Blue Chips: Local business helps coaches keep track of recruits

As owner of Game On Recruiting Systems, Julie Lewis helps college coaches at smaller schools stay organized.

Most Americans retire when they are 65 – or at least hope to. Julie Lewis contemplated retirement at 30.

Of course that was before Lewis put aside retirement plans in favor of a small business venture aimed at helping college coaches manage prospect data – stats like contact information, results from the 40-yard dash or the vertical leap test, and grade-point averages.

As owner of Game On Recruiting Systems, Lewis helps college coaches, usually at smaller schools where resources don’t allow assistants to have their own assistants, stay organized.

And now, four years after moving back to Richmond from Manhattan, she laughs about almost retiring at 30.

So what exactly does Game On provide?

“Think of it like contact management on steroids,” said Lewis.

The company first got its legs when Lewis recognized a huge opportunity within a small niche after moving back to Virginia from New York. Coaches were constantly complaining about issues with recruiting systems out on the market. The current systems were “not specific enough, too expensive, and too complex,” coaches told Lewis.

That’s when the light bulb turned on. “If we could create something easy to use that’s affordable to all levels of colleges, then we could fill this niche,” said Lewis.

The computer programs designed by Lewis and her team have been used by coaches in 30 states since the company’s birth in 2004. The software acts as a giant database / Rolodex for the coaches, who use it to monitor prospects, manage contacts and track recruiting activity.

“The off-season is the busiest time of year for coaches,” said Way Veney, an employee of Game On who organizes and moderates the Coaches Corner Blog on the company’s website.

Game On’s goal is to provide busy coaches with an easy, accessible way to manage recruiting information through a series of databases and spreadsheets. In addition, Game On will design and print personalized letterheads for coaches to send out to recruits. Anyone who’s ever been recruited or even applied to college is familiar with the bulk of mail that arrives daily.

The application sells for around $500 per team. Personalized letterheads for specific programs are available for around $200.

“At first, we were basically doing problem solving on a pro bono basis,” says Sarah Lewis, an employee at Game On and a former athlete at Randolph-Macon Women’s College. It soon became clear that other people were facing similar problems. So Julie, who has been competing in sports since the time she could walk, funded the venture through a combination of “personal funding and a selling-as-we-go approach.”

Lewis said she has spent the last four years listening to customer feedback and improving her products as she goes.

Lewis said the company is in a constant state of evolution, which is common for web-based businesses. What started off as friends helping friends has turned into a focused set of products marketed to a specific group of consumers, she said.

Sally Feltner, a business counselor at the Greater Richmond Small Business Development Center, said that the three biggest challenges faced by small business ventures like Game On are “getting financed, getting known, and getting it done.”

Feltner said that technology-based companies like Game On sometimes struggle with the constant updates necessary to stay at the head of the class.

Lewis recognizes technology as one of the biggest challenges that her company has faced. “You have to make sure the technology is very sound, but more importantly, it has to be adaptive. Everything changes so quickly that you have to be doing what you’re doing with an eye towards what’s coming up next,” said Lewis.

Game On is not geared towards the top tier programs in the country.

“We’re not going after Notre Dame football or anything,” said Lewis. Top tier programs often have staff members upon staff members devoted to recruiting and recruiting alone, she said.

Smaller programs have smaller staffs, and thus need more help in keeping track of their prospects and attracting new ones. For example, Game On works with many Division I schools in smaller sports (commercially speaking), such as rowing, lacrosse, and swimming.

“We started close to home, but we have branched out all across the U.S. since then,” said Lewis.

The company is staffed by a fluctuating crew of contractors. It currently is located in an office in the AdvanTech building on 501 E. Franklin Street. However, they are currently looking for a new office, and plan on moving in the near future, Lewis said.

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