Monday, May 19, 2008
Interview with Doug Knittle, OleOle
Doug Knittle is the founder of OleOle (www.oleole.com), a new sports-focused, social media web site which is focused exclusively on football (soccer here in the U.S.). Doug was the founder and CEO of Razorgator before he founded OleOle. OleOle just launched a public beta earlier this month, and will be officially launching the site next week.
Tell us a little bit about your site?
Doug Knittle: OleOle is a social media site for football. I came from the ticketing industry, and back in 2001 I founded RazorGator. I left there in 2006, to start this. I have been selling tickets all over the world for major sporting events. Having worked six World Cups, and sitting in Germany after the last one, I was thinking about this whole social phenomenon taking place globally, and thought with football being the largest sport in the world, and being so fragmented, that this would be the perfect time to start a site focused on just this one sport. That's how OleOle came about. I left RazorGator at the end of the summer after the World Cup, and shortly thereafter contact my former CTO, David Mock, who was at RazorGator. It happened he was leaving a job up in Canada, like the idea, and set out to build the site.
Why the focus on football, rather than another sport?
Doug Knittle: Football is the biggest sport in the world. Social sites are headed for specific verticals now, and I couldn't think of anything bigger. We've organized the sport, like Google is organizing search. We are empowering fans to essentially create the content for the site, and they can pretty much create any kind of content they want around their favorite team or player, or event or a competition.
What are the challenges of starting a soccer site here in the U.S.--which seems to have a much bigger following globally than here in the country?
Doug Knittle: There are actually lots of football (soccer) fans in the U.S. It's just a misconception of the media. There's just not an outlet for them. There are more kids playing soccer in this country than any other, with the exception maybe of China -- maybe even including China. It's a huge soccer country, and it just doesn't get the recognition. If you go to some of the bars and pubs anywhere in the country during broadcast matches, you'll see they are completely packed--on league days, cup weekends, or league weekends. They're always full of people. There's an awful lot going on in North America that the media just doesn't get.
What's the business model behind the site?
Doug Knittle: I think things are probably contrary to most social sites. We built the platform with the global marketplace in mind, because the sport of football requires that. Like I mentioned earlier, we have organized the sport, and done it in ten languages. That's not a traditional path that most companies would take. They'd usually try to concentrate on the language of the country you are in, and slowly grow it out. We've taken a different path, and we've built out the sport in ten languages--because the sport needs that. Players are coming from all over the world.
However, not too many sites -- or maybe no site --has had international success selling advertising. Advertising is a big part of our model. We believe this particular sports warrants a successful vertical ad network. If you look at the games, you can see the stadium boards all around the pitch, with major sponsors, especially around major competitions in the world. That even goes down to the club level, where you see sponsors on shirts, on the boards at stadium of the clubs. So, we know who the advertisers are. We have an advantage over most businesses in that regard--we know who we need to be doing business with. We believe we're the only global platform in the world that is going to be successful selling sponsorships and advertising.
Having done this before, what kind of lessons did you learn from Razorgator?
Doug Knittle: You learn a lot. I've been in business for myself for more than 30 years. When I started Razorgator, I really didn't have a lot of experience in a venture-backed style of business. Thinking about taking a company public, or being acquired, is really different from focusing on business and profits, and how much money a business is going to make you personally. It was a struggle for me at Razorgator to go through that. It also taught me a lot in helping to start OleOle. The most important thing--and this is a cliche--is you've got to find the right people. The amazing things so far, is there is so much passion around the sport, and I've been lucky to happen to have people who work here who have that passion for the sport, which carries over to their jobs. That's the most important thing to running a successful business, which is people who really care and enjoy what they're doing. Like any startup, you can't have enough people--but this is a huge, huge business opportunity. Our company is obviously moving into fundraising mode, because we need more people. I was watching the beta version of the site last week, and some of the things we were thinking about were coming to fruition. It is going to require more people to go faster. We're on to something really huge here.
When did you go live?
Doug Knittle: Our official launch will be on the 19th, but the beta went out on the 28th. The feedback has been not just positive, but overwhelming. People saw the kind of stuff we were putting up to test, and it wasn't obvious what we were trying to do, but now that we've launched people are coming back and the accolades are just pouring in. People want to partner with us, advertise on the site, sell us their businesses--it's been a crazy ten days. There is nothing like it in sports in the world. Without question, it's the best social platform for sports, period.
Why hasn't someone built something like this yet -- you'd think soccer is a pretty big market?
Doug Knittle: The sport being so global has a unique set of problems. I'm sure you've seen the Rivals site that was built around college football, and which was acquired by Yahoo. We're a modern version of that. Instead of covering 100 colleges, we've got 6000 clubs and 200 international federations. We're so much better, and that was part of what took us some time to get to this point. It's pretty complicated. Fans can build a player page, they can build a team page, they can create profile pages like Facebook, we've got technology like Digg, and YouTube, and Facebook, and Wikipedia. It's an incredible platform, especially around history--like Wikipedia's technology. You don't realize how incredible it is until you see the content start to populate the web site. If you're surfing the web site, you realize it doesn't exist anywhere else.
How did having to support so many languages affect how you developed the site?
Doug Knittle: It's kind of interesting. We've got people on the ground that work for us in Brazil, Spain, Italy, France, and in other countries. We've also got a whole team of interns here in our offices that have helped with the translation. It's been a massive, massive undertaking. We've used firms that specialize in translation, and put in an incredible amount of work. But once we get the platform translated, then a lot of thi will take on a life of its own. People coming from the various countries will start to build content. Even before we launched this version of the site, we were getting traffic from 125 companies every day. Last month we had visitors from 215 companies. People are finding us. We put a lot of work into translating the site so people can use it, and now it's about populating the site and creating content around those languages.