Five Questions With: Keith Roberts

Keith Roberts, the new vice president-engineering at SquadLocker, the Warwick-based online athletic apparel dealer, talked to Providence Business News about his position, the company’s mission and how it sets itself apart in a competitive marketplace.

PBN: What attracted you to the position at SquadLocker?

ROBERTS: Over the past 20 years I’ve been most excited when working for startups that are helping to make peoples’ lives easier, while at the same time completely disrupting a market space. SquadLocker brings this front and center by providing a fresh and innovative user experience within a large, fragmented and hyper-local market. I also love Rhode Island, and was excited to find an opportunity to work with a great team of Rhode Island business leaders, Gary Goldberg, Todd Grant and Frank Tillinghast to grow a business like this right here in Warwick.

Prior to joining SquadLocker I served as the R&D site manager for AGFA Healthcare (formerly HeartLab) in Westerly. There, I worked as part of a global R&D organization where I was responsible for ensuring regulatory compliance with the FDA, driving operational efficiency and innovating new products for the company’s next generation healthcare IT platform.

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PBN: What do you hope to accomplish with the website?

ROBERTS: I was attracted to SquadLocker’s vision and commitment to revolutionizing an $8 billion industry and how thousands of mom and pop stores do business. Every one of us has been involved in sports as coaches, parents, and long ago, as athletes. There is plenty of work ahead. We are continuing to build a foundation that will offer us all the freedom of choice to buy the best that the sports apparel market has to offer.
I am excited for we have done so far and more importantly, where we are going.

PBN: When does SquadLocker expect to reach its $2.25 million funding goal? Has it been difficult to attract investors?

ROBERTS: Currently, the company has received commitments of $1.75 million as part of a $2.25 million offering. At this time the company is in discussions with potential investors who will make up the remaining $500,000 availability and expects to close on the round within 30 days.

Interestingly, it has been very easy to attract potential investors. What has been more difficult is qualifying the investors for their potential value they would bring to the business. We have been very selective. To date, we have been fortunate to have found investors all of whom will bring considerable value. Particularly, George Overholser and Jim Lombardi, each who invested in the business personally will be joining the board and, as a result, will be active mentors for the company’s management team.

Overholser, CEO of Boston’s Third Sector Capital Partners, a member of Capital One’s founding management team and an initial investor and former board member of VistaPrint, led the round and was responsible for due diligence on behalf of the investor team.

Slater Technology Fund, a Rhode Island-backed venture capital fund, also invested in this round. Thorne Sparkman of the Slater Fund will participate in the business as a board observer.

PBN: Why do you think there is a need/demand for this type of online company when there are so many retail stores selling athletic products out there?

ROBERTS: Disruptive innovation is coming to youth athletics, with 50 million young participants, ranging from 5 year olds to college, playing on more than four million teams across America. Technology has brought improvement in every aspect, including player registration, payment systems, parent communications, coaching, recruitment and apparel management. League Management Software solutions have become ubiquitous in providing online registration and scheduling tools to youth leagues. Converging with these software advancements are more recent and obvious signals that significant change is underway.

Choice and convenience transcend geographies and industries. Efficient, scalable and interactive forces, complete with a feedback loop, can elevate competitive forces to real-time responses. Such competitive pressures also push out the poor performers and bring down prices.

Technology and change have disrupted the way that we think and shop. Amazon offers the best possible prices to consumers. Zappos opens doors to countless choices in shoes. Uber and AirBnB have upended the century old livery and hospitality industries respectively.

SquadLocker is focused on innovating a streamlined process for the volunteers who mentor and inspire young athletes as coaches or league organizers. That doesn’t mean it’s all-out head-to-head competition between our improved online workflows and the corner store operators nationally. We’re building value.
The value is in the form of ease-of-use and convenience. It’s that simple. We have enough proof tests to know that coaches and parent volunteers respond favorably to a less cumbersome method of selecting, managing a buying team apparel, accessories and hard goods. How the market reacts more broadly to this innovation, however, is uncertain.
What is certain for this fall is that SquadLocker’s management is intent on completing the launch of the new online experience, testing and improving the user experience, obtaining enough usage to validate the investment thesis and to begin on-boarding new customers and revenues from all over the United States.

PBN: Will you be increasing your presence on social media?

ROBERTS: Absolutely. SquadLocker is currently finalizing an inbound marketing architecture that will be supported by a rich content strategy. The content that we develop, publish and make available to league organizers, coaches, parents of youth athletes and the players themselves will be engaging and relevant to those roles. SquadLocker will be making a considerable investment to expand its social media presence and to distribute content and engage with these user groups more actively now that the company is well-funded and can dedicate resources to this important facet of its business.

We are here to eliminate the frustrations of apparel selection and ordering, the process must be simplified down to a three-step online workflow for selecting and making gear available for purchase by parents directly. A league organizer should be able to:

  • Identify their sport and age level;
  • Upload artwork; and
  • Receive a merchandise selection appropriate for the profile of the team.

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