Entrepreneurship and Basketball: Interview with Jordan Fliegel, founder of Coachup
Photo: Coachup founder Jordan Fliegel (left) with professional basketball player Stephen Curry (right).
It’s not very often that you hear a former professional basketball player talk about how bad he was at sports as a kid.
But when you ask Jordan Fliegel about his basketball career, he gives all the credit to his personal coach, who got him off the bench and onto the court. Better yet, his coach instilled in him a newfound confidence and desire to play college basketball that jump-started his academic career, too.
Jordan has now combined his academic and athletic backgrounds to share the benefits of one-on-one coaching with Coachup, a website designed to connect athletes with personal coaches to help them in any athletic activity, from basketball, soccer, and football to yoga, fitness, and dance.
Jordan isn’t the only athlete to have benefited from a good coach. Professional athletes Stephen Curry, Julian Edelman and Nerlens Noel have partnered with Coachup to share their experiences with one-on-one coaching, too.
Read Jordan’s story to see what inspired his athletic career and ultimately, the creation of his company.
Founder profile: Jordan Fliegel
Company website: coachup.com
Company Twitter: @coachup
Founder Twitter: @jordanfliegel
Market Segment: Consumer Internet, Sports Coaching
What does your company do? Who are your core customers?
We have over 15,000 coaches who work for us, and they each have their own profile page on Coachup. We consider ourselves the Airbnb of the sports training industry. Our mission is to help athletes reach the next level in sports and in life.
Our core customers are grade school and high school athletes who are looking to compete, gain a college scholarship, and improve at the game that they love. We also have college athletes, adults who are training for a race, and even little kids—everyone can benefit from coaching.
How did you come across the problem you’re addressing? What was your process of arriving at a solution?
I was a basketball player, and I wasn’t very good. That summer, I found a coach who played college basketball, and he started working with me one-on-one. I became pretty good—I was able to become a starter. He changed my life as an athlete, and I gained a lot of confidence. My academics improved.
I’ve been coaching kids for over ten years now, and I’ve seen the benefits of having a coach from both sides of the field.
As a coach, how do you create a website to handle payments, process insurance?
We decided there should be a governing platform that helps athletes and coaches to connect. It exists in Uber for transportation, and Airbnb for traveling. But nothing existed for coaching. So we thought we would fill that space.
What are you doing differently than your competitors?
Our competition is any coach that’s not in the modern era. They’re doing things the old-fashioned way—they’re putting up their own flyers, taking written checks. So it’s about getting the word out to those coaches.
I just want to make it accessible and affordable for kids to find coaches. We’re basically just taking that experience and making it better—there’s no one else who’s doing it whatsoever. You could count Craigslist, but that’s a little different.
Parents don’t really know that just a few lessons could bring a kid from 2nd string to starter.
What are you working on currently? What should we expect to see from your company in the next 12 months?
We’re constantly trying to make it easier for athletes to find the right coach, as well as enable coaches to build their business. Eventually, we’ll expand internationally, and add other features and services to compliment what we’re doing. Maybe we’ll help our coaches run their own clinics.
One of the things we’re working on is a split-payment feature. If there are a few parents getting coaching for their children, they can split the cost with our website. It would not only help coaches get more athletes in, but also make it more affordable for each athlete.
How are you changing the face of education?
There are studies that show that coaches are more influential on kids than teachers. I can tell you every coach I ever had; I can’t tell you every teacher I ever had.
The process teachers and tutors go through is pretty advanced, but nobody really makes sure coaches are accountable and rewarded for doing a good job.
How did athletics affect your educational experience?
As a teenage boy, I didn’t even want to go to college. It wasn’t until I met my private coach that I started getting excited about basketball, and realized learning is fun. It made me want to play in college.
I played at Bowdoin, and then in Israel. I was captain on my team and won the award for best government and legal studies in college. I think there’s a misconception that athletes aren’t as intelligent, but that’s just not true. There’s definitely some abuse of programs in major sports, but by and large, athletics are great for students.
What other startups or product builds have you been a part of, and what was your role? How has your past career prepared you for your current role?
I worked at Zintro, an online marketplace that connects people with subject matter experts. It got me excited about marketplace business models, and I thought there should be a marketplace for coaching. I also became really attracted to working with a small group of people that wanted to impact the world.
Who do you look to as a role model or mentor for your company?
I have a lot of role models, from 7-footers in the NBA to philosophers.
First there are my business partners, and Paul English, co-founder of Kayak and an advisor to Coachup. Among athletes, I really look up to Stephen Curry and Julian Edelman. Immanuel Kant is my favorite philosopher.
And my parents—I’m very grateful for them and the way that they raised me.
Where do you think the education technology market is going in the next five years, especially in your market segment?
Well, I know Coachup will continue to grow—there’s nothing purer than sports. My hope is that more will be done to provide athletic opportunities for coaches, teachers, and educators, so they can keep doing what they love.
I think education needs to change. We need to start teaching students about entrepreneurship. People want to make a living doing what they’re passionate about, and there are websites that enable you to monetize those skills. I think people need to aspire to be their own boss and take charge of their lives. I see technology changing the way people live and what they aspire to.
What advice, if any, do you have for someone launching a company in the education technology market?
Really think about what your goal is. Many of you are trying to start a lifestyle business—think about your goals, and don’t get carried away trying to build the best thing ever.
Focus on delivering a product people will pay for. Find someone to pay for it before you build it. And then build it.