I’ve been giving a lot of talks lately (in fact someone offered me money to be a keynote speaker a few weeks ago – they must be crazy, I know), and one of the topics that I always make a point to touch on, is passion. I know too many people that just don’t have a passion for anything. Their daily emotion graph looks like Michael Jackson’s ECG after the overdose. Too soon?

Me? My friends give me shit for being crazy all the time. One of my best friends says that he no longer trusts any of my restaurant recommendations because I have too many “best pizzas in the world” at this point. My girlfriend says I’m absolutely insane to spend the amount of time and money that I do, following basketball games. My ECG on a daily basis probably looks like someone on coke (side note: a guy commented on one of my YouTube videos saying that that I look like Fred Armisen on a cocaine binge). I get really excited about a couple of things, and if I’m not excited, then I’m still pretty much just in a perpetual state of happy.

It amazes me when I think of the number of people I know that just go through life, never having even one thing that makes them incredibly happy. Maybe I’m the anomaly, but having that one thing, that one place, that one whatever, that you can always go back to and count on to take you to a special place where nothing matters, is what has kept me sane for the past two decades. Without basketball, I’d more or less be dead inside (and maybe even on the outside).

Obviously I got lucky – sports are easy to be passionate about. But if not sports, how about music, or art, a girl, or maybe even food? Be passionate about something, and feel free to express it. Maybe people I know are secretly passionate about something, but don’t want to let the world in on it. I say, wear your passion proudly on your sleeve for everyone to see.

There’s a difference between being a sports fan and being passionate. Half the people down here at the Final Four are fans. Their parents went to Kentucky and so they claim to “bleed blue”. They don’t really care what happens. Sure they cheer and boo, but at the end of the night, I doubt very many of them are actually affected by what happens in a basketball game. Me? I’ll be honest – I didn’t even know what college basketball was until 2004 when I arrived at Penn from India. My first experience was a court storming at the Palestra when we came from behind to beat Princeton. What a way for the madness to begin. I didn’t even realize that Kentucky was a storied team until Calipari took over and they made a run in 2011. But then I met Cal in 2012, and became close to the team. Over the course of the last 2 years, I’ve spent weeks with the team down in Lexington, and gone to countless games. The fact that they were our first D1 customer at Krossover is irrelevant. I quickly fell in love with the program, their style of play, and their swagger. So it’s no surprise that someone filmed me during the Final Four game against Wisconsin with 20 seconds left. Here are the videos. WARNING: The audio is very loud and very NSFW. I know I swear a lot. I’m working on it (not really, who gives a fuck if I drop a few F Bombs?)


Yeah, I know, plenty of people will say I look like a drunk frat boy douchebag. That’s me, 100% sober, 100% genuinely excited to have witnessed one of the greatest basketball games, and post season runs, in the history of college basketball. Cal and Kentucky are doing something incredible here, and I’m just so happy to be alive to witness it. You can’t see it in the video, but after Aaron hit that shot and I sat down, I had a tear in my eye. Not because I care that much about Kentucky winning (life will go on the next day no matter what), but because of what I had just witnessed from a great young man. I can’t even imagine what he was feeling, but I know I’d give anything to be a part of something magical like that.

Which is why for the past 6 months, I have been telling people who ask me what my goal in life is, that I plan to be a coach. I’d like to do well enough with the business in the next 5 – 7 years, that I don’t have to worry about money, and I can do the only thing that I am more passionate about than Krossover – be part of a basketball team again. Obviously I’d love for it to be a high major D1 program, but maybe it just ends up being a high school team. Only time will tell. But what I do know, is that I was never good enough or lucky enough as a player to cut down a net, and so if coaching is the only way that’s going to happen, then sign me up.

Tomorrow night, if you are watching the National Championship Game on TV, look closely at the first couple of rows from the court, and you’ll see me in a suit, singing one shining moment with tears in my eyes, regardless of who wins. My hope is that someday I’ll have a chance to be on the actual hardwood as a member of a team that holds up the trophy.

My passion in life is the dream of cutting down a net while One Shining Moment plays. What’s yours? Surely it’s more sane than mine.

5 years ago, I was a JV kid in a dorm room at Penn, coming up with the idea for a business that would marry my two passions – sports and technology. Never in a million years could I have imaged the journey that I would take from then, till now. And it’s not because I’ve made buckets of money (we’re still working on that dream) – it’s because of the incredible people that I have met along the way. From my unbelievably talented teammates at Krossover, to the coaches who sacrifice everything for their players, I’m humbled to say that I have the best job in the world.

5 years ago, I was an unemployed senior in college, who had spent his 4 year Ivy League education taking protein shakes so he would get big enough to get a walk on spot on the basketball team. Today, I stood in a room full of high school coaches at a restaurant in Dallas at the Final Four, being thanked for how many lives we have changed through our product.

From day 1, we made a promise – we would use technology to level the playing field, not just to let the rich get richer. We made a promise to high school coaches, that we would do everything possible to build a product that was affordable and revolutionary, even on their shoe string budget. Along the way we had to change our prices a couple of times, but as I told a table of coaches today – we didn’t do that to better our bottom line, we did it so we could actually have a bottom line.

