This interview is presented to you by the University of Nebraska — Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration.
By: Joe Londergan, @Joehio_
ReplyBuy is fundamentally changing the sports and entertainment landscape with a new form of convenience, simplicity and kind of instant gratification craved by today’s consumers. An idea conceived by CEO and Founder Josh Manley, ReplyBuy works with global ticketing companies, teams, venues and universities to act as a personal concierge for fans across the country when special or exclusive opportunities become available. Fans receive real-time personalized notifications based on their preferences and simply reply to a quick text message to complete their mobile checkout. It works on any mobile device with no additional apps to download, links to click or extra steps required.
We had the chance to chat with ReplyBuy’s Senior VP of Partnerships and Strategy Brandon O’Halloran about what’s next for the award winning startup as well as his own personal sports business journey.
An Omaha native, O’Halloran graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with his bachelor’s in business administration. As an undergrad, O’Halloran received his formal introduction to the sports business working as a student manager for the Huskers’ men’s basketball program with dreams of eventually becoming a coach.
“I think the biggest thing that I took away from my time coaching was understanding how to motivate and manage people, which translates over to the business world as well as leadership in general. It’s all about bringing people together to achieve a common goal.”
“It was definitely eye opening as a freshman in college seeing what a big business major college sports are. College athletics involves numerous different moving parts to put on the big show. Learning how to organize all of this so that everything is operating efficiently was critical in my first role. The biggest thing that I take from that experience in coaching over to my work at ReplyBuy is developing people and relationships. It’s extremely gratifying to see someone grow to take their game to the next level in whatever their chosen profession may be.”
After his time as a Husker, O’Halloran attended graduate school at Benedictine College in Kansas, where he earned his master’s in business administration while working as a graduate assistant coach with Benedictine’s basketball program. While he enjoyed being around the game he loves and working with student-athletes, O’Halloran decided to utilize his skill set in business after becoming uncomfortable with the uncertainty that comes with the life of a coach.
“With any startup company, you really have to be focused and find a strong product market fit. You can’t try and boil the ocean, so to speak. ”
Inspired by his parents, who are small business owners, O’Halloran’s next move landed him a role as a senior account executive for marketing services provider Infogroup in Omaha. In a twist of fate, this opportunity ended up leading him back into the sports world through an introduction to ReplyBuy Founder Josh Manley.
“Infogroup hadn’t been focusing on sports and entertainment much as a vertical, so when I started I saw an opportunity to focus on an industry that I’m passionate about and was untapped at the time. My conversations with sports teams revolved around data hygiene, analytics, direct marketing and paid social campaigns. All these things that are becoming increasingly relevant and more important in the sports industry over the last few years. After a couple years, I had built up a pretty good book of business there and had been working with a lot of teams.”
“I actually wound up meeting the CEO of ReplyBuy at the SEAT Conference in the summer of 2014 while working at Infogroup. It’s funny how it all worked out. My first client at Infogroup was the New York Yankees and I was going to meet with them at SEAT for a quick drink and they asked me if the ReplyBuy guys could join. I said, ‘Sure, the more the merrier.’ So we sit down and start talking. At that point, ReplyBuy had the core technology built out with some world-class customers in beta including American Airlines, MGM Resorts International, Cirque du Soleil, 1–800-Flowers, Discovery Channel and others.”
However, post beta testing in various different markets their founder seemed focused on value creation within the sports and entertainment industry by working with large partners to deliver a strong product market fit.
“When I started they had already signed the Brooklyn Nets, Detroit Pistons and Arizona Coyotes, but were looking for someone to come in and really own that piece of the business. I just loved the opportunity of helping to build up a market from the ground floor, and the fact it was sports and entertainment made it a home run in my mind. Not long after that conference I found myself moving from Omaha, Nebraska to Scottsdale, Arizona to start with ReplyBuy in October of that year.”
It’s been just over two years since O’Halloran joined the ReplyBuy team and their client list of professional teams, college athletic departments and venues has grown to over 100+ entities. In ReplyBuy’s short existence, the company has demonstrated exponential growth resulting from the hard work of a tremendous team.
“Josh is a serial entrepreneur with a firm understanding of the e-commerce and payments space with several other companies before ReplyBuy. He wanted his next company to be something completely unique which combined mobile transactions, messaging and digital payments.”
