A UBC MBA at Sauder has helped Dustin Sproat kick start his business and complete his transformation from professional ice hockey player to CEO of a tech startup.
Dustin’s company, Shnarped, is a website and social media app that lets professional ice hockey players and their fans connect with each other and track statistics across a number of different leagues. The name derives from a popular card game often played by ice hockey stars on long road trips.
“Because of my own experience and contacts in ice hockey, I can get the pros logged in on Shnarped’s back end and then the fans can interact with them directly,” says Dustin. “It works as an interactive hockey card, with each record showing a game-by-game tracker, the player’s career statistics, his Twitter feed and other customized features.”
Dustin had the idea for the company since his days playing professional ice hockey but the full-time UBC MBA program at Sauder gave him the skills and know-how to make the idea a reality. Fellow MBA candidates Darren Hands and Camil Sikorski are now working at Shnarped and Dustin is keen to recognize there have been many others who gave him help and advice.
“My classmates and professors have been absolutely fantastic in helping me to propel the idea forward,” says Dustin. “We worked a lot of hours putting together a business plan to turn what was a neat little statistics tracker into a viable company.”
When he first conceived of the business, Dustin thought he would be able to make money from online advertising. But after taking the advice of professor Paul Cubbon, who leads Sauder’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship track, he quickly came to realise that this would not provide enough revenue. Instead he is working towards a so-called “freemium” model, where users would get the app for free but would have to pay for premium content.
“With any sort of social media application you try to build a critical mass of users and then somewhere along the line you look at ways of monetizing it,” says Dustin. “Paul Cubbon’s internet marketing course was critical in helping me understand that and he’s always been available to offer constructive feedback on the project.”
Dustin launched Shnarped in the iTunes app store in the fall of 2012 and the app continues to develop.
Together with his co-founder, Kyle Hagel, he appeared on the entrepreneurial TV show Dragon's Den on CBC in October 2013, asking the investors for $100,000 for 10 per cent equity in their company. They walked away with $250,000.
“It means we’re going to have a good buzz around our product from a number of influential people,” says Dustin.
Shnarped is becoming increasingly popular among the hockey community at large, as a way of keeping up with their favourite players through statistics, news and highlights.
In October 2013, the app was released on Android, and will soon be followed by a new release, featuring players from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
Dustin says he would not have gotten this far without the business skills and practical advice he obtained during his UBC MBA at Sauder.
“The whole experience has been a year and a half of my life that I will never forget,” he says. “I would definitely recommend it.”