The sport industry is a rapidly growing and evolving world. Athletes are more skilled, strategies are more technical, and the new employment opportunities available in sport are appearing every day. In the past, many sport professionals carried business degrees, or a background in kinesiology. In today’s sport industry, the emergence of analytics, biomedical sciences, and engineering employments related to sport are present and thriving. A great example of somebody finding their position in the sport industry is a University of Ottawa graduate, Tunch Akkaya. Akkaya’s company, GameStrat, is a technological program that is changing the way that sports teams make in-game adjustments to improve their performance. While I could explain the details of GameStrat, and how it has changed sport performance, I thought that it would be best to have the founder of the company share his knowledge and experiences related to his company, and how he sees the sport industry growing in the future.
Q. Tell us about your background, and your inspiration for GameStrat.
A. My background is that I use to play football at the University of Ottawa from 2011-2015 and I also studied software engineering during this time. Throughout my studies, I always wanted to apply what I was learning in the classroom to my passion, which was football and sports in general. I remember our team was using a software called DVSport and just seeing that kind of inspired me to think of ways to make something football related. In 2014, I was heading into my 4th year and I was constantly looking and brainstorming for a potential capstone project for my program. I remember I was hanging out with our team’s current video coordinator and former teammate of mine (Kevin Hanson) and he brought to my attention that this would be the first year that the CIS (U Sports now) would allow for still photo transferring from devices in the press box down to the sidelines. He also mentioned to me that our head coach was simply text messaging, emailing or having the iPad run down to accomplish this and it immediately hit me like “that’s ridiculous, I can make something that could solve that problem!”
At first I had just thought of making an application that would benefit my own team to help us gain a competitive advantage, however as the year progressed, I found out that every other team had the same or similar technological challenges and needs. After reaching out to all the head football coaches in the country, I realized that there could be a real opportunity here. After doing a ton of market research, in the winter of 2014/2015, I applied to a program called Startup Garage, run through uOttawa which gave us our first bit of funding. The summer of 2015 is when we officially started the business.
Q. How has your company grown and advanced, from its inception to today?
A. The company has grown quite a lot and it’s crazy to even look back 1 or 2 years, because it makes me wonder where we’ll be next year! The first time we had a working version of the product was when I was still in school and playing in my 5th year of football... I still have pictures of what the product looked like and it was pretty embarrassing to be honest haha… however it worked and it was good enough! I remember the first time we used it was against Montreal in a preseason game, and there’s a story that my former head coach (Coach B) tells all the time… He had a question or something apparently wasn’t working on the iPad, and I was about to run out for special teams and he’s yelling at me to fix whatever the issue was.
The product has come a LONG way. The product now gives coaches the ability to have access to instant video replay immediately after a play is finished. Literally before the ball is even spotted for the next play a coach can begin reviewing the previous play and all sorts of breakdown data. It has also advanced as far as real-time reports and tendencies that you or your opponents are doing.
In terms of customers, we’ve grown from just working with the University of Ottawa football team, all the way to football, basketball, volleyball, hockey and lacrosse teams in professional, colleges/university, to the high school and junior levels throughout Canada and in the U.S.
Q. In the early days of your company, what was the biggest difficulty or conflict that you faced?
A. In the early stages, it’s really tough to figure out what to focus your time on. There’s just so much going on, so many things to do, and it’s really easy to get caught up doing the wrong thing. A lot of times you waste time thinking you’re doing the right thing and fall behind schedule scrambling around. I would say we’re still figuring refining our business model and always improving it, but the toughest thing would have been product development for sure. Sales and marketing take a lot of experimentation to figure out what works and what doesn’t, but it was never difficult. In fact, I find sales and marketing really fun because it comes natural to me. You’d imagine by finishing a software engineering degree you’d instantly be able to make anything… this definitely is not the case. We’re still learning so much every day as we work with all sorts of moving pieces with hardware and software components, dealing with different frameworks, new technology emerging, and we really need to stay on top of everything or we’ll fall behind. Especially with having a product that’s used in a hectic game environment, with extremely competitive coaches, the technology MUST work or else it will be thrown to the side and your reputation is blown.
Q. Technology is becoming more present in the sports and recreation. Based on your time in the industry and your experience networking with other companies, what kinds of advancements in the industry, technology or otherwise, do you feel will become future trends with sport?
A. Based on my experience of being in the coaching tools vertical of the industry, I would say that anything that can save a coach time or give them a competitive advantage is something that will always be valuable. Whether that’s easier communication amongst their team, improving operational duties, providing them with valuable information or saving them time. I believe more technology will continue to integrate into a team’s or coach’s daily workflow.
Q. If you could provide one piece of advice to a student looking to enter the sport industry, what would it be?
A. There are many avenues to take to enter the sports industry, and there are so many different types of specializations as well. If you want to be involved in sports administration organizations such as U Sports or Professional clubs, I’d start networking like crazy within that sub network. These are very tough to get into because not only do you need to have experience in that domain, you usually need to know somebody, and most of the time they would rather pick somebody who’s had experience within the organization.
If you want to start your own company, I’d dive right into it as quickly as possible. What I mean by that is really going out and experiencing things with your target market, sales channels, figuring out what type of operations are required, so that you can quickly validate what’s working and what’s not.
If you’re trying to join a sports company as an employee, you’ll need to be very good at something for them to see value in hiring you. A lot of the time I see industry experts like former coaches or video coordinators that have experience dealing with what the company works with or who their customers are. If you become really good at what you do, there will be somebody that sees value in that.