A Slice on Sean Leary, Founder and CEO of Sports Thread
High school baseball player on track to play D1 baseball… what could be better? Sean Leary grew up playing baseball and dedicated his time flying all over the country for tournaments and tryouts, and eventually got noticed by top-tier D1 schools. Leary committed to Pepperdine University but then lost his scholarship. The athletic department was giving institutional grants to athletes who didn’t qualify… including himself. Channeling his disappointment, Leary founded Sports Thread during his time in college. Sports Thread is a communications-based app for high school athletes aimed to provide exposure and help athletes achieve their dreams. Leary is now Founder and CEO of Sports Thread, which now has one million people in its network and has been on the top 200 charts on the Apple App Store for over a year.
After learning about the NCAA violations being committed by Pepperdine University, Leary had to make the tough decision of staying at Pepperdine and incurring debt, or transferring to a junior college. After weighing the options, he decided to transfer and found that at least 100 other athletes were trying to find their way back to playing college ball. Despite the challenges Leary had faced thus far, he saw an opportunity to create a platform to empower young athletes. “I was one guy in a sea of a lot of people and I didn’t have the USA Baseball Invitiatonal to distinguish me anymore. I was a guy who didn’t work out at this first school, so I came up with the idea of starting a company that would help athletes network with colleges.”
Inspired and motivated by a great idea, Leary took the next steps to build the company the right way and sought help and guidance from his father, a serial entrepreneur. Following advice to not tell anybody about his business idea, Leary devoted his time that was initially set aside for baseball to flying home to Denver, CO to raise capital. “I spent the next two years after I got recruited out of OCC [Orange County College] at Oral Roberts University writing the initial business plan for the company, and raising money to start it… I put together the first $1 million with the help of my dad and a couple of others he brought on to help start the company with me. I graduated with the capital to start the business with a great business plan.”
The early entrepreneurial journey for Leary was mostly based on asking for help, and taking advice. While Leary was traveling back and forth from Denver to Silicon Valley, he had the unique opportunity to speak to successful entrepreneurs, including the former founder of Netflix, while learning “how to build a Silicon Valley model tech company”. With the guidance from these established entrepreneurs, Leary kept hearing the same advice over and over: make the product free, scale it, then monetize it.
Now, having the resources and network, Leary moved onto creating the (free) product to connect people across the country, and eventually the world. “We added a lot of features and functionality to make it so that anybody in the sports market could get value and utility out of using the app.” Creating a one-stop-shop for athletes, parents and coaches alike, the app allows users to connect with increased visibility. With the finished product, Leary got his first 100,000 users onto the platform… then COVID-19 hit.
Unlike most companies that had to pivot during COVID-19, Sports Thread’s app usage increased. “We found we were filling a need for a lot of kids in the country because kids couldn’t play sports so they had no way of getting their name out there to a college. They were telling us they loved how they had a community of like-minded people they could come be an athlete around and they really missed that connection.” Helping kids achieve their athletic goals has been one of the most rewarding parts of entrepreneurship for Leary.
Though he experienced risks along the way, they proved to be worthwhile because of the reward.
With the personal connection and love for Sports Thread, Leary’s success comes from making his users happy. “We’re getting to do something that positively impacts over a million people over time and we’re driving social good.”
Sean Leary is a former Division I baseball player for Oral Roberts University and won two NCAA conference championships. Leary holds a B.A. in Business Administration and Management and is currently Founder and CEO at Sports Thread. Leary has received recognition in Yahoo Finance as a “Top 10 entrepreneur to watch in 2021”. Connect with Leary on LinkedIn.