Flip The Switch Episode 46: Brian Hershman

John Saunders
By John Saunders

PAT: Today on Flip the Switch. The guys sit down with Brian Hershman, the owner and CEO of IndiHoops and Top Gun Basketball Academy. IndiHoops has become the one stop shop for all things AAU, as Brian has found a way to provide consumers scores, stats, and player rankings. If you love basketball, you’re going to love this episode.

Let’s get into it.

00:57 AUSTIN: Welcome to Flip the Switch presented by Power Digital Marketing. This is episode number 46.

01:01 PAT: 46. We are out of athletes.

01:04 AUSTIN: We are typically out of athletes on a weird number. And this is a weird number, so we’re don’t have anyone today. But instead what we do have is a person who knows a lot about sports.

01:13 PAT: Yup. Exactly. So we’re about to show you guys our interview with Brian Hershman. He founded a couple different companies. Centered around AAU basketball and the youth basketball space. Super-interesting interview, but very basketball heavy interview.

01:29 AUSTIN: Very basketball heavy interview, because we go into the weeds of AAU basketball which is the amateur basketball where people become kind of famous in the basketball world before they go to college and they become an NBA player. So we talked a lot about the up-and-coming stars and kind of what that looks like. The transition to an amateur player to a pro player. And then how IndiHoops fits into that. And how they have basically monetized the data and all these stats to become a functioning business. And to give consumers this information in a digestible manner.

02:01 PAT: Exactly. So, without further ado, here’s the interview with Brian.

02:10 AUSTIN: With us today we have Brian Hershman of IndiHoops and Top Gun Basketball Academy. Brian, thank you so much for joining us today.

02:17 BRIAN: Thank you. I just request that can we call this episode 45? Cause that’s Michael Jordan episode. Not 46.

02:25 PAT: We can do that. We’ll do that just for you. We’ll put it in parentheses next to the listing.

02:28 AUSTIN: We’ll call it the 45th alternate because that was his alternate number for a brief period of time, right? So, yeah, we can do that.

02:35 BRIAN: I looked up players for number 46, and Bo Outlaw I think was the best one. Wasn’t that exciting.

02:44 AUSTIN: we actually run into that quite a bit. We’re in like an odd number like 39–example. And I’m like, “I don’t know what to call this.” So we went off of presidents for a little bit.

02:50 PAT: Yeah, we did like Jimmy Carter episode one time.

02:52 BRIAN: I don’t want to be 45 president politically. (laughing) But yeah, we could go Denis Rodman for my second episode. He was 91 or something like that.

03:05 PAT: There we go.

03:06 AUSTIN: I like this guy. He’s already plugging that he’s coming back in for the 91st episode…

03:11 BRIAN: I gotta plant the seed.

03:12 AUSTIN: Great. All right, well we brought you in today to talk about your business of course. IndiHoops is associated with AAU. It’s everything data oriented. We’re talking stats, numbers, everything basketball about AAU your guys’ website and platform brings to your audience.

So let’s talk a little bit first about your passion for basketball and how you arrived at this business model. What is it with basketball, and when did you know that basketball’s going to be your life?

03:37 BRIAN: Well, so it’s interesting. I was born and raised here in San Diego, and I played club ball. And club ball started to get big–and I can go back to that story–right when I was about 7th grade. So long story short–I played high school basketball and then I went to University of Arizona. And I knew that I wanted… My original goal was I wanted to be a division 1 head coach. So I went to the Lute Olson basketball camp when I was a kid. I ended up loving it. I ended up going to Arizona and learning–and I talk about this all the time. Even on my camps.

Pedigree is really important. So I knew that Lute Olson was going to be a Hall of Famer and you can see now the whole west coast is all from his coaching pedigree. Luke Wallen, head coach of the Lakers is Arizona. His whole staff is Arizona. Steve Kerr is Arizona.

So I went there to learn from the best… I was like, “I wanna try to learn from the best.” And I wanted to be a head coach.

So what I did learn is that I started coaching and getting experience, and then I started getting involved with an 8th grade travel team. Which was fun and then when I came back…

So I always was like a cerebral player. I wasn’t athletic but I could like think the game and I most of my coaches were like, “You’re going to be a coach.” So they would groom me and noticed this from a young age. And what’s funny is that I–in 1998–my dad bought me Microsoft FrontPage. And that was the first time… I was just always fascinated by the internet. Even Prodigy, AOL, all of that… I was always on it. I always loved the Internet, right?

So I actually had a website called “Hooplinks.com” in 1998. And it was a basketball directory. And this was when Yahoo was… so I had 2 websites. I had a website that was a Padres unofficial website. It was like a blog. This was before there was blogs…

05:52 AUSTIN: You might have been the first Padres blog of all time.

05:53 BRIAN: I think so. I mean, probably right? There’d be unofficial–I don’t know if you remember this–but there was unofficial fan pages and then there was like official. So you had padres.com but I had the unofficial one. And I would write articles and do like fan posts.

And this was in ’98. Which was the most fun season ever for a Padres fan. So we had that, and Hooplinks.

So going back to that. So Yahoo was like–I can’t swear?–the shit. Yahoo was the shit.

