FAME Incubator's SoccerGrlProbs Growing Bigger
It started out just for fun.
That’s how the founders of SoccerGrlProbs LLC described their first venture in the summer of 2011 – a series of playful tweets about being female soccer players. All then Fairfield University undergraduates Carly Beyar ’14, Shannon Fay ’14, and Alanna Locast ’12 intended to do was make their Fairfield University women’s soccer teammates laugh.
By the end of the first week, the Long Island, N.Y. natives had 100 followers. “We were just tweeting, saying funny things, hashtagging ‘soccer girl problems,’ ” said Beyar, 22, who like Fay and Locast settled in Fairfield since graduating. “We were inspired by everyone’s complaints (about practice sessions, smelly soccer gear and weight training). We soon had all these followers. We don’t know how it happened. I guess someone told a friend who told another friend.”
The spot-on tweets resonated in the soccer world, a small one, according to the trio. Two weeks later, @SoccerGrlProbs had 500 followers.
Hilarious rants about the life of being a female athlete continued and their Twitter audience grew, with many fans suggesting SoccerGrlProbs branch off in a new direction. Enter the world of YouTube videos, a format the telegenic women are naturals for. Shot with an iPad and a camera, their first short about stuff soccer players say had a million views in three days. Many funny videos made since feature fellow Stags. “Just like that first one, we have no idea what we’re going to say sometimes and then we start filming and laugh and ruin the video,” said Fay, 22, who majored in communication and minored in psychology at Fairfield.
The former Division I athletes responded to their fan base yet again. This time, they made t-shirts, complete with messages they coined. Their first shirt, emblazoned with the slogan: ‘I can't, I have soccer,’ sold out its 100 units in just days, with hundreds more order requests waiting. With the wherewithal spirit of budding entrepreneurs, the women were inspired to come up with more ideas for other gear like the big sellers ‘It’s not sacrifice if you love what you’re doing,’ and an inaugural ‘SoccerMomProbs’ shirt that reads: “I can’t, I have to drive my daughter to practice.”
What has happened in the three years since those tweets, videos, and t-shirts is something the SoccerGrl team never could have envisioned – they’ve become stars online and in person (and even attracted a long line of fans at a game in Hartford between the United States women’s national soccer team and France.)
Their social media accounts have gone viral in the international soccer community. The YouTube audience has now swelled to over 50,000 subscribers and seven million views on their YouTube page. They have 68,000 Instagram followers and 47,300 Vine followers.
The SoccerGrl team now sees their apparel – shirts, sweatpants, hoodies – as a means of unifying soccer players around the world, complete with inspirational quotes, comedic language or unique graphics.
Moreover, Beyar, Fay, and Locast realized they have the potential to do with their lives what many only dream of: do what they love for a living. Their devoted and growing audience has given them the confidence to work at it full-time, and make SoccerGrlProbs a limited liability company – its sales so far have been $390,117, with more than $65,000 in revenue coming in December 2013.
Guiding the company’s growth as a lifestyle brand is the Fairfield University Accelerator and Mentoring Enterprise (FAME), a business incubator that is collaboration between Fairfield University, the Town of Fairfield Economic Development Department and Kleban Properties. The women learned about it from Casey Timmeny, director of Fairfield University’s Media Center, after filming an episode of Stags Country. An effort to nurture start-ups, FAME aims to offer innovators the tools they need – from guidance to funding to prime downtown office space behind the Fairfield University Bookstore – to turn their ideas for promising new products, companies and technologies into realities.
FAME’s Post Road office has become the office of SoccerGrlProbs, which suit the women just fine. Chris L. Huntley, Ph.D., of the Dolan School of Business, and Diane Salerno, FAME project manager, are among the company's mentors.
“SoccerGrlProbs is a great fit with our growing business accelerator. We’ve connected this enterprise with faculty mentors, such as Dr. Huntley, and experts in accounting and legal issues,” said Donald Gibson, Ph.D., dean of the Dolan School. “We hope to be helpful to meeting their goals. But the really important element is that this is a cool business. It resonates with athletes who just happen to be girls.”
Dr. Huntley said the company is just an extension of who they are. “You can't help but be happy when you hang out with them,” he said. “So, lots of people hang out with them over Twitter and on YouTube.”
“It was never about money,” noted Locast, 24, who majored in biology. “It was about relating to people and they relating to us.”
The SoccerGrl team generally puts in six to seven hour workdays at FAME, strengthening their online shop and learning about important skills like Photoshop and marketing. “Now that we are part of the FAME program, there are a lot of people around us with knowledge about efficiency and how to get things done,” said Fay.
“FAME makes us feel more comfortable and I’m feeling that now we can make it a really big company,” said Beyar, who was a communication major and studio art minor.
SoccerGrlProbs just signed with a company called FullScreen, Inc., called "the first media company for the connected generation." Headquartered in Los Angeles, the company unites premier online talent and the world’s leading brands with 500 million subscribers.
Also, SoccerGrls just “unlocked the NYC YouTube Space.” “This means we have access to their space that includes different filming sets, workshops, cameras, equipment, editing rooms... We plan to utilize this space as much as we can to better our video quality and channel,” said Fay.
Its Twitter following continues to grow. Gatorade is one as are pro soccer players and Olympic gold medalists Sydney Leroux and Alex Morgan. (Leroux was sent a special breast cancer awareness sports bra created by the SoccerGrls and she posted a picture of it on her personal media page.) Among the organizations that have tweeted to SoccerGrlProbs have been TopDrawerSoccer.com and the Boston Breakers, a professional women’s team.
Meanwhile, middle school and high school girls all over the country are followers too, and the young entrepreneurs have found a new calling with SoccerGrlProbs. That is, they see the company as a way to build community and encourage the well-being and positive self-image of young female athletes everywhere. It is that aspect of their company that they want to foster, and they are brainstorming on ways to do so like hosting youth clinics. Their web site now has categories on fitness and food.
“What they really want to do is right there in the SoccerGrlProbs name,” said Dr. Huntley, associate professor of information systems and operations management. “They want to make the lives of young people better, to make the ‘probs’ go away for a little while. That's about a lot more than selling t-shirts. So, the goal is to build a sustainable ‘lifestyle brand’ around healthy living, having fun together, and building community. Expect them to spend more time doing nonprofit work after the World Cup next summer.
“Maybe in five years they could be to soccer what Livestrong has been to endurance sports,” Huntley added.
“We’re kind of amazed that we could have a positive impact on young girls by just being ourselves – we are not trying to tell them to fit into a mold that society has come up with,” said Fay.
Locast emphasized, “We are just saying be authentic, and this [online] community we created is hopefully giving them the confidence to do just that.”
Beyar agrees. “And although we have similarities, we have differences too. This is what is cool too – we’re all different pieces of the puzzle. We all can bring something to the table, as if to say being different is ok. Hopefully, girls can look to us and get that message.”