Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Tyler Shooshani and I’m the founder of Inked Sports. Inked Sports is the influencer marketing, creative, and management platform specialized for marketers and college athletes that facilitates streamlined, NCAA-compliant sponsorship deals to deliver measurable impact at scale.
What's your personal history and the inspiration for your business?
I used to work as a student manager for the USC football team, and I noticed the inequities of resources male football players received over all other sports, specifically female sports. The drive to make a difference + my deep interest in creativity and marketing lead me to founding Inked Sports.
Having an insider view on how things operated, I noticed that the USC compliance offices had a very difficult time ensuring that all their 600+ athletes were following sponsorship guidelines. Since the majority of athletes receiving sponsorship deals were football players that left an entire community of underserved athletes being ignored by traditional forms of sponsorship. We’re talking about a market of 480,000+ college athletes in 2021 alone that weren’t given the same sponsorship opportunities as others.
While performing research I noticed that since its inception, influencer marketing has continued to get more expensive, saturated, and had become very secretive. That’s when I had the ‘Aha’ moment to bring fairness back to others while also giving brands access to this amazing untapped market of athletes.
Describe the process of launching your remote business
I started with co-founders, and we were virtual. It was a process, as we were not only learning how to work together but also how to effectively do it online. It’s tough when you aren’t all in the same place, holding each other accountable and make sure everyone is doing their part. I’m now the sole-founder, but have an amazing team to help out.
For our first-ever deal, I was able to secure a sponsorship deal between a family friend of mine who owned a clothing company and two amazing female athletes on the USC Women’s Soccer team who I had connected with from a class we had together. We were testing out the hypothesis that college athletes are more effective influencers than the standard micro-influencers, and boy were we right. To sum up all the analytics we recovered from that deal, they were 6x more effective than other influencers the company had worked with in the past, and far more affordable as well. Since then, we have used that case study and more to close over 135 deals for college athletes. Below are some examples of the branded content our athletes have created!
What has worked to attract customers and earn their loyalty?
For athletes, it’s all been word of mouth. When we were conducting our customer discovery, athletes straight up told us that they do not want to hear about a company like ours from theiruniversity or see an Instagram advertisement to join the platform. They said they only way we would be able to get thousands of athletes on the platform and earn their loyalty is to have them hear about it from other athletes they trust.
Transparency is key in any business, but especially in ours where for years college athletes felt discouraged and taken advantage of by the NCAA and in an industry where full-time influencers and their agents are not being quite transparent with the results of their campaigns.
For brands, it’s been showing that we can be a real asset for their marketing teams at an affordable price for any size business. A lot of what we do for brands at the moment is high touch. We want our brand partners to feel as if they just hired a new influencer team for their company without having to deal with the hiring process and paying full-time salaries.
Knowing what you know now, are there things you would have done differently when first starting out?
My number one recommendation would be to find co-founders who are in it for the long run and truly believe in the business. Finding the right co-founder is already an incredibly difficult task, even moreso if you’re both working remote. If you choose to go the co-founder route they need to be all in, invested, and willing to sacrifice until the business can take off; otherwise it’s like swimming with a 20 lb weight vest on.
I would also say to focus less on tech and really hone in and specialize in providing the best service. There’s a saying by Maya Angelou that “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That’s incredibly true, especially in a business like this where trust and transparency are at the forefront of success.
I’d also like to say that nothing’s perfect, and that’s ok!
The last advice I’d give others is to fail forward, don’t let failures hinder your progress, learn as much as you can from them and adjust.
What has been the best part of starting a remote business?
Definitely the freedom of being able to connect and work with anyone from any part of the world
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I use the following across all facets of my business:
Webflow for landing page (highly highly recommend for any startup wanting to create a killer landing page)
Hypeaudior as a influencer marketing data partner
Zoominfo for contact information (KEY for the sales process)
DocuSign (makes it very easy to distribute contracts to brands and athletes for sponsorship deals)
Hostinger as our hosting platform
What have been the most influential books, networking groups, podcasts, or other resources you've found?
The Cold Start Problem by Andrew Chen
The Unsold Mindset by Colin Coggins & Garrett Brown (HIGHLY HIGHLY RECOMMEND, I took their course at USC and they now made it into a book)
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to build a remote business of their dreams?
Write down (yes, physically write down) your goals and the steps to get there
Have a to-do list everyday to keep yourself accountable
Make sure to focus on your mental health. Building a remote business can be exhausting being at a computer all day. Make sure you go out and do things that make you happy once you log off
Sit back, and embrace the roller coaster. There will be a ton of ups and downs, but the ride will all be worth it.
Are there any positions or internships you're hiring for now?
Absolutely! We are looking to hire Brand Development Representative candidates (full-time) for Summer 2023!
Where can we go to learn more?