5 years ago, I started this company with about $20,000 in student loan debt to my name. I had to hire anyone I could find who was willing to work for ramen noodles. We all did the best we could. Yes, our system was shaky at best, but it was still better than the competition. And we’ve been surviving on a system that just about does it’s job for the past 4 years, because the alternatives are even worse.

But that’s not good enough for our customers, and it sure as hell isn’t good enough for us. Which is why for the past 6 months, my team has been working around the clock to re-write the entire application from scratch. Yes, you read that right. We threw out every single line of code that we had written over the past 4 years, and we re-built the system from ground zero. This summer, every single person on the Krossover team will wear their label of “Krew”, with a little more pride, and our 4 year returning customers are going to wonder how they survived this long. Thanks for waiting, Coach.

5 years ago, my original idea for Krossover was to build a tablet like device that would be given to coaches to access their information on the sidelines. Thank god I wasn’t smart enough to build such a device, because Mr. Steve Jobs would have put us out of business overnight. Once again, we’ve been surviving on a responsive web app that just about works on an iPad browser. But that’s not good enough for our customers, and it sure as hell isn’t good enough for us. Which is why we hired a team of 5 mobile developers this past winter, to build us the slickest mobile app ever designed. This summer, watching game film will never be the same again on your iPhone and iPad.

5 years ago, during my time on the Penn Basketball team, I learned that coaches exchange film. At the time, they were FedEx’ing DVDs to one-another, or driving half way to meet at a diner and swap packages. Then I found out that they could pay for online film exchange solutions that allow you to upload your film and swap it. It seems like a massive waste of money for any sports team, whether it be college or high school, to be paying for something as simple as exchanging video files. Which is why this spring, Krossover is announcing the first ever, 100% free film exchange for all teams. Stop spending money on things that shouldn’t cost anything.

5 years ago, I had no chance of getting recruited because coming from India, nobody would have ever noticed a 5’9 135 pound kid, despite the fact that I could shoot lights out from just about anywhere on the court. Today, we want to make sure every kid in the would has a chance to play at the next level, and that college coaches that can’t afford to fly out to see a particular athlete, can somehow give him or her a shot. Which is why it was my pleasure to announce to the world at the Final Four this weekend, that Krossover is launching the most incredible recruiting tool ever created. Any college coach in the country can pop in the name of any high school basketball player, and throughout the course of the year, get every piece of film on that athlete, completely broken down, along with advanced analytics. This gives the programs that don’t have a private jet, the ability to see a player far more than their recruiting budget will allow for.

5 years from now, amateur athletics will be changed forever through the power of Krossover’s technology. Every high school team in the country will have the same tools that NBA teams have. Every college coach in the country will be able to see the same players, the same number of times, despite having a fraction of the budget of the big boys. And most importantly, every athlete in the country will have a chance to not only play at the next level, but to share the memories of the best games of their lives, with their kids.

5 years ago, I was the biggest basketball fan in the world. Today, I’m the luckiest basketball fan in the world. I get to change the rules.

The first 2 years of running Krossover, we didn’t have an office. We were bootstrapping at first, and then we raised just a few hundred thousand Dollars in angel funding, which in a city like NYC does not go very far. The money had to go towards paying as many developers as possible, and so an office was seen as a completely unnecessary luxury. Besides, an office for 3-4 people is arguably not just a waste of money, but commuting time as well. So we all agreed to work from home until we really felt the need to get a space.

That time finally came in late 2011 when we were up to about 8 people and had people starting to work out of coffee shops. We decided that the tech team, more than anyone else, needed to be in close quarters to get shit done. Of course we were operating on a shoe-string budget, and couldn’t afford a security deposit plus furniture and utilities. We checked out all the co-working spaces in Manhattan, but we hated them, and they were overpriced. The nice spots were way out of our price range. Finally, we found a company that had taken on too much space, and was looking to sublet about 1000 sqft of furnished office space in a Class A building on Club House Row (44th street). The rent was about $5K a month for a conference room, 2 small offices, a kitchen, and a little entry foyer. Internet and electricity were included. I signed up on the spot and we moved in on Jan 2nd 2012.

The conference room that barely fit 5 people

The conference room that barely fit 5 people

The office was cramped and dull, with low ceilings and barely any windows. We gave the developers the “premium” seats and the rest of us sat wherever possible. By the time we had finally decided to leave the office, I was sitting out in the entry foyer. Still, we tried our best to make the cozy little office, home.

The margarita machine was the central focus of our office

The margarita machine was the central focus of our office

By the third quarter of 2012 however, we had grown to about 12 people, and the office was so cramped that our ability to actually get work done was severely hampered. It was clear that we not only needed to move to a larger space, but to a place that people would be excited to work in. After much searching, we finally found the office of our dreams – a 5000 sqft loft in Chelsea with high ceilings and tons of natural light.

Who wouldn't want to work here?

Who wouldn’t want to work here?

We had so much space to go around that I got the literal and proverbial corner office all to myself.

250 sqft dream office

250 sqft dream office

I heard some grumblings about parking my ass in the biggest office, but I didn’t think that anybody really cared. However, I was holed up on one end of the floor, and definitely found myself interacting less with the rest of the team, than if I had been out in the open. Still, I felt I needed the privacy for many of the phone calls that I needed to make, and to have the ability to hold internal and external meetings in private. By the middle of 2013 however, it was clear that I was occupying too much space, and I gave my office up to 4 engineers (now 7), and moved into a smaller office.

