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Beyond the Pitch

Interview with Mike Crowley, CEO, InfoMotion Sports Technologies

The 94Fifty Smart Sensor Basketball from InfoMotion Sports Technologies is receiving accolades in the marketplace from all directions—including Sports Illustrated, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. Rev1 Ventures talks with CEO Mike Crowley about the company’s success and vision.

The 94Fifty basketball was featured in SI, you’re in the Apple Store and with Ed Baig’s column in USA Today, you even brought Ohio a bit of Silicon Valley love. Congratulations! 

MC: Thanks. We started five years ago with a prototype. We combined experience, talent, skill, and learning to create a product that people want. Now the marketplace is recognizing that we build the smartest sports product in the world for the sports we focus on. We’ve made the basketball smart, interactive, and engaging.

You tell them something about how they are playing basketball that they can’t know any other way.

MC: Exactly. We fill a gap in the sports market where there is this huge desire to learn and a shortage of people who know how to teach.

How does the 94Fifty work?

MC: There are nine sensors inside the basketball that measure the forces applied to it, acceleration, and spin. We capture all that data in real time and translate the motion into a digital signal that communicates to an iPhone application. Every player is a little different; the information that the sensors capture is very personal.

For example, proprietary algorithms in the application look for patterns of motion, calculate the data and compare it to the ‘perfect shooter’, and then report it back visually and verbally through the iPhone, all within 100 milliseconds. That is really fast.

The power in our business model is not only collecting the information, but in packaging it and giving it back to the player, parent, and coach so that the player can start to alter and improve his or her muscle memory.

Sounds like InfoMotion is as much about information as about devices.

MC: Our business is an information business. The information that we are particularly interested in is the motion and muscle memory that is inherent in any athlete and any other human being.

Humans are unique in our ability to teach ourselves how to move with precision. We teach our digits, our hands, and our feet to be very precise. It is inherent in us from the time we are born. By making devices that can capture how well we have taught ourselves to move with that precision, there is an interesting business model for us, not just with the devices, but with the information.

We have a way of giving personal information about people that they have never seen.

You’ve gotten the attention of professionals, right?

MC: Yes. You’d be amazed at how quickly we can have NBA players who don’t know us when we enter the gym, begin to listen when we show them something they don’t know about their own skills.

The information we provide is a reflection of that particular athlete. Usually, when the player is tuned in to the data so quickly, the coach is stunned because they have been trying to communicate the same thing, but without the digital format.

To be effective at communicating improvement, it’s all about the information and the quality of that information—the precision of the motion and the personal information that can make even NBA players listen to new ideas.

Our secret is that we make data comparable, fast, and specific. Players know it’s objective because it’s displayed in a digital format they trust. We aren’t saying “we think.” We are saying “let’s allow the ball tell us what you need to know.” The human eye is designed to perceive motion, but the sensors in the ball are designed to count it.

Another amazing thing about the 94Fifty Smart Sensor Basketball is that it works with such a spectrum of people—from college-level and professional players to kids playing club basketball or shooting driveway shots.

MC: When we started interfacing with customers four years ago, we worked with approximately 300 kids and their parents. They came in once a week. Lots of those parents had no interest in college athletic scholarships. They saw sports as a way to build their kids’ confidence and learn social and team skills. But without a way to learn how to be successful in sports, kids can lose confidence quickly and they quit.

Today’s kids are more demanding and less patient. They are raised on instant information. If you don’t make something aimed at kids instant and fun, you are done. They will shut you down.

Our basketball is designed to help how anyone (coach, parent, or teammate) can provide elite coaching to a player. When you think about how expensive it would be to have an elite coach with you whenever you wanted it, the economics quickly fall apart. Our products are designed to bring that experience for about 40 cents a day with an automatic feedback mechanism that prompts even beginning players to do the right motion every time. That makes the kids’ learning process go through the roof.

Take the huge participation team sports—basketball and soccer—and you can see where our technology and devices become very valuable. We deliver an experience through a device that makes basketball or soccer practice – the critical element for achieving success in these sports, engaging and fun.

So the idea is to get kids moving and engaged, NOT turn every kid into a superstar.

MC: Exactly. Sports participation is exploding. Access to join sports is easier than ever, and; there are more teams at every level. You would be amazed at how many parents/customers who see sports as important to their kids as part of their future success.

Yet recent studies show that while participation in youth sports is skyrocketing, the rate at which kids are quitting sports is epidemic. The number one reason cited by young athletes is that they aren’t learning how to play and they get frustrated. When kids aren’t learning, their confidence goes down not up, and they quit.

InfoMotion is in the confidence business. That’s what the information is all about—helping young athletes, regardless of their level—gain confidence so that they will get the most out of their experience with sports. We have found that a majority of parents don’t really care if their kids are the best player; they just want him or her to have success.

I saw a great example of this recently at a pretty high level.

We tested all the players in Canadian basketball league as part of their player draft/selection process. The last of thirty players picked was a guy who had emigrated from the US to play and will be paid about $1500 per month. He had his whole family there, and I saw the exact same reaction from that family when he was picked as the very last player in a league that is not well known as I see from a parent whose child who makes the first basket of the season. Parents want their kids to experience some level of success, and they are willing to invest in that success.

Does your vision for the technology extend beyond sports?

MC: InfoMotion’s first devices, which are designed for individuals and small groups, are just the starting point. Anywhere that there is a learning curve for motion, this technology has a unique space in the market. Other applications could include learning to play a musical instrument, physical therapy for stroke victims, or how doctors learn new surgical techniques. The potential applications for the technology are pretty profound.

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