Cory Yates, Co-founder & CEO at Recruiting Analytics LLC, is a passion-driven entrepreneur motivated by innovative problem-solving.
He is the Co-founder & CEO of Recruiting Analytics, a sports tech and data company that is reinventing how the sports industry identifies and evaluates talent in order to achieve a 99.9% hit rate by 2050.
Follow Recruiting Analytics on Twitter.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- Use case of data analytics in sports
- Evolution of player tracking data in player evaluations
- The role of player tracking data for fan engagement
- Using performance data to predict future NFL players
- Some sports teams slow to adopt player tracking data
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:08] Welcome back to the Startup Showdown podcast, where we discuss pitching, funding and scaling startups. Join us as we interview winners, mentors and judges of the monthly 120,000 pitch competition powered by Panoramic Ventures. We also discuss the latest updates in software Web three, health care, tech, fintech and more. Now sit tight as we interview our guest and explore their journey through entrepreneurship.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:45] Lee Kantor here another episode of Startup Showdown, and this is going to be a good one. But before we get too far into things, it’s important to recognize panoramic ventures. Without them, we couldn’t be sharing these important stories. Today on the show, we have Corey Yates and he is with Recruiting Analytics. Welcome, Corey.
Cory Yates: [00:01:04] Good afternoon. Thanks for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:06] Well, I am so excited to hear about record recruiting analytics. I know you’re a recent winner at Startup Showdown at ATL in Atlanta. Talk about recruiting analytics. How are you serving folks?
Cory Yates: [00:01:21] Yeah. So we essentially are a sports technology and data company that analyzes video to measure athleticism, and we help coaches evaluate players more effectively.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:34] So what’s your backstory? How did you get involved in this line of work?
Cory Yates: [00:01:39] So essentially it started at 2019 is when when I founded the company and the company was inspired by the recruiting process that my son was going through at the time. And what I quickly realized was that the recruiting process for college football players or for high school players entering college had not changed since I was being recruited in the early nineties. It was subjective and it lacked data and there was very little technology involved in evaluating players and then also identifying players. So I felt that there was an opportunity there to fill a fill a need as it relates to leveraging technology and integrating data into the recruiting process. And that’s really what the inspiration was.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:29] So what’s your back story in terms of your technical background to kind of connect the dots between the data and the physical activity that’s being done that can be measured?
Cory Yates: [00:02:40] Yeah, sure. So my background, I spent 20 years in corporate America as a merchandizing, merchandizing executive running various businesses from consumer electronics to exterior paint to in-stock kitchens. And so as my role as a merchandizing executive, we used data and analytics in our decision making process. And so that’s that’s in my DNA. And what I quickly learned in 2019 was that there was just a lack of performance data that was being utilized to evaluate players. And that particular void led me to say, Hey, listen, why couldn’t we bring to the table new athleticism data to help these coaches not only identify players, but also to evaluate them accurately in a way that is consistent with how they traditionally measure athleticism, which is through the use of video. So what our technology does is we extract new athleticism data from video, and we serve that up to college coaches again to help them make informed, data driven decisions about the players ability to play at the next level.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:04] So when you were younger and growing up, you participated in athletics at a high level? I’m taking it.
Cory Yates: [00:04:11] Yeah. So aside from my 20 year stint in corporate America, I’m a former collegiate football player. I played at a small Division two program, so I was lightly recruited. I was one of those those players that had the ability to play at the collegiate level, but was lightly recruited primarily because of lack of awareness. So I walked on, had an opportunity to earn a scholarship, became a starter, and then after my playing days, went right into coaching. And so I coached at the collegiate level before I went into corporate America. So recruiting analytics is a perfect blend of my passion and experience as a former player, coach, parent and mentor as it relates to the recruiting process with my business analytics experience.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:03] Now, when you were in your kind of corporate job, where you still involved in athletics, were you like, you know, coaching or you were doing something on the side as maybe just for fun or still involved in sports? Or did you kind of pause for that period of time and really lean into your kind of work? And then just, you know, this all came back together when your kid was going through your process and the and then that kind of, you know, said, Hey, maybe I can make a business out of this.