Talk about a downgrade - the new office

Talk about a downgrade – the new office

I lasted till about 2 weeks ago in this smaller office, at which point our CTO drew up a new floor plan which didn’t include me. So one day while I was at home, they packed all my shit up into a box, and put 3 engineers into my former office. I was officially homeless. I had been harping to my entire team for the past couple of months that we were growing very quickly, and change was coming, so we needed to stay flexible. It was obvious therefore, that I was to not complain about not having an office, and make the best of the situation. I told my assistant to set up a new schedule for me.

Since it’s hard for me to get a lot of focussed work done at the office now without a desk, I stay at home on Tuesdays and Thursdays to have several hours of quiet time where I can get intensive work done, along with phone calls. It also gives me the opportunity to go to the gym across the street during lunch and get some basketball time in. All of my in-person meetings are scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the office. I basically park myself in the conference room the entire day. If another group within the company is meeting, no problem – I now get to attend that meeting without having to barge in and act like I’m snooping on them. I’m already in the room and I just ask them to ignore me. I’m getting to listen to and take part in discussions that I would otherwise have probably skipped out on. Anything I don’t get done in the office these three days, well I still have about 6 hours after I get home from 7pm to 1am to finish up.

In a way, growing so fast that I don’t have an office any more has really changed the way I work, and the amount that I now interact with everyone on the team. It’s easy to sit in an office and never come out – even with an open door policy, people don’t really use it nearly enough, especially the guy sitting inside the room. With no office and my seat being in a communal area, I’ve suddenly become a lot more accessible and involved in things that I would otherwise pass on. While I do end up having to finish work late at night because of certain extra, sometimes unnecessary meetings during the day, I’ve found that being a Conference Room CEO is one of the easiest ways to get more involved without being a pest. In fact, I’m of the opinion that even if we ever do move to a larger space where I have my own office, I will continue to do the conference room gig.

If I ever get kicked out of the conference room, this will be my new spot. Not too bad - a bar and a 70" TV

If I ever get kicked out of the conference room, this will be my new spot. Not too bad – a bar and a 70″ TV

 

I was late to the twitter party. Facebook? I was probably one of the first 25,000 people with an account, but I didn’t jump on the twitter bandwagon until it was filled with tons of bots and trolls. I didn’t get it, and didn’t see why it was useful. Lately though, I’m starting to see myself spend far more time on twitter, than on Facebook. In fact, I’m legitimately worried that I’m addicted to twitter and might need to go through a rehab period where I cut myself off for a while.

The more people on twitter, the harder it is to really get through the clutter and make a name for yourself = more followers. I’ve probably been actively tweeting for 2 years now, with an account for probably 4 years. I didn’t really care at first, but given the wild success we have had with the Krossover Twitter Account – we’ve literally done six figures worth of revenue directly from twitter – it seemed worthwhile to start to be active on twitter and try to get some Klout, if nothing else.

As of last week, I had scraped together about 840 followers over 4 years – a lot of people that know me, some entrepreneurs, some sports fans, and probably a bunch of people following me for business reasons. I also imagine a bunch of our Krossover customers were also following me. All in all, compared with the median number of followers that people on Twitter have (somewhere around 120 if memory serves correctly), I was doing okay, but I wasn’t really killing it on engagement. Most tweets probably averaged like 1-2 retweets/ favorites.

Last Tuesday, an ex of mine found a draft of a letter on her computer that I had written to David Stern (the commissioner of the NBA) 5 years ago when I had first graduated from college. It was just a draft, hadn’t really been proofread or formatted correctly (something everyone who knows me knows that I am OCD about), but never the less, it was probably pretty close to what I ended up sending him, sans some polish. I didn’t even remember having written this letter, so it caught me by surprise, and given my recent twitter addiction, my first reaction was to screenshot the letter as a picture, and tweet it. Here’s the tweet:

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And here’s the image of the letter that I linked to:

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It was an innocent enough tweet, and given that barely 10% of my followers even see my tweets on their timeline, I figured it would get a little engagement, and that would be the end of that. I came back to my computer a few minutes later and saw that my tweet was getting an insane amount of engagement (relative to most of my tweets). In fact, the engagement was so good, I figured I would run a little experiment and promote my account using Twitter’s new promoted accounts option where you can actually have a follow button show up alongside your tweet on someone’s timeline. Basically, it would look something like this:

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Given that @krossovr was also mentioned in the tweet and it was giving the company a ton of eyeballs as well, it seemed like a no brainer. Within minutes things went absolutely NUTS. My engagement feed started to look like this, and there was no stopping it:

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Literally every minute my feed would refresh, and there was either a new follow, a retweet or a favorite. The interesting thing of course, and the reason I decided to experiment with this stuff was that I knew that promoted tweets don’t really work if the content isn’t actually good. We use them extensively with Krossover, and a lot of the A/B testing that we do weeds out the content that isn’t resonating, and we stick with the stuff that people are reacting to. Given that I only had 800 followers, my hope was to see if this truly was good content that I had posted, by paying twitter a little bit of money to make the tweet appear on more timelines. At the time of writing this post, this is what the engagement numbers look like on this one single post:

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 10.57.01 PM

For an account with less than 1000 followers, I’d say that’s the equivalent of a post kind of going viral. Guys like Bill Simmons with 2M followers see that sort of engagement on pretty much every one of their tweets. They could tweet “Zzzzzzzz” and will get more engagement than any of my tweets, but I was pretty stoked with these numbers. Of course, that many retweets resulted in a boat load of new followers, so essentially in exactly 7 days since I put this tweet out, I’m now at over 2600 followers, and that’s after about 1000 people actually started following me but then thought better of it sometime later and un-followed me. Pretty crazy numbers for a 1 week period. Plus there’s a ton of new followers that our Krossover twitter handle got as well, directly as a result of this tweet.

