Meet Sprio: How these Microsoft vets are creating private social networks for team sports

sprio1If you’ve ever played sports with an organized team, a new app that three Microsoft vets are cooking up will make a whole lot of sense. 

We wrote about Elemental Foundry last month, noting the company’s $1 million seed round led by Seattle investor Rudy Gadre. This week, we caught up co-founder John Pollard, who shared more details about the new startup.

Sprio is the company’s first app and is designed to help sports teams — from kick-and-chase soccer leagues to Division-I college squads — effectively communicate, coordinate and share content easily.

Pollard calls it a “private Facebook for teams.”

“Simply put, this is a problem that needs to be solved,” Pollard said. “I’ve spent a lot of time on the sidelines at my kids games over the years, and it’s remarkable how much thrash there is in terms of communications. It’s a real pain point for a lot of people, and team sports is an absolutely massive part of American life.”

Elemental Foundry co-founders John Pollard and Shree Madhavapeddi also founded Jott in 2006. They started Elemental with former colleague Ramesh Vyaghrapuri.

Elemental Foundry co-founders John Pollard and Shree Madhavapeddi also founded Jott in 2006. They started Elemental with former colleague Ramesh Vyaghrapuri.

Sprio lets players, coaches, parents and managers — among others — access a bevy of information and content, from team schedules and photos to contact information and post-game reports. Coaches can upload practice information or update weather delay issues, for example, all of which can be easily shared with players. Friends and family can also “follow” teams and receive updates.

Team admins can also assign different access privileges to individual users and is one way Sprio differs from Facebook groups, which Pollard said offers a “flat hierarchy.”

Moreover, Pollard found that teams using Facebook can also run into privacy issues.

sprio3“We talked to a lot of schools, and while they like Facebook, it’s inappropriate for what they’re trying to do,” he explained. “Some schools even mandate that coaches are not allowed to be Facebook friends with the student-athletes. We heard that feedback and said we can help solve that problem.”

Another one of the overarching goals for Sprio is to not only provide a tool that makes participation in team sports easy, but also to track all the teams you’ve been with and the games you’ve played throughout your life.

“People are attracted to the vision of being able to do this across time,” Pollard said. “Participation in sports is a lifetime activity and a lifetime pursuit.”

There’s also a simple messaging system that team members can use to communicate with each other, which makes sense when you look at the resumes of Elemental’s founders.

Pollard started the company with Shree Madhavapeddi; the pair also founded Jott in April 2006 and later sold it to Nuance Communications in 2009.

Ramesh Vyaghrapuri, a former Microsoft colleague of Madhavapeddi, is Elemental’s other co-founder. He was Facebook’s first-ever hire in Seattle and rewrote the social network’s chat engine. Vyaghrapuri also worked on Microsoft Messenger with Madhavapeddi at Microsoft.

Pollard had good things to say about his co-founders.

“When you do a startup, a lot of times it’s about who you want to work with as opposed to what the idea is,” he said. “This is an opportunity to work with Shree again, and an opportunity for Shree to work with Ramesh on a startup — something they wanted to do for a long time.”

Sprio, which is free and has an ad-based revenue model, is being tested by several teams at the moment in private beta. Find out more about the company here.

  • reggiedog

    I certainly wish these guys a lot of luck and success and they seem to have a lot of experience.

    However, this is a “problem” that really isn’t, and which has (obviously) been worked on at least 1,000 times before (literally) with everyone finding out that it really doesn’t rise to a pain point great enough (vs. existing solutions) to get any traction.

    As a soccer parent (and one time soccer league president), kids’ lacrosse coach, tech mentor, start-up entrepreneur I have seen at least 4 attempts in my own town to improve on the basic email program we have. When I point out to the entrepreneur that town’s PAL has its own blast email that works “good enough” and no one really cares enough to post pictures and chat (and have other things to do than curate their recreation beyond a few smartphone pics), they do what most entrepreneurs do and refuse to listen or use the Google for competitors, and try to sell me on features that aren’t that different or important. “But there are 4 million kids playing youth sports!” they say, with out realizing that they are actually selling to 200,000 different markets of only 20 people apiece.

    Again, good luck and I wish them well. Yet as a tech entrepreneur it is frustrating to see articles like this because it just creates noise in the system. Wonder why most startups fail and why incubators and accelerators have such a dismal track record? It is because naive ideas like this from entrepreneurs that haven’t done their homework get press, and attract money. We’d all be better served, including the entrepreneurs themselves, if we held “news” to a higher standard. Articles (and investments) like this crowd out the good ideas and make success harder for everyone.

  • Charles Kerr

    As one of those 1,000, I’m still convinced there’s a profitable market in youth sports social media… Somewhere. But can it survive without a whole team management infrastructure being built along with it? And if that’s the case, how do you overcome a company with as good a product (and headstart) as Teamsnap (www.teamsnap.com)?

    What are these boys going to do that Teamsnap can’t fast follow and unleash on its millions of existing users?

    The fact that the Sprio frontpage has a 250K background graphic gives me immediate pause. If you can’t get something as simple as that right…well that’s concerning.