Startup Fever: A New iPhone App for Keeping Score

Last Updated Aug 17, 2010 8:34 PM EDT

What's the single best thing about a recession? An unceremonious nudge off the corporate mother ship is very often the push a cubicle-dweller needs to launch his or her own entrepreneurial venture. And these days, being your own boss is looking a lot more attractive than tethering yourself to a big corporation. A new crop of recession-inspired companies is fueling "start-up fever." I thought it might be interesting and instructive to take a look at some of the young companies that were birthed during the recession and are now finding their standing legs.
Case in point: Ted Sullivan, who launched Fungo Media 18 months ago after being laid off by a company that develops mobile applications. "I had been very seriously contemplating this business for three or four months," says Sullivan. "When I got laid off, it was a kick in the butt to go do this thing." Sullivan's "thing" is a mobile application for iPhone and iPod called GameChanger, which replaces the pencil and paper score-keeping process at amateur sporting events."It saves them hours of time after the game, because the stats are automatically totaled up," says Sullivan. Information about the game is also beamed to a server and then to the Internet, where absent parents can check on the progress of the game. The app, which has been in public beta since January, is free to teams. Starting in May, though, Sullivan will add a revenue generating component by charging a premium subscription fee to fans who want to view the play by play in real time on the internet; they'll also be able to request SMS and email alerts about specific players.

Sullivan, 33, was a college athlete who spent two years as a pitcher in minor leagues for the Cleveland Indians; he also started a youth sports camp called Headfirst with his brother. Plus, he has five angel investors who are current major league baseball players. But his very best business intelligence comes from direct interaction with his customers: he coaches a Manhattan little league team in his spare time to better understand his target audience. It's a practice that every entrepreneur developing a new product or service should adopt, since it will teach you far more than you could ever learn by just tinkering in your garage.

"After I've been to a game, I come into the office and my tech guys are rolling their eyes," says Sullivan. Some of the tweaks he's made to GameChanger based on what he's learned at games: he discovered he needed a better way to manage the opposing team's roster; he developed a way to add notes to the game stream to explain sudden breaks in play due to, say, rain delays or injury; and he realized he should include tools that would allow players to post live updates to their Facebook pages. "It's certainly tough on my time," he concedes. "I have to leave my office for practice at five on some days, and that means I need to stay until 10 the next day." It's worth it, though, he says. "I've realized how valuable it is for me to be my customer."

How do you make sure that your new product or service is meeting customer needs? And if you're a recession entrepreneur like Sullivan, please send me an email and tell me about your new venture.

Little league pitcher image by Flickr user