STARTUP: Custom College Recruiting
PROPRIETORS: Shane Howard
I usually limit the subjects of this column to businesses that have only recently started, say sometime in the last twelve months or so. I made an exception this time because this is a story that needs to be told. It’s a classic story about how personal drive combined with passion, confidence, and perseverance result in successful outcomes. Most seasoned entrepreneurs know that’s not all it takes though. After all, the product or service you want to sell has to be something people want to buy.
I first met Shane Howard, nearly five years ago when he solicited an investment for his company, Custom College Recruiting (CCR) from the Lincoln Trail Venture Group (LTVG), a local investor group that specializes in investing in local startups (I’ll be writing a feature article about LTVG soon). Back then he had a compelling proposition and while LTVG chose not to invest in CCR as a group, there were several investors in the audience that were interested. One of them decided take the ride with Shane.
I spent about 90 minutes with Shane during our interview at The Vibe in downtown Elizabethtown. Personally, I found him to be a driven and passionate man. He is a man of very humble beginnings, which in my mind always makes a better success story than others. He towers over most people at 6 foot 6 inches and at nearly 300 pounds and with a powerful voice, he could be intimidating to others. Let’s just say, I wouldn’t want to tick him off in a dark alley. But once you start to hear his story, his physical presence quickly fades as his intense drive and zealous vision for success takes over.
Let me first describe what CCR is all about. As their name suggests, they’re about helping athletes find college scholarships. Their target audience is the parents of athletes seeking athletic scholarships for their kids. Sounds simple, right? Actually, not so much. If you’re like me and don’t have children who are talented athletes, you might be tempted to believe the stereotypical view about such parents and their kids, e.g., the obsessed father who lives vicariously through his son or daughter and pushes them to the breaking point to become star athletes. If you’ve caught the new Fox television show Pitch, you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about. There are parents like this and there are athletes worthy of national attention; however, they are by far the exception. This is not CCR’s target.
Many, if not most college athletes with scholarships are found from scouts or agents, who pitch their discoveries directly to the college coaches and their staffs. Obsessed parents spend a great deal of time trying to get the attention of those scouts. There are a number of companies in the recruiting business that will happily help those parents depart with their money, stroking the parents’ egos and suggesting their son may well be the next Heisman trophy winner. CCR is different because Shane’s vision is about helping people, not raiding their wallets with promises of unrealistic dreams.
This is not what CCR does. They’re not in the scouting business and they’re not focused on getting their clients full-ride scholarships at Division I colleges. CCR has a different approach. Recognizing that 82% of all college/university scholarship opportunities fall outside NCAA Division I, they focus on parents seeking reasonable scholarship opportunities. Most of that time, it involves a combination of academic and athletic scholarships. This is a profoundly different way of helping students get athletic scholarships. They have in fact, carved out a lucrative niche in the business and they’re moving ahead full steam under that premise.
CCR was originally formed seven years ago. I thought it was time to check in with Shane and see how things have worked out. I began following him on Facebook about a year ago and noticed something interesting. He was posting from all over the world. I was confused. I couldn’t help but wonder what he was doing bouncing all over the globe and how that was helping him with CCR. As it turns out, a lot. He spends a lot of time in other countries, giving seminars to parents and athletes and setting up partnerships with educational and other institutions.
CCR has partnerships with the official basketball recruiting service for Basketball Victoria, Basketball Queensland and other schools, clubs and local associations in Australia. They have similar partnerships in New Zealand, South Korea, China, England, Belgium, and Latvia.
“We went that route in large part due to understanding that most of the post secondary institutions were thriving due to international students. Couple that with the increased talent level of international athletes is what directed me to solving this problem both in the states along with internationally,”
I asked Shane why there was so much focus on the foreign market. It seems that along the way, he had an epiphany. “We went that route in large part due to understanding that most of the post secondary institutions were thriving due to international students. Couple that with the increased talent level of international athletes is what directed me to solving this problem both in the states along with internationally,” said Shane.
During his travels, he discovered something else. The perception among many Americans is that the U.S. is universally disliked or even hated in the international community. He’s discovered the opposite and believes that perception to be entirely false. Students from around the world still want an education in the United States and often find it to be a prestigious accomplishment to have an American education. He’s had nine trips in eighteen months to seven countries and has plans for many more. While there he hosts free seminars to educate parents and their kids about the opportunities.
How is all this working out for CCR? Well, his clients are happy. The athletes and families that have trusted CCR have received over $45 million in potential scholarship and aid toward obtaining a college education. CCR has consistently met their revenue goals and is on track to double their revenue from the previous year. Shane has intentionally held back on business growth in the last few years, focusing entirely on getting his model right and ensuring his clients are satisfied. Why? Because he wants to make sure his employees and partners have a full grasp of his vision and learn why CCR’s model is better than traditional recruiting methods.
“Some people build employees and some people build teams,” said Shane. “I want to build a family. In building a company, family doing the right thing is always the right thing and it’s intertwined throughout our culture.”
CCR’s has six employees, having relocated from Florida, Colorado, Connecticut, and England. Two others reside in England today. Shane actually doesn’t even like to refer to them as employees, preferring the term team instead, claiming they are the driving force behind their day to day growth.”Some people build employees, some people build teams,” said Shane. “I want to build a family. In building a company, family doing the right thing is always the right thing and it’s intertwined throughout our culture.”
Shane is also focusing heavily on partnerships with organizations and educational institutions. His challenge is getting the colleges to accept a different model of recruiting. The entrenched model is all about getting the attention of the college coaches and their staff through scouts and agents. CCR has an online system that allows coaches and their staffs to research athletes seeking scholarships, providing them with a wealth of information that would otherwise only be available through other means.
Shane Howard’s personal drive and persistence once again proves that it takes more than just a good idea to make a successful business. In my mind, he exemplifies what true entrepreneurship means.