A unique opportunity to blend business and computer science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln intrigued John Wirtz from Blue Springs, Mo.; Brian Kaiser from Overland Park, Kan.; and David Graff from Omaha, Neb. When the three students collaborated at the Jeffrey S. Raikes School, the result was Hudl, a company founded to help teams win. Today, more than 11,000 high schools, 2,000 youth teams, 800 colleges (including 80 division I teams), 10 NFL teams, eight NHL teams and one NBA team benefit.
Hudl CEO David Graff said, “All three of us had an interest in entrepreneurship so we talked to Jeff Raikes (namesake for the Raikes School and CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) about a class project that involved 3D, video game-style simulation for football players.”
Graff worked for the athletic department and was familiar with the football team and their processes. His boss, Bill Callahan, was head coach of the Husker football team at the time.
“We quickly realized that the bigger opportunity existed around developing ways to share the game, practice and opponent scout video. With Brian leading the way from a technical standpoint, we worked together to build a prototype to show Callahan and his staff. The strong initial reactions led us to build a business around the idea,” said Wirtz, chief product officer.
Hudl Founders Visit Raikes School
It was February 2006 when Callahan viewed the program, and he wanted it for the spring football season, which was a month away.
“The prototype was a lot more smoke and mirrors than Coach Callahan realized at the time, but we agreed that if the Nebraska football staff would work with us the next season and give us access to their players and coaches for feedback, we would devote ourselves full time to building a solution for the Huskers once we graduated in May,” said Kaiser, chief technological officer.
They made good on their word and the company, which started with three employees, now has almost 70. They recently acquired two competitors, APEX this summer and Digital Sports Video a year prior. The online video analysis and coaching tools now provide a way for athletes to showcase their accomplishments through highlight tools and profile pages. College tools are also available to help them with the recruiting process.
“We were really lucky that the three of us have skills and interests that complement each other well. Each of us were willing to fill whatever role was needed. We have never had any big conflicts and we have a tight knit team at Hudl,” Kaiser said.
They call their staff Hudlies and offer unique benefits, such as providing each staff member with $250 to donate to the charity of their choice. They also print pink Hudl shirts each October to support the fight against breast cancer for coaches to purchase and all proceeds go to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
The founders, who were recently featured in Businessweek, all live downtown near each other, but spend their free time in different ways. Graff tracked silverback gorillas in Uganda last spring and has been to five of seven continents. Wirtz enjoys wakeboarding and spending time with his wife, Ella, who started her own software company; and Kaiser, who is married to UNL admissions staff member Tabitha, likes to golf and work on computer coding for side projects.
“I spent a good amount of time at CBA my last two undergraduate years and then for most of my MBA classes,” Graff said.
Wirtz also earned his MBA and said he particularly enjoyed his finance classes.
“Professor Kathy Farrell always stood out as a fantastic professor at CBA. She made finance approachable for the entire class and connected it to the business world every day, so I could see how this was going to impact the way I would run a business and my own personal investments,” Wirtz said.
Graff added that Raikes School Design Studio provided an incredible opportunity to work on a real world project with an actual company.
“It was invaluable going into the startup world with a solid foundation for what makes good companies tick. We were able to bootstrap the company with cash we won from business plan competitions around the U.S. and that was due to our education at the College of Business Administration,” Wirtz said.