The term “brand ambassador” is thrown around a lot in the startup world, and admittedly, at OpenSports, we’ve never known how the hell to properly execute a brand ambassador strategy. It wasn’t until we finally busted a move from our Toronto workspace and “roadtripped” to Philadelphia, that we fully understood the power of having deep, meaningful relationships with your first customers — the ones (or one) that are your biggest fans.
Dan Elliot’s group “Philadelphia Volleyball” came to OpenSports in September 2017, and by October was completely off of Meetup, the platform that Dan previously used to manage his pickup volleyball group. From the get-go his level of engagement seemed unreal…even…questionable. The constant feedback, all of his insightful questions, even asking if our API was public…It was all too good to be true. We wondered if he was a competitor...
Over time, as Dan’s volleyball group kept growing, he became somewhat of a celebrity at our workspace, and felt like a part of our team. We accommodated his feature requests on a daily — even hourly — basis. Driven by the momentum of the growth of “Philly Dan’s” group, followed by the excitement of onboarding several other groups from large cities in the States, we decided to embark on a 3 week East →West Coast US Promotional Tour.
As we dragged our luggages from our bus stop down our tiny side street in South Philly, further and further away from the distant city centre, we nervously wondered if this leg of the trip — our second stop — would be as exciting as we anticipated. We were staying in Point Breeze, Philadelphia, a small neighbourhood where it is difficult to even find coffee — a complete juxtaposition from our initial 6 day stay in the hip, trendy, and chic coffee haven neighbourhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
After spending our first evening in Philly, a Monday, re-energizing through a fun pickup soccer game with CASA Soccer — a popular league and pickup soccer group that recently came on board as well— we received a ping from Dan, inviting us out to a newly posted game for the following evening:
James immediately knew that Lloyd Hall was now the 8th facility added on to Philly Volleyball’s growing list of pickup volleyball venues, and we sensed an enthusiasm from Dan which was enough to convince us: We were going.
We pushed so many things from development to production while working all day Tuesday prior to setting off to meet Dan’s group. In particular, the ability to add co-administrators/co-organizers, automatic refunds, an attendee check-in system and remove attendees. About 10 minutes after we pushed these features live, we already heard from Dan telling us he had feedback/questions for us, but that he would save them for when he met us later that evening.
As we pulled up to Lloyd Hall, we were quite thrilled that our online relationship with Dan — the individual who single handedly put us on the map in Philly — was finally about to become real!
We slowly walked in, turned the corner, and were immediately greeted by Dan, as well as a few volleyball players sitting around and getting ready, who he introduced us to as “James and Alicia from OpenSports!” It was becoming apparent that people really appreciated seeing the faces behind the app they had been using to play more volleyball.
The vibe at Dan’s game was AWESOME! He made sure that there was a steady stream of music — top 40 hits — my favourite. I secretly grooved to the likes of Taylor Swift, Pitbull, and Megan Trainor as I tried capturing the night through pictures, videos, and Instagram stories, and also took note of the intensity of the game. The games were close, the spikes were hard enough to make me cringe and hide behind poles, and poor James almost got his head spiked off while recording some videos off to the side.
Dan played volleyball with ease and pride, and James and I enjoyed seeing him in his element, doing what he loves. We left half way through the night, not before snapping a group photo! “See you tomorrow, Dan!”
The South Philly neighbourhood we were staying in seemed to lighten up a bit with all of the excitement of the night. In celebration, we cracked open a few beers, watched Queer Eye, and laughed pretty heavily before calling it a night.
A few days earlier, we were astonished and humbled when we saw that Dan created a meet and greet event just for us, and that people were actually joining! Once in a while on Wednesday, as we worked from our Airbnb in beautiful Point Breeze again, we would check the event page as if to make sure that it’s still real and still happening that evening!
