For Hudl CEO David Graff and two other friends at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, it was important to find the right fit in starting a business right out of college. What they found was the perfect merger, the combination of two passions: sports and technology.
Now, after eight years of rapid growth, Hudl, the cutting-edge, sports-video company they began in Lincoln, will soon open a new location at 10th and Jones Streets in Omaha’s Old Market.
Graff, an Omaha native and Millard North grad, started working with the Nebraska football team in 2003 to improve their use of video. Three years later, right before his graduation, he created Hudl.
Here’s the angle: At the time, Graff says, players and coaches could only watch video at the team’s facilities. To watch videos away from the facilities, the footage had to be burned to DVDs, a time-consuming and redundant process. Graff and company were able to put the video online for quicker access and easier use. And later, Hudl was able to allow users to add captions and messages that could be displayed on video.
The prototype presented to Husker Coach Bill Callahan in February 2006 made a big impression. “Coach Callahan said when he was coach of the Raiders he was approached by a lot of people from Silicon Valley with tech pitches, but this was the first product that would make a difference for teams and help them win,” Graff says.
Callahan loved it and wanted to start using the technology the next month for the team’s spring practice. However, what Graff presented to Callahan was “more smoke and mirrors then Callahan realized,” but the impression was enough that the team signed on as Hudl’s first paying customer. The company was given access to coaches and players over the next year to fully develop the product.
Graff graduated that spring. Over the next year, he and two classmates from UNL’s Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management went to work on building a business around that prototype.
Hudl is headquartered in Lincoln. Its leadership team includes Graff, chief product officer John Wirtz, and Brian Kaiser, chief technology officer.
Over the next several years Hudl hired more people and started hitting coaching camps and clinics to recruit more users. They also partnered with CBS MaxPreps in 2010 and added 2,000 teams that year. Graff said they also built a sales team around some of the MaxPreps personnel. More than 20 professional teams, including the New York Jets, Detroit Lions, Boston Celtics, and Washington Capitals, as well as more than 80 percent of college football teams, now use the company’s services. They’ve been contacted by numerous other general managers also interested in signing onto the Hudl team.
But it’s not just pro teams and major college programs like the Husker football team that benefit from Hudl. Early on, Graff says, Hudl kept hearing from high school and smaller college coaches who had the same needs as the Huskers initially did, the desire to easily upload game and practice film and allow their athletes to use that video anywhere. So now Hudl’s clients range from elite professional athletes to colleges across the country to many of the metro area’s top teams like Bellevue West, the defending state champions in Class A boy’s basketball.
“Hudl has provided us at Bellevue West with the opportunity to be proactive in addressing team and individual improvement,” says boys basketball coach Doug Woodard. “Hudl has also provided the chance to scout opponents exhaustively while cutting down the amount of time and video the players must watch. They get to watch selected video that is crucial to prep.”
Woodard says his team also uses Hudl to send out video on their players to colleges for recruiting purposes. Hudl’s website has three main sections: athletes, coaches and recruiters.
Graff says one of the advantages for coaches using Hudl is the ability to access and break down video anywhere, allowing for more opportunities for teaching, adding notes and sharing with athletes, exchanging film instantly, and sharing video with recruiters.
“For athletes, it is the ability to create highlights to share with family, friends, and recruiters, as well as the opportunity to receive more direct coaching,” he says.
Those features make it evident why the company is growing so fast.
Over the last few years, Hudl has purchased two competitors, APEX in 2012 and Digital Sports Video in 2011, and now have more than 14,000 teams using its products. That growth means the company needs qualified employees.
Graff says the company’s goal is to double the product team. Increased demand and growth means the company needs to hire developers, designers, quality analysts, and project managers. Graff says that, like anywhere else, it’s a challenge to find the right people to fill those roles, especially experienced designers and developers. But he is confident the company will be able to fill those needs with local hires.
“There is a very rich talent base in Lincoln that we have been tapping into, and a great flow of talent from UNL,” he says. “Adding the Omaha space increases the size of that talent base, and opens up opportunities with strong universities in the Omaha area as well.”