Cory Yates: [00:05:31] Yeah, that’s a great question. You know, I stayed close to the sport even throughout my tenure as a corporate executive. So I did volunteer coaching at the youth level. I was a community coach at the high school level throughout those 20 years. I also am a board member of a nonprofit organization by the name of I Dare You, which is an organization based here in Atlanta, Georgia, that mentors and trains high school student athletes to help them achieve their goal of playing college football on scholarship. So far, it’s been a part of that program. We’ve helped over 300 student athletes earn athletic scholarships. So again, throughout that 20 years, I’ve been very close to the sport of football and very close to the recruiting process.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:27] Now, because of that, do you think that that really helped galvanize your thinking when it came to democratizing this kind of information? Because a lot of people. I would imagine, are not recruited because of maybe bias, maybe it’s subconscious bias, but they’re not being seen. But if you can give people a metric that matters or analytics that they can get behind, that kind of takes some of the subjectivity out of the process and it’ll give them a better outcome, which I think that’s what everybody would like at the end of the day.
Cory Yates: [00:07:02] Absolutely. Yeah. So, I mean, I’ve experienced kids who I know from experience, personal experience, having played and coached that had the talent to play on Saturday, but they could not get the traction from a recruiter because the big question was either lack of size or there is a speed deficiency. And so what we’re able to do is we’re able to verify these athletes play speed. So instead of relying on the 40 yard dash or maybe even 100 meter time, we’re able to verify how fast a player is in the context of a live game. And we serve that that unit of measure up in terms of miles per hour. And then we contextualize that that MPH data point to coaches by showing them where these athletes fall as it relates to their place B relative to their percentile. And so not only do they get the raw data in terms of the max speed miles per hour, but then they we also provide context in terms of where they fall from a percentile perspective among their peers.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:21] And that’s that’s the kind of the ironic part about this. Right. A lot of the way that they’re capturing data, they’re having the player do drills that aren’t really, you know, true football moves like a 40 yard dash. How often is a player running 40 yards, you know, without being touched in the in space? And how how useful is that information in a game when the person has to get off the line of scrimmage and make a move, you know, in a step or two.
Cory Yates: [00:08:53] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if you think about how college programs measure athleticism and even to even at the NFL level to a large extent. But there are three basic tools, what I call the big three, the scale, the tape measure, and the stopwatch. Those three tools, if you think about if you go all the way back to the early 1900s, that those are the tools that are used to measure athleticism. And guess what? Lead today, those are the same three tools that are being used to measure athleticism. And so if you think about innovation and what’s change among those three things, that much is changed. But the athlete has changed over the years. Right. If you think about it, six, four, £200 athlete in the early 1900s, that athlete was typically the biggest and slowest player on an NFL team and played offense. Block. Well, today, an athlete that size. Metcalf Right. He is. Those athletes are now some of the biggest but also fastest and most athletic players on the field. So that’s how the athlete is evolved. The tools to measure that athleticism hasn’t evolved, and that’s where recruiting analytics comes into play because we’re able to unlock athletic data from video and help coaches understand, Hey.
Cory Yates: [00:10:17] I know how fast this kid plays because I have his miles per hour metric. I know what his max speed is. I know how quickly this receiver can get in and out of his brakes because I’ve got his transition time. And so we’re able to provide all of the ways that coaches would typically measure athleticism at a combined setting. A 40 yard dash. We have miles per hour max speed. Ten yard split. We have time to match speed. So we’re giving the coaches data that tells them how quickly they get up to Mach speed in a combined setting. They would typically use the shuttle or the three cone drill to predict their change of direction. Well, we take that guesswork out because we’re measuring transition time again. How quickly can that rod receiver get in and out of his brakes? How quickly does that defensive back get out of his break? So those are the some of the metrics that we’re able to provide to these coaches that, again, takes the guesswork out where they don’t have to rely on a combine or a drill to try to project if that’s going to translate to on the field.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:30] Now, does those kind of metrics translate into the ability to predict whether they’re going to be successful or not? Or is this just something that gives you a way to measure everybody so that everybody is kind of you’re able to look at everybody kind of equally?
Cory Yates: [00:11:47] Yeah, both. So so what it allows us to do is allows us to educate the coaches from a comp standpoint, right? So they can, they can take the 15 receivers that they’re considering. We can rack and stack those 15 receivers based on the some of the metrics that I mentioned, we even have position specific metrics like yards of separation so they can do it, do that from a perspective. But then we’re also able to project players their ability to the next level. And the way we’re able to do that is our technology. We’re able to reverse engineer successful players, so we’re able to take an NFL player or a collegiate player that had success and were able to break down his high school film and measure his athletic performance. And therein that allows us to create performance thresholds by which we measure the prospects against.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:47] So. So you’re able to give whoever this is, whether it’s a college recruiter or high school, I guess it could even trickle down to high school recruiting, college recruiting, even professional at this point, or you’re just targeting college.
