Co-founders Shannon Ferguson and Kris McCarthy met while they were working for a minor pro hockey team in Eastern Ontario. Both have an extensive marketing and sales background and so, the pair quickly revamped the team’s image together. It was when they were having trouble selling sponsorships in a jaded town, they decided to start FanSaves, a way to solve their pain point. They realized how beneficial FanSaves could be to all sports teams and so have made it their mission to help teams increase their sponsorship sales with their platform. Hover is proud to interview these awesome founders, and winners of our Fireside Conference Contest, for our Being your own Boss series!
FanSaves is a digital platform that helps increase sponsorship sales and visibility for junior and professional sports teams while growing fan engagement 365 days a year. Our app gives businesses who sponsor sports teams a way to track their return on investment and gain valuable customer insights by allowing them to offer discounts and deals to fans. FanSaves offers fans discounts and deals from the businesses that sponsor their favorite teams. For example, if your favorite pizza place is a sponsor of your local sports team, fans can receive a discount from that pizza place simply by downloading the free app and following their local team. Fans can scroll through and receive deals from any teams that are featured on our FanSaves app. FanSaves is the first platform that connects fans to sponsors and teams across all professional and junior sports, all divisions and all leagues.
What gets you out of bed every morning and how do you start your day?
We are lucky to live and work in a great place on the water so each morning we start our day by sitting out on our deck and going over our to-do lists for the day.
We are so grateful that we can wake up and prepare for our day on our own terms and frankly, this is what helps to get us out of bed every morning. Remembering working for other people and the rush in the morning, trying to get ready quickly, sitting in traffic and stressing about not getting to the office on time is something we never want to go back to. We believe we have become better, less stressed human beings than we were before because we literally get to enjoy our mornings and start our days off on the right foot.
What are the things people don’t think about when considering running their own business?
I think that a lot of people think it’s much easier than it is because the hardships are never really shown or magnified. A lot also changed for us when we decided to go all in, which meant taking that risky step of not always knowing where the next dollar is coming from. Running your own business takes an incredible about of faith and believing that your hard work will pay off. It’s about not getting discouraged when things don’t necessarily go as planned and not giving up even on the hardest days. Because the good moments, the amazing milestones and the exciting achievements will always be worth the hard days that came before them.
What were the first steps you took to launch this initiative off the ground?
We started meeting with people who had built apps before since that was the one part of our business that we didn’t have any experience in. We then used our extensive marketing and sales backgrounds to create a website, secure our domains and social media accounts, and create our logo and branding. Once we had that, we felt more like a real company even though we didn’t incorporate until four months later.
How did you build FanSaves?
We were lucky to both be working for minor professional hockey teams and we had the opportunity to pilot our app in both teams and throughout two cities. We knew this window was what we needed to be able to see how FanSaves would fair and it proved to be a great asset. Our connections and experience in the industry and our knack at being resourceful has been the greatest builder of FanSaves.
What has been the highest contributor to FanSaves success thus far?
Our passion and hustle have been the highest contributor to FanSaves because we are always working hard to ensure our business is successful. We never say no to a meeting or gaining a new mentor, we listen to people’s advice and we apply it to our plan. Working late hours, passing on bar nights and staying humble throughout it all has helped turn our team of two into a solid pair of hustlers.
Why did you want to launch this initiative/what inspired you?
We knew there was a gap in the sports sponsorship industry in which businesses were shying away from sponsoring teams because they had no way to track their ROI or gain valuable customer insights. We wanted to create something that would make it easier for salespeople like us to sell sponsorships and so in solving our own pain point, FanSaves was born.
Who was key to your success along the way?
We’ve been so lucky to have amazing help from our families and friends. We are grateful that we are surrounded by people who believe in us and our vision and we are lucky that they help any way they can. From helping cover some monthly expenses during rough patches to feeding us home-cooked meals and wine, our success has been possible because of their help.
What is something you learned after running the first bit of running your company that made you pivot or change?
We have pivoted many things since the beginning from the redemption model in the app to important features that will soon be added. These are things we learned during our beta testing that have helped us greatly improve as we move into a complete redesign of our app, set for unveiling at the beginning of October.
