Last year, social content startup Slate featured in SportsPro’s inaugural list of 20 sports tech ideas to invest in now.
Founded in July 2019, the New York and Portland-based company’s mobile-first platform enables social media teams to create on-brand content in real time, and has already been deployed by a host of professional sports teams, including more than half of the franchises in the National Football League (NFL), as well as a host of brands and media organisations.
Following its inclusion in the Class of 2020, Slate went on to secure an undisclosed seed investment last October from TitletownTech, the early-stage funding vehicle set up by the Green Bay Packers and Microsoft, and WISE Ventures, which was founded by the owners of the Minnesota Vikings.
In the wake of that funding round, SportsPro caught up with company co-founders Eric Stark (above left) and Michael Horton (above right) to find out how Slate’s platform has evolved, how the startup went about securing growth capital, and what the future holds.
How did you initially go about getting your foot in the door with investors?
Horton: “We had a leg up in that we had already developed a product that was fairly robust and it was just changing the product a little bit to serve the needs of teams. Those early conversations in the NFL were really relying on our network, speaking to a few different teams, and initially it was us trying to learn what they needed and if our hypothesis - that this was something that was going to add a lot of value - was right. We learned very early on that this was something teams desperately needed.”
How does your product differ from others on the market?
Stark: “Really the biggest differentiator is that it didn’t exist before we created it. There are versions of Slate that may be similar sorts of products that you can use to create content with on your phone and are aimed at the general public, but there really wasn’t an enterprise solution that allows brands to be able to control every element of the creation experience.
“We’re not going into these teams saying, ‘hey, we know you use x tool already, we’re better because we’re lower-priced or we offer these features that they don’t’. Really we are the enterprise solution right now for the problem that we’ve identified, which is obviously a great position to be in and part of what helped us grow pretty quickly within sports.”
We’re constantly iterating on the product to make the process of creating on-brand content from your phone faster and easier.
How is your product evolving as more content distribution platforms come to the fore?
Horton: “We’ve grown the product a lot, even just in the last year, by really listening to our customers and understanding what’s going to be valuable for them. Something we hear from customers all the time, especially ones that are re-signing after a pilot or their first year, is how much the features we’re releasing are made with them in mind, which is something they’re not used to. They’ve been pigeonholed into using products that aren’t built for them in the past to create content for social media - products like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Premiere, or mobile apps that are made for consumers, like Instagram Stories, that have a lot of stock fonts or assets within them.
“For us, all the features that we release are with the social media content creators, and really the whole content creation team within an organisation, in mind. We’re constantly iterating on the product to make the process of creating on-brand content from your phone faster and easier, and also the collaboration between the social media team, the design team, maybe the creative director, the sponsorship team.”
Slate's platform enables social media teams to create on-brand content in real time
What are your aspirations in terms of growing the business internationally?
Stark: “We’re definitely looking to grow longer-term partnerships and feel like our product is now in a place where we’re able to offer some diverse use cases that really make sense for teams and leagues year-round. And now that we’ve been established for a little longer I think there’s more trust and more willingness to sign on with us for longer terms than we have done for some teams already.
“We were always focused on international, outside of the US, from when we started, partly because of my background, having come from working for NFL International right before founding Slate. We’re also working with a few strategic partners, including Sports Loft in the UK, to help us get a better footprint in these places where we don’t have a presence and help introduce us to more teams, media organisations and brands in these markets. We really feel like there’s huge opportunity for us.”
On top of having a very strong team with strong experience in the area that we’re working in, we had customers that were vouching for us.
How have you gone about navigating the sports tech investment landscape?
Horton: “In general, our goal was to prove the value of our solution by having real customers vouch for it, and having real revenue that we could point to as a way to impress potential investors. We got lucky timing-wise in that most of what became our seed round with TitletownTech and WISE Ventures was happening pre-pandemic and right around the time we were signing up all those NFL teams last season.
“Two of those teams that signed up were the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings, so that helped tremendously. Once we got in touch with the investors, all they had to do was walk next door and talk to their social media team about our product. The Vikings and the Packers’ social media teams had wonderful things to say about us, and we also had other customers in sports that they could call up.
“For us, that was, I believe, what really secured the investment. On top of having a very strong team with strong experience in the area that we’re working in, we had customers that were vouching for us, so once we got to that point, the investment round went pretty easy. But it did take us a long time to get to that point. We had to build a product that worked really well before that, and in order to do that we had to take a big risk, give up our full-time jobs and put all our efforts into something that we didn’t know 100 per cent would pay off at that time.”
Where do you see yourselves in a year’s time?
Stark: “We definitely want to continue cornering the sports market. There are more leagues and teams that aren’t using Slate and for us, that needs to change. We want every team in sport to be using it. We also want to be growing in the university space and the esports space, and really we’re looking to expand our customer base outside of sports into more traditional brands, and expand our use cases beyond live events coverage, for influencer marketing and brand ambassador programmes.”
This interview forms part of SportsPro's Sports Tech Investment Week. Read more here.