06:24 AUSTIN: We have the explicit tag on our show, because Grayson our CEO maybe our 3rd or 4th episode came on here and just started saying “shit” a bunch and then we’re like, “All right. We’re good then.”

06:31 PAT: Yeah, so we’re fine.

06:32 BRIAN: All right. Good. So yeah, Yahoo was the shit. It was directory so you would go like… You could search or you could go “MLB” on the sports and there’ll be national league west.

06:49 PAT: Get down into the categories, yeah.

06:51 BRIAN: And then there would be official pages and there’s be unofficial. And I remember mine got in there. You want to talk SEO? I submitted it in there and it said “New.” There’s like no criteria. They don’t tell you how you’re going to get in there, but it’s like 5 months later you get in. And that’s like huge.

If you get in that, the traffic probably went like pretty nice after that. So that was kind of interesting. And so I was like… I made a niche directory like that. I was like, “I’ll just go niche, because I’m not going to beat Yahoo. But I’ll do a basketball directory.”

So that’s kind of like my background in that.

So fast-forward. I come back and I start coaching at my Alma Mater, Scripps Ranch High school, and one of the coaches gives me a model of how to like make some money. And coach.

So basically what it was was I got an 8th grade team… I got 6 players… and he’s like they pay monthly fees. Let’s say 110 dollars. You just have to get into this league. And then my only costs were I had to get the one time uniform cost, but then pay for a gym and pay into the league.

07:56 PAT: Right. Get the facilities. Get all the equipment that was needed, and everything like that, right?

08:04 BRIAN: Right. But the cool thing was they gave me the gym for free. So since I was coaching at Scripps for a while, they gave me the gym. So I didn’t really come into this game as a businessman really at all. And that was interesting. I was a coach that like, then started learning business. And that’s what most of our industry is, funny enough.

I just started making money right away. There was no like raised money. It was just like I made money, and so I went from 6 kids. As soon as I found that model, I was like, “Oh, I’ll just make a million teams.”

So then I just grew it to 4 teams, and I’m just coaching all day long, and started to make more money. So then the way that Top Gun started was Miramar College just opened up down the way. 4 court, brand new facility. And see, I grew up in these areas. I went to school right across the street from there. And when I walked into that gym, and I was looking for gym space, you know how like an interior designer or a real estate agent they go into a space, and they’re like, “Oh, I get it.” They see what it’s supposed to be.

I went in there and I was like, “Oh, I know what this has gotta be. We gotta fill this up. So I coached there for 4 years, but part of the caveat of that was they’d give me access to be able to run stuff on the weekends. So Top Gun Basketball Academy was formed. Miramar, it’s all about jets and the scene from Top Gun. Studying at Miramar to go against the best. So we made it about this is like the top training, like a high-end model of we’re college coaches. And we’re going to teach you how to play.

So that’s how I got involved, and then just long story, short. We then started running leagues. So we had weekly leagues going on. Then we did summer camps with like hundreds of kids there. And then clinics.

So every single way that you could monetize… the event business and training and clinics. Hosting leagues and getting the referees we did there.

10:11 PAT: that’s interesting. So you kind of took your passion that you already had for basketball. You knew that you liked coaching. You knew that you liked kind of the instruction and the management side of the basketball scene.

And you were able to basically find that niche and scale it a little bit with these event-based camps. And that’s how Top Gun was started.

10:29 BRIAN: Yeah. Exactly. And then at that time I was still… I remember I was going to leave to try to go to the next stage of coaching. I was applying Point Loma Nazarene…

10:39 AUSTIN: Hey, it’s my Alma Mater…

10:41 BRIAN: So I ended up getting my MBA there. So I’ll tell you a story about that. So then I didn’t do that because I’m like, “Wait, I’m actually making more money potentially now in the next year than a head coach of like a college, D1. And then I can’t do this anymore.

So I was like… yeah, I took the passion that I had, which is like… I like sports, I like business…

And also, a funny thing is that… I think people in sports as well, there’s like a little Peter Pan complex. When you play sports, you’re like, “Okay, I want to play this for as long as possible. So now after high school I can’t play anymore, so how do I stay involved with it?

11:26 PAT: How do I stay in the game?

11:27 BRIAN: Yeah.

And so what I just basically do in that transition into IndiHoops is that I just try to… any way that could be monetized in this game, I basically have done. Or will continue to do.

Kind of like, you know Legal Zoom and Robert Shapiro. He’s like, “Okay, I’m a lawyer. But I’m going to do Legal Zoom and then I’m going to make money off that.” And then I think he did prepaid…

So every single thing that could be monetized in legal…That’s kind of like how I see myself with the basketball space.

12:01 AUSTIN: And explain to us the business model that is IndiHoops. Because this is the business you’re growing right now and is assuming a large focal point for you. We talked a little bit about the social aspect of it. But explain kind of the subscription model or how you’re monetizing it. And kind of what the entire structure looks like.

12:19 BRIAN: Yeah. No problem. So yeah, we’re transitioning a little bit but I actually do not… I’ve transitioned completely out of Top Gun and doing the events. I’ve like every single… the goals that I had we accomplished them and I just… that’s been my mentality. It’s like, “Let’s see if we do this. Okay, I’ve already done it. Onto the next.”

