A Profile of Eric Verso: Battling Injuries to Get to the MLS and Knowing When To Call It Quits
For a good chunk of Eric Verso’s college career, his professional soccer dream was in doubt. Battling multiple injuries and fighting to stay healthy was a perpetual grind that eventually paid off in a fully healthy senior season, one that saw him record two goals and 13 assists to help the Stanford Cardinal win its first National Championship. With any doubts about playing professionally in the rearview, Eric was drafted in the second round of the 2016 MLS Superdraft.
Having reached his goal, the next 16 months would find Eric facing more untimely injuries that ultimately forced him to retire earlier than expected. As a Management Science & Engineering major, Eric recently joined his second startup. We spoke about his experience at Stanford, what it was like to face so many injuries, and his two years in tech since leaving professional soccer.
What was your experience as a student-athlete like?
I really loved my time at Stanford! It was something that I never took for granted but can now appreciate even more looking back. The people I met on and off the field were absolutely incredible, and they really inspired me to strive for excellence in every aspect of life. My next-door neighbor freshman year was a silver medalist in equestrian; my next-door neighbor junior year was a two-time Olympic MVP and gold medalist in water polo; one of my best friends at Stanford has successfully sold a start-up company and his new startup has already raised tens of millions of dollars. These are incredibly successful and driven individuals, yet they are so humble and personable. Being surrounded by friends like this really motivated me to become a better student, athlete, and person.
You had a dream of playing professionally which was challenged by your injuries. Can you talk about what you learned from those injuries.
I learned how to deal with adversity. When I was hurt, it was just as challenging mentally as it was physically, because I felt like I was letting my team down by not being able to be on the field. I worked hard to recover from injuries, and I spent extra time doing stretching, soft tissue work, and strength work to try to prevent future injuries. Ultimately, the hard work paid off in a full season of being completely healthy, leading Stanford to our first national championship, and getting drafted into Major League Soccer.
Describe your experience playing for the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros of the MLS. How did your expectations meet reality?
My experience playing for RGVFC was difficult because I again struggled with injuries out of my control: a stress fracture in my foot followed by multiple broken ribs in an automobile accident. I enjoyed being a part of a professional team though, and I was able to work remotely at the same time for 3-4 hours a day as a project manager for a Stanford friend’s company called Pilot AI, which gave me valuable experience that I took with me to Visual Labs.
At what point did you say to yourself that it was time to move on?
The serious injuries led me to move on because I realized that I could provide more value with my mind in the workplace than with my body as an athlete. It was very difficult because I had always dreamed of being a professional soccer player growing up and it was very hard to give that up.
Walk us through your process of moving on.
I had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew that many of my friends in my major had joined finance, consulting, or tech companies in some sort of business analyst or rotational type of role. I talked to friends and mentors to get advice on what sort of company I should look for and what sort of job would suit my skillset. I knew that I wanted to make an impact, continue to learn, and set myself up for career growth.
At what point in this process did you find out about Visual Labs?
I found out about Visual Labs through their CEO, Alex Popof, who was a friend of mine from school. We stayed in touch and as I was thinking about moving on from soccer, we talked more about Visual Labs and how I could help the company grow. I looked at a couple of other potential opportunities as well, but Visual Labs seemed like the best fit for me at the time.
What made it seem like such a great fit for you?
Coming off of my MLS experience, it was the team that drew me to Visual Labs. I knew Alex and our lead engineer Ben McKenzie who was in my freshman dorm at Stanford. The Operations and Support lead John Gage was a year above me at Stanford on the Basketball team, and we clicked right away. Finally, our Chief Operating Officer had excellent experience and was someone I thought I could learn a lot from on the business side of running a company. I felt that I was joining a small team with a culture similar to what I had at Stanford Soccer of smart people working hard and having fun at the same time.
You’ve now recently started a new role at Iterable. What experience and skills did you get from your first two years in tech at Visual Labs?
As an early member of a startup you have to wear many hats and do whatever is necessary to help the company grow and succeed. That includes support and operations functions as well as training new employees. My primary role though was sales: Prospecting, traveling for meetings or trade shows/conferences, webinar or in person demos, coordinating trials, negotiating and closing deals, maintaining customer relationships, and renewing deals. I was also in charge of our CRM, marketing campaigns, and company blog, which all helped our sales team generate better leads.
Looking back, what were some of the challenges you faced moving away from being a full-time athlete?
I think I was prepared in a lot of ways while still being challenged in others. Being in a high-performing and fast-moving environment as a student-athlete taught me to set goals, prioritize my tasks, and manage my time to achieve those goals. Attention to detail was also something has served me well: showing up early to meetings or calls, following through with commitments, and listening to client’s unique problems rather than “selling” our features.
In terms of challenges, the toughest part of transitioning was leaving behind the team environment I was a part of. Working hard with a talented group of like-minded individuals to accomplish lofty goals and enjoying spending so much time with people you cared deeply about was something that took some time to adjust to.
Now firmly established in tech, how do you reflect on reaching your professional soccer dream, but ultimately having to leave it sooner than anticipated?
The most challenging thing was dealing with those injuries because I loved playing soccer more than anything, and I had a number of injuries that kept me from playing and reaching my full potential. The way I see it now, it gave me a growth mindset and having a growth mindset was the biggest lesson I learned. I developed a passion for learning and enjoying the process of improving rather than the outcome goals.
If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice as a student-athlete, what would it be?
Can I give two pieces of advice? I would say the first is to talk to and learn from as many people as you can. And don’t be afraid to try things and take risks.
Finish this sentence: My biggest strength as a leader is…
Empathy and listening to others. Whether or not you are able or willing to implement someone’s suggestions, it’s important to show them that you are listening to them and care about them. A leader’s job is to get everyone to buy in to the process of achieving a common goal.