Delaware County Leadership: Brian Selander, Entrepreneur In Residence at SeventySix Capital
PIVOT.Today by Ken Knickerbocker
Brian Selander, Entrepreneur In Residence at SeventySix Capital and the speaker at next week’s Suburban Philadelphia Speaker Series presentation on the emergence of esports, speaks to PIVOT Today about growing up in Piscataway, finding his way into journalism and then politics before he graduated high school and working on Senator Bill Bradley’s 1992 presidential campaign.
Selander discusses his transition out of politics into the business world and how a kid who never played sports found himself building a career around athletics and why the emerging billion dollar esports marketplace appeals to the post millennial generation.
You recently helped build a digital sports network (Whistle Sports) to a few hundred million fans and followers. Were you an athlete growing up?
As a kid, I played soccer and little league baseball. But it was pretty clear pretty early that I was much better at writing than I’d ever be at basketball and (this is pretty geeky) much more interested in political primaries than the playoffs. The stakes seemed higher. At fifteen years-old, I got a job as a reporter for a Gannett newspaper called The Courier News. So when other kids went to practice after school, my mom would drop me off at the newspaper so I could write articles.
What lessons did you take from that reporting job that stays with you today?
Working at the Courier News was the best training I ever received. I got paid $35 for every published feature article and $10 for a brief, which was a lot of money for a fifteen-year-old kid to be making in the 90’s. While briefs were a lot less prestigious in terms of placement, you could write ten of them in the time it took to research one longer form story and face less competition to get them published. So taking the lower profile route could make you a lot more money. Still a great lesson for entrepreneurs.
Although I was teenager, the editors never wore kid gloves with me. Everything I wrote had to be interesting and compelling enough to make the cut for publication and survive a healthy shredding. Even though the editors could be brutal when I started, I owe them a huge debt of gratitude for making me better. Later in life, whether building campaigns or companies, I had a much clearer sense of how reporters and editors would receive what we were saying.
Where does sports fit into all this?
During Jack’s first term, my CEO from Silver Oak John West had the incredible insight that traditional sports media – older guys in desks talking on TV to people sitting on their couches about things like athlete arrests between ads for Viagra– was failing to engage elementary school aged fans. He’d had a hunch that major leagues and major networks would want a new way to engage these fans and brought on as his co-founder Jeff Urban, the former head of sports marketing at Gatorade to build a new network called “The Whistle.” John and Jeff got pro leagues like the NFL and athletes like Derek Jeter and Peyton Manning to invest and had even launched a half hour weekly pilot on NBC Sports.
John seemed to enjoy building companies with me and convinced me that it would be more fun and interesting to spend time with a handful of people in New York building a sports network than any of the other jobs someone might take out of a Governor’s office, so in 2012 I was their first EVP.
One of my favorite former students at Penn Julie Kikla turned out to be a founding member of YouTube Sports. Building a company around all of the amazing digital media influencers like Dude Perfect that she worked with on a daily basis and aging up the target demographic to mobile-first teenagers and early twentysomethings made all the sense in the world. We formally launched Whistle Sports on New Years’ Day in 2014 and scaled to a few hundred million aggregate fans and followers. At one point, Fast Company called us the #3 Most Innovative Company in the World in Video (just under Disney!) and the Consumer Electronics Association named us their startup of the year.
I left in 2017 to become the Entrepreneur in Residence at SeventySix Capital, who happened to be my favorite Whistle investors. They’re really the best in what venture capital can be – relentlessly helpful, always available, a few steps ahead of the curve and fully committed to the success of every “smart and nice” person they back. Wayne Kimmel is an amazing investor. With Kravco and the King of Prussia Mall, Jon Powell is a legendary local developer. With the Phillies, Ryan Howard became a world class competitor. That mix of investor, developer and competitor is pretty unique.
You didn’t play sports when you were in high school. How did you find your way into esports
When got to Whistle Sports, I put out a Facebook post asking if any of my friends know of an early-twenty-something that needed an internship. Ben Lindemer answered the call and became our internal evangelist in the esports space. We focused exclusively on FIFA gamers to start because unlike other video games it was a sport you could play both online and in real life as well. It was a great fit for our model and our demographic. It was also immediately clear that it wasn’t just the future – it was rapidly consuming even more of the present sports and entertainment industry.
Give me a snapshot of the emerging esports industry, Brian.
esports is the multi-billion-dollar industrial behemoth that most people over 30 probably don’t know even exists. It fills stadiums, provides incredible content for TV stations, and keeps people glued to platforms like Twitch. It’s not something just teenagers are doing either. There are twenty-, thirty- and forty-year-olds that are participating in the industry.
The industry is changing people’s consumption patterns and is a leading indicator in for the revolution in content, consumption, and community that’s going on across people’s lives.
When we were growing up our parents know what shows we were watching, what songs we were listening to on the radio and what games we were playing. It was impossible for our parents to miss that conversation because they heard it on the same TV and radio we had on in front of them. Today is different. It’s entirely possible for a parent to miss those conversations because kids are experiencing their entertainment on their headsets, screens, and consoles.
I remember seeing Shaq on a panel at the Consumer Electronics show comment he didn’t think esports had real athletes until he tried to play against them. The amount of training and time and focus that goes into becoming one of the best video players in the world is equal in hours and focus on what it takes to become great in any other sport.
How is the emergence of esports going to impact our lives?
If someone doesn’t mind their world of customers and content getting constantly smaller, then esports doesn’t need to impact anyone’s life. But anyone in any business working in any way to sell or engage consumers needs to be aware of how consumers are spending their time. It’s tens of billions of dollars in potential revenue, tens of millions of hours of content created and consumed.
Read the entire interview at the link below.