Of course a tweet being retweeted like this and getting over 2M impressions means that all sorts of people have seen it on their time line. Nice people, nasty people, complete dickheads, etc. A whole spectrum of people on twitter have come across my tweet, and let me tell you, you need some thick skin to take all the trolling that comes with something like this. As one of my friends said when he saw this, “This is why I don’t tweet. This one asshole’s comment will ruin all the rest of the good stuff for me.” This is the sort of stuff I was dealing with:

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 11.28.14 PM Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 11.26.40 PM Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 11.26.30 PM Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 11.27.16 PM Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 11.30.13 PMScreen Shot 2014-01-14 at 11.27.54 PMScreen Shot 2014-01-15 at 12.35.00 AM

And there were tons of others with more choice words for me and Krossover, which I’ve left off. Compared to the kind of stuff guys like Dan Gilbert see on their twitter feed, this is chicken shit.

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 1.09.28 AM Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 1.09.56 AM Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 1.09.23 AM Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 1.09.14 AM

But for the first time in my life, I was getting trolled by a bunch of degenerates whose mommies didn’t hug them as kids and tell them that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you should shut your fucking mouth. I was kind of enjoying it, but also kind of startled that a bunch of people that didn’t know me would feel it necessary to bash me for no particular reason in public. Amazing that the assholes don’t realize how small the world is, and that it’s entirely possible that I come across some of these people in real life and recognize them. That would be pretty awkward.

But I also got a bunch of responses like these.

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 12.32.08 AM Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 12.32.40 AM Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 12.33.19 AM Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 12.33.09 AM

And several responses from people that have started conversations with me that might go nowhere, but hopefully I’ll be able to help several of these guys out with a job or an internship or maybe just a connection at some point.

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Literally thousands of people either retweeted or favorited the tweet and / or started following me as a result of this post. The positive responses clearly outweighed the assholes that had nothing better to do than to pick on someone over a medium where they can neither look me in the eye, or get punched in the face. Still, the trolling all over twitter and via comments at the bottom of pretty much every page on the internet is discouraging. Millions of people wasting their time being a dick for absolutely no reason. I don’t understand what they get out of it other than some fleeting moment of an ego boost in which they can forget about their own miserable existence? The things these people could accomplish if they instead put that time to better use. Sigh.

The good news though is that looking at the outpouring of support I got from complete strangers over the internet, my general faith in humanity has been restored. The bad apples are few and real nasty, but the majority of them are pretty darn sweet.

Entrepreneurs and technologists like to build products. Everyone wants to be in a product oriented company. Even the best developers who start out in a services shop, all end up jumping ship to go work on some fancy product somewhere. It makes sense – a product can scale, most services can’t. A product brings great recognition and can potentially change the world. Very few service businesses achieve that level of fame.

Most people at Krossover are building products, but at the end of the day, we are a company that provides a service that is just as, if not more important than the product itself. In fact, our product is “free”, it’s our service that costs money. But regardless of whether you are building a product or servicing a customer, most startups and most companies screw up from time to time. As a founder, these are trying situations, and often you think that it’s game over. But the interesting thing is, regardless of how scared shitless you are, and what the media says (in the event that you are a high profile startup), fucking up is a great excuse to show your true colors and potentially emerge not only unscathed, but stronger than ever. I can’t think of a single startup that truly failed because of an actual screw up / scandal / PR nightmare. If they failed, it was because they were doomed anyways.

Krossover is an incredibly tough business. We sell our service to a very price sensitive market, and as a result, we have to deal in volume. We’re not trying to service 30 NBA teams for $100K a pop. We service thousands of high school, collegiate, and professional teams for $1K a pop (sometimes even less than that). To top it off, we’re not just a web product that is self service – we actually have to manage a network of thousands of sports analysts who do the work of breaking these games down for us. Like I said, its an incredibly tough business – we’re basically a marketplace, and as the middleman / technology, we get our cut. On an average day during the basketball season, we receive about 400 games that we have to break down within roughly 24 hours. We’re dealing with massive video files of between 2GB and 20GB that are being uploaded, processed, assigned to a sports analyst, broken down, QA’d, and then returned to the coach. It’s not for the faint of heart.