“We’ve made it very effective from a consumer perspective, but a lot went into developing our solution. What the consumer sees is a small fraction of our suite of backend capability. Our technology is agnostic in the sense that you could have formally introduced it to a number of different industries. Even just staying within the realm of sports, the technology could be used to sell merchandise, concessions, parking and a number of other value added services. There’s a lot of different use cases for how it could be applied, but with any startup company, you really have to be focused and find a strong product market fit. You can’t try and boil the ocean, so to speak. I think that’s why we’ve had a lot of success. Fans love the simplicity and for teams it’s a low maintenance, high value solution to sell tickets, especially in that last 48 to 72 hour window before a game.”
ReplyBuy’s success has resulted in a nomination for the “Best in Mobile Fan Experience” award from the Sports Business Awards, along with nods in the “Move to Mobile” and “Product Innovation” categories at the Ticketing Technology Awards. The biggest obstacle on the road to that success, according to O’Halloran, has been separating themselves from the numerous other companies trying to get the attention of potential clients.
“When you look at sports teams, these executives are getting their door knocked on constantly by tons of different companies trying to break into the industry. The key is showcasing why you’re different, why your product is something they should pay attention to, which usually comes through building up credibility in the industry. However, the largest component is value creation and driving revenue. The nice thing about this industry is word travels fast, good or bad.”
“We’ve been fortunate that many of our early teams that came on board with us, like the Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets, and the Arizona Coyotes, went out and spread the word about how we were contributing to their efforts with single game tickets in a positive way. The sports industry is like nothing I’ve ever seen with how often best practices and information is shared between counterparts at other organizations. We’ve leveraged the success we’ve shown selling tickets and relationships we’ve built to continually grow a larger presence in the industry.”
Moving forward, O’Halloran sees ReplyBuy’s potential for growth and improvement by improving on the things they have done well traditionally as well as expanding into some new territory.
“There is still so much opportunity out there for us. We work with about half the NBA, about a third of the NHL, 30+ major universities and a handful of NFL and MLS teams. But we certainly want to continue to gain a bigger market share within the industry. I think that’s our core focus, along with taking our relationships with teams to another level. We’ve seen an amazing amount of growth from teams who came on in our early stages. So that’s important to us to keep working with our teams and help them grow what they’re currently doing.”
“Additionally, we just announced our new ReplyBuy.ai product which is bringing Artificial Intelligence to the sports and entertainment industry. The AI is a VIP concierge service that will make it even easier for fans to get their tickets to major events. Instead of just receiving messages when tickets are available, fans will now be able to send a message with a request to buy tickets for whichever event they want. This capability will be able to be leveraged through multiple different channels such as SMS, Facebook Messenger and IoT devices like Amazon Echo.”
On the personal side, there’s always something great about sports professionals who genuinely appreciate how fortunate they are to be where they are. Thankfully, O’Halloran falls into that category and finds himself thankful for every day he gets to do work with ReplyBuy.
“If you think about it, there’s a million things you could be doing for work. But I get to talk to sports teams about helping them sell tickets. It’s something that I’m passionate about and it’s fun. When I get out of bed in the morning, I’m excited to come to work. My brain is already churning, thinking about the meetings that I have that day and how we can continue to grow the business in new ways. The biggest thing with sports is if you’re a fan, no other industry is going to make you want to get out of bed and go to work the way this one does.”
Through his experiences in college athletics and with a game changing startup, Brandon O’Halloran has learned a key piece of wisdom that can serve all aspiring entrepreneurs: it’s all about the people you have alongside you.
“Surround yourself with great people. Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. Diversity and having people with different skill sets is incredibly important, especially at the onset. I think the biggest reason that I came to work for ReplyBuy was that I believed in our CEO and I believed in our CTO. Both have very different personalities and different skill sets, but I believed in them. It was a bit of a leap of faith, but in any startup scenario, you’re going to have to take one of those. You may think an idea is great, but you need the people to execute it.”
Joe Londergan is Master’s of Sport Administration and Leadership candidate at Seattle University with sports marketing and operations experience at the high school, college, and professional levels. Joe graduated from the University of Louisville in 2014 majoring in communications with a minor in sport administration. Joe is an Ohio native with a passion for sports, business, and early 2000’s R&B.