Cory Yates: [00:13:01] Right. So the application is is. Level agnostic, meaning we can actually use this at the NFL level, the collegiate level and even high school level. And so right now we’re targeting college football programs, so we’re building a robust database around high school players. So that way, again, they can help we can help them identify and evaluate talent more effectively and efficiently. And then that data base will eventually be extremely valuable to NFL teams, because guess what? As they do their background checks and as they do their due diligence on draft prospects, one of the things that we know that they’re very interested in is they want to understand that that draft prospect’s athletic background. And so that’s where our tracking data, our high school tracking data, is going to be extremely valuable to NFL teams in that regard.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:03] Now, you mentioned that kind of the catalyst of the idea was when your kid was going through this process and you’re like, man, this hasn’t changed since I was a kid. When did you kind of feel the same way when it comes to getting traction for the for your company? So did something happen early on? You know, going from the idea of this could work to. Okay, now we have something. Let me see if the real world or the market is ready for this kind of solution.
Cory Yates: [00:14:33] Yeah, I would say that there were kind of two, two moments, right? So the first came in August of 2019 where I went to the Player Personnel Symposium, which is the industry conference, where all of the player evaluation executives attend mostly college, a few NFL and a few high school player executives, player personnel executives attend this conference. And so what I did was at that time we were still in customer discovery mode. So we had already talked to about 150 coaches about this concept of utilizing tracking data to help measure athleticism. And then we had wireframes of what this would look like in terms of a platform. And so I showed this wireframe to Drew Hughes, who is who at that time was the director of player personnel for the University of Tennessee, who is now a scout with the Jacksonville Jaguars. I showed him the wireframes and said, hey, what do you what do you think about this? Can you give me some feedback? I just need 2 minutes of your time. So that 2 minutes turned into 40 minutes. And then at the conclusion of the discussion, he wanted to fly us over to Knoxville and meet with Coach Pruitt, who was the head coach at the time. And I had to press pause and said, Wait a second, Drew. These are just wireframes. This is not this is this does not exist. We haven’t even developed an MVP yet. And so he said, well, let me tell you something. You guys are sitting on $1,000,000 idea if you guys can make this a reality. So at that point, we decided to make make the investment ourselves, Fonzo and my co-founder Alfonso Thurman.
Cory Yates: [00:16:23] We decided to make the investment ourselves. And then fast forward a few months later, we did our we launched our MVP at the AFC, the American Football Coaches Association. We launched it there in January of 2020 and again was met with tremendous positivity as it received extremely well. And what we did not what we did not anticipate was the appetite for this data to be consumed by high school programs. And so we had several high school coaches come by our booth and they wanted to know, hey, what’s what’s this buzz? What’s this here? Recruiting, analytics. You guys are able to measure speed, you know, show me. I want to see the demo. And first couple of times we kind of turned it and I was like, well, you know, this is kind of for college coaches, not necessarily high school coaches, and we continue to get interest from that space. And so we said, hey, well, help me understand what where do you see the value? How can we add value to their program? And I said we’d love it because it helps us do a few things. One, it’s a good benchmark to see how well our strength and conditioning program is working. Two, it helps us kind of level set expectation with both the athletes and the families, and help helps them focus their efforts and energy on what level that they potentially can play at on Saturdays, so that when they make their college tour schedule, they’re focusing on on the schools that are the best fit for them athletically.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:06] And this goes to the importance of this customer discovery phase of a startup. You learn some things that you probably didn’t anticipate learning, huh?
Cory Yates: [00:18:16] Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. So. So that was a good thing. It was a great learning for us. You know, we continue to learn. I really we pride ourselves on having a culture of curiosity. So we’re always challenging ourselves and asking, what if? And that’s the only way we can continue to innovate and stay ahead of our competition.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:39] Now, as part of this startup journey, what has been the most rewarding part? Are you still working at your kind of corporate job, or are you kind of putting all the chips on the table for recruiting an analytics, recruiting, analytics.