12:42 PAT: Entrepreneur. Yeah.

12:44 BRIAN: I don’t like to management of… you know, they say that an entrepreneur starts building a second house as soon as the first one’s done. And the manager lives in it, for 20 years, or something like that.

So I’m like the entrepreneur. So I’m onto the next thing. So IndiHoops… we knew that MaxPreps… the story of MaxPreps was that basically they started with basketball. They digitized high school sports. They put all of the content online. And then quickly turned into sports as well.

So when I got fascinated when seeing this AAU… When I went to Arizona I didn’t know what was going on with AAU. I thought that the old model was you play with your basketball team and you play with your high school. So then I started seeing this, and it was very eye opening, and very compelling in a lot of different ways.

For example, it was so sub-culture, underground, number 1. And number2, I went to an event in Vegas and I fell in love with it because it was so underground but I remember one of the games I saw was Marcus Smart’s team. And then I went to my phone and trying to look up, who is this guy? Nothing. I’m in the back gym. Andre Drummond. I’m seeing all these guys and no one’s there.

Some of this stuff even now you can barely explain it. I just got back from Vegas. It’s like the yearly basketball illuminati meetings are in Vegas.

14:14 AUSTIN: They are.

14:15 PAT: Yeah.

14:17 BRIAN: It’s in Vegas. And then you’ll like go into a gym and you’ll walk by Coach Asheski, and like Roy Williams will bump into you. All these guys. And they’re just there ready to recruit.

14:23 AUSTIN: We could do a whole, entire show on summer ball in Vegas. Because of the summer league for the NBA, and then there’s the tournaments for the kids. And then every single basketball mind is there. For a month.

14:33 BRIAN: It’s our trade show.

14:35 PAT: and those AAU tournaments… if you’ve ever seen one in person… for our listeners that haven’t seen what they’ve turned into, they are huge. You’re talking about these like auditorium style stadiums that have 8 courts back-to-back with one another. Just jam-packed with people watching all the top high school prospects in the country compete against each other. Half the crowd is going to be scouts, and then the other half is parents, you know?

And it’s just an impressive thing to see, because I don’t think that a youth level of sports gets that kind of attention, unless it’s like a travel league. You have like AAU for basketball, you have USSSA for and AAU for baseball. You have all these semi-elite travel leagues for these sports that give kids the means and the exposure they need to take it to the next level. And you basically found a way to get in on that scene and figure out how to monetize it.

15:26 BRIAN: Well yeah. And the thing is that… Two things. Number 1–so I think that kids very soon are not going to be really playing high school basketball.

15:36 PAT: Why do you think that?

15:37 BRIAN: Cause high school basketball to me is like the taxicab. And Club and AAUs like Uber. It’s entrepreneurial. It moves faster. You’re not tied… it’s not as regulated and things like that. And that’s just what people like.

And it has so many advantages to it. And what’s happening now is it’s going to get very corporate. The corporate sanitation is already coming in.

16:03 PAT: Into AAU basketball?

16:04 BRIAN: Into AAU. Complete corporate sanitation. It’s coming. I’ve seen it.

But high school… well, think about it. Number 1–the other sports are already like that. In soccer, it’s always been a club. You don’t play for your local high school.

16:22 PAT: Yeah. Some of the best high school players in at least my part of the state, some of them didn’t even play on the high school team at all. Some of them did only club.

16:30 BRIAN: Yeah. And it’s like so that’s going to happen, right?

And then what’s funny is that it was so ahead of its time, but really this was the catalyst for it, in my opinion. It was so ahead of its time, but there’s a facility at Aliant University on Palmarado road and it was called USIU. And it was in my community and they were the first ones to build a gym that had, like, 6 or 7 courts. Nothing like that… it was the coolest thing. And I played in the first tournament there.

So what happened was that that was in probably ’98, ’97. Now, that is like… that’s nothing. There’s places in Atlanta and Dallas… there’s a place in Orange County that has 30 courts.

17:20 PAT: 30 courts?

17:22 BRIAN: 31 courts. The USA volleyball team practices there. You’ve got these huge, big-box facilities and now they see the business of it. They’re like, “Okay, we can get a bunch of people to come to this place, use the hotels,” and so that’s helped build AAU because high school doesn’t have that model. So in Vegas, one of the events, they had 1200 teams in their tournament.

17:48 PAT: 1200 teams?

17:50 BRIAN: 1200 teams. And so that’s… why that’s better for recruiting and scouting is that all the coaches can consolidate to there and see every player.

17:58 PAT: It’s a one-stop shop.

18:00 BRIAN: Instead of going to… They used to go… fly all over the place.

18:04 PAT: It’s funny I’m almost seeing parallels between the movement towards that and like the retail brick and mortar business. Just kind of like you were saying, people used to have to go to the butcher and then to the milk shop. And then there were supermarkets, where there was a few of those put together. And now there’s Amazon, where you can buy anything that you want all in the same place. Or like a Target. Or a Walmart.

