Welcome to the Founders Series. Here, we’ll bring you interviews from startups and companies working inside The Cannon. First up: GameDay Films.
Founded in 2015, GameDay Films is a sports filming and film production company based in Houston, Texas. They specialize in youth sports, giving coaches and players teaching and learning tools, and parents a new way to watch their children play. I sat down with Jorge Ortiz, GameDay’s CEO, to talk about corner offices, wrangling wild freelancers, and everything in between.
EF: First off, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?
JO: Full name: Jorge Ivan Ortiz Marialena. I was born in Mexico, Chihuahua, and moved to Houston after First grade. Had to repeat a grade to learn the language which set me back a year. I’ve been a Houstonian my whole life until I packed my bags for the University of Texas. I spent four years there and booked it back. I’ve been here ever since.
EF: I hear you traded penny stocks in college.
JO: Yea we traded penny stocks, we did Forex. Me and a buddy of mine started a little mini-fund – non-accredited of course – but did a lot of studying when it came to the Series 65, the Series 7, a lot of the stuff you actually have to use to get accredited. We worked out of a shop called Kershner Trading Group where one of my mentors started way back when, and they would let us do everything from Forex to commodities to penny stocks, etc. It was a lot of fun, I learned a lot about finance, technical trading and everything that goes into the fundamentals of a business model.
EF: You’re obviously a multi-talented guy, how did you get into GameDay Films?
JO: So right out of school I started my professional career in oil and gas on the logistics side. I worked for a company called PLS Logistics, where we basically helped transport everything from the actual hard commodity, to all the bits and pieces that go into an oil rig, and everything in between. I was the only one in the office who spoke Spanish, and Pemex, Mexico’s big nationalized oil and gas company, was going private so they were selling assets like crazy. It opened up this opportunity for people to go down there to acquire things at pennies on the dollar.
It was a lot of fun for the two-and-a-half years I spent there, but it started getting very bureaucratic because the mothership of the company was looking to go public. They started bringing in a lot of people from headquarters, there was a lot of red tape around the things I was used to doing every day. I had to get permission to do everything from using the bathroom to doing the everyday things I was good at. It put a bad taste in my mouth in regards to the corporate world and a lot of the stuff that develops from a big company. I got fed-up and walked away from it without having an external plan.
I knew I had enough experience under my belt where my next move could be something I wanted to really sink my teeth into and actually enjoy. I did a passion project with one of my good friends, founder and CEO of The Cannon, Lawson Gow. We started a non-profit called SillyBox where we took the monthly subscription-box model and applied it to charitable giving. That was a lot of fun and opened up my eyes to the 501 (c)3 side of things in which you apply a very similar business model but you’re not making a profit.
From there I started coaching in a couple of youth football leagues. Football has always been a passion of mine and I had the time on my hands. I met a couple of our board members through coaching. I didn’t know a lot of their backgrounds so it was kind of like interviewing without knowing it. We saw this incredible opportunity when it came to the capturing of sports media. A topic that kept coming up was the organization of industries. Asking the question: What’s next? Taking the social factor of a community coming together to help each other achieve something whether that’s delivering food, dry cleaning, pet walking, or in our case media. It’s something that we kept coming back to because it was something we were utilizing on a day-to-day basis as coaches. We were looking at the footage and it was a pain in the behind to go and hire someone or have a parent volunteer for it.
We had that eureka moment an individual was doing something in a very small scale in a similar way to what we were expecting from the start of the business. One of our chief board members, Mark Toon, looked at the business, saw value in it, and decided to acquire some of the assets because of the contracts they had. Out of the blue, I get a phone call to have lunch with Mark. Not having much else on my plate, I took the lunch and got offered the opportunity to come help them run this idea they had before the existence of the business. From there I hit the ground running. I learned everything from the delivery to the applications that could be utilized to facilitate efficiency. Now we have been around for around two years and are closing in on filming our 10,000th game.
EF: What are some challenges you faced as a young, growing company?
JO: Oh man, where do I start? (laughs) A lot of the stuff you go through as a young company are things you never expected to see. You put together a business plan, everything looks pretty, but the contingencies are endless and you don’t foresee a lot of them. You can’t be prepared for a lot of the stuff you see on a day-to-day basis. That’s why a lot of startups pivot and so many end up dying. Right when we started up GameDay Films, we had problems with everything from the internet to the location. Our original spot was a little two-bedroom, small office shack-like area. We would have internet outages all the time even though we live online.
One of the worst days we had- when we realized we probably need to move out of here- was when our AC went out. We started to smell smoke, went out to the back, and our AC vent had caught on fire. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I brought the board together and we decided to make a move. We got a massive upgrade after that, moving into the old BHP building in the galleria area, 1330 Post Oak, which was too much rich mahogany for a startup taste. You can’t complain about a corner office in a place like that.