The first year that we were in business with 50 teams during the 2010-2011 basketball season, we were a super lean startup and couldn’t really afford to build too much of the technology ourselves – so we were using bits and pieces of open source / paid products to hack together a working system. To deal with our video needs, we decided to use a platform called Kaltura that was able to give us a flash based uploader, transcoding servers, and a video delivery mechanism. They were a fairly new company and their product was a far cry from being ready to handle even basic video clips, let alone the insane amount of stuff we needed. I vividly remember night after night of issues, some of which required me to be sitting in a hotel lobby with fast internet, downloading videos, manually converting them on my laptop to .MP4 files, and then re-uploading them into the video management console to be streamed. It was an absolute disaster, and we were constantly delayed with our turn around time because of these issues. Somehow we survived, and because I was personally available day and night to answer any and all technical support issues, a good percentage of those customers are still with us today.

The following year, we grew to some 350 odd customers, and we were scared out of our minds. Our technology had gotten significantly better because we had moved off of Kaltura and built our own video CMS, but this was the first time we would be dealing with actual volume where a problem couldn’t be fixed manually on a local system. Well, as you can guess, about a week before Christmas in 2011, our infrastructure provider, Rackspace, made some serious mistakes with the way they were handling our servers, and for a period of about 10 days, basically none of the uploads from these 350 coaches were hitting our system. Once the problem had been identified and fixed, suddenly the faucet opened and 2 weeks worth of backlogged games poured into our system. We hadn’t planned for a situation like this, and it was impossible to recover from it because we had just enough sports analysts to meet daily demand – not a 2 week backlog. For weeks we paid people overtime, begged them to come in on weekends and any other time they could. Some of us broke down games ourselves, and QA’d them. It was the worst month of my life, and I was certain that none of our customers were ever going to come back. Finally, I wrote this email to all our customers:

I probably cried while typing this entire thing

I probably cried while typing this entire thing

 

The first couple of responses were mildly supportive, though the frustration was evident. A handful of teams, especially the college teams, asked for their money back saying that not having the service working for a couple of weeks wasn’t going to cut it for them since they needed to find an alternative. We are a mission critical tool for teams – its not like when Snapchat goes down for 2 days and you have to use email to send someone a dick pic. If Krossover isn’t working, you can’t prepare for your next game. So needless to say, I was anticipating that we were going to go bankrupt returning everyone’s money, and the damage done to our brand reputation would destroy us for the next season anyways. But then something amazing happened. I started to get messages like this:

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and

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What’s hilarious is that the “Michael” he references in that email is actually me. In order to seem like a bigger company, I used an alias when I was doing support, and called myself Michael. I also didn’t want customers thinking they were talking to someone in India with a name like “Vasu”. The things we do as founders….

Long story short, we somehow survived, and even though some irrevocable damage had been done in the eyes of a handful of customers, the vast majority of them felt that even through all the screw ups, we had been upfront, honest, addressed the problem, promised a solution, and delivered. Very much the way my friends at Rap Genius handled their falling out with Google over the past month. They took responsibility, called themselves idiots, and fixed the problem. In fact the Rap Genius guys are notorious for coming out on top even when the press crucifies them (albeit, they are mostly to blame for their shenanigans). The old saying of “all press is good press”? These guys are the epitome of it.

Anyways, the following year we solved more technical problems, and our product had gotten a little more robust. We had grown to some 750 teams and we were excited about basketball season. At this point we had tens of thousands of games stored on our servers, and we were adding hundreds per day. One morning I got a call from our CTO and immediately by the sound of his voice (or possibly even the words coming out of his mouth), I knew something was wrong. “Fuck fuck fuck, dude”, he said. “I just deleted all our videos.”

“How is that even possible?” I asked.

“I was multi tasking and talking on the phone while doing some work and I accidentally ran the wrong command, and it wiped out our entire video drive.”

You wanna talk about “Holy Shit!” moments in startup history? Here’s the mother of them all. A video company just deleted all its customers’ videos. How ya like them apples?

Without going into much detail, we managed to recover some data, but a lot of it was gone forever. We had to contact these customers and tell them what happened. And guess what? Most of them said not to even worry about it. They said many of their games were old, and from a season ago, and even though they would have liked to have them, it wasn’t really going to affect their preparation for this season. The first thing we did after that was build redundancy into our system so that we could never accidentally delete anything forever, ever again.

3 years in business, 3 serious fuck ups. And right now, our company, our brand, our revenue, and our product/ service are stronger than ever before. The only reason I believe we are where we are today, is because we took each of these opportunities to engage and come clean with our customers. We told them we screwed up, and we said we would fix it. We offered them a no questions asked refund if they wanted it. We then made sure to build checks into our product and our service so that we would never mess up the same way twice.

There are innumerable examples of companies that have handled screw ups poorly. The most famous one of course is the way Air BnB reacted to the first vandalism incident. They learned their lesson quickly, and changed their tune. Uber has been in hot soup multiple times as well. This past Christmas’ Rap Genius fiasco was probably the best covered scandal in startup history.

It all boils down to one thing – every startup is going to have an epic fuck up (or 3 if you are us). It’s okay. It won’t kill you. It’s not the end of your brand…. As long as you handle it the right way. And no matter what the situation, the one and only way to handle it correctly, is to come clean, apologize, vow to fix it, and back it up with swift action. As I’ve said one too many times, a company is simply a collection of people. People aren’t perfect, and so neither are companies. But people apologize and ask for forgiveness, so it’s only reasonable to expect the same of a group.