So it’s interesting just seeing it. It’s almost like it’s a huge sociological shift where people are just naturally going to gravitate towards those types of options in all facets of their life. They’re looking for that convenience play.

AAU is organized now in a way where it’s able to do that for them. I do have a question for you. So looking at IndiHoops specifically, I understand that you guys collect the data for all these players. It’s almost like a one-stop shop in that regard as well to help scouts or coaches or whatever look at performance and just see what kids are doing. And see what the top prospects are like.

How does it…? I kind of want you to walk us through how that works. So how do you go about collecting that data when you’re at these massive tournaments? You just said there’s one that has 1200 teams in it. Do you have 1200 people each of which is assigned to a team scorekeeping? Or do you have ins with the scorekeepers?

And then once you have that data, how does somebody access it in a way where you can make money off of that?

19:21 BRIAN: So I think that it’s… that’s a great question… It’s all about consolidating it into a digestible thing for us. So it’s like what we’re actually known for… what we got our name for in this business quickly is first we start a directory and put information on like… okay, these are the teams. At first there was nothing. Nothing.

All right, so now, who’s sponsoring? These are like 30 Nike… we started with high school… there’s like 30 Nike teams. So we’ve made a directory so you can get information and see… there was just nothing.

And so we did that. Then what got us popular really fast was we started doing rankings of the teams. And that was kind of like… 5 start basketball was kind of doing it. But the way we did it was different because we did it consistently, and not only that, when you saw the team ranked, you saw their logo, and then you could click on it and get more information about the team. There was nothing like that.

And maybe 15% of teams would even have a logo. Now everyone has a logo. And 15% were probably even on social media. Now everyone’s on social media.

So we had the rankings and I think that… what I believe in is that the next phase of the Internet and everything is there’s so much data, who can filter it? And who do you trust?

It’s going to be like how to filter, how to rank things. So that’s kind of like what we do. We rank the teams, and then…

20:54 PAT: Based on what?

20:55 BRIAN: So at first it was virtually impossible. Cause we had to call tournament operators and like ask who won. Or we could kind of go off the top…

So what happened was, Nike had a league called the UIBL. Then Adidas… cause it all goes back to shoes. Basketball and the shoe industry and the shoe wars.

21:22 AUSTIN: We’re going to get there eventually I have a few questions on that.

21:23 BRIAN: So Adidas then had their own league. And then Under Armour came too. So that really helped us because they consolidated it for us for all the top teams really were. And then you had these independents.

So then we could just focus ranking. First we just had to rank each year. Let’s say Nike’s PAC 12, and then like Adidas is now ACC, so now we’re like, “Okay, the winner of that…” They don’t really play each other most of the time, so if that team would play that team….

21:56 PAT: It’s like the AP poll almost with college football.

22:00 BRIAN: It’s kind of like that, right? But there’s not an event that like… it’s like college football, right? And there’s a lot of controversy and a lot of it probably isn’t right. But it doesn’t… People come and they argue about it.

22:12 PAT: People would rather go there and either be excited about where they’re ranked or be pissed off about where they’re ranked… but either way they care about how they stack up against the other teams.

22:20 BRIAN: And then we network. And then we’re like, “Well, I haven’t seen you before. We’re going to have an event, why don’t you come to our event?”

22:28 PAT: There you go.

22:29 BRIAN: And then put your roster in. Cause I don’t know who your players are. Cause we want your roster.

And then do these things that we’re trying to get for organization, and we’ve seen every year it gets more organized.

For example, I could have every score of that Vegas event on my site. There’s a company that did a really good job. We partner with. Called Exposure. They made an app where you could do your scheduling on it, and put scores in right after. And it’s pretty much the industry standard, right?

So I have an API feed. I could put that… they can put their code in, and I don’t have to update anything. They’re just looking at the Exposure app.

And that was one of the ideas we wanted to do. Because we were doing like a traffic model. So we wanted people to be like, “Okay, which tournament am I at? I’ll just go to IndiHoops to find my schedule.” Cause the schedule is great traffic because it’s forced traffic. You have to see when you’re playing. So you know that someone’s going to come there at a certain time.

Then you could put advertisement right above it. Then they have to come back to check their score to see where they go. So that’s one of the ways that we’ve done it. Is we’ve partnered up with other things.

Or like, there’s been live-streaming is the new thing. So now there’s not going to be a game in the future that you’re not going to be able to watch. Before you couldn’t see anything. Now, everything… we just ran an event and we just did YouTube. 2 years ago, I’d have to spend $25,000 to live stream.

Last event we’re filming it on YouTube live and it’s like right on our site. Every game. Live. People watching it.

24:03 AUSTIN: Free streaming right now is basically a land-grab right now also. There’s so many facets you could go through. Instagram now, you go through YouTube and Twitter does it I believe too. There’s so many options. And your audience, I’m assuming, are on all of them. So it’s fantastic.

24:16 BRIAN: And that’s where we’ve created this audience so now it’s like… Marketing is like, what, it’s getting traffic and conversion. I’m good at getting traffic. I can get people to know about things. I love branding and things I can promote.

Now the next phase for me is like, “Okay, how are we going to convert all this?”

