MORRISVILLE – Earlier this year, eMinor sold ReverbNation to BandLab, and the deal was announced by BandLab on the company’s website. Now, the CEO of eMinor, Michael Doernberg, will focus his team on a new software solution in the youth sports industry that the company has been building, fueled in part from the capital infusion from the recent ReverbNation deal.
Michael Doernberg, CEO of eMinor, told WRAL TechWire this week that the business behind ReverbNation became profitable, with some 1,000 musicians each day joining the platform, and the company’s leadership team faced a decision due where ReverbNation sat in the business development cycle.
“We made these investments in music,” said Doernberg. “And we became a very successful company.”
eMinor had launched ReverbNation, and then developed an in-house marketing platform, which would become Adwerx. In 2015, eMinor spun out Adwerx into its own independent company, led by Jed Carlson as CEO, who along with Doernberg and three others, had founded eMinor and built ReverbNation.
But not before that integrated marketing effort boosted ReverbNation’s growth, leading to the company’s success, Doernberg noted. The company became quite successful, and positioned the company such that it was due for a decision about its next move, said Doernberg.
“Our next step, if we were going to go beyond it, is that we would make big investments in the music business, around music rights, and audience,” said Doernberg. “That was a decision that we’d been talking about for a long time.”
Then, in the middle of the year, a route to take ReverbNation to its next step became clear when the company fielded an unsolicited offer.
“We had an opportunity, an inbound interest into Reverb Nation, in the middle of the summer, and the problem with it, is that one of the things we had to ask ourselves was how we could divide the company up in order to sell it,” Doernberg told WRAL TechWire.
But through conversation, it became clear that the deal could benefit all parties involved. BandLab would acquire ReverbNation, but not the business behind it. Doernberg’s team of about 50 employees could focus on an internal, early-stage effort to establish a company-developed product, Playmetrics, and BandLab’s team could successfully take over the operations of ReverbNation, he said.
“BandLab allowed us to keep the company together, and to sell the business,” said Doernberg. “They had a whole infrastructure to run the business, and they didn’t need everybody, so it was very natural.”
That was the rationale to sell ReverbNation, explained Doernberg, it was both the right time to sell, and it “allowed us to capitalize the go-forward business with Playmetrics with cash.”
The next stage of growth for eMinor: youth sports
“At our core, a lot of us, I’ve worked together with the core of people for a long time,” said Doernberg of the eMinor team. “We kind of have a DNA, and we’re a tech company, so with one of the things that happened with eMinor, we started to realize that what we were really good at was building technology companies.”
Take Adwerx for example. The company spun out of ReverbNation, splitting off into a separate building, with separate teams, in early 2015. The company has gone on to provide advertising solutions largely in the real estate industry, and recently raised $14.5 million in capital to fuel further growth.
“We drove Adwerx, and we wanted to do more of that, incubating ideas, building companies,” said Doernberg, who is also among the investors in a new Triangle-focused venture capital fund led by Scot Wingo.
Doernberg, who played soccer growing up, then raised a son who played club soccer, observed an opportunity to provide software to youth club sports teams in order to streamline logistics and operations, at a time when the industry was becoming more and more professionalized.
“There’s an inflection point, where something is going on, and the company has a reason to start, and for us, the expectations for service, for professionalism in youth sports was really leveling-up, which it had never really done before,” said Doernberg. “It was starting to become much more pervasive, and you were starting to see the rise of large professional organizations.”
That was a few years ago, said Doernberg, and the company began to invest resources into product development, which the company could afford to do comprehensively over time rather than in a more lean, agile development model where a product team built a minimum viable product and began to acquire customers, making improvements along the way.
“Managing something like youth sports is extremely complex,” said Doernberg. “We worked with North Carolina FC to develop what we consider to be the best club operating system in the world, and one of the things that we did, because we could afford to do it, was spend a lot of time building it, and building it in a really good way.”
The ongoing success of ReverbNation enabled eMinor and Doernberg’s team to make those investments, to incubate yet another “startup within a startup.”
The result: Playmetrics.
But there’s sense in operating this way, in building a company that excels at developing software, explained Doernberg.
“Think about the things that you’re working on as a continuum,” he said. “For a company, at any moment in time, you have to decide where you are going to spend your time, and we were no different.”
“We had these businesses that were at different stages in their lifecycle, Reverb Nation was a mature, profitable business whose evolution required a new type of investment that was not necessarily consistent with the skill set of our team and Playmetrics was emerging, growing, and right in the sweet spot of what we’ve done well.”
The decision had to be made, given the lifecycles of the two businesses within eMinor, said Doernberg. When the businesses were ReverbNation and Adwerx, the company decided to spin out Adwerx. Now, with Playmetrics and ReverbNation, said Doernberg, “it was a choice between keeping Playmetrics and growing it inside eMinor and setting Reverb on a new path, or the reverse.”
After the inbound inquiry to acquire ReverbNation, eMinor chose a path forward. Playmetrics already has between 160-170 clubs using the company’s software solution, said Doernberg, including some of the “marquee names” in youth soccer.
“What we’ve been doing, is building this business by displacing the cobbled-together pieces of software that have helped run these clubs, and as these clubs professionalize, one of the challenges that they have is how to keep all of these people on the same page all at the same time,” said Doernberg.
Now, fueled with capital from selling ReverbNation, and with the eMinor team mostly intact, the company’s focus shifts to accelerate the growth of Playmetrics.