Given the nature of our work at Krossover (sports) we have a ton of inbound interest on a daily basis from a lot of people wanting to come “follow their passion to their dream job”. I also get a get a lot of requests for “career advice”, which generally tend to be guys looking for a job but wanting to be subtle about it. As the old investor saying goes – ask for money, and you’ll get advice; ask for advice, and you might get money. I try my best to answer every single one of these emails, possibly out of selfishness – every person out there has to know a high school or college coach somewhere that hopefully will result in a sale. But I also do it because its the right thing to do – if someone has taken the time to write in to me, I feel a responsibility to write back, or at least pass it on to someone inside the company who is better suited to have the conversation.

When big companies hire, its for very different reasons than when startups are searching for talent. A big company often has to build in several layers of redundancy for a given position. They need to spend $X of budget that’s been allocated. They might just need bodies that can bill more hours to their clients. At a startup, each person is brought on to do a very very specific set of tasks, and there is zero redundancy built in. If someone were to get hit by a bus tomorrow, we’d be fucked. Yes, that’s not a good way to run things, but when you are a lean startup, that’s exactly how things work. What this means is that each hire is incredible important, and the success of the company rests on each of these hires’ shoulders. The best way to get hired at Krossover over the past 4 years is to have worked with us in some capacity, or had a relationship with us outside of Krossover, while continuing to impress us with whatever you are doing.

Over 2 years ago, a recruiter brought us a business development guy who was working at another company. I really hit it off with the guy, and after several meetings, I decided I really wanted him to join Krossover. We were a 7 or 8 person company at the time with minimal funding, but everyone liked him. I made him an offer – an actual written offer. About 24 hours later, I wrote back to him like an absolute moron and told him that I had moved too quickly, and that we were setting him up to fail. The position he was going to come in for required him to have certain marketing, design, and technical resources to back him up so that whatever deals he made, could actually come to fruition. I had jumped the gun because I liked him so much, and forgotten to look at the micro level. He could have really given me an earful about me being a complete immature CEO at 24, but he took it in stride and we parted ways.

2 years later, we both happened to be sitting court side at the new Barclays Center watching a Nets game, and recognized each other just as the final buzzer sounded. We agreed to get together, and about a month later, he joined us as our VP of Corporate Development. This time around, he has a few more resources at his disposal, and the fit is much better.

On the flip side, a candidate we were supposed to interview just a few days ago, somehow got our old address (possibly the fault of a recruiter) and so he showed up at the wrong spot. He called us and just sounded incredibly disgruntled. Apparently he also cursed out the recruiter and was just nasty about the whole situation. We immediately cancelled the interview process with him and figured that if this is how he acts in a seemingly minor situation, there’s no way I’d want to be in a room with this person when a server goes down and shit hits the fan.

A year ago, we started using an outsourced sales team out of San Francisco to sell our product. The relationship with that company only lasted a few months. Several things went well, but several things went really poorly. So I was shocked when a few months after we terminated our contract with them, the guys who had been working on our account, approached us separately to run our sales team. After much apprehension, we figured a known devil is better than an unknown angel, and we agreed to a short contract. They did such a great job, that 3 months later we asked them to relocate from SF to NYC full time, and they built our sales team up internally from 2 people to over 13 now.

4 years ago, I had a crazy idea to build a sports analytics company, but I didn’t know the first thing about actually designing and building a SaaS product. I was attending as many meetups as I could after work, and happened to be at a panel discussion on the important of UI / UX in product design. After the discussion, I went up to all the panelists and got their contact info. I reached out to all of them and got a positive response from two. One of them needed to get paid in money. The other was willing to work for stock because he had a high paying job and loved sports. The choice was easy.

So this guy started doing wireframes for us for about 4-5 months and then managed a contracted designer for a few weeks to helps us get the screens for version 1 up. After that he decided he needed to focus on his job, and he ended his contract with us amicably. About 6 months later, we were about to raise money from a VC – we had gone through months of due diligence and wining and dining, and they had all but promised a deal. In anticipation, I went back to this UI/UX guy and told him we wanted him to start full time with us. He agreed. And then the VCs got cold feet. For about 6 months after that, we were running on absolute fumes. Sometimes we had money to pay people, other times we offered to pay people in stock. But through it all, even when he had to get a side gig, he stayed on and continued to lead our product. Today he’s our VP of Product and is in charge of what is in my opinion, one of the most complex products ever built by a startup.

We manage over 2000 freelance sports analysts around the world right now. About 3/4ths of these guys are here in the US, with the rest spread out in different countries. These are the guys that actually break down our video footage. As our operations teams has started to grow over the past year, every single person who has been hired to manage, train, or do anything else within the company, has come from this group of 2000 people that are already passionate about what we do, and have proven to be trustworthy with their job. The guys that do the most work and are always available on call, are the guys that seem like the best candidates to move up and join us full time.

I’ve gotten to know the founders at Rap Genius, another NYC startup (well, Brooklyn). They do the same thing – they look at their community of tens of thousands of people that are actively annotating text on their site, strike up conversations, build relationships, and then eventually bring the right people in house as full time employees.