At the bar, we were met with an immediate sense of excitement and enthusiasm from everyone who came — about 10 volleyballers in total. Sam in particular was very inquisitive and engaged the entire night, asking us questions as simple as where we’re from, to how we do our marketing, to which James responded that “we did lots of dubious activities”. She seemed slightly horrified until James quickly followed detailing some of the hilarious hacks we’ve done like ambush people at the airport, and she quickly burst out laughing.
The conversation quickly changed gears when Crystal, a regular Philly Volleyball organizer, who we had only previously known as another name on the app, arrived at the bar. Exasperated, she claimed there were 28 people on her waitlist for her volleyball game that night! 28!!! I cheekily commented that I am very surprised anyone would even join a waitlist if there are already 27 people on it! Dan chimed in, adding that he recently decided to run a poll to find out how far back on a waitlist somebody has been, and still gotten a spot. I believe it was 15th. How surprising! This conversation set the stage for many hilarious laughs and learnings throughout the evening…
At one point, Crystal’s phone alarm went off signifying that it was time to post a game for the following week. When she reminded Dan to post, he stopped what he was doing, and took out his phone. James and I sensed that something powerful was about to happen, as everybody around the table took out their phones and held them in a tight grip in anticipation…they all wanted first dibs.
The next minute and a half that ensued were one the most magical moments as a tech startup, that we have ever experienced.
Dan pushed “Create Game” and around the table, everybody’s phones simultaneously buzzed with an invite. Dan’s phone started pinging non-stop for almost two minutes, as he received one RSVP after another, making a cacophony of noise that was music to our ears.
As people around the table clamoured to get a spot, I noticed the guy beside me, Kenneth, refreshing his page frantically as he hit an error message because the last spot was also being held by someone else who joined it at the same time. Refresh, refresh, refresh…Hooray! He got his spot.
Do we need to introduce surge pricing after the first 10 spots are taken?
James and I were in complete and utter awe. Watching years of work manifest like this right in front of our eyes, was amazing. “This level of demand for spots is going to create different resale markets!” we joked. James cheekily asked if Dan has seen anyone post their spot on Stubhub yet, which cracked me up😂. Dan mentioned how some people did start to give their spots to their friends who were far down on the waitlist, and how he recently needed to enforce a policy detailing that giving away your spot like that is not allowed, because it undercuts the validity and fairness of the automatic waitlist.
Some more great ideas came up, from earning advertising revenue by integrating with Uber or Lyft, to having more of a Tinder interface, to having badges (as inspired by Dan’s favourite app called Untapped). Other relevant feedback was given about the current system which we are going to prioritize as soon as possible! There really is nothing like learning from your users themselves. I can’t remember the amount of times Dan excitedly said to us, “I’m telling you, you’ve got something here”… !
Overall, everyone was just buzzing with enthusiasm, feedback, and ideas. They were very interested in the spread of OpenSports geographically, as well as very optimistic about where we’re going as a company.
This story is to be continued, as we continued to sow the seeds that Dan had planted for us with Philly’s new multi-sports facility Phield House, and that Phield House planted with CASA Soccer (Philly Soccer), and that CASA soccer planted with Sons of Pitches Soccer in Atlanta…We really started to get the picture of how things are spreading, from one local champion, Dan. Now, whenever a new volleyball group joins OpenSports, we say, “It’s probably a friend of Dans”!
To Dan, you’ve been with us before we even launched groups. Given your breadth of innovative ideas, and level of scrutiny, it is hard to imagine that you trusted our platform when you first came on board! We feel like we have grown this platform together. You seem to have a shared mission as us, which is that we all win, the more ppl that are active, that are playing, and that are connected.
I hope you enjoyed this read! Our road trip has been amazing so far and I’ll continue to write stories reflecting the amazing meetings we’ve had, games we’ve played, laughs we’ve shared and overall excitement. Follow our trip on Instagram!
✈️NYC → 🚌Philly → 🚂Delaware → ✈️Charlotte → 🚌Atlanta → ✈️San Fran. Ya baby!
Reach out if you’d like at firstname.lastname@example.org :) .