The global pandemic has caused incredible social and economic disruption—that includes pulling the plug on the sports world. I know I was disappointed when the NCAA cancelled March Madness last spring. It’s only now that sporting events are getting back on track, but at very limited capacity. How can leagues and teams reactivate their fan bases and revenue streams? Rebus, a sports tech startup and 2020 participant in the Techstars Sports Accelerator Powered by Indy, has the answer: an artificial intelligence-driven system that suggests unique and tailor-made experiences for every single sports event attendee or online viewer. I was introduced to Rebus CEO Juliana Villalbal by VisionTech Angels member Kerry Perry, who is also a Rebus mentor. The VisionTech Angels screening committee was impressed and invited Rebus to participate in our October Pitch Week. Here’s a preview!
BP: Tell us about Rebus – why did you and your co-founders start the company?
JV: The idea of Rebus started back in 1993. When Jose H. Berrio (co-founder and CPO) was nine years old, his father gave him the surprise of a lifetime. He took him to a soccer match, but instead of walking to the stands, they went to the locker room to meet one of the greatest soccer players of all time. That moment changed Jose’s life forever.
As an adult, Jose realized most of his friends never experienced unforgettable moments like his, and he became obsessed with the idea of creating memorable experiences for other fans.
I met Jose at an innovation event where we were both speakers about event experiences (me) and event technology (Jose). At the end of the event, we shared a 40-minute ride to the airport and realized we both shared a passion for events, sports and living experiences worth remembering. A few months later, we decided to join forces to create the first company that was 100% focused on helping teams and leagues offer experiences worth remembering and unlock the 80% of their fan bases that could be engaged and monetized.
BP: How does your technology help amateur and professional sports?
JV: We help sports properties find new ways to engage with their fan base while driving incremental revenue. Here’s a simple example: the Pacers’ arena can hold around 20,000 spectators, but the Pacers have 5 million fans on social media. Right now, they’re only monetizing the avid ticket buyer fan. We help monetize the rest via our add-on engine that helps sports teams and their sponsors generate revenue and fan engagement by powering unique product offerings and meaningful ancillary experiences. Our widget and messaging engine takes just a few hours to set up and works seamlessly across any sports properties’ digital assets such as websites and social platforms.
This makes every sporting event an awe-inspiring fan experience. Some of our experiences include engaging in a private VIP hangout with players of the team of choice, bedtime storytelling by a team mascot for your children, participating in an unforgettable sweepstakes contest for a one-on-one workout session with former or star players, and having the opportunity to bid on exclusive, once-in-lifetime memorabilia such as game-worn jerseys, signed game balls, and VIP access to the biggest games! Today, thanks to Rebus, teams are able to reach their entire fanbase, sell experiences worth remembering and allow fans to seamlessly purchase unique products and services.
BP: Is your technology patentable?
JV:No, but it is proprietary developed inhouse with a team of full stack engineers and AI experts.
BP: How big is the market?
JV: The Latin American market is big, about $7 billion U.S., but the North American sports market is 10 times bigger at $70 billion U.S. There are more than 150 million sports fans in the United States alone.
BP: What is your competitive advantage and what makes your solutions a must-have for sports teams and leagues?
JV: Think of Rebus as a retail end-cap display of the digital world. We expose and target fans to ai-enabled special promotions and “limited edition” experiences from their favorite teams and sports franchises on fans’ live screens. We guarantee clients a minimum 15% conversion rate, which is three times more than traditional e-commerce platforms. That’s pretty hard to pass up!
BP: Who are your competitors?
JV:The competitive landscape for fan engagement technologies is crowded; however, most companies are heavily focused on avid fans like Experience, Fanatics and Fevo. We help teams monetize casual or fair-weather fans, something our competitors aren’t doing.
BP: Is it a tough sell or do sports properties immediately understand your value proposition?
JV:Teams and leagues understand our value proposition immediately as they face challenges producing and selling experiences to their fan base. The vast majority of teams monetize only about 20% of their fan base.
BP: What kind of traction do you have to date?
JV:We currently service about 100 clients in sports, entertainment and corporate events, and deliver conversion rates of more than 15%, which is three times higher than traditional e-commerce solutions like Amazon or Shopify. Since starting the Techstars Sports Accelerator Powered by Indianapolis in July, we have closed deals with teams from the WNBA and USL, the World Boxing Council, esports teams, and soccer teams from Latin America and Europe. Additionally, we have more than 20 teams and organizations reviewing our pilot proposal as we speak. Our September revenue was $80,000 and average monthly revenue growth is 40%.
BP: How has the COVID pandemic affected Rebus?
JV:Regardless of the global pandemic, people still love their sports teams. This year we’ve had an impressive ramp up in clients and users—20% month-over-month growth in clients and 30% in users.
BP: I hear you’re moving your company headquarters from Bogotá, Colombia to Indianapolis—congratulations! Why is Indiana the ideal place for you to grow your business?
JV: Indianapolis is a top sports market with several professional teams and the headquarters of the NCAA. The city provides access to industry specific talent, strong networking opportunities and a great entrepreneurial environment.
BP: What will Rebus use this fundraising round for?
JV: The majority will go to finance our U.S. expansion and building out our sales and business development teams. We also plan to continue product development including getting to an omnichannel status and increasing our AI conversion rate.
BP: Why should VisionTech Angels members invest in you?
JV: Indianapolis is well known for being America’s sports capital and a thriving startup and tech ecosystem. Rebus is a perfect match for VisionTech Angels’ investment thesis focusing on early growth startups. We have a top-notch and growing customer base, a great product and the right team to execute our vision.
To learn more about Rebus visit their website. VisionTech Angels’ October Pitch Events include a live event on Tuesday, October 27 in Fort Wayne at the Pine Valley Country Club at 6 p.m. and a virtual pitch event on Thursday, October 29 at 6 p.m. Pitch events are open to our members and accredited investors interested in joining our group. To register, check your email for an invitation or email Ben Pidgeon at firstname.lastname@example.org.