But the laundry list goes on and on. You find out a lot about yourself when you’re at the helm and trying to push something forward while wrangling different individuals and motivating them in their own specific way to work together towards this common goal. There are so many different personalities, especially when you’re talking about something like we do: utilizing a hybrid Uber model with freelancers (hundreds of them) to help you execute the job. I’ve seen a million and a half personalities, so the human factor is probably the hardest thing to come to terms with. Sometimes you’re not going to be able to control some individuals, the motivation factors are completely different…
EF: Who’s going to wake up on a Saturday morning and go film?
JO: Exactly! But it’s been a lot of fun and the growing pains have been absolutely worth it. That’s not to say we have it completely figured out but we’re taking it one day at a time.
EF: I hear you’re going international.
JO: Yea! So with The Front Row, a new technology that we are currently developing and launching at the beginning of 2018 and throughout Q1, we have plans to go down south to our neighbors in Mexico. I think there’s a lot of potential with us bringing our business model down there because something like this doesn’t exist even though the culture exists for it. They’re significantly passionate about their sports at all levels, whether it’s two 6 year old soccer teams (or futbol teams) playing against each other, or their equivalent of NCAA or professional teams. The passion is there, the money is there, there just hasn’t been an American company that’s gone down there to implement a lot of this stuff. Some of our competitors on the technology side don’t exist, so I’d love to be the first market mover.
You’re looking at currency exchanges, multiple languages, the way you implement things, the way the culture will accept or not accept what you’re bringing to the table, and how to approach it. They take things so seriously over there to where companies will sponsor youth teams just because they want their name brand everywhere. They don’t do that here. We just started that in the NBA recently with the small logo. There’s a lot of things where we’ve had to bring in some consultants that have the know-how of the culture and the industries down there. Obviously I know the culture and the language, but not in the same way where I’d be able to walk in a board room and immediately understand what everyone’s talking about. There’s been a learning curve, but our game plan is to launch Monterrey GameDay Films in Q1, and The Front Row nationally right after that.
EF: Tell me about The Front Row.
JO: The Front Row is our newest toy in the shop. It’s a customer facing interface that combines, in the simplest form, YouTube with Facebook. It allows a community, sports organization, school, or youth organization, to create their own sports ecosystem, and gives them a media cloud archive in which they can play videos and interact as a team. It give coaches new bells and whistles, enabling them to use that footage as a teaching tool. Think the John Madden annotations that we’ve all seen in Monday Night Football, all the way down to statistical analysis of the game, playbook creation, and tagging of different players.
It’s very dynamic and we’ll continue to have a lot of development through the first year. We’re very excited about it because we feel it brings a lot of factors to the youth industry that have existed for years at higher levels, but have not been made economical enough for that lower level. When you’re a 12 year old kid, everybody is Michael Jordan or Brett Favre. We love that and our aim is to keep playing on that level.
EF: So you talked about working out of a shack with a burning AC unit, and working out of a corner office with leather bound books and rich mahogany furniture. Now you’re in The Cannon. Talk to me about how The Cannon has helped foster GameDay Films.
JO: For starters, the energy that this place brings us is immeasurable and unlike any other place we’ve worked. We have a lot of different companies here, obviously technology, but there’s a commercial cleaning company that has nothing to do with a lot of the other industries. You can see the energy pushing people forward to see their business grow. It’s great to have the resources that everyone brings to the table. You can go and sit down with a designer if you need to start a marketing campaign, and get some directive on what to do and how to implement it. We end up get free consulting on a lot of topics without having to go down a Google worm hole.
The space is fantastic. The tangible resources are great, from the coffee to the free Redbull. I know my guys aren’t complaining about it. There’s even a kegerator. Our oldest employee is in their thirties, so everyone here can appreciate the culture. Houston’s never had something like this. There are a couple of other coworking places around town, but I really feel like The Cannon is built in more of a collaborative way, a way that feels like home more than other places that you’re walking into for a limited time. I know a lot of the people, who have been here and started by renting a month to month chair, have started to become staples because they love the environment here and they love the people.
EF: Besides dodging clipboard-breaking coaches and moving down to Mexico, what’s next for GameDay Films?
JO: (laughs) The Front Row really adds a spider web of options. We’re looking at geographical expansion. Right now we’re finalizing things for our Austin, Dallas, and Fort Worth physical headquarters. We’re opening up in Oklahoma. We’re trying to slowly and strategically make geographical hub expansions. Our board has controlling interest in a couple other companies that are doing the same, so we’re making collaborative moves to make it cheaper for ourselves to get there, sharing office space and other resources with three different organizations.
We’re very excited about Mexico, and taking The Front Row national and international. That’s going to be a nice mountain to climb when it comes to the marketing and research we have to do to stay in front and relevant for our clients and new clients we’ll look to acquire.
You can read more about GameDay Films on their website, or visit them in their office at The Cannon Houston campus.