"I’m drawn to a challenge and tend to thrive a bit in chaos. As companies scale, much of the work becomes about process and optimization, but in the early days, there’s no playbook."
Bryan Goodwin is the Co-Founder, President and CRO of TorchPro, a sports media company changing the way world-class athletes and fans interact, digitally, creating more authentic and deeper relationships between athletes and fans. He joined the company in January 2021 to lead its next chapter of growth. A seasoned early-stage startup executive, Bryan was the first employee at FlipKey.com (acquired by Tripadvisor) and a founding executive at Drizly.com (acquired for $1.1 billion by Uber). He has invested in and or advised more than 25 startups, including Breezeway.io, YORK Athletics Mfg., Confirm.io (acquired by Facebook), Willie’s Superbrew, Mayflower, EverybodyFights ROCK, and Mezcal Rosaluna.
Q: You have an established track record of helping to accelerate sales and revenue generation for internet marketplace companies as the first employee at FlipKey.com and later as a founding executive at Drizly.com. What is it about these types of companies that you find most intriguing?
A: I’ve always been drawn to early-stage startups. I love starting at the beginning, being part of the journey and seeing where it ends up. These companies also had a vision that I believed in and I was given the opportunity to help shape the course of their trajectories. Getting in at the early phases of a company allows you to be part of the testing, learning and growing, and help to define the products and services.
I’m also drawn to a challenge and tend to thrive a bit in chaos. As companies scale, much of the work becomes about process and optimization, but in the early days, there’s no playbook — it needs to be written. Rarely, the finished product is exactly how you saw it playing out at the start, which is part of the fun.
Lastly, to join a company at this stage, you must believe in and trust the people. It’s important to envision yourself working with founders and early employees through the good and the bad, because both are inevitable. It’s easy to get along when everything is working — but when shit gets hard, that’s when the true colors come out!
Q: You were a key player in two major acquisitions — FlipKey.com by Tripadvisor and Drizly.com by Uber. As someone who was instrumental in developing the original vision and growth strategy for the acquired companies, what did you find to be the greatest challenge, and the greatest lesson, going through the sale process?
A: The greatest challenge through both the sales process and business, in general, is always the people.
Once you establish the prioritization of what the company needs to continue toward the vision, the imperative next step is to find the right people to make that vision a reality. Being aware of your weaknesses and finding teammates who have strengths in those areas to accomplish goals is a must. Talent and A-players matter, but trust and clarity of competencies and roles also matter because without them, winning is very hard.
From an acquisition/exit standpoint, it’s a matter of finding the right partners (investors and acquiring company) that align with the mission and vision of the company. Early-stage companies are agile, innovative and can move very quickly. Finding other companies that align with your mission, vision and values, and can see a future where 1+1=3, is the ultimate goal.
The greatest lesson is to stick with it, stay the course and be consistent. Times will require slight variations of the course, and that’s normal, but the North Star should remain the same and it’s critical to continue to march toward it through all the ups and downs. Don’t let the highs get too high and the lows get too low. Be persistent and consistent with pursuit of the mission. Play the long game.
Q: You’re a few months into your new role at TorchPro. What was it that drew you to the company (and did your experience playing D1 ice hockey at Bentley play a role)?
A: The same thing that drew me to FlipKey and Drizly — the vision of the company and the people behind it. Without those two things, it’s impossible for me to really get on-board.
More than anything, it was through my early interactions with Matt Fornataro and Joe Pavelski where I immediately felt I could trust them. I believed in their vision, was confident I could add value and very importantly, I knew I could have fun along the way. Similarly, when I met Danny, Noah and their company, Morning Blitz, I was certain the combination of what is now TorchPro and Morning Blitz was an interesting entry point into an evolving sports media landscape. We clarified the vision a bit and it was clear this was the right “next” opportunity for me.
The fact that Kompany39 (the predecessor to the TorchPro brand) got its start in hockey certainly didn’t hurt and was a selling point, but if the vision wasn’t bigger than just hockey, I don’t think I would have joined. “Inspiring Greatness” and changing the way athletes, fans and brands interact digitally is bigger than a single sport. Part of the attraction to the business of TorchPro is that the vision is so much broader than just the sport of hockey. What TorchPro is doing can transcend the boundaries of just hockey, as athletes and fans of any sport can benefit from our platform.
Q: What are your key focus areas for the TorchPro platform for 2021?
A: The key focus is on the athletes. We want to prove the athlete model is not only sustainable but also that it can work. Another key focus is to continue showing the value TorchPro brings to these athletes by connecting them with brands, engaging their fans in a new way and helping them authentically share their stories to build their digital brand and benefit them in the future.
We’ve proven brands are interested in connecting when athletes are on-board, and we know consumers love the interaction and types of content our athletes provide, so the big focus for us is showing athletes the value in what we can bring to them.
Q: What are your aspirations for the company over the next few years?
A: The aspirations are the same as day one — Inspire Greatness and change the way athletes, fans and brands interact, digitally. Whether that’s encouraging the next generation of athletes to be even better than they were before, inspiring the average consumer to better themselves and feel more connected to the games and players they love or empowering athletes to share their stories and grow their brands.
We also want to empower athletes who historically have less opportunity. A good example is women’s hockey. We’re committed to giving these women the chance to share their stories more effectively, grow their voices and empower the next generation. Every athlete has their own brand — while they may not be LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Tom Brady or Serena Williams, they all have an audience and more reach than they may realize. Our mission is to connect athletes of all sports to their fans and brand partners in a new way.
Q: How do you see York Creative Collective playing a role in achieving those objectives?
A: First off, York Creative Collective has already been an invaluable asset to our team at TorchPro by providing services and resources that are extremely valuable but often difficult to find, hire for and prioritize at an early stage. The design work, creative, strategy, performance marketing and even production has been heavily influenced by the YCC team, with GYK Antler’s creative services at the core of the ecosystem. As we move forward, being part of YCC will only help TorchPro continue to improve and deliver a better experience to anyone interacting with us and our athletes.
On top of the services, it’s an incredible benefit to have access to the experiences of the senior leadership team at YCC. Experience isn’t something that can be taught, so having this group of individual leaders as a resource to leverage for growth advice, to use as a sounding board for ideas and feedback and to access for overall guidance is unbelievable. With this type of support system behind you, it’s impossible to feel like you can’t succeed.
Partnering with YCC has already been an amazing experience and we’re looking forward to continuing the work in the future.