this kind of fan engagement to continue, even when crowds are allowed back into sporting venues, and suggests that coronavirus has merely accelerated a lot of existing trends regarding remote collaboration. “Automated workflow solutions like Greenfly allow organisations to cover a lot more territory and save costs on travel and things like that,” he says. “We've seen a huge surge in engagement and viewership across different social media and digital platforms.”

And the numbers back Daniel's words up. In Major League Baseball alone, Greenfly moves hundreds of thousands of pieces of content over the course of a season and its overall usage in 2020 was greater than the previous five years combined. Last year, Greenfly grew as a business and even recently kicked off another round of fundraising. “If anything we were even more relevant during this period,” Daniel says. “In a world where budgets were being cut and people were dropping technology that they didn’t think they needed, the fact that organizations were renewing and increasing their use of Greenfly speaks to the value of what we've built.”

It’s this kind of reliance that has led to much of Greenfly’s success, which, until a new head of marketing was brought in this time last year, has come about almost entirely through word of mouth. People move from team to team or league to league and take Greenfly with them, while it occasionally even jumps industries, which is how it ended up being involved in Joe Biden’s successful presidential campaign.

Two weeks before the election, Biden himself tweeted a link to the Greenfly app encouraging his supporters to “donate” their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to the cause. Daniel says Biden and the Democratic National Committee onboarded “thousands and thousands” of supporters, sending them content via Greenfly every day to share on their social channels.

“It was an incredible experience,” says Daniel. “It was really electric to see how valuable it was and it opened up our thinking about bringing fans into an environment, not just to get content from them, but also to provide content to them to share. We have some new things that we're working on now in that regard.”

While Joe Biden and Neymar might not seem to have too much in common, Daniel doesn’t think they’re that different. “Political candidates and supporters are very similar to athletes in that if you give them access to great content they're going to share it with their audiences,” he says. “That level of passion and genuine affiliation is when our platform is most effective.”


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Nick Pinks was working on the BBC’s Glastonbury festival coverage when the idea that spawned Covatic came to him.


“Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix were also on that weekend and the viewing figures for the tennis were absolutely trouncing Glastonbury’s,” says Nick, whose job was to explore the future of the industry and identify the threats it would face over the coming years.


“I realised it was because the festival coverage was set around the times of the performances, not around people's lives, whereas Wimbledon viewers were jumping in at the time that suited them. It showed that our content didn’t match our viewers’ lifestyles."

While the Googles and Facebooks of the world had already been identified as the key competitors to traditional broadcasters such as the BBC, Sky and ITV, even their data collection tools couldn’t solve this issue. Search history and social profiles might be able to tell you what a person likes to watch, but they can’t tell you when they like to watch it. Instead, Nick hit upon a much smarter, less invasive way to paint an accurate picture of a person’s day-to-day life.


“The only bit of kit that you religiously keep with you all the time is your phone,” he explains. “You plug it in when you go to bed and unplug it in the morning, so it knows when you wake up, when you get up to have your breakfast, and, in pre-pandemic times, how far you travel to work.


“By using data on that device we can predict what tomorrow's going to be like for them. If you understand what tomorrow's going to be like for a person, you can then provide the best content for them.”


Nick talks about ‘windows of opportunity’ – chunks of time when a user is likely to be open to receiving particular types of content, whether that’s a 60-minute playlist, a 5-minute highlight reel of last night’s game, or a short news article. If you make a journey of the same duration every day, it’s even possible to serve content that exactly matches the time available – and all without any personal data ever leaving the device.


“If you understand when the best time to engage with someone is, you can get the most positive response from them. Moving them from a free user to a subscriber, for example,” Nick explains. “If you know the amount of time they have, then you can identify who is at risk of churning if they are not using it in those times."


In 2015, Nick left the BBC and went to work for Imagine Communications, an American company that helps media companies to make and monetise TV – but he couldn’t stop thinking about this idea he’d had while working for the BBC. After 18 months he left to start Covatic. “I was looking at an industry that wasn't moving fast enough,” he says. “The opportunity for Covatic just seemed huge, and this felt like something that the industry needed."


Initially part of Oxford University Innovations, an initiative run for entrepreneurs, the company was spun out to go it alone in January 2017. It took the 12-person team about three years to get the model to a place where it could be used to pull out insights and data in a way that's usable for advertising and content ecosystems, but Covatic’s SDK can now be found in apps on over a million devices in the UK, including those from KISS, Absolute Radio, and Magic.


“A lot of people have been burnt by academic spin-outs,” says Nick. “Is this just an idea or is it actually real? Just because we spun out of Oxford doesn't automatically mean we have a better broadcast product, but it does mean that our data purity is better and shows the quality of thinking behind it. Everything we've built has been from fundamental research; we haven't taken stuff off a shelf and plugged bits together.”


