Startland News and the Kansas City Star have partnered to publish content as part of the Star’s new special section, “Spirit.” This story was originally published in the Star’s Sept. 18 Sunday edition.
Kansas City doesn’t need an NBA team for it to stand out in the world of basketball.
Working with partners like Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson and coaches like Bill Self and John Calipari, tech firm ShotTracker makes plenty of headlines with its wearable device.
And behind the tech is cosmopolitan co-founder Davyeon Ross, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, who travels the globe from the company’s Overland Park offices to help expand the startup.
For its first product, the company developed a wearable device for an individual basketball player. The device has three pieces — a wrist sensor, net sensor and mobile app — that track shot attempts, makes and misses.
The second iteration of the product can be used by entire teams to capture the same shooting metrics in real time. The firm partnered with sporting equipment giant Spalding to implant sensors into basketballs that interact with sensors on the court and on a player’s shoes.
We visited Ross at his office and found plenty of evidence of how his world travels intersected with the company’s growth.
Handmade ceramic figurines
When hopping from startup to startup, at least two things have remained consistent for Ross: Belarusian techies Michail and Igor. The trio met while working at a Silicon Valley-based tech consultancy before moving on to work on Ross’ first tech venture, Digital Sports Ventures. Despite the 5,100 miles in between, they’ve remained together for a decade — albeit it largely a virtual relationship — now focusing on ShotTracker.
As tokens of their friendship, Michail and Igor gave Ross two handmade figurines — a bearded chap toting treasure — from their native Belarus. The curios remind Ross of the distance his friendships and career have spanned.
12-year Macallan scotch
The summits and lowlands of owning a business often call for the strongest of hooch. From landing a big client to missing a deadline, the volatility of entrepreneurship is enough for anyone to reach for the bottle.
But far from swill is Ross’ peaty potable: 12-year-old, single malt Macallan scotch whisky. With aromatics of vanilla, ginger and ethanol, the golden serum serves a soothing treat or a mending elixir.
Save the ice, though, Ross likes it neat.
“There are times when you need to hit something,” he said. “It’s for the good and hard times. … Tears of joy and tears of sadness.”
ShotTracker team photo
On the court and in business, the tendency is to never stop. But as Ross now knows, reflection is an important step in the journey of a fledgling firm.
With the ShotTracker team at his side, this framed, memento captured the moment after Ross and his co-founder Bruce Ianni sealed the first shipping box on their wearable device. The package, which was sent to a kiddo in Seattle, represented years of toiling.
“I thought, ‘Damn, we did it,’ ” Ross recalled. “I thought through all the times where we didn’t think we’d do it. … When you work so hard on a project and take it from a piece of paper to shipping out a project, it’s a critical milestone.”
ShotTracker Versions 1 and 2
The vision Ross has for ShotTracker lies conveniently at his fingertips in the form of a chipboard the size of your thumb. Next to it is the device from which the company derives. And both serve as reminders for Ross.
ShotTracker version 1 — a three-piece wearable system with a net sensor, wrist sensor and app for individual players — remains plugged in for his basketball drills of at least 300 shots per week.
ShotTracker version 2 — a team-oriented device that uses in-court sensors, shoe sensors and a sensor in basketballs — reminds him that there’s more work to do.
“It shows where we’ve come from,” Ross said. “Version 2 hasn’t been commercialized yet, but they’re a reminder where we’ve come from and where we’re going.”
‘Fieldhouse’ by Scott Novosel
A former member of Trinidad and Tobago’s national basketball team, Ross said determination has been a central tenet of his work ethic. And although that conviction has now transitioned from sport to business, it still can stand occasional reinvigoration.
That’s why Ross leaves a copy of his friend’s book at his desk to remind him that resilience is what enables success.
“Fieldhouse” is the story of Scott Novosel’s repeated attempts to land a spot on the storied University of Kansas basketball team. After three failed attempts, Novosel eventually earned a walk-spot for the Jayhawks squad in the mid-1990s.
“Although it’s a children’s book, there are times in entrepreneurship where you need inspiration, and sometimes your co-founder isn’t there to pull you up,” Ross said. “It’s nice to keep things around that can give you a taste of inspiration.”