As venture capital deals go, this one is a knockout.
Ottawa-based sports marketing platform Millions.co announced this week it has scored $US10-million in series-A financing from a group led by Boston’s Volition Capital. Former Shopify CTO Cody Fauser, Assent Compliance executive Jonathan Hughes and Aydin Mirzaee, who co-founded and later sold Survey Monkey and is now CEO of Fellow.app, also invested in the round.
The multimillion-dollar funding haul comes less than six months after the platform officially went live. Millions co-founder Scott Whitteker said Thursday even he’s surprised how quickly the venture has taken off.
“We’ve just been in full grind mode,” he told Techopia. “It almost feels like we’ve just relaunched the company again, and we have bigger goals and more to achieve. We had high goals before, but now it’s just out of control.”
Closing in on 20 employees, the company expects to nearly double its headcount over the next year as it adds to its product offerings and expands a client roster that already features several big-name mixed martial arts personalities.
“We want to really make sure that our athletes are set up for success, and the funding’s really going to help with that,” Whitteker said.
Combat sports fans
Millions is the brainchild of Whitteker and his older brother Matt, who are both entrepreneurs and die-hard fans of combat sports. Other founding members include Adrian Salamunovic, who launched Ottawa on-demand printing firm CanvasPop before embarking on a successful career as a bestselling author and sought-after business adviser.
The Whittekers used to run their own gym and realized that most boxers, mixed martial artists and other combat fighters have few alternative sources of income beyond what they earn in the ring or octagon.
Their new venture combines elements of social media with an online marketplace where athletes in combat sports such as boxing and mixed martial arts can sell merchandise, post videos and interact directly with fans.
The platform splits profits from merchandise sales with athletes, who also earn a percentage of fees from customers who subscribe to the Millions app and pay to watch livestreams of events.
"We’re literally just tapping into a brand-new market. We’re really excited to see what we can do with it."
About 400 athletes have signed on to the platform since it went live in early May, including former UFC star Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
Whitteker expects that number to balloon to more than 3,000 by next April. The company is kickstarting that recruitment drive with a program that will offer a total of $1 million in bonuses to professional, NCAA and Olympic athletes who sign up and make sales on the platform, with up to $5,000 going to individual members based on their social media followings.
“There’s so many avenues we can go with this,” Whitteker said. “We’re literally just tapping into a brand-new market. We’re really excited to see what we can do with it.”
Among the startup’s staunchest supporters is longtime UFC ring announcer Bruce Buffer. The “veteran voice of the Octagon” has been perhaps the platform’s most vocal evangelist, Whitteker said.
“Every week we get new messages from Bruce introducing us to new, top-tier athletes in the UFC,” he said. “It’s been great.”
Buffer – whose half-brother Michael, the legendary boxing announcer, is a member of the platform – was also part of the team that pitched the venture to Volition.
“As you can imagine, having Bruce Buffer share his passion for the project, I think that really resonated,” Whitteker said. “They came back with an offer we really liked.”
Volition had previously invested in Ottawa software firm Assent Compliance, which was co-founded by Whitteker’s brother. The Boston-based company typically invests in later-stage ventures but jumped at the chance to grab an equity stake in Millions right away.
“Athletes are always looking for ways to connect on a deeper level with fans, generate additional revenue streams and build their personal brands, and Millions offers all of this on a single platform,” Volition managing partner Sean Cantwell said in a statement. “We think that Millions is the future of fan engagement.”
Whitteker said Volition’s willingness to partner with the young company sends a message to the market that’s as valuable as the millions it’s investing.
“A company like that doing a round this early is a real feather in our cap,” he said.