Inspiration can come from the most unlikely sources. For Nick Petrella, that inspiration came in the form of an assignment. As a student at Skidmore College majoring in Management and Business, as well as Economics, Petrella took an Entrepreneurial Business class that sparked an idea that would eventually become the basis of Locker Room Talk.
Petrella’s professor announced a group project where each student would present an idea for a hypothetical business and the class would vote on which ones they thought had the highest potential. Petrella came up with the concept of having current, and former, student athletes providing feedback, on a website, about their coaches.
“It’s like the ‘Rate My Professor’ of college coaches,” Petrella explained.
He thought of the idea as he recalled looking through Rate My Professor and liking the principle that the website ran on.
“I wish[ed] we had something like this for coaches,” Petrella said, reflecting on his past thought process.
After presenting to the class, Petrella’s idea resonated with Keirsten Sires, another student athlete at Skidmore. Due to his classmate’s interest, as well as the approval of the idea from fellow athletes, Petrella realized that his idea may be a great way to introduce himself into the business industry.
Upon Petrella’s 2015 graduation, he and Sires became co-founders of their website and the acting COO and CEO, respectively.
Petrella, a pitcher for Skidmore, said he knows he made the right decision during the recruitment process, but also wished a website like Locker Room Talk was available while he was being recruited.
Most athletes endure stressful situations during the recruitment process.
As a former student athlete, Petrella said he wanted to make it easier for future recruits to make the right decision that will ultimately benefit their careers.
“Go on [the website], check the coaches that are recruiting you, check the reviews and see if the ratings match how you feel about that coach,” Petrella said, advising athletes who are being recruited.
But, as most start-up businesses do, Locker Room Talk had a bumpy road before reaching the level of success they have achieved.
“With any company, there are always ups and downs,” Petrella explained. “We made decisions that later on we asked ourselves, ‘what are we doing and why did we do that?’”
One of those decisions came in the hiring of their first Chief Technology Officer. Petrella said that he and Sires rushed through the hiring process and weren’t as thorough as they wished they would have been.
This particular CTO was not a proper fit for the vision Petrella had for Locker Room Talk and was fired before he was able to create a website.
“You do get frustrated,” said Petrella of the initial difficulties in starting a business and a website.
Eventually, Petrella and Sires outsourced their work to another company, and the Locker Room Talk website was created. It launched in November 2015, but Petrella started to notice growth right at the start of 2016. Petrella and Sires focused on reaching out to universities through social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook.
They thought that this style of communication was the best and most efficient way to get their business to spread to campuses across the country. Basing a business on the contributions of other people is a risky plan, but Locker Room Talk has been able to steadily grow the amount of ratings the website has to offer student athletes.
In addition to the outreaching done by the company, Petrella believes that a combination of interviews with former professional athletes and the redesign of their website have helped the company take off.
Through a mutual connection, Locker Room Talk interviewed former Pittsburgh Steeler Troy Polamalu, about their website. Polamalu, who attended USC from 1999-2002, loved the idea of athletes from across the country being able to rely on each other for accurate information about their potential coaches.
“I think hearing from other athletes is very beneficial,” Polamalu explained in an interview with Locker Room Talk. “To be able to learn from other people’s mistakes, and to be able to have access to those voices is really helpful; especially voices that have been there and done that,” claimed Polamalu.
Petrella also mentioned that interviewing a former professional athlete opened the door to more interviews. After working with former Heisman winner Eddie George, Locker Room Talk was able to get interviews with athletes like Polamalu and his Steeler teammate, Jerome Bettis.
“It is great feedback and gives a sense of credibility,” said Petrella about including professional athletes on the website.
Once an athlete decides to submit a rating for their coach, they are more likely to be truthful, because like Rate My Professor, all submissions are anonymous. To ensure accuracy, Locker Room Talk will only publish ratings that are from actual student athletes. Petrella said that when receiving submissions, they ask questions that allow the submitter to prove that they are in fact an athlete, or former athlete, whose opinion is based on experience.
In February of 2017, Locker Room Talk completely redesigned its layout which made it much more user friendly. Petrella mentioned that before this overhaul, searching for specific coaches was not an easy task. The redesign allows student athletes to search for a coach by being able to select which school that coach works for, as well as which division that school plays in.
It is no coincidence that after the redesign, Locker Room Talk surpassed 10,000 visitors for just February alone. Based on their projections, Petrella expects that 10,000-visitor mark to also be passed in March.
An idea that started out as an assignment, blossomed into a small business that currently has four full-time employees, a CTO and 14 interns, all of which are in the process of reaching out to potential sponsors to extend their brand. Stories of start-up businesses, like Locker Room Talk, can provide inspiration to those looking to follow in their footsteps.
“Stick to it. Realize you’re probably going to fail before you succeed,” advised Petrella. “If you believe in the idea, there is no reason to not keep trying.”