So really, the main thing that I’m most excited about is Indielockers.com. The IndiLockers is for… I noticed my niche was… the reason why it’s indie is it was short for “indivisible hoops.” it was like uniting everything.

So the problem is that the sport was so fragmented. There’s no little league for basketball. There’s nothing that everyone plays in. And so we started…

25:01 PAT: You have city leagues, CYO, a bunch of other…

25:03 BRIAN: Like NJB, it’s all whatever… And it’s kind of fascinating… it’s kind of the reason why I was attracted to that business is that I think there’s two ways to start a business or do business. The way I did it was like, “Okay, I’m just like making money and now I need to build an infrastructure to handle this.”

A lot of people, they build the infrastructure and plan, and then they wait for people to come to it.

25:25 PAT: And then they scale and iterate, right?

25:27 BRIAN: So I didn’t do that. I did the very tight be like promotional. So if you look at it from a basketball standpoint, I was all offense. My answer, to everything, was I’m just going to sell more. Just sell more. I don’t care. Whatever.

So now I’m learning like the defensive side of it, which is very important. And the organization of it.

So my point on that was this thing got really big, and now… we started this thing 3 years ago, we’re like, “Why don’t we make the Little League World Series for basketball? Why is there nothing like that?”

So we executed that. So you see right now… if you noticed… the NBA did basically, verbatim just watch what we did, and just said, “Well, we have the resources. We’re going to do it like this.”

So it is on TV, and it’s interesting. But the thing that still is the problem is the thing about Little League is like… You guys all play it right? If you play baseball, everyone played it. There’s not one thing that everyone knows to go through. So that’s going to be one of the challenges.

But it’s good to get to this point where 8th grade basketball is like really, really cool. And now you’ve got LeBron’s son, and you got all these story lines and then so my space now is middle school basketball. One, I like that age for coaching because you can still change their habits. In high school, you can’t. It’s still formative. It’s still exciting. And its’ not so… in high school it is so shoe oriented and the kids are inventory–and I just don’t like that.

So I like the 8th grade. So Indie Lockers is like a network of like, “Okay, well there’s millions of basketball players. Let’s get them their own profiles.” And it’s a locker where they can store and look back on in 10 years.

Number one, I played this. It’s a little bit of like a social network.

27:17 PAT: It’s like an Internet scrapbook almost of how you got to where you are. And that’s super-interesting. So if I’m hearing you correctly, you’re kind of taking IndiHoops… so IndiHoops is positioned as a resource, primarily. People can get their schedules, they can understand what the best teams are, where they play, and probably what players are on each team–some statistics.

And then you’re trying to take that and funnel it in a way where people are going to end up either paying for the service or end up clicking on advertisements or enrolling in events, is that right?

27:48 BRIAN: Yeah, so like what IndiHoops is is it’s basically a network. So like, it’s a network of tournament directors. So we have tournament directors that are like… we have a membership service. So tournament directors… we’re a solutions provider and in a way like an anxiety reduction mechanism for people in the network. So there’s tournament operators, which I’ve done before, so I can help them.

Then there’s the clubs that want to go to the tournaments. And the tournaments want the clubs. So we actually do have a function on our site where the clubs can register for a tournament and we’ll take like 2%, like a Ticketmaster.

28:27 PAT: So you guys like brokering a deal almost.

28:29 BRIAN: Yeah, so they can register. So we’ve got that.

Then, so there’s the tournament… and I talked about this with Rob. We’ve kind of developed a lot of this. Tournament, club and then the player wants to be on the club and the club wants the player. And then there’s camps and showcases that want the player. And then there’s the sponsorships that want all of it.

So we have this network where we’re connecting people and stuff like that. But for me personally, I like B to C. We want the players and be a resource for players and parents. And that’s what IndiLockers basically is. And it’s also a ranking system where… which is cool with IndiLockers is like you’re a kid, right? You can get your locker, and we have scouts on the site, that can rate you like NBA 2K. So I have a rating that I can change based on if I play better. And so that’s what’s cool about it.

And we have a membership. So we launched in January, we have 2000 users, and we have paid users on the site. And our first goal is to get to 1000 paid members. That’s the biggest focus I have right now. It’s $99.99 or 97 for the year. It certifies you.

Basically a big thing in youth is the cheating. So there’ll be kids that will be like, “Where’s your birth certificate?” So they can put their birth certificate and we can certify…

29:58 AUSTIN: Is that a significant issue?

30:00 BRIAN: That’s a huge issue.

30:02 JOE: Danny Almonte ruined it all.

30:03 PAT: It’s like that Little Leaguer that hit a 400 foot bomb the other night. He looks like he’s 40 years old.

30:11 AUSTIN: Who’s Danny Almonte?

30:12 JOE: He was a guy from the Little League World Series that was from…

30:15 PAT: He was from California. Wasn’t he?

30:17 JOE: He was from South America, and he was 14 and he was just massive…They ended up losing I think, but then he…

30:23 PAT: He was pumping 83 miles an hour. A 14 year-old.

30:28 AUSTIN: That’s like 100.

30:29 PAT: Yeah, exactly. It’s not even fair. But that is interesting too, and I think that especially in a sport like basketball, that’s even more of an advantage…

30:36 BRIAN: But they did find out. Almonte. What was he 17? Or something like that?