Covatic doesn’t have as much day-to-day contact with the university any more but its influence and support shouldn’t be downplayed. "We still adhere to the academic excellence of the three founding professors,” says Nick. “They were from the university’s computer science department, whose fellows include the likes of Sir Tim Berners-Lee. We wouldn't be here without them.”


The connection has also helped to attract a “truly phenomenal” engineering team and the company has kept close to the university’s startup ecosystem. In fact, one of Covatic’s investors, OSI, also helped to fund the company behind the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine.


The University of Oxford isn’t the only big name Covatic has got behind it. In 2020, it was the only company outside of North America to be selected for Comcast’s LIFT Labs Accelerator programme, which was based in Philadelphia and run in partnership with Techstars.


Throughout the 12-week course, Nick had to present to Techstars co-founder David Cohen in front of 150 people (“It was awful, but we learned so much"), was interviewed by CNBC’s Jim Cramer (“He crucified me for my choice of tequila on the shelf behind me”), and received feedback from the likes of Comcast CTO Matt Zelesko and the president of advertising, Marcien Jenckes. What’s more, Nick did it all over Zoom thanks to the ongoing situation with COVID-19. “The time zones meant the rest of my family were asleep while I was there at 2am pitching to the management team at Comcast,” he says. “It was certainly a challenge.”


Lack of sleep aside, Nick describes the experience as “exceptional” with access to an incredible range of organisations across the US and the rest of the world now open to him and the company. “Having their senior leadership team involved in our planning, and helping us understand how Comcast sees the world was brilliant,” he says.


Of course, the pandemic hasn’t just affected Nick’s nine-to-five – it has completely changed how we think about a daily routine. “Every consumer now has a different schedule than before,” he says. “Their schedules are also more individual and are always changing. I can’t see us going back to a situation where so many people do the same things at the same time."


These changes in the way people lived their lives and consumed content opened up a huge opportunity for Nick to pursue opportunities in other sectors and verticals, including sport – and it’s these that are now showing the most traction and momentum. “I was very wedded to the broadcast space when we first started and that was probably a mistake,” he admits. “They were much slower to pick up in this field than I thought they would be.”


From Nick’s point of view, the challenges for these industries are exactly the same as those a broadcaster faces – and with many sports teams and brands starting to focus on growing their direct-to-consumer propositions, Covatic can really help them get the most out of their content.


“I think it's fair to say that in the next few years major broadcast deals will change,” he says. "There's going to be a transition to first-party platforms, and part of the reason for that is going to be the data. The Premier League and other big properties will still be wanted by the broadcasters, but you are already seeing a move to direct-to-consumer for other sports with smaller but very engaged fanbases."


So what does the immediate future hold for Covatic? For starters, Nick plans to expand the team and raise some more funds to capitalise on the momentum it has managed to build over the past six months. That should only increase when the company’s new self-serve product launches later in Q1, which will allow any developer to add a select few of Covatic’s features to an app for a lower price than the full package.


And it’s not just about media and content either. Covatic’s tools are also being used by a sustainability company to power an app that works out a person’s carbon footprint based on their movements and habits. At the end of the week, it'll tell them how much to pay if they want to offset all the carbon they’ve used, while automatically telling all their social media followers that they’re carbon neutral.


“It's just another interesting take on what we're doing,” says Nick. “We can help with any app that’s competing for somebody’s attention, whether it’s a game, music, video, or reading. Our long-term vision is to become the world leader in personalisation.”


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When Donny White and Randall Newman founded Satisfi Labs in summer 2016, its first signings were a trio of genuine New York icons: the Mets baseball team, the Macy's chain of department stores, and the US Open Tennis Championships.

Just over four years later and Satisfi Labs’ roster has ballooned to 200 high-profile clients, with half of them sports brands and the rest made up of theatres, theme parks, airports and other largely tourism- and entertainment-related outlets. But no matter the subject, the idea and tech underpinning it all is always the same.


The original aim was to create an “Amazon experience” for stadiums and live events by using conversational AI to make them searchable and shoppable – a quest inspired by the availability of bacon on a stick at Citi Field, the home of the Mets. With the help of Satisfi Labs’ tech, teams would also be able to understand the demand curves for such a delicacy and inform fans about things they otherwise might miss.


While Satisfi Labs’ tools were previously focused on answering questions around live events that Google wasn’t necessarily best-equipped to help with – places to park, how to find a particular seating area, or what vegetarian alternatives to a stick of bacon were available - the Covid outbreak led to the realisation that, while this focus on the physical represented the biggest data gap, it was unnecessarily limiting.


When the pandemic hit and every single one of Satisfi Labs’ clients had its business put on hold, usage of the company’s tools dropped initially but never hit zero – and it soon saw a dramatic rise, partly due to the free COVID-19 Assistant the company released at the end of March. Even when people were stuck at home they still had questions about when fans would be allowed to return to stadiums, how ticketing would work, and what safety measures would be in place.


