Athlete Network has scored a slam dunk with a $2 million seed round raise.
The Lenexa-based firm that created a social network for athletes announced Thursday it had closed its first funding round after bootstrapping for two years, Athlete Network CEO Chris Smith said. The platform aims “to keep athletes competing in life” by enabling users to network with other athletes, read specialized content and find careers with companies that embrace the athletic mindset.
“We had some pretty large deals happen with companies that gave us the confidence that now was the time to really go after this,” Smith said. “It was the momentum plus the acceptance of a lot of different associations, employers and partners that we felt the window of opportunity to get going was now.”
Smith declined to disclose investors in the round, but said the capital will go toward developing the platform’s software and hiring additional personnel. The firm hopes the funds will help it grow from 200,000 users to two million in the next three years. The network’s roster includes athletes ranging from the casual volleyball player to four-time NBA champion Shaquille O’Neal.
Joining the network will not automatically give fans a direct line of communication with athletic legends like O’Neal, Jerry Rice or Warren Moon — who are also network members. Rather, high-profile athletes must follow regular users back before they are able to talk. Athlete Network creates connections between users with similar competitive backgrounds, current athletic endeavors and professional careers, Smith said.
The raise came just in time, as Smith said the company is experiencing growing pains from expanding its user base more than 500 percent since the platform launched in January of 2015. The potential market is huge, he added, with more than 300 million people who identify themselves as competitive athletes globally — and Athlete Network wants to reach all of them.
The playbook for the platform came about as a result of Smith’s own experiences as a collegiate athlete. Smith played Division I Football for the University of Hawaii and Missouri State University.
“Being an athlete my whole life and playing collegiate football — it’s part of who I am,” Smith said. “I started noticing how valuable being networked with the right people was, how intense I was. If you’ve been a competitive athlete, it’s very hard for you to even play a board game. It’s hard for you at the company picnics to play volleyball because you want to win. If you’re with people who aren’t like that, you can rub them the wrong way. I saw how there was a need to aggregate the athletic community to accelerate their goals both professionally and athletically.”
In addition to networking with one another, athletes can also connect with the platform’s employer partners — among them Enterprise, Johnson & Johnson and Charles Schwab.