30:41 PAT: Yeah, he was significantly older than 12.

But I think that’s really cool. You guys are almost hedging that risk too. So like scouts are able to come to the site and know–for sure–that the kids that they’re looking at are who they say they are. That they’re the appropriate age. That they’re the right–that they’re recruiting them correctly.

And then from the kids’ perspective, that’s giving them a way to get exposure without having to pay for 15 showcase tournaments a year. All of which cost $1000, right?

31:05 AUSTIN: And thinking about this, the real monetary value might lie in the agents because if you become an authority that the kids and the families trust and they really want to use your website, then the scouts know that they need to be there, right? They really need to get on your side and interact with it, because like a direct connection to these kids that already trust you. I’m assuming that’s like kind of the general direction you’re going with it.

But what do you think about the scouts or maybe the brand side of it? Are you looking to become a pipeline for them? Are you going to try to monetize that relationship?

Or are you really just going to stay focused on the kids and the families?

31:40 BRIAN: Yeah. I like the platform and the marketing engine machine part of it, like I said before. I don’t think that I want my model to be like the monetizing the players or anything like that. And I’m not going to rule that out, or whatever. But you’re right on that.

But I think that the kids and the players as you see they’re their own…

Like, athletes are their own small-business. So I think that what’s interesting is you’ll also start to see is that… it might already start. You could get two players, and they’re very similar, but one has more of a social media following.

So like that could be the tip to get them there.

32:32 AUSTIN: Absolutely.

32:33 BRIAN: However…

32:34 PAT: I was going to say, talk about that really quickly. Cause you’ve been in this for a long time. You’ve seen the development and the rise in popularity of AAU basketball. Running in conjunction with the rise and prevalence of social media. How much of a role does that have in getting these kids noticed? And getting their name out there?

We were talking about Mac McClung. That kid…I would have no idea who this kid is if he wasn’t throwing down crazy dunks on like every single… not only on his own platform and his profile, but getting it syndicated on all these highlight reel platforms too. I would have had no idea.

And I’m sure that that no small part in getting him to Georgetown. Which is where he’s going to play.

Can you just talk to that a little bit, and let us know like how much of a role does that really play though?

33:23 BRIAN: That’s a great question. So, yeah… he’s like from a small town. Like a little farm town or something like that. Someone in Atlanta, Georgia licensed to use our brand. Which I’m like pretty proud of the fact that, like, 3000 miles away someone was like, “I want to use your brand. And pay for it.”

So we were in the gym and there was a kid that we saw throw down a dunk. And he was a sophomore. And we’re like, “Who’s this guy?” No one knew who he was.

It turns out it was Zion Williamson. He was at our event. And no one cared though. And me and my guy, “Dude, we should be like covering this guy.”

But here’s the thing. There’s another kid there named Colin Sexton who everyone’s talking about. We’re like, “This is crazy.”

And so Zion Williamson was there as like just a virtual no one. Which was crazy. So that’s another guy.

34:22 AUSTIN: Yeah, bigger than Mac McClung.

34:23 PAT: Yeah, much bigger.

34:26 AUSTIN: The magnitude of his popularity sky-rocketed in the last year.

34:28 BRIAN: It’s just funny just being for whatever reason… I’ve always been like really good at finding trends. Almost too early.

34:38 AUSTIN: That’s kind of your… That’s the gift of IndiHoops though, right? Is you guys are the first movers on individuals and placing them in front. Which there’s on social just a rabid want for that. People want to know that up-and-coming kids. Ballers Life is always on top of that, right? They’re always posting the new up-and-coming kid who had sick handles. There’s just… people want it. And you’re giving it to them.

35:00 BRIAN: They had a big part in that. And then it’s kind of cool. I think that there’s a lot… looking back, you could say like, “If that player played during this time, he would have went way farther but didn’t have it.” See what I’m saying?

I could think of players that probably could have played college and would have probably been a little bit more viral…

There’s a guy named Schea Cotton. He was like the sensation. He was like Zion Williamson, but it was all word-of-mouth. Everyone knew him… he would have broke the Internet back in the day. But there was nothing.

35:31 PAT: It’s funny. I almost think about that a little bit. And I think that it certainly benefits people who would… who have that insane skill level. They’re going to go viral because of the fact that they’re doing things that other kids their age just can’t do.

I almost think though, that it benefits in a bigger way those mid-tier to lower-tier prospects that are D2 and D3 fits. Because those coaches they don’t have the financial means to go to every single showcase. They don’t have the financial means, oftentimes at these programs, to go out and see these prospects everywhere across the country.

But now they have a centralized place where they can say, “You know what? This kid isn’t going to go D1, but this kid’s going to be a hell of a D2 player.” And in that way, it’s almost creating more opportunity for more kids to keep playing longer. Which goes back to the Peter Pan complex you were talking about earlier, a little bit. They just want to keep playing and that rise of social media and the prevalence of the Internet and getting these kids scouted and recruited properly is helping place them in a way that they can do that.

36:28 BRIAN: Yeah. If you don’t have as much resources… we could be in here, we could be a college staff. We’ll set up a bunch of TVs and we’ll just start watching the live stream.

