What do you get when you cross a college basketball coach, a lawyer, and a software architect? In the case of local St. Louis startup Six0Run Software, you get a dynamic software development team focused on revolutionizing talent management in college athletics. I sat down with the team to learn more about the new software solution they launched on Windows Azure earlier this year.
College athletics are big business in the United States. Specifically, the business of winning games and championships. And according to Six0Run’s former basketball coach George Evjen, “The only way to win is to get the best recruits. Coaches are always searching for the best possible talent to greatly increase their chances of winning”.
College athletic programs typically scout anywhere from 5 to 500 candidates. Athletes are tracked throughout their high school years in their recruiting pipelines. Coaches also frequently track athletes at other two and four year colleges that might be candidates for transfer. Much like a traditional sales cycle, there are some deals that are higher probability than others. Getting the best deal is key to building a winning program.
In addition to dealing with the sheer volume of potential recruits, college athletic programs and coaches are heavily policed by the NCAA. Unlike traditional lead management practices, athletic departments simply can’t contact their leads at will. The NCAA has specific rules regarding these contact points.
NCAA audits can happen at any time so contact with candidates must to be tracked. Coaches need to show a historical report of their activities. According to resident lawyer turned developer Jeff Straus, “Infraction costs for violating NCAAA rules could be $100s of thousands of dollars and possible bans from post-season play. The challenge is that the rules are constantly changing, especially those related to social media”. Here are just a few examples he cited:
- Coaches can only call candidates a few times a week
- Only allowed three site visits to watch a candidate play
- Only allowed to invite the candidate to campus a certain number of times
- Coaches cannot contact anyone younger than a high school sophomore
- On twitter or Facebook, a candidate’s name cannot be mentioned publicly until after signing day and a scholarship has been accepted
- There are time windows throughout the year when no contact with candidates is allowed.
Six0Run’s flagship product is a software as a service (SaaS) solution hosted in the cloud and licensed to college athletic departments on a yearly basis. It’s a highly specialized, domain specific CRM package, unlike products like Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics CRM which are broad platforms that appeal to any business.
The solution focuses exclusively on collegiate athlete recruiting but encompasses any sport (Basketball, football, golf, soccer, etc.) It captures specific data points about athletes such as height, weight and performance related statistics and activities. There’s also a built in stack ranking system to evaluate and track candidates by position.
Six0Run can automatically pull in public social media information for candidates and populate the appropriate data connections in the system. Coaches are allowed to friend candidates, but having this tool channel the communication points allows for better tracking and auditing.
The built-in workflow engine enforces NCAA compliance rules. It automates and tracks communication with candidates via traditional mail, email, as well as social media connections including twitter, Facebook, and mobile texting. There are prebuilt templates that can be auto-populated and sent, and in the case of emails, statistically tracked for reads, click-throughs, and more.
But the team at Six0Run wanted to go beyond merely tracking NCAA compliance. If there’s a high value recruit that someone forgot to call, it could potentially cost a program victories. So Six0Run encourages team based collaboration through a high level task and checklist system make sure an entire coaching staff stays on target and does the right things.
The Benefits of MS Technology
All back end services for the Silverlight client are hosted on Windows Azure web roles. “This provides for plenty of room for growth as the product becomes more widely adopted as well as a platform for potential partners to leverage our services while adding valuable services of their own to our customer base” adds Grossnicklaus.
Azure worker roles are also used to for background processing. The solution continually processes data for compliance rules that are difficult or impossible to process in real time. There is also a significant amount of processing going on around the clock to automatically track candidate activities through social media channels.
Six0Run also provides a document repository for each customer in Windows Azure blob storage. Documents can be stored for the overall athletic program as well as for each individual candidate. Coaches can upload and manage documents such as questionnaires, transcripts, test scores, pictures, videos, and any other electronic media they might want to capture about a candidate. A fixed amount of storage is included with each subscription and the software allows for overage charges for larger programs.
The team at Six0Run has a massive feature list including advances in telephony, texting, as well as other (undisclosed) activities none of their competitors are currently doing. The biggest technology change will be new clients with touch enabled devices. If they find that a large majority of their client base has a particular technology, they may build targeted clients for that platform. Everything is exposed from the cloud as services so they can be hit from all the major devices on the market.
Kevin Grossnicklaus puts it best, “Our competitors go a long way with bad products because they have good support. Our goal is to have a better product and much better support and access to the company. We can be much more efficient and effective with cloud based software and tools. This will keep our overhead low and allow us to price our product competitively.”