What is the most difficult aspect of running FanSaves?
Realizing that things almost always seem to take more time. Losing a day when you’re a first-to-market app is like losing a month so it can get frustrating when things put us behind but for some reason it always ends up working out which is a good thing in the end.
What is the most rewarding aspect of running FanSaves?
Seeing how big our business can actually become and getting amazing encouragement from highly respected business people. It’s an amazing thing to be taken seriously and it’s even cooler when people can see our vision and they tell us we’re onto something.
What was your goal when starting FanSaves and how has the evolved over time?
Our goal was to help sports teams increase their sponsorship sales by offering fans discounts and deals from the businesses that sponsor their favorite teams. This remains our main goal and target market but we have seen the bigger possibilities that are possible, as well.
Who have you connected with thanks to FanSaves that has had a lasting impact on you?
We have connected with so many incredible people since beginning our FanSaves journey, it would seriously be impossible to name just one who has had an impact on us because it seems as though anyone who gets to knows us and our business helps us in some way.
Can you discuss a time where a project or person encouraged you to keep going?
Startup life is a rollercoaster and there are some days that are harder than others. We try to surround ourselves only with people who encourage us and believe in us so that it makes the hard days worth it and the good days even better.
Can you discuss an opportunity you’ve been able to do, thanks to running FanSaves?
We love that we’ve been able to meet so many people in the sports industry and we look forward to growing that network. Being able to see FanSaves on rink boards or on scoreboards at sporting events is also a really cool opportunity.
What about Hover ties well into FanSaves?
Hover and FanSaves are both tech-related and the culture at Hover is very forward-thinking, just like it is at FanSaves. We love what Hover has to offer businesses like ours and how they can really help to grow a startup.
Why is the Fireside Conference exciting to you?
We have been dreaming about Fireside Conference since we first heard about it in March! The atmosphere looks amazing; unplugged and in nature, camping and learning beside the fire with like-minded people and influencers is the coolest thing we’ve ever heard of.
What do you hope to gain from the Fireside Conference?
We hope to meet really cool people, learn how to grow (not only as a business but as people) and make connections that will last a lifetime!
Which accomplishment are you most proud of/which is your favorite and why?
Taking the leap to go all-in with FanSaves has been the scariest and most exciting thing we have both done but we have accomplished so much since making that decision. From refining our pitches at Pitchfests to most recently getting out business accepted in the Telfer Executive MBA program, to meeting wonderful people turned advisors who believe in us, our hustle is our accomplishment that we are the proudest of.
What is the number one step a person can take to get their own company off the ground?
As Nike has said for years… Just Do It! So many people wait around for the perfect time, planning and planning but never actually following through. If you want to get your company off the ground… ignore your doubts and bulldoze into your dreams headfirst.
What was a skill you had to pick up fast and are proud you learned in order to launch FanSaves yourself?
Learning about apps and coding and app development is something we had no clue about at the beginning! We still aren’t coders by all means but we can definitely have more in-depth conversations about what exactly we want and what we’re looking for in our app and development.
Quick: name one (business, marketing, dev, anything) tool you can’t live without!
What do you wish everyone knew about running their own company?
Most people who run companies learn as they go and most of us fully admit to not knowing many things along the way. You can prepare your whole life to run a business and still have no clue what you’re doing once it happens in real life. Just go with the flow and be open to learning new things every day.
What is your favorite thing to do to relax and step away from the stress?
Everyone once in a while, when we don’t have a meeting or anything urgent to do on a Sunday, we won’t set our alarms and we wake up when we wake up. That extra bit of sleep and just lying in bed is so necessary to help us recharge our batteries. We also like to watch Big Brother so we make it a point to put down our work for an hour, three nights a week and unwind.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve given or received?
Kris: “Sometimes you need to fail to succeed.”
Shannon: “My Mom would always remind me “One day at a time” and I think that is such great advice, especially in the world of business when everything is always moving so fast. My Mom passed away in 2015 and I have a card she once gave me with a note from her and that advice. It sits on my desk and motivates me every day.”