In April 2021, Mug.News ran a story saying that Opendorse was “poised” to become the leader in Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL). Excuse us for saying so, but we nailed it. This was not hard to see coming for those of us who have watched Blake Lawrence and Adi Kunalic for the last decade. Excellent leaders with a clear focus that also could see that the landscape for athletics, particularly college athletics was changing.
This week, Opendorse announced that it had raised $20 million in follow-on capital from a variety of current investors. It likely includes long time believers – Flyover Capital and Invest Nebraska. But, over time, Opendorse has also gathered many unusual angels for a Nebraska based business – athletes and athletic representation from around the globe.
Moreover, the company now has more than ninety employees in the heart of Lincoln, and it should pass the century mark in the next year. This is an amazing story that I have chronicled for basically the company’s entire history.
So rather than simply re-writing the press release, I am going to provide a little insight from my perspective about what makes Opendorse different.
- Great Leadership. Blake Lawrence and Adi Kunalic are excellent balances for each other. They know and trust each other, but they also know their own lanes. They have supplemented their duo with strong leaders. I have worked with a variety of people on their software team. And so, what might have been a weakness at inception is now an incredible strength. They have built a team that can win at many different levels – administration, sales, and technology being three that I have watched closely.
- Vision. The company and its leaders saw how the athletics environment was changing – particularly around social media. They saw this before many of the current platforms were even invented. However, they saw the opportunity for athletes to monetize their personal brands, beyond the big stars such as Lebron James or Aaron Rodgers. Instead, they played a long tail strategy based on platform shift and their gut about how initial adoption would continue.
- Willing to Focus on a Giant Pumpkin. My wife often chides me because I have many irons in the fire. She says that you need to know which one is your giant pumpkin and focus. Opendorse bet on itself by unwinding itself from Hurrdat – even though Hurrdat had more revenue and more adoption. Instead, the leadership sold Hurrdat and bet on Opendorse.
- Strong Ecosystem. The ecosystem of athletes and startups in and around Nebraska is not often discussed. But Prince Amukamara and Ndamukong Suh were early advocates for the platform. With Hudl’s success, other Lincolnites recognized that sports knowledge and translation was a unique feature of Lincoln – leading to investment and guidance from a variety of people. I watched this happen up front from my perch at Nebraska Global – Adi and Blake asked for the help but also accepted it, even when it was not what they wanted.
- Regional Support. Blake Lawrence is the big star at Pipeline Entrepreneurs events today. But, he benefited a ton from having the network of experienced entrepreneurs to guide him and his thought process. Pipeline has been an absolute game changer for Nebraska and its ecosystem – particularly in its first two or three Nebraska classes.
In short, Opendorse was an overnight success a decade in the making. Many still don’t know their story, you should. I would encourage you to read or listen to Blake on the many podcasts, news features, etc. – where he appears or is quoted. For months, the company has been featured by every conceivable sports and news program. What you will hear is an entrepreneur who went for it – but improved dramatically through experience, not just through natural talent. The company is now THE expert in a national story that is on every university athlete’s mind.