Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Interview with Lane Soelberg, Weplay
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
If you're a family with kids in sports, how do you share all those videos, photos, and other memories about your kids games? Where do you organize and share all the information about your team's games? Los Angeles-based Weplay (www.weplay.com) is hoping to be the site for all of that, and more. The firm--which is backed by such investors as Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning, LeBron James, and Jennie Finch--is headed by CEO Lane Soelberg, who spoke to us a bit about what the firm's up to.
First off, for the folks who haven't heard of Weplay, what is the service all about?
Lane Soelberg: We are a social platform for families involved in youth sports. The social platform is very family friendly, and provides all of the front end functions for parents and kids involved in Little League, Pop Warner, or whatever group activity that keeps a family busy. It also gives a place to share those magic moments captured on the playing field or basketball court, and where you can trade compliments and high 5's, on a social platform.
How did Weplay come about?
Lane Soelberg: The company was started four years ago by Stephen Hansen, who was one of the original executives at Geocities. He saw the power of user generated content, and the power of building a passionate community online, which certainly led to a good thing with Yahoo. He looked at the youth sports marketplace, and said, let's do it again. It's a really big, passionate market, and there's a need for connective tissue between families and the kids involved. It's a very fragmented market, and there's not a lot of infrastructure to help those volunteers, who just figured out last Friday that they've got to coach their AYSO, Pop Warner, or Little League team. There's seventeen other things you have to put together in addition to taking care of teaching kids the basics. We were the first mover in the space, and we're very different from the more utility offerings out there, because we've added lots of social elements to the site.
How did you get involved?
Lane Soelberg: My predecessor, Russ Smith, is a product guy, and we've known each other for a long time. We were at Business.com together. I got involved with Steve, to help them figure out gamification. I'm a dad with two kids in youth sports, and I started out as a focus group of one, helping with product development on the Weplay platform, sharing my own personal perspective. Lots of the developers were young and didn't have any kids, or their kids were not involved in youth sports, so I was bringing a degree of real experience and real usage to the table. Over the course of a year, I got to know Steve, the team, and the board, and when Russ moved on to other products, they needed someone with experience in monetization. That's where my career has been. About 18 months ago, we started focusing on finding blue chip brands, that could be integrated with our platform, and brands that our users could appreciate. Since then, we've brought on Microsoft, Gatorade, the Cartoon Network, Benadryl, and others onto the platform. It's a compelling and unique way to help them with the social, mobile, and local marketing challenges they are facing.
When did the headquarters shift to LA happen--you guys started in New York?
Lane Soelberg: The team was pretty dispersed. We are a well functioning, very lean machine, but in separate time zones and separated by miles. Over time, there' s been a natural transition into Southern California, for a couple of reasons. It's always more efficient to be in the same room, and as we've been dialing up the gamification, there are some unique skill sets here in Southern California that we're taking advantage of.
We run into lots of other team sports sites out there, how are you different, and how do you stand above the crowd?
Lane Soelberg: I think we're more about the fun than about the function. We're there to help capture those magic moments, and let you share them in fun and interesting ways, and let the kids participate. We're COPPA compliant for users under 13 years old, unlike most of the other sites out there. We want to be different, engaging, and fun, and not just a list of where and when your the games are being played. Certainly, that's there for the parents and coaches, but to get the kids, it also needs to be fun, which is what youth sports is all about. We're trying to win on that front.
Was getting that compliance difficult?
Lane Soelberg: It is definitely a process to go through. There are not many that choose to go through all the hurdles you need to go through. For us, it's been worthwhile. They say that anything worth doing is hard, and being aware of it has helped us build a better product, and one that is still plenty of fun. But, it's like getting a good workout--you don't love it when you're in the middle of it, but you feel better afterward.
Finally, what are you up to now, and what are the big things you're working on?
Lane Soelberg: A lot of what we're focused on now, is understanding the mindset that families are in, based on when and where they are going to gather. One of those things is figuring out the times and locations of where thirty hungry families are going to get together, and where you have thirty moms driving around in a minivan. We're taking that understanding and matching that with fun experience that match up with a marketer's goals. We also recently did a big mobile push, to improve our app on the iPhone and Android. We also partnered with Benadryl. About 30 to 40 percent of youth sports athletes have some allergy related or asthma-related condition. We're giving Moms a mobile alert and allergy forecast for the field they're playing on, to make a mom's job easier so that they can make it so the kids with allergies don't have to sit on the sidelines. Instead, they can be prepared and go out and get to the fun. The other things that you start to understand, is when and where families are getting together, and that the amount of photos and videos captured every day are increasing. There's a lot we can do to help capture the best moments people have in their youth sports career. There's lots we can do with that.