The moral of the story? If you want to work at a startup, prove that you are indispensable. If you got hit by a bus, the founders should be freaking out and running around trying to figure out how they are going to get by without you. Don’t be a dick and burn bridges – you never know when that startup is going to be funded and off to the races. Most importantly, show that you have a real passion for what we do. There’s a guy that has wanted to work for us for a while now who probably knows more about our company than most of our employees. He’s gone to our competitor’s meetups, just to gain more intel. The last time we spoke, I didn’t really have a role for him, but his passion is infectious, and I’m hoping that at some point in 2014, I’m going to carve out a spot that fits his skill set. That’s the kind of guy I want to go to war with.

 

A couple of weeks ago I came across a techcrunch article talking about a company that was trying to disrupt the (physical) storage space, and I immediately thought it was genius. Turned out I knew one of the founders, and the VCs who funded them, so it was a no brainer for me to try it out.

Makespace is essentially Uber / Dropbox for physical storage. They send you a bunch of bins. You pack up your shit. They pick it up and store it for a pretty reasonable monthly fee. When you need your shit back, you ask for a specific bin, and then they drop it off at your house for approximately what it would cost you to take a cab to your current storage location and back. Makes complete sense.

In my last apartment building, I used to rent a storage unit in the basement for $100 a month from another owner in the building. Granted it was about 5′x5′x10′ = ~250 cubic feet of space, but I ended up just filling it with more crap that I would have otherwise thrown out, just because the space existed, and I was paying for it. I ended up keeping old computer boxes, suitcases, a dining table, and tons of other trash that should have been thrown out ages ago. When I moved to my new apartment a few months ago, given the price of the apartment, a storage unit was no longer an option (and I couldn’t find one anyways). So needless to say, the minute I found out about Makespace, I went ahead and signed up.

A day later, my bins were delivered.

Great looking plastic boxes that should be able to handle any potential water damage to the building

Great looking plastic boxes that should be able to handle any potential water damage to the building

I love that they include a sharpie to label your boxes. A very nice touch!

I love that they include a sharpie to label your boxes. A very nice touch!

I love that the founders are hustling like crazy right now – dropping off and picking up bins themselves in a van that will soon be branded.

It didn’t take my long to pack all the extra crap I had lying around including some basketballs, tons of books, trading cards, etc. Basically about 3 giant boxes worth of stuff that I had left inside cardboard boxes in my living room, was now put into green boxes and ready to be taken away for the lowly price of $25/ month.

Before

Before

 

After

After

Once I was done packing, I went online and scheduled a pickup. Adam (the CTO) arrived right on time and hauled away my bins to their storage location in Jersey City. We had a great chat about where the business is going and I’m considering investing in their seed round.

Obviously in a city like New York, Makespace is a no-brainer. We barely have enough space for our furniture, let alone all the other crap we inevitably hoard. Adam tells me even in the middle of America with plenty and more space, storage is still a problem and that people have things they want to put away. I joked to Adam that they were in a strange business where they probably never want to hear from me again so that they can keep charging me $25 a month and I never remember that I have things in storage. On the flip side, there are lots of people that put things into storage on a seasonal basis, and so Adam reminded me that they do want people to keep putting more things in while also taking (fewer) things out.

All in all, I’m super excited about Makespace – I think these guys have a chance to really disrupt a super boring industry. As a thank you, they are letting me offer $25 off to the seven odd people who read my blog. Sign up with promo code VASUK and you’ll essentially get your first month free assuming you are storing 4 bins or less.

 

We’re about 6 weeks away from the 5 year anniversary of Krossover being founded (November 26th 2008). Today, for the first time, I got to use our product. And boy is it effin’ amazing.

You see, I started Krossover at the end of my basketball career. The highest level I ever played was JV in college, and after that its just been a series of pick up games and 3 on 3 tournaments. So while I built this company knowing what I knew about the needs of coaches and athletes, I was unfortunately never in a position to actually be a true user. Sure I’ve uploaded hundreds of games, even broken many of them down myself, and demo’d the application to hundreds of coaches. I’ve done countless tutorial videos and support sessions. So of course I know how to use it, but I was never in a situation where I could actually use my own product, and that was really depressing. I envied the founders of Facebook, Twitter, Open Table, Angry Birds, etc. They actually get to use the products they so passionately build, every single day. Here I was, building a product I loved, but never getting to use it.

A group of buddies and I have played in the Reebok Basketball League for the past 3 seasons. Its arguably the most competitive rec league in NYC, which is really saying something. Tons of ex-College and Pro players get together and play some serious basketball. In the 3 seasons we’ve played, our team, Almost Famous, has won 3 games. 2 of which were by forfeit because the other team didn’t show up. The one legitimate win was off a buzzer beater. It’s not that we suck that bad – most of us on the team are well above average pick-up players, with some of us having played in college. We’re usually within striking distance in the closing minutes of most games, but just can’t find a way to get over the hump. We were so fed up with losing, that until a few days before the league started, we had all decided not to play. For some odd reason, we decided to put together a group of 6 guys and give it one last shot.

Game 1 was an epic failure and our best played tore his ACL half way through the game. Given that I wasn’t sure we were ever going to do this again, I decided to hire a kid to film our second game on an iPad so that I could upload the footage to Krossover and actually show the guys why we were losing. $20 and an 11 point defeat later, we had footage that I could upload to our servers. By the time I woke up this morning, the game had already been broken down by one of our 1000+ indexers who are located around the world, and earn a living on our marketplace.