Cory Yates: [00:18:54] We jumped in feet first and in July 2019. So July of 2019, I left corporate America after several years. And thank goodness I have a beautiful wife who supported the decision because obviously when you get into the startup space, it’s it’s a risky proposition. Right. And this is before COVID. So probably had I had been if I was privy to what was around the corner, I probably wouldn’t have made the leap of faith. But nonetheless, it was a good, good decision. We’ve we’ve got some really good traction, not only at the high school level and the collegiate level, but we’re now getting attention and inquiries at the NFL level. And it’s been all organic. We haven’t we haven’t done any marketing and advertising just yet. It’s all been through word of mouth and the buzz that we’ve been able to create through social media.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:56] Now, talk a little bit about your co-founder. How did you find your co-founder and how do your skills complement each other?
Cory Yates: [00:20:04] Yeah, sure. So Alfonzo Thurman and I, we met in 2005, so he and I both were recruited into a merchandizing leadership program here in Atlanta for for Home Depot. And that’s how he and I met. So we’ve known each other for several years now. We have similar backgrounds. He, too, is a former collegiate player. He played a Division one ball at Indiana University, was an All-Big ten linebacker, and even had the opportunity to play professionally in the CFL before he went out into corporate America. So he had a little bit more of a runway as it relates to playing playing the sport of football than I did. But but that’s his background from a sports standpoint. And then corporately, once he retired from football, he went into consumer packaged goods. And so he spent time as in the in the consumer packaged goods space at P&G and then also category management for for a grocery chain out in the West Coast before he eventually came over to to Home Depot. So his background is similar to mine. When we were both merchandizing executives, he ran very different businesses that required different decision trees as it relates to the products and services that we’re bringing to market. He likes to say he was in the sexy world of plumbing and repair as opposed to to my world of decor and paint.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:42] But both of you are kind of big believers in analytics, so that that’s where that comes together.
Cory Yates: [00:21:48] Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, everything we did as it relates to running those businesses, we it was it was all it was. It was data driven. Right. I mean, from our pricing strategy to how we to our our logistics strategy to product placement, the whole the whole line. So from concept to commercialization, every step of the way, we leveraged data to make sure that when we did launch a new product or service, that it was supported and rooted in data to make us successful so that we can kind of continue to take market share in the space, in the home improvement space at that particular time. And so that same that same strategy is kind of kind of how we operate today.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:41] Now, how did you hear about Startup Showdown and Panoramic Ventures?
Cory Yates: [00:22:46] All right. So I just heard about it through through his he had a he had a I think he had a former because he’s a he’s a two time father. I’m a I’m a first time father. And so someone that recommended to Alfonzo that we should look into this start up showdown and think about applying. And so we went for it. We had not participated in any pitch competition, so it was our first rodeo and it was a great experience.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:18] So what did you learn from going through that process? I mean, because that becomes a, you know, a job by itself doing those preparation for those pitch contests.
Cory Yates: [00:23:28] Yeah. So listen, I mean, we we learned how to succinctly state what it is that we do and do it in such a way that that if you’re not close to the space, you have a general understanding of who we are and what we do. So that was kind of point one and I think point to we we learned how to better articulate the opportunities in the marketplace so that the mentors that helped us prepare for the big event were fantastic. They gave us a ton of feedback that resonated and constructive feedback that was spot on that we thought to kind of help us crystallize how to better articulate our go to market strategy.
Lee Kantor: [00:24:16] Now, as part of any startup, there’s going to be some adapting to change and chaos. Have you had to do any kind of pivot or any type of shift in the either the thinking, the marketing, the appropriate customer? And if so, share how that came about and how you were able to kind of weather that storm?
Cory Yates: [00:24:39] Absolutely. So I think the 2020. Right, I think that’s the year of pivot is probably how I would describe it. So for us, we were building a platform and we were building tech at the same time. And so what we what we ended up having to do once, once COVID and the pandemic negatively impacted the budgets, the athletic budgets, I mean, these budgets were slashed. Close to 50% in some cases. And so and then there was uncertainty about when those budgets would go back to 2019 levels. And so what we had to do, because at that time, we we had onboarded or generated our first sale is we had to make a strategic decision on how we wanted to continue to invest in the company. And so what we weren’t going to do is we weren’t going to stop investing in the company, even even during the pandemic. So we made a strategic decision to shift our capital from the platform to the tech right. And we said, let’s place our bet on the tech and let’s continue to refine, improve the tech because it’s going to pay dividends once we come out of the pandemic. And that would that would give us a tremendous amount of tailwind to go into 2021. And that, fortunately, paid dividends for us. So by leaving it to the technology, pressing pause for now on the platform changed how we service and help our customers. So instead of instead of a subscription based model, we have a consultative service model whereby we help these coaches. They provide us their list of players that they want the player tracking data on, and we provide them with that service that way, as opposed to them subscribing to our platform, logging on and accessing the data. They provide us the list of names and then we perform our magic from there.
