Meet our Premium Member: Darius Willis, Founder & CEO of Willis Sports Organization
Darius, could you please give a brief description of Willis Sports Organization?
WSO is the go-to-platform for match-making athletes and coaches. Through our powerful digital platform, we use a combination of data, analytics, and AI techniques to help recruiters identify their potential candidates faster and more accurately.
Currently, we are a team of 5. I founded the company because of my passion to help athletes and coaches find more opportunities in sports. As a former athlete and current coach, it is a great feeling to give back.
What is your long-term vision? Can you share your plans for 2023 with us?
2022 has been great with the development of our MVP and learnings from many of our campaigns that we tested. This year was a step in the right direction as we also captured investment to continue the development of our product. We will finish the year with more than 30 teams using our platform to locate international talents.
In 2023, we are looking to raise $480K to end close our pre-seed round. This will allow us to build a more complete team, enhance our product and prepare for launch, as well as partner with local universities to include more AI innovations into our platform. We have many goals in 2023, but most importantly we want to help our customers achieve success.
In the long term, we want to continue building our platform and be known as the #1 destination for international player recruitment. We look to join forces with more sport technology companies based in Switzerland to help create a powerful ecosystem here at home.
What has been the biggest success that you have achieved in WSO?
For me, I’m happy that our platform helps so many people. Sports data and recruiting analytics is not a familiar concept in Switzerland and we are the only company that operates this way. We have helped over 200 athletes receive scholarships to play American Football or Track & Field in the United States. To me, that is success because our athletes get to be exposed to gain more opportunities. We’ve validated that our platform works, and it is only a matter of time before many others across Switzerland and the EU get onboard with what and why we do what we do. With only a few members internally we’ve been able to get our data and platform in front of the eyes of National Junior College Athletic Association, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, National College Athletic Association, and the National Football League.
If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Honestly, I wish things could have gone better in many situations, but I am happy they went the way they did because I was able to grow and learn so much from my failures, successes, and research. Without them I would not have made other impactful decisions that have led us to this point today.
As an American trying to start a start-up in Switzerland, it is not easy. Especially when covering sports, I realized that no one fully understood what we were doing, and I was often speaking with the wrong people to get investment or gain a competitive edge. I also discovered that there is so much more the CEO or Founders need to be responsible for in certain areas of the company. Most importantly, I learned that as a Founder/CEO, I work for my colleagues and not the other way around.
On the development side I found another skillset as a product developer that I never knew I had a taste for. I was able to activate new skill sets that I discovered along our short journey. As I deep dive into product development, I learned it is important to take a step back and refresh because you can become so focused and fixated and miss out on what matters most. It was great to learn and speak with other people who encounter similar situations and what is the best way to move forward. We still have much to learn and I am thankful to be here today, still pushing forward.
What motivates you to continue your business every day?
Making others happy and benefit from our innovation keeps me going. Since living in Switzerland, I have had all these so-called experts or people tell me it cannot work. Nevertheless, I am here showing everyone it does work and what we do will make an impact forever.
Our business is sustainable and scalable, and I want to help as many people as possible locally and around the world have opportunities in sports through our platform. What we/I am doing is a hobby of mine and I woke up one day and told myself I was going to do what I love and combine my hobbies into one.
If I stay focused on the 3P’s – Passion, Pride, Purpose – as well as our What, Why, How, I believe we can do great things. This keeps me going every day. Also, sports are a well-connected community and powerful ecosystem and there are so many great people we get to meet. I will always give back to the sports community and this is something I want to do for the rest of my life.
One piece of advice for someone who is just starting out with their startup?
Network and meet a lot of people who know what they are talking about. Make use of your time and plan for the unexpected. Surround yourself with great people who can add value and bring many skills to the team.
I think it is important to focus on what made you do what you wanted to do in the first place. People will try to convince you that your idea won’t work, or that there’s a better way of doing something. Some input is great, but make sure you do not let others take the passion of why you do it out of the way.
As a start-up, there will be many challenges and you will have to make hard quick decisions that have major implications on the future. Make sure you are prepared in advance for other scenarios to always have a counterattack and keep pushing forward. Do lots of research and see how others in your market are doing. Some growth hacking helps and will provide some great tips and insights about how everyone operates. Try and get as much money as you can through family and friends before going directly for investment (also depending on the situation and or stage).
What does it mean to you to be a member of the Swiss Startup Association?
For me, it was finally great to be a part of something here in Switzerland. As an African American coming from the US with no Swiss education, it has been difficult to be accepted or trusted for certain opportunities.
Once I discovered the Swiss Startup Association, I felt the positive energy from the beginning and knew it would be a great fit for me to join other Founders in such a great network. Being a member provides me with the chance to connect and share my stories. I am not the smartest, not the best, or may not have the best idea but I am happy that I get to meet others who understand my struggles because they have the same ones.
On the professional side, it gets WSO and me more coverage. I am not the best with marketing/branding and the SSA provides me the opportunity to be seen through other channels. This gives me the opportunity to get in front of potential investors. I think the SSA will help me meet great founders and investors who will believe in what we are doing here at WSO. I also like the fact that I can share sports because we are the least represented across Switzerland.
The SSA opens another doorway, and I am happy to be involved and hope to attend more events in the future.
Would you recommend joining the Swiss Startup Association? If yes, why?
Yes 1000% Yes!!! Not many places bring together great people who like to share and connect about the startup journey. It brings our ecosystem closer together and lets us see how we can grow as a society, whether we may have competing businesses or not.
Everyone can benefit from joining in some way. It is important for you to know in advance what that is, but SSA will for sure give you the push especially for introverted people like myself.
Have you ever visited the events of the Swiss Startup Association? If yes, which ones? Would you recommend them?
I attended the small Founders lunch as well as a Founders dinner. Both events were great and active because they were great networking opportunities. I would recommend attending them especially the dinner as there are many people who you can get in front of and speak with about your business and hear how they went through each stage to get to where they are today. Plenty of food and drinks to make it an entertaining night so be ready to be tired the next day if you stay too late.
Is there anything that we haven’t asked you that you would like to share with us/the community?
If anyone is into sports or knows someone who is and would like to hear my story and why our business is important now and for the future, they are welcome to connect with me online or in person.
I hope that more people will be able to understand what we’re doing and see the value we bring to the international sports community and to our clients globally. We’re looking for angel investment and look forward to adding to our team in 2023.
Thank you SSA and hope to meet all the Founders at the next big event!
A big thank you to Darius and the Willis Sports Organization team for sharing your story with us! If you want to know more about WSO, visit www.willissportsorg.com.
Do you also have a story to tell and would like to be portrayed as well? Become a premium member now, and our team will contact you shortly!