How I Filled The Void That College Soccer Left
SHORTLY AFTER GRADUATING FROM LOYOLA UNIVERSITY MARYLAND...
I realized there was a void in my life and it did not take me long to realize what it was. Up until that point, I had played sports my whole life and suddenly twenty years later, there was no competition, no team, and no common goal. I went from being a Division 1 athlete to being a CPA at a public accounting firm, sitting at a desk for 10-16 hours a day crunching numbers and preparing tax returns. I was left wondering how did my life change so fast? What happened and how do I get back that excitement that I once had?
Growing up, I played soccer, lacrosse, basketball, baseball and track. I was traveling every weekend to a tournament, and often after school I had two practices a night. I grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a remote area where it was hard to get recruited by colleges. I was fortunate to be given a scholarship to play soccer and lacrosse at Episcopal High School, a boarding school in Alexandria, VA with a nationally ranked soccer team and a lacrosse team that played in one of the best conferences in the country. In high school, I considered myself an athlete first and a student second and my grades were not as good as they could have been. Luckily, I was offered to play at several Division 1 schools for soccer and was recruited by several division 3 schools in lacrosse. My senior year I captained our soccer team to a 24-0 record, a state and conference championship, and a top 10 national ranking. In September of my senior year, I committed to Loyola University Maryland which was ranked 3rd in the nation at the time for soccer. Everything seemed to be going right for me and I was excited for the next steps.
However, my career at Loyola did not go as I had expected or hoped, as I played very limited minutes. My freshman year, I had trouble dealing with this and almost transferred to a division 3 school to play soccer and lacrosse. However, I decided to stick with it at Loyola and swallow my pride. I am grateful that this happened and it was this experience that taught me I had to focus more attention on my education, rather than athletics. I realized that I was now a student first and an athlete second, and while my priorities shifted, I still needed the excitement, camaraderie, and passion that athletics provided. Being part of a team of talented and driven individuals, who all share a common goal is very powerful, as you create unrivaled bonds and experiences with your teammates. After graduating from Loyola with an accounting degree, I completed the CPA exam and received a job at McGladrey, the 5th largest accounting firm.
At first, I was excited to go to the waterfront, downtown Baltimore office in one of the most iconic buildings in the city. After a few weeks though, I quickly realized that the environment was not for me and that I was missing something. I could not sit behind a desk all day and slowly climb the corporate ladder. I knew that I wouldn’t be happy if I did so for the rest of my life. So, once again I had to reassess my options and priorities. It wasn’t only that I didn’t enjoy the work, but I didn’t feel that there was any true common goal between employees and I missed the camaraderie that athletics provided me throughout my life. I wanted that excitement back, as did my roommate at the time, who played soccer with me at Loyola and worked with me at McGladrey.
We would come home from work every night and brainstorm ideas of how we could start our own business. One night we were watching a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game and my roommate said to me, “Wouldn’t it be cool if these athletes could ask their fans questions and interact with them in a more meaningful way?” For example, Lebron James could post a picture of two shoes and ask, ‘Which shoes should I wear for tonight’s game?’ His fans could then vote and feel like they had a say in his decision. This was where the idea for our startup, Arbit, began.
As two accountants, we created the business with barely any capital, no tech experience, and no real resources. However, we did have the drive and passion to make it work. I credit this drive and passion to athletics, which gave us our competitive nature. My Co-Founder, Alex Bullington and I took the leap of faith to focus on Arbit full-time. Since launching in December of 2016, we've gained over 200,000 users, raised over $900,000 from investors including NBA players, Ty Lawson, Caron Butler, Anthony Tolliver, and Steve Blake, participated in Accelerate Baltimore & FounderTrac, two Maryland based accelerator programs, received funding from the State of Maryland’s state technology fund, won a pitch competition in Tokyo, Japan, have hired several employees and serve clients from local restaurants to large public corporations.
Recently, we pivoted Arbit from being a social polling app to a software that companies can use to create picture and video poll and survey campaigns that they can share through email, social media, their website, and the Arbit app. This allows companies to connect with customers and gain instant consumer feedback in a cost-efficient manner, which subsequently helps them better manage inventory and purchase orders, and receive powerful data and analytics. Along the way, we've had our fair share of setbacks, whether it be investors backing out last minute, almost running out of capital, or periods of stagnant growth, but we have never let these issues bring us down. The key to persevering through these tough times has been surrounding ourselves with a team of passionate individuals who all share a common goal.
I will always be grateful for the role that athletics had and will continue to have in my life. Athletics prepared me to deal with the adversity that I’ve faced launching Arbit and prepared me to take necessary risks to achieve my goals. I believe that athletics mirrors the real-world for several reasons. First, in sports, you never know what is going to happen going into a game which is true on any given day in the real world. Second, you must trust your teammates and your teammates must trust in you. Finally, you must know your role and excel in that role. It is impossible to be successful without having a strong and supportive team, because just like in athletics, the real world comes with adversity and you cannot do it all on your own.
Most of us do not have the fortune of playing professional sports after college and I believe that the vast majority of athletes go through a similar experience where they feel like they have a massive void in their life after graduating. I believe the best way to fill that void is to do something that makes you want to get out of bed every morning. To do that, you must ignore those that doubt you and tell you there is only one career path to follow. Your path may not be clear and sometimes you have to take risks to find a brighter future. It is not an easy process to fill that void, but trust that athletics provided you with the tools necessary to bounce back from adversity and persevere to find the next chapter in life that provides that same excitement and joy that athletics once did.