Lee Kantor: [00:26:58] Now, you mentioned earlier that one of the benefits of being part of the startup shutdown was access to these mentors. Can you talk about if there has been any other mentors in the you know, in this while you’ve been going through this adventure and or have there been any startup founders that are out there that in your ecosystem that’s helped inspire you or maybe at least bounce some ideas off of to help you get to a new level?
Cory Yates: [00:27:26] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, so first foremost, we’ve got a strong advisory board. So Dr. David Hahn, who heads up the School of Engineering at the University of Arizona, he’s a phenomenal advisor, my whole career who heads up the Sports Analytics Department at Texas A&M. He’s an industry thought leader in the computer vision space and the sports analytics space. He’s been a great partner and advisor. So without those two, we wouldn’t be where we are. And then we’ve also had a number of other folks who have helped us along the way. I mentioned Drew Hughes, who even after we met initially in August of 2019, we continued to leverage his expertize to make sure that we’re we’re thinking about certain metrics the right way and that they have value. We’ve also reached out to other startups that are in a similar space as ours. Mark branched out of tracking football. He’s been a great supporter. Craig Ridley Ridley of Route Analytics. He’s been a great supporter. And so, you know, those folks have also kind of helped us navigate the landscape of the college football space. And so for that, we’re thankful.
Lee Kantor: [00:28:47] Now as the leader of this organization, what’s your superpower? What is it about you or what is it that you bring to the table that’s going to make this company a success?
Cory Yates: [00:28:59] Innovation. So I would say that I’ve got a proven track record for driving innovation, and we’re going to continue to drive innovation and stay ahead of our competition.
Lee Kantor: [00:29:11] Now. Do you have any advice for other startup founders about launching, about, you know, just what? You would tell them if you were in their shoes of just you know, they haven’t pulled the trigger yet, but they’re thinking about it.
Cory Yates: [00:29:27] Pull the trigger. Be bold about it. If you’re passionate about it, you’re going to find success. That’s that’s worked for us. We found our passion and we’ve married our passion with our experience and expertize. And it’s been a perfect blend. But if you’ve got a passion for it, pull the trigger. You won’t regret it. There’s so much there’s so many resources out there that you can leverage and lean on to help you navigate this whole entrepreneurial landscape. Because, again, this is this is our first time I’ve been an entrepreneur but haven’t been an entrepreneur. So certainly leveraging resources and asking folks questions to help navigate some of the landmines that are out there now.
Lee Kantor: [00:30:14] What do you need more of? How can we help?
Cory Yates: [00:30:18] Spread the word. You know, I think we are certainly one of the things that we learn to talk about learning and startups and customer discovery. One of the things that we were also surprised about is just the the appetite to consume our data from a fan engagement standpoint. So we’ve got this vision of, hey, we want to make sure we help these coaches evaluate players more accurately. But at the same time, when we’re receiving this information on social media, we are getting tremendous amount of engagement around our data. And so what we quickly learned was these fans have a tremendous appetite to consume because they want to they want to be educated on on what it is that they’re that they’re watching. You think about the fantasy sports and the sports betting space, right. That is growing at a tremendous rate. And so these fans are wanting as much information as possible to get educated on the game, to get educated on the player so that they can make educated decisions around whether it’s fantasy or or legalized sports betting. And so that’s where we have a tremendous amount of opportunity to continue to grow the company and generate revenue from that particular channel.
Lee Kantor: [00:31:44] Well, Corey, congratulations on all the success. If somebody wants to connect with you or learn more about your company, can you share the website?
Cory Yates: [00:31:56] Sure. So our website is recruiting dash analytics dot com. You can follow us on Twitter. Our Twitter handle is at RS in Red As and Apple Analytics. There you can actually see on our Twitter handle our technology in action and you can see some of the some of the process videos and the data that we serve up that’s driving a lot of buzz in the marketplace.
Lee Kantor: [00:32:25] Good stuff. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Cory Yates: [00:32:30] Thanks a lot for having me. Take care.
Lee Kantor: [00:32:32] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on Startup Showdown.
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