Two years ago, Mike Thrower, president of local software company IT By Design, had a meeting with LSU football officials to discuss ways to utilize mobile devices, such as smartphones, iPads and tablets.
“LSU had a few different needs,” Thrower said. “They mentioned scouting and recruiting.”
At the time, LSU was relying on paper forms filled out by coaches to track the hundreds of high school football players who were being considered for athletic scholarships.
While there were a few companies that provided recruiting software to help manage the flow of data, LSU officials told Thrower there were problems.
“I left that meeting hearing them talk about how big a hole there was in functionality of these programs,” he said. “It struck the entrepreneur in me as not just a one-client opportunity.”
Thrower spun a new company out of IT By Design and called it Overtime Software. Part of the reason was for legal purposes, because Patrick Rills, who crafted the software that powers OT, was given an equity stake in the new business to compensate him for his work, Thrower said. And part of the change was due to marketing.
“IT By Design is a nerdy name,” said Thrower, who still divides his time between the two businesses. “Overtime Software is easier for coaches to relate to. And we found that coaches like acronyms, so calling it ‘OT’ has been good for us.”
In just two years producing customized programs that allow coaches to easily update evaluations of players, OT has snagged contracts with some of college football’s elite programs: LSU, Oregon, Georgia and Auburn.
Through a 12-month period ending in summer 2012, OT posted $220,000 in revenue. For the current year, the company has $350,000 in revenue already.
A number of potential clients are considering the service, including Southern California, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Florida State.
But Thrower, an energetic 41-year-old, wants to bring OT to more than just the top schools in college football. By early next summer, he hopes to develop a prototype for tracking athletes that can be used in all scholarship sports at universities and colleges across the U.S.
“In five years, I think we’ll easily be a $1 million company,” Thrower said. “If we get just one-third of the schools that play Division I football, we’ll be a $3 million company.”
OT currently produces two products: OT Scout and OT Recruit. Both are used by coaches to handle the vast quantity of data used in evaluating potential scholarship athletes.
A school such as LSU may be looking at 500 high school football players at one time, while they determine which of the 24 or so players annually will receive scholarships. And four coaches — the recruiting coordinator, the position coach, the offensive or defensive coordinator and the head coach — are typically evaluating each player, assessing factors such as speed, attitude and strength.
Sherman Morris, the director of player personnel for LSU, said OT has streamlined the steps of the player evaluation process. Instead of coaches turning in handwritten notes on players for transcription, they can type or dictate the information into the iPad and it will immediately be uploaded on a board for the recruiting staff to see. And all of the player information is available on a secured board, instead of in binders.
“This has made things as efficient as possible,” Morris said. “This allows the coaches to manage everything from an iPad.”
Along with providing greater access to recent player data, Morris said OT allows LSU coaches to maintain a consistent message when they are meeting with a recruit’s family.
“We have an in-home visit presentation that puts forth the brand Coach Miles wants to use,” Morris said. “All the assets are pulled together.”
OT Scout allows coaches to easily update their evaluation of players. The program is designed to be user-friendly, because many coaches aren’t comfortable with computers.
“We wanted something functional, because some coaches are not tech savvy,” Morris said. “OT has made it comfortable for people who don’t know computers.”
OT Recruit is used to manage the workflow of actually convincing a recruit to go to a college, Thrower said. This can include anything from reminding coaches about a recruit’s upcoming birthday to congratulating him on having a good game.
The company is preparing two more products for release in 2013. OT Compliance will work along with OT Recruit, to make sure that coaches are not violating NCAA rules when it comes to contact with high school athletes. The NCAA has a highly detailed system of rules that dictate how frequently coaches can talk to players. Violating those rules can lead to universities suffering penalties, such as the loss of scholarships, bans on television appearances and bans on post-season play.
Plans are to launch OT Compliance in early 2013. Thrower said one of his main priorities right now is to bring in an ex-NCAA compliance officer, either as a full-time employee or as a consultant to give a stamp of approval to the new product.
“That will make compliance people at the colleges feel warm and fuzzy,” he said.
OT Social, set for launch in the second half of 2013, will serve as a sales tool for the coaching staff, to allow them to communicate with scholarship prospects. Thrower said he’s waiting for the NCAA to develop new rules for contacts between coaches and athletes that take into consideration the massive popularity of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and the widespread usage of smartphones among high school students.
The company already has developed some customized products aimed at the mobile market. A website and app for LSU Coach Les Miles has been created. It features information about Miles’ coaching philosophy, ESPN footage of Tiger tailgating and photos of former LSU stars who have gone on to the NFL. A similar customized site for Maryland Coach Randy Edsall also has been created.
Thrower said it’s important when doing these customized sites aimed at prized recruits to make them as unique as possible.
“If a player is being recruited by LSU, he’s probably also being recruited by Auburn,” he said. “And if they look at both sites and see that they look alike, that will hurt both schools.”
While OT may have its roots in Baton Rouge and the SEC, the company has recently picked up Oregon, Arizona and Arizona State as clients. Oddly enough, it was another Baton Rouge-based company that led to the business.
Scott Roussel runs website FootballScoop.com, which tracks job openings in the college coaching ranks. Although the site is locally based, it gets 25,000 to 40,000 hits a day from coaches across the country.
This spring, Roussel and Thrower teamed up for a FootballScoop.com tour of the Pac 12, sponsored by OT. They went from Seattle to Phoenix and stopped and met with coaches at just about every Pac 12 university along the way. “The great thing is that the level of goodwill that Scott has with those coaches, it got me in the room,” Thrower said.
One of those rooms was in Oregon, where 10 coaches from the university met with Roussel and heard a sales pitch from Thrower.
“Chip Kelly (the Ducks’ coach) was sitting right next to Scott,” Thrower said. “And a few minutes into my pitch, he leaned over and told Scott, ‘We’re going to have to buy it.’”
Picking up Oregon as a client has helped bolster OT’s reputation among coaches, Thrower said. It’s one thing for LSU to go into business with a Baton Rouge company founded by a graduate of the university, but it’s another when a successful school on the other side of the country signs on as a client. “Chip Kelly is sharp,” Thrower said.
“He even gave us product ideas. You watch him work with his computer and navigate through folders, he’s almost like a knowledge worker.”
OT is currently preparing to move out of its space in the Sparkhound Inc. offices and into an office at the Louisiana Technology Park. The company now has 12 employees, six of whom are full-time workers.
But there’s one client Thrower really wants to land.
“I want Alabama so bad,” he said.
“This has got Nick Saban written all over it. He’s absolutely nuts about evaluation. And he’s doing it all on paper.”
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