36:37 PAT: Start live streaming every tournament.

36:38 BRIAN: Yeah, we’ll just watch players and we don’t even have to go there now. So social media is… and it’s moving so fast as you see that. I think that it’s just a mess. I think the NCAA and all these things, they don’t even know what to do with all this stuff.

Give a perfect example. They don’t want to do it, but why don’t they…? They don’t pay the players. I don’t get this. So it’s like Zion Williamson has what 2 million followers? So…

37:09 PAT: 2.4 or something like that.

37:10 BRIAN: How much does Coca-Cola have? A brand from 1800 that has… what do they spend? Like 3 billion on marketing last year?

So your telling me that this guy, because he gets a… why can’t he…? In one day he could monetize that social… he could get the scholarship in one day. And he’s not allowed to do it. So they… I just don’t know. I can’t see the NCAA basketball… I don’t see it lasting.

37:40 PAT: Not in their current model.

37:42 AUSTIN: No, I was going to say that it’s a total opportunity for someone like yourself where it’s okay for these guys to make money. Cause everyone’s making money at the event, and the kids are the star. And they’re becoming the star because of the situations where you’re creating Indie Locker. Where they have profiles. They have stats. They have numbers. They have ratings. These things that they want and also consumers want, right? People love rankings. Think about 2K rankings and how important that’s become. Someone gets a rating, it goes up on social, and everyone debates the shit out of it.

38:11 PAT: NBA players care about their ratings soo much.

38:15 AUSTIN: Which means that the kids care about it, because they look up to them. And at the end of the day, it’s all the same person. From the 8th grade kid to the superstar–Colin Sexton who was once in an AAU game. It’s the same complex, man. They want to keep playing and they all care about who they are, right? And they care about what people think of them, and that’s the business model.

38:35 BRIAN: I’ll give you another funny story. The very first tournament I ever ran, right here. Miramar College. Team comes in called the QJX ballers. Lavar Ball.

38:44 PAT: No way. You’re kidding me.

38:47 AUSTIN: You know Lavar? I would… That’s my dream interview.

38:49 PAT: Yeah, if we could get Lavar on the show.

38:52 BRIAN: Actually, one of my partners, we own I think it was either the second or third interview with him ever. Everybody in our industry… we saw this coming from a mile away. We’re like, “This needs to be a reality show.” Because at AAU it was even funnier, because he was the coach of the team. All of his kids were on the team. And his wife was on the bench too, coaching.

And they would start bickering during the game. It was hilarious.

39:21 AUSTIN: That’s all time. Was Alonso on the team too then? All three of them?

39:25 BRIAN: Alonso. They go Liangelo, and then had Lemello playing 17 and under as like 11 year old. Cherry picking…

39:33 PAT: No wonder that he has the amount of talent that he does. He’s been playing up his entire life. He’s been playing up right now.

39:39 AUSTIN: Can he play defense though? Probably not yet.

39:42 BRIAN: The problem with them, and it goes back to what social media has done. The damage of it is that I don’t know how good Mac McClung and Zion Williamson really are. Are they just good for the dunking, or can they really play?

Because what happened is they call them like these Instagram trainers. The ones that get the most views are outdoing themselves. And doing all these gimmicks.

Well, that’s not how you get better. And so people have… the lack of skill has started to sky-rocket because the click-bait and stuff like that.

40:15 PAT: They’re doing it for the ‘Gram

40:16 BRIAN: So for doing it for that. So the kid that’s actually like doing jump-stops. Stuff that people that are boring.

40:25 PAT: Yeah, nobody’s going to put on a highlight reel of themselves doing accurate bounce passes. But that’s what…

40:31 BRIAN: But that’s what they do in the NBA. They’re practices are like, “Okay, we’re going to work on passing and catching chest passes.” That’s what the practices are like. And it’s like why would the players looking up… they don’t know that.

And so that’s kind of happened.

40:45 PAT: So there’s the two sides of that. There’s the benefit of the exposure, but there’s also the detriment of the fact that you’re trying to show-off so much that you may be inhibiting the development of your own skillset that could get you to that next level.

40:54 AUSTIN: The perfect example of that is the rise of the 3-ball and the downfall of playing defense. I think that that’s literally the perfect example of where we’re at with consuming basketball. And then these kids know that too, because the people above them are jacking 3s and not playing defense. So it’s really become that.

I think that that’s a great point. The detriment of social media is really inhibiting the play of ball at a fundamental level, I think. Is a good way to put it.

41:18 BRIAN: Yeah. And it’s… there’s no culture of like… No one wants to be a coach anymore, like I wanted to be. They just… it’s all about can you recruit, now. It’s all about recruiting.

What we did at Top Gun what I was proud about, was we were able to recruit top players, but then once we got them, we really showed them how to play. And have a high basketball IQ. And that’s the same thing in business that I preach that I want to talk about.

We were big on fundamentals, and being efficient. So that’s the same thing in like business. You guys have a lot of accolades, let’s say at Power Digital. But there’s a lot of it of people just on the computer, working, working. It’s very boring.

42:02 PAT: working on their craft.

