The idea for a new company came to Austin Barone while he was a kicker for the Kansas Jayhawks football team: Instead of lugging these 3 inch-thick playbooks around campus, why not find a way to put them on smartphones, where players’ eyes are glued anyway?
In 2014, Barone launched Just Play Sports Solutions while he was still a student at the University of Kansas School of Business studying finance and accounting. The company would developed a mobile application that would take what coaches once put down on paper — reams of paper — and convert it into a digital format that they could beam to their players on their smartphones or tablets.
The idea was to streamline the information coaches deliver to their players: scouting reports, game plans, player analytics and videos and more.
“You’ve got an older generation of coaches that are more accustomed to doing things on paper,” Barone said. “They’re teaching a younger generation that wants nothing to do with paper. Kids these days live and breathe on mobile devices.”
In January 2015, Just Play Sports launched a program tailored to football, a sport whose strategic complexity is evident in playbooks that, in paper form, run into the hundreds of pages.
“It’s essentially a college textbook,” Barone said.
A year later, Just Play Sports launched another application for basketball.
Barone, who co-founded the company with former Sony Pictures Entertainment web developer Andy Wachter, has seen the appeal for his product grow.
Barone said he now has 200 clients, ranging from high school athletics programs, to college sports teams like his alma mater and the University of Arizona, to teams with the Women’s National Basketball Association.
The small world of collegiate and professional sports coaching has helped spread the word about Just Play Sports.
“We’re at a really fun inflection point in our company,” Barone said. “There’s less education we have to do. More coaches are coming up to us and saying they’ve heard great things, tell me more. It’s a little easier to make a sale when someone is coming in warm rather than calling someone cold.”
One of those coaches is Seth Minter, associate head coach for the University of Western Illinois women’s basketball program.
“It’s been a great, great tool, and I definitely would say it contributed to our success,” he said in a written statement. “It’s reassuring because I don’t really have the doubts anymore of knowing if they’re prepared or not. I know they are because I’ve seen the results. To me it’s just a no-brainer to use this.”
Barone started the company in Lawrence but is in the midst of relocating it to the Startup Village in Kansas City, Kan.
“The startup ecosystem in Kansas City is really important,” Barone said.
Among the members of the company’s advisory board are Jonathan Baum, CEO of George K. Baum & Co., Uber executive Brian McClendon and Wallace Meyer Jr., director of entrepreneurship programs at the University of Kansas.
While the company’s product is currently confined to football and basketball, Barone has his eyes on widening the application to other sports.
“Our whole mentality is we want to help coaches prepare,” he said.