Would be pretty dope if that were our actual logo

Would be pretty dope if that were our actual logo

Within a few seconds, I was able to start looking at all the things we did right and wrong. Of course the first thing I did was put together a highlight reel of myself to tweet out.

3 for 9 from the field. That's better than Kobe on most nights.

3 for 9 from the field. That’s better than Kobe on most nights.

What’s crazy is that I’ve tried to do this manually before for our guys to look at film, and I just wanted to kill myself. The one time I used Krossover in a real-life scenario, the value proposition could not have been clearer. It’s not that I don’t already know these things – after all we’ve sold thousands of subscriptions. But to experience it myself was an absolutely exhilarating feeling. No matter how things end up, we built something better than anything else that exists, and we’re actually solving a real problem. Needless to say, I went to work with a renewed enthusiasm for everything our team does on a daily basis.

The guys loved the crazy stats I was able to give them

The guys loved the crazy stats I was able to give them

Is Krossover going to help us win more games this season? We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks. It probably won’t hurt that I’ve been recruiting some ringers to join us. But deep down I truly believe that if our guys can find the time to spend an hour each week watching footage of all the things we’re doing right and wrong on the court, we will improve to the point that we can start to win in this league.

Looks like the Butler vs UCONN shot chart from a couple of year's ago

Looks like the Butler vs UCONN shot chart from a couple of year’s ago

I’m on the last night of a 10 day trip to Turkey, and as I sit here in my hotel room in Istanbul staring at the Google Glass on my bedside table, I can’t help but shake my head.

After the first month of getting Glass, my usage of the device has dropped dramatically, for a number of reasons.

1) They do get a little bit annoying after a while – my ear starts to hurt and I can can feel a headache coming on because of constantly trying to avoid the screen protruding in my line of sight.

2) Given that for most of the day, they do nothing (for the time being), it seems pointless to wear them.

3) I still can’t get the bloody thing to connect to a secure wifi access point, and constantly tethering it to my phone is a massive drain.

4) Several people refused to speak to me if I continued to wear Glass.

That’s why I was super excited to spend 10 days in Turkey, hopefully wearing Glass while sightseeing, and maybe even in the pool. And with that thought, on August 22nd, I boarded a plane to Istanbul with Glass tucked away in my backpack. I had even installed the new Field Trip app for Glass that automatically alerts you when you are near a point of interest and reads out information on the spot. Fucking amazing. I was ready to be the greatest tourist to ever visit Turkey.

I never once took Glass out of the hotel safe. 

There were a couple of reasons for this.

1) I was in a crowded country, known for pickpocketing, and I just didn’t feel comfortable walking around Istanbul with a strange contraption strapped to my face.

2) Turkey is still a fairly conservative Islamic country, and I felt incredibly scared about the ramifications of someone accusing me of taking discrete pictures, especially of women. Not much to see given they are covered from head to toe, but whatever. Not worth fucking around.

3) Its pretty hot in Turkey, and despite the constant breeze that makes the heat somewhat bearable, the sun’s rays shine down at an angle in August that makes it almost impossible to walk outside without sunglasses on. Unfortunately, there’s no Google Glass attachment for my Prada’s. Granted there is the sunglass lens that can be put on to Glass itself, but they look awful and I refuse to wear them.

I figured maybe I would take Glass along on sightseeing tours so that I could put it on when we went indoors to see something, and then I could put my regular sunglasses on once we were back outside. But where do you keep Glass in the mean time? I don’t carry around a man purse like LeBron James, and so now I have to bring along a whole ‘nother contraption, just to store a wearable camera.

LeBron would have no problem carrying Google Glass around

LeBron would have no problem carrying Google Glass around

At the end of the whole debacle, I decided it was best to keep the $1500 device safe in the hotel room, and use my good ol’ iPhone for pictures throughout the trip, which worked out just fine.

Glass can't take panoramic images like my iPhone can, which is pretty important on vacay

Glass can’t take panoramic images like my iPhone can, which is pretty important on vacay

All in all, I was pretty disappointed that I wasn’t able to use Glass even once in a practical manner. I could have forced the matter, but that would defeat the purpose of actually trying to find real life value in the device. I am however planning a trip to Watch Valley in Switzerland in the near future, and assuming I don’t go in the middle of the summer, I might feel more comfortable using Glass in a country like that, with more suitable weather (& socio-economic) conditions. Till then, I’ll just keep taking more pictures of the dog with it.

 

Slow day in Glass world. Spent most of the day watching tennis at home with Coco, so we have lots of cute pictures. On the way to grab some dinner, a group of Indian girls stopped me in the middle of the road to ask me about Glass. Thought the mother was going to ask for my horoscope right on the spot. Coco and I managed to rush off. Phew, dodged a bullet there. Enjoy the picture gallery. Apparently a new update is expected soon that will bring some security as well as a music player to Glass. More then.

Coco wants some of my fries

Coco wants some of my fries

Djoker vs Del Potro plus Canada vs USA U19

Djoker vs Del Potro plus Canada vs USA U19

Coco can't decide which ball he wants to play with

Coco can’t decide which ball he wants to play with