This article appears in the October 2019 issue. Click here for a free subscription.
It’s every journalist’s nightmare: Stories created by a robot, not a human being.
Hero Sports co-founder Jordan Nilsen, however, insists his Seattle startup isn’t about replacing writers with technology. It’s about expanding access to information in underserved markets at a time when publications are cutting back.
“We have algorithms that understand the statistical significance of everything that happens in a game,” Nilsen says.
Hero Sports was founded in 2014 and initially used writers to produce sports content and rank sports teams. It quickly became apparent that the old-school model wasn’t cost-effective or sustainable. The company hired Brad Weitz, who has a background in marketing technology, as its chief executive officer two years ago.
Late last year, the company got the attention of the Associated Press, which became its first customer. The company then pivoted into a B2B software-as-a-service platform that generates revenue via content subscriptions instead of advertising revenue. Besides the Associated Press, clients include the Tacoma Rainiers, the AAA affiliate of the Seattle Mariners; NASCAR; the University of Washington; the Denver Post; and the University of California, Davis.
Hero Sports is part of Data Skrive and serves as the company’s sports arm. Data Skrive is branching out into other verticals that need data analyzed quickly, including health care and the cannabis industry.
The scrappy pre-revenue Hero Sports has raised $4.3 million so far and employs 18, about double what it did two years ago. Nilsen credits Weitz with creating a “transparent environment” that stresses collegiality and cooperation.
“We have meetings regularly where all employees can ask anything of the CEO and leadership,” wrote one employee in nominating the company for a Seattle Business magazine 100 Best Companies to Work For award.
Nilsen says the company is open to “any number of scenarios” going forward, including additional fundraising, strategic investments or even acquisition. “We can solve problems for companies with loads of data,” Nilsen says.