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Hudl CTO Brian Kaiser Discusses Leadership, Future of Tech in Starters AMA

As part of a live AMA, Hudl co-founder and acting CTO Brian Kaiser answered questions from the Starters community – a collection of thought leaders, experts and influencers in the #sportstech and #sportsbiz industries. 

The world of sports technology is flush with leaders and experts from across the globe all seeking to transform the industry for the better. Starters – an online community of sports fanatics and tech enthusiasts – fosters conversations between these like-minded industry experts by presenting the most prevalent topics.

One way Starters connects their members with high-profile professionals is to host AMAs (Ask Me Anything) featuring top-level executives and industry leaders. The AMAs are open exclusively to members of the Starters Slack community and conducted in a conversational question-and-answer format. 

Most recently, Hudl co-founder and acting CTO Brian Kaiser was invited to take part in a Starters AMA where he discussed everything from the company’s history to managing a team composed of remote employees. 

Here are the highlights from September’s AMA.

"In your own words (as if addressing a CEO or BoD), what does a CTO do and what is their responsibility?" – JR Charles, CEO of ParOneTV

First, I think it really depends on the size of the company. When Hudl was young it was about being a peer with my co-founders, balancing tradeoffs, and ultimately building a great product. Now it is much more about leading (through example whenever possible), mentoring, and making sure the foundations of our tech are build to the best of my ability.

"What's been the coolest part of building Hudl as a company? What new things are you guys working on right now?" – Keirsten Sires, Founder of Locker Room Talk

For me it is the people. I know that is super cheesy, but it is the truth. When we started Hudl I really didn't imagine I would be able to work with a group like this. People that really push me to be better. I'm very proud of our growth and the impact we've had on sports, but it is just the beginning (for Hudl and sports tech in general) so I know we have a long ways to go.

There are so many cool things we are working on – from pretty aggressive international expansion, to in-game live video for coaches, to pretty advanced neural networks for discovering underlying tendencies in player movement in soccer.

"What are some of the benefits and challenges of managing a distributed team?" – John Potter, Co-Creator of Starters & Founder of Sportd.com

Managing a distributed team can be tough, honestly. Your hours get extended through the day and sometimes there is no replacement for face-to-face time. I spend the majority of my day on Skype/Hangout/etc., but it's worth it. We are able to get the best people at what they do, regardless of location, and there are some very talented people that working from home (or another location) is a huge perk to them – and we can attract them to Hudl. 

"Could you have ever imagined your job being what it is today? What do you like least about your current position? Day-to-day tasks or other things you didn't necessarily 'sign up' for?" – Troy Ruediger, Co-Creator of Starters

I definitely never imagined it like this. Honestly, I never really thought about Hudl as a 'long term' play. I think I was just naive coming out of college, but I'm so glad it worked out this way. How lucky am I that I am still in a job i love after 10 years - pretty crazy.

What do I like least? That is tough. I wish I could do even more development than I'm able to currently. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the travel. There are a bunch of day-to-day tasks that aren't super fun like budgeting, interviews, etc., but I don't mind any of those too much.

"How was Hudl seen by investors at the beginning?" – Khalil Zahar, Founder and CEO of Hykso

I think we were pretty lucky, honestly. Our first round was done by a local Nebraska angel group and while I think they saw the value in Hudl, I think they also just wanted to be involved in sports tech because football is so huge in Lincoln (hopefully they don't regret it!). We also had paying customers before our first raise, so I think that presented us as more stable than many Series A companies. 

We hadn't gotten to profitability by our second raise – in fact things weren't going great on the sales side – so I think at that point the investors really needed to buy into the three of us and a larger vision, which luckily they did.

"As you were growing, what was a tough period of time that you now look back upon and see a ton of growth and learning from?" – Curt Baker, Co-Founder of Tap In Design

"So many. These last 1-2 years have been very trying because we have been growing so quickly, and in areas outside my comfort zone (non-tech in many cases). Our head count has increased dramatically. The business is more complex. More moving parts. More offices. More everything. But we feel like this is necessary to get where we want to be in another 10 years.

"What issues/thoughts keep you awake at night?" – Edgar Walker, Co-Founder & CEO of Surge4 Marketing

Haha. Not much since I love sleep. But truthfully a lot. I want to make sure as we expand, especially internationally, that we maintain our culture and our high level of support. We take that very serious internally and both aren't something you can force. They have to be nurtured organically and by example, which gets tougher with acquisitions and scale. 

"Please tell us more about the frontier tech Hudl is working on, what does the future look like for not only Hudl, but the sports tech industry as a whole?" – Troy Ruediger 

That is such a fun question, and you know I love talking about it. Some things are pretty obvious - delayed data (post-game) is going to become less relevant. The trend is certainly to real time, and while the basic stats are still fundamental (down, distance, run/pass, formation, etc..) and still very important, there will be a next tier of data available to teams that the best coaches will be able to leverage to a huge advantage. The challenge emerging isn't getting the data, it is understanding the data and being able to make timely, informed decisions

Data like player positional data is a great example. Knowing the positions and movement of soccer players by itself provides some value, but honestly minimal in my mind. But really understanding weaknesses in motion and how subtle shifts are effecting the game (live in-game) changes everything.

"Do you think that being a sports city like Lincoln gave Hudl an advantage? What can we take away from this for sports tech in Kansas City?" – Ilya Tabakh, Edge Up Sports

I definitely think so. We have amazing community support in Lincoln and that can't be understated. From original investors, to advisers, to even things like business loans, Lincoln is very supportive of us. I think their love of sports definitely contributes to that.

I think KC is the same way. (I am actually from KC)

As a community we have a huge advantage – people love sports. Use that to your advantage in regards to fundraising and advisers.

"Many of us are building sports tech companies, so one of the big questions is what is Hudl looking for in terms of partners or acquisition targets? How does Hudl decide when to acquire a company or when to build the technology yourself?" – John Potter

That is a good but complicated question. Certainly one requirement is it aligns with our vision and fills a gap in our skill set/market/talent. Culture fit is huge for us. We've thoroughly vetted every company before an acquisition to make sure it won't 'sink' the company after the integration.

Partnerships are tough for us because we would like to think we are going to take over the world. 

But seriously, we've done a number (of acquisitions) but it is often tough to find a relationship that is truly mutually beneficial. Often it is a non-financial partnership –co-marketing, integration, etc.

"We have a ton of people in the community who are building companies, looking for funding, trying to acquire more users, etc. All the stresses that come along with building a company and trying to 'take over the world'. With all of your success there has to be some insight you can provide on balancing maintaining your sanity and continuing to grow your business?" – Troy Ruediger

You bet. I have a great support system around me, and that is first and foremost. People I trust and they trust me, and they give it to me straight. From my family, to wife, to biz partners, to everyone at Hudl, honestly. Second - take vacation. It can be tough when you are grinding, but it's important. I don't completely disconnect when I'm gone, but I mostly do. And I take several weeks a year.

"Any last words you can leave us with as we go out and try to shape the future of sports?" – Troy Ruediger

I'm not known for my last words, but maybe something like "Go dominate".  

Interested in having Brian Kaiser or any of the Hudl founders take part in your next speaking engagement? Send all inquiries to press@hudl.com.

To learn more about the Starters community, visit their website.

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