Life changed in an instant on November, 24 2015 for Stedman Bailey. The NFL wide receiver was shot in the head twice while sitting in his car with family in Miami. But Bailey survived the near-death incident, spending a month in the hospital before embarking on a comeback bid back to the NFL gridiron.
Bailey’s story will be featured by iinfluence, a new Seattle-based social purpose company that gives professional athletes an online platform to share their stories and an opportunity to take ownership as entrepreneurs.
Former collegiate star Andrew McGee founded iinfluence last year after moving on from the Greater Foundation, a Seattle-based nonprofit he helped lead with NFL offensive lineman Russell Okung.
McGee, who previously coached Bailey at West Virginia University, saw a chance to help athletes build their brand through storytelling about their lives and social issues.
There have been a bevy of other attempts at building digital platforms for athletes, including several VC-backed companies such as The Players Tribune, Uninterrupted, and Religion of Sports. But iinfluence aims to be different by giving sports stars a chance to invest in the company. It also partnering with organizations such as Opportunity Hub, 6 Month Startup, WTIA, and others.
We caught up with McGee for Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: iinfluence provides athletes – both current and former – a platform that allows them to express themselves candidly within a tech company they have a stake in. Players won’t ever have to worry about all of the noise on existing social media platforms. The company will also feature candid conversations among one another, documentaries and television series’.
Inspiration hit us when: Previously, there had been discussion for the need of a player platform and it took a series of events for me to realize that I’ve been uniquely positioned to produce and collaborate with many of the players that I either played with or coached, like Stedman. Both inspiration and validation came with Nike’s support of Colin Kaepernick. Being athletes ourselves, we decided that through the power of innovative technology, we could create a new digital brand network that specifically empowers athletes to be influencers and entrepreneurs, while supporting (investing in) the company that is backing them.
iinfluence has the unique opportunity to build and manage the brands of the influencers while telling their stories in a collective way that spins off into athlete-driven content and television segments, behind the scenes experiences, podcasts and a variety of additional intimate ways that streamline the collective voice in a way that’s never been done before.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We have focused our energy on getting contracts with our early-adopter athlete-influencers and are in post-production of our pilot story: former Los Angeles Rams wide receiver and survivor of gunshots to the head, Stedman Bailey, who will use his story and brand (Positive Energee) to fight against gun violence. iinfluence will collaborate with Stedman strategically to include his journey to return to playing football, while also enhancing his current brand on Amazon as he writes his book and dives into the life of entrepreneurship.
iinfluence will exist, ensuring success and sustainability while athletes balance transition within their lives. Pausing to raise money for the tech platform is currently taking a backseat to Stedman’s transition back into the NFL, and on the path toward our adopters building their own empires. As a startup, we needed to focus on our MVP – which is the combination of Stedman’s story, spin-off television segments, and launching his brand on Amazon Exclusives. Our official launch of the platform will include online stores, real-time conversations, exclusive content, and live chats with the athletes. Each athlete will have their own space, with the freedom to invite subscribers into their lives and share insight into how they prepare to perform, and giveaways such as full experience packages which will include a day with the influencer, an exclusive event, and tickets to a game.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: iinfluence differentiates itself as an athlete-owned and driven multidimensional platform. Our current network of influencer-athletes have ownership of a company that promotes brand profitability, creates generational wealth, and secures long-term stability for their futures through storytelling.
We also provide our players with the opportunity to have creative direction with content and product development. We help them maximize their stories to create products, in partnership with Amazon’s Exclusives and Brand Incubator program. We are specifically taking a local-national approach by being headquartered in Seattle. We have partnerships with some of Seattle’s best who will assist us with equipping and supporting the athletes.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: We considered relocating to another state but decided to stay in Seattle because of the wealth of resources as well as technology-driven executives that are eager to create change within the ecosystem of tech inclusion and diversity. Having our headquarters in Seattle allows us to tap into a local and global network of subject matter experts, community builders, and technology leaders. Launching with a small, mobile team has also benefited us since we are able to work remotely and travel freely as needed for the business – which is necessary to capture these stories. Seattle is also appropriate since Amazon’s headquarters is here, and we’ll be funneling our players’ brands and products to be sold through their Brand Incubator program.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: We initially only focused on our pilot story – Stedman Bailey and his journey to present day, after surviving being shot in the head twice – and did not plan for subsequent stories until we realized that storytelling is our secret sauce. While we are still channeling our main focus into the pilot documentary, we are balancing collaborating with other athletes so that the succession from story to story will be fluid.
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: Having Bezos in our corner would be the most beneficial as he understands where technology is going as it relates to e-commerce and the impact it can have on ideas. He was able to transform an online book-selling company into the largest online retailer for any and every product you can possibly think of – a prime example of technological evolution and no easy feat.
Our favorite team-building activity is: esports and gaming. Our brains are constantly working overtime so we make sure to pause and pick up a controller whenever we need a mental break. Playing helps clear our heads and often inspires new concepts and ideas.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: We are looking for like-minded individuals who possess fluidity, agility, transparency, a growth mindset – and a sense of humor.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Be patient and don’t get discouraged. Timelines will get pushed back, people will come and go, and you’ll be questioned and have to fight your ass off for the right support – but don’t lose sight of your mission. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.