42:03 BRIAN: It’s very boring, and stuff. And that’s what it takes. But so I think that’s been the detriment of a little of it. So you gotta know how to navigate that.

42:14 PAT: Absolutely.

All right. Last question for you as we wrap up here. What’s to come for IndiHoops? What’s the next big move that people should be looking out for from you guys?

42:24 BRIAN: I think that something that I would love to do is like the online education. Kind of thing I’m working on, like, the stuff we were talking about. Like, helping parents and kids navigate all the craziness of it. And leveraging like my experience and saying, “Like, look, this is…” It’s like a consulting type of thing. Where it’s like…

And also I am interested to see what just happens. With being able to be an agent with high school. How that’s going to play out.

It was definitely one of the weirdest years in college basketball I’ve ever seen. From the FBI stuff, to…

So I wanna help educate. I think that the parent’s need the education. And I think that the old business models… I saw this on Twitter… old business models were profiting on the fact that you didn’t have the information, right?

Now it’s like let’s give it to you and we all can win, I think.

43:25 AUSTIN: And I think that there’s a real opportunity to become above-board with how it all goes down, right? Cause what the whole FBI investigation is is there’s agents from shoe brands that were getting into AAU ball, and then funneling them to colleges. Is pretty much what it was, right? It was a cash deal, under the table. Eventually the coaches or the organization would pay the kid. And then they’d go to an Adidas team, which means hopefully they become a superstar. Hopefully they’re signing with Adidas because Adidas has brought them the whole, entire way, right? That was pretty much the point of it from my understanding.

And that needs to change honestly. There’s no reason why that has to happen. It’s not illegal for you to make money and monetize yourself. And it never should be. This is the United States, and if you’re a good basketball player at an 8th grade level, and people like you, and you have 2 million followers, you should be able to make money. It’s not illegal.

44:10 BRIAN: It’d be like, “Justin Bieber, you’re not allowed to… you’re too young.”

44:14 AUSTIN: Yeah, if you’re a 14 years old, greatest singer. Imagine if he wasn’t allowed to make money until he what? Signed with Interscope at 21? It doesn’t make any sense, right? It’s illogical and in no other organization or industry besides sports is doing that.

And so that’s where we’re at, where it needs to become above-board.

44:30 BRIAN: Yeah, above-board. Transparency. That’s what IndiHoops is just about transparency. And having a conversation about…

There’s a kid, Mikey Williams, he played at my Indie World final. He’s going into the 8th grade and he plays with the LeBron junior. And he had 50,000 Instagram followers at my event. 13 years old.

Now he has like 125,000. And so it’s like… that’s just unprecedented. Cause it’s like once you have 100,000 followers on Instagram, that’s where you could put like, okay reach out to manager. And he’s…

But now for many, many years, under the model. It’s not like he’s a senior in college with that. He’s not even got into high school.

45:20 AUSTIN: Right. He has so many years of if it’s done correctly he could be setting himself up for life. By the time he’s 20, right? Even if he doesn’t make the NBA.

45:28 JOE: But even too a lot of moments for him to slip-up and for that to all go to shit because of these crazy regulations, you know?

45:35 AUSTIN: That’s the way it is right now, yeah.

45:37 BRIAN: But why can’t Mikey go to Power Digital and be like, “get me to a million.” And you could probably do it in like 3 months. And then… but you can’t do that.

So it’s interesting to see what’s going to happen.

45:49 PAT: That’s an interesting dynamic, and definitely excited to see the role that IndiHoops plays and really relaying that amount of transparency to the parents and the players and helping them navigate that situation.

Brian, again, thank you again so much for coming on the show. We had a great conversation with you.

46:04 BRIAN: We didn’t get to talk about how Rob Rodriguez’s college roommate.

46:07 PAT: One of our partners here, Rob Rodriguez, CFO, was Brian’s freshman roommate at Arizona. That is hilarious.

And again, definitely a small world we live in here in the San Diego community.

46:21 BRIAN: Shout out to Rob. Rob’s funny because he got there before me. Within probably like 4 days. I go in there and already he knows everyone in the school. He’s already got it like all figured out within 4 days. It was all catch-up from there.

46:35 PAT: Sounds about right. Sounds like Rob.

All right, Brian. Thank you for coming on the show. Looking forward to having you back for episode 91.

46:43 BRIAN: All right. Yes. Thanks guys.

46:52 PAT: All right, you guys. Thank you for joining us on episode 46 of Flip the Switch podcast presented by Power Digital Marketing. Special thank you for Brian Hershman for coming in and speaking with us today about IndiHoops, Top Gun, and everything AAU basketball. We’ll be back again next week with some great content for you guys.

In the meantime, join our forum on Facebook. It’s Flip the Switch podcast forum. Again, that’s flipswitchpodcast forum. And give us a couple follows on social, while you’re at it. Till next week, this has been Pat Kriedler, Austin Mahaffy, John Saunders, Joe Hollerup with Brian Hershman signing off.

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John is the Director of Web Development at Power Digital and thrives on the balance between creative and strategy. Using his experience in CRO, John approaches website builds with the user in mind, combining psychological and technical aspects of design.