“Our volume went up by five times because people had a lack of places they could go to get good information and ours comes from the source,” says Donny. “The system has learned five million new phrases as a result of Covid and 50% of this year's questions were new or applied in a different way.” All of sudden, face masks weren’t just something found on NFL players’ helmets.


The result is a product that now has more wide-ranging use and appeal than before the pandemic, which allows the company to serve a broader audience than just those attending particular locations or events. The team realised that the questions that fans were asking would change now that they were removed from the stadiums.


“We immediately shifted resources to building at home experiences,” says Donny. “But now we were dealing with questions like ‘How do we stream practice?’, ‘Where do I watch the game?’ and ‘Who is starting?’ rather than ‘Where is the parking?’. We had to supplement our physical search understanding with things like scores, stats, standings and schedules.” In August 2020, 15 MLB teams, including the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves and Chicago Whitesox, were the first clients to go live with the new capabilities via Google Assistant.


Of course, there have been sacrifices too. Every member of staff has taken a temporary pay cut, off-shore resources for things like quality control have been moved in-house, and the lease on the eye-catching Times Square office is unlikely to be extended when it comes up for renewal. But the company never had to make any reductions in key resources and has been able to accelerate its product development.


That’s been made possible by a recent injection of cash from Bigfoot Capital – a financial services firm that Donny first encountered at an event called Foundercon back in June 2018. Organised by seed accelerator Techstars, whose program Satisfi Labs has previously taken part in, it was here that Donny also first met Google.


After a few initial follow-ups with the search giant things went quiet, but around nine months later Donny was invited to fly out to the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. “At first I thought they were suing me,” he says with a laugh, “but they were actually interested in partnering with us.”


A two-hour grilling kicked off a multi-month due diligence process that Donny describes as “the most intense you can imagine,” with everything from the customers and the tech, to the employees and other investors under close scrutiny. “When it was finally approved I felt like I'd been through the gauntlet, but they're the most enjoyable to work with,” he says. “There are certain career moments that nobody can ever take away from you – and that's one of them.”


Donny meets regularly with a technical contact from Google who offers advice, ideas and assistance, but it’s just one of many important relationships that need to be juggled carefully. As well as Google Assistant and Google Pay, Satsifi Labs’ tools work with Apple’s Business Chat, plus Apple Pay and Amazon Pay are both supported. Of course, it benefits the customers to be available through as many digital access points as possible, but what’s it like to deal with three of tech’s biggest rivals? “It's a constant balancing act,” says Donny. “But you just have to be really good at what you do and all of them will benefit from that.”


Earlier this year, being really good at what it does led to Satisfi Labs signing up its first UK client. A few weeks after the Kansas City Chiefs had lifted the Vince Lombardi Trophy in February, Donny woke up to an email from Tottenham Hotspur. Impressed by what Satisfi Labs had done around the Super Bowl, the Premier League club had reached out via the company’s website to see how the two could work together. So how does a British sports client differ to those back home in the US?


“It's more different than I thought it would be,” admits Donny. “We asked them to tell us what the most important things about their experience are so we could build a UK database.” As well as less focus on parking and more on nearby bars, Tottenham fans have also shown more interest in retail, while stadium tours and the Dare Skywalk, which involves stepping out onto a glass walkway nearly 50 metres above the pitch, have also been popular.


The tool went live in time for the first game with fans back in the stands, a derby win over Arsenal at the start of December, but it had been a long time coming. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the whole process between Spurs and Satisfi Labs was conducted virtually over email and Zoom calls, but Donny sees more pros than cons with this way of working.


“It has enabled quicker relationship-building in some circumstances because there are certain walls that have dropped,” he explains. Before the pandemic, Donny would’ve felt the need to jump on a plane and fly to London for the Tottenham deal, but jumping on a video call and being able to get a glimpse into the personal lives of people you’ve never met takes the pressure off a little bit. “For me, I actually think this is better,” he admits, before revealing that he’s also been able to pursue something in Japan this year as a result.


A key focus for Donny in 2021 is a new feature called Knowtifi (his more Brooklyn-inspired suggestion of LemmeKnow was vetoed by the marketing department). Inspired by the uncertainty that surrounded professional sports fixtures and the back-in-stock alerts that some retail websites allow potential customers to set up, Knowtifi applies the same concept to questions. If a brand can’t answer immediately, users can choose to be informed when it can, rather than having to keep asking the same questions every day for the next two, six or even 12 months.


“I always believed that having a hyper-indexed content system that understood very detailed customer intents would lead to something,” says Donny. “I thought commerce was going to be the bigger thing – but now I think Knowtifi is ten times what that could be. The uncertainty is an opportunity.”

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