Earlier this week, we broke the news that Tendai Charasika is stepping down as executive director of GLI’s EnterpriseCorp. Yesterday, we visited the SuperfanU HQ, above Wasabiya on Baxter Avenue, to talk to the founders about their startup and about Charasika, their new CEO.
“We’re not taking Tendai away from the Louisville startup scene,” said Kayla Mount, co-founder of SuperfanU. “He wouldn’t want that. And it’s one of the reasons we wanted him.”
Of course, Charasika’s network isn’t the only reason SuperfanU asked him to be their CEO. “We wanted someone who enjoyed sports like we do,” Mount said. “Someone passionate. A good speaker.”
Over the past year, SuperfanU experienced 530 percent growth. They went from having six clients to now working with 47 colleges, universities, high schools and pro sports teams.
SuperfanU creates customized iPhone, Android and mobile apps that reward fan loyalty and encourage fan engagement. The user earns point-based rewards that they can redeem for real-world prizes. like tickets, T-shirts or pizza … all the way up to televisions and airline tickets. The host organization tiers the events: For example, a rivalry basketball game on a Saturday would be worth considerably fewer points than a golf game on a Tuesday.
It’s not just for sports fans; campuses and organizations can incentivize movie nights, arts productions, blood drives and any other activities.
Co-founder Chris Nowak talked about the “data drain” that was happening with campus events. He’d go to a U of L soccer game, pay with cash, and be given a tear-off ticket. The university had no way of accurately reporting attendance, let alone understanding who their fan base was. Sometimes even trackable exchanges can lead to misleading information about a fan base. If a season ticket holder gives you a ticket, the season ticket holder is counted as having gone to the game, not the actual fan.
Why does any of this matter? It’s about much more than building and fostering fan culture, although that’s important too. The app can incentivize fans to stay longer at a blow-out game by offering concession coupons in the third quarter, for example. It can drive people to neglected events. It can target specific fan bases; if a user attends a lot of plays, they might also be interested in knowing that a famous playwright is giving a lecture on campus.
Sponsorship is critical too.
Sponsors who support sports team “really love the app,” Charasika told Insider. They can use the app to increase their ROI on the sponsorships. It’s one thing for Pepsi to purchase signage in the Yum! Center, but the app allows Pepsi to push a coupon directly to anyone who is attending the game. Clients can use the app to tell sponsors how many people attend events and what kind of consumers they are.
Already SuperfanU is working with Pepsi, Papa Johns, American Airlines, Jimmy Johns among other national sponsors. One of their first clients was the University of Michigan, where they saw a flood of rapid adoption of the app because the campus Domino’s Pizza gave away a one-topping pizza to everyone who registered with the app.
While Mount and Nowak acknowledge their company’s recent rapid growth, they’d been putting in the hard work for a couple years before the app started blowing up.
In 2008, Mount and Nowak worked in the same downtown building: Mount had been working for the ad agency Red Giant, which was beginning to go under, and Nowak had co-founded the emergency alert system DEAN Alert and was preparing to sell it. They teamed up and formed Karma Progressive Interactive, a marketing and advertising company specializing in new media.
In 2011, when the University of Louisville was a client, Mount and Nowak realized U of L was struggling to understand the behavior and maximize the value of their sports fan base. They conceived an app that could help solve this problem — that would track fan attendance and behavior and reward them for their loyalty.
When Mount and Nowak realized U of L’s problem was a universal problem, they reached out to EnterpriseCorp for help seeking out grants to scale the app.
Charasika responded, and they’ve maintained a close relationship ever since.
Steve Huey, CEO at Capture Higher Ed., also has been a mentor and eventually became an investor. “He understands the cyclical nature of working with universities,” Mount said.
Nowak concurred, adding, “We’re so lucky to have made the right connections.”
SuperfanU kind of skipped the typical startup growth pattern. The bootstrapping. The incubators. The pitch contests. But Nowak insisted, “It wasn’t easy. We struggled with getting those first six schools.”
In addition to bringing Charasika on as CEO, SuperfanU will be making additional hires soon.
When he starts next month, Charasika will focus on moving into the company’s leadership role, taking the company’s strategic partnerships to a higher level, and growing the client base.
One thing SuperfanU will not be doing is moving out of Louisville. Nowak, a Western Kentucky grad, grew up here; Mount is from Danville, is a University of Kentucky grad, and has lived in Louisville for 10 years. And of course Charasika is from here, too — he graduated from and played football at both St. Xavier High and University of Louisville.
“There’s a lot of good talent in Louisville,” Mount said. “And too much of it ends up leaving.” She intends for SuperfanU to stick around to “help foster and grow the tech community.”