A company that started in Eau Claire, Wis., TSTMedia, has moved to the Twin Cities to capitalize on the talent pool, venture capital and (I assume) the balmy winter weather and to get faster access to Minnov8.
Seriously, this company has a uniquely strong value proposition that has already put it on the map in Eau Claire and in several markets where organizations have adopted its offerings for mission-critical sports websites.
Founded in 2004, TSTMedia started off as a web development shop but focused its efforts around the sports passions of college buddies and co-founders Justin Kaufenberg (CEO) and Carson Kipfer (COO). Quickly, they identified that the sports niche was woefully underserved and filled with group and collaboration needs not being addressed in the marketplace.
They began moving forward with Team Sport Technologies, building out sports-specific web applications. The applications enabled amateur sports organizations to efficiently manage a website with little or no previous technical knowledge. TST Media, under the Team Sport Technologies brand, then released a complete roster of sports-specific products for hockey, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, baseball, softball, football, volleyball, swimming and others.
The websites they built and delivered for sports clients included a combination of online tools (registration, interactive multi-team calendars, highly sophisticated statistic engines, etc.) that made publishing website content, sharing information and communicating with members extremely easy.
This year, they combined their Ruby on Rails experience, knowledge of the sports domain — and the engine they’d already created to make it brain-dead-simple for non-technical users to deliver a great team or organization website — and consolidated their products and features into a single platform called NGIN.
Justin graciously carved out time on two different occasions to talk with me about their NGIN platform, the market spaces they’re addressing, and the venture capital they just raised. He even walked me through the backend administration interface for an hour, showing me how easy it is to setup and run an NGIN created site.
To say I was impressed is a gross understatement, and I’m a guy not easily enthused by tools like this one, especially after spending four years of my life at the content management systems company Vignette and as a power user of Drupal, Joomla and WordPress. I’ve also examined nearly every CMS commercial and open source package on the planet. Besides that, in my spare time I’ve analyzed far too many hosted web applications that purport to be perfectly positioned for affinity groups, teams or organizations … but usually they are square-pegs-in-a-round-hole requiring huge workarounds to be usable.
What impressed me? There are so many pieces and parts to the system that blew me away, but here are just a handful:
· Very fast setup. All the baseline required elements are in place ready to be added, subtracted or modified by the user.
· Easy site manipulation, with features such as inline editing of content and an innovative “admin/user ‘switch,’ ” which shows incredible attention to detail and usability.
· Fluid layout and a page hierarchy feature that makes it simple to make wholesale structure changes to the website.
· Superb calendar functions.
· Social media aspects.
· Member management, the lifeblood of these sports organizations, that was easy to use and manage.
· Volunteer management, another key need since harnessing the interest, and willingness to participate, by parents and family members in the sports organization is an imperative.
One aspect that intrigued me was the positioning of NGIN. As Justin and I talked, it became increasingly clear to me how TST is sitting on a major opportunity to verticalize their solution (which is obviously what they’re doing and likely the basis for VC investment). He and I kicked around ideas of the kinds of organizations that require the capabilities — modified somewhat, of course — that they’ve already built for sports organizations. We talked about a half-dozen — it’s that obvious an opportunity.
Their engine (NGIN) solution goes beyond what others deliver, that’s for sure. But their challenge is moving beyond the sports-oriented domain expertise they own, knowledge that would need to be translated to other market segments. Can they do it?
I’d say “yes,” judging by how they’ve already executed and by their experience creating and shipping a highly robust engine. I also want to mention was that I was impressed by how much Justin and team “get it.” Every overt and covert query I made while we talked on those two separate occasions (e.g., What about sharing calendars and microformats? What about leveraging web services and widgets?) were answered with aplomb, honesty and with enough information that I learned they’re on top of their game. I’m sure that we’ve seen just a bit of NGIN’s potential and that we’ll hear a lot about TSTMedia going forward.