Monday Apr 22, 2013 by Ben Mirin - Contributor, VentureFizz
As team member number three at Actifio, Sean Walter happily acknowledges that he jumped off a rocket ship.
“We always knew Actifio was going to take off,” Walter chimes whenever the company comes up. “It’s been surreal and heartwarming to watch the company grow from its early days in a conference room of five people to the emerging giant it is today.”
But Walter isn’t part of Actifio anymore. He left last month after four years to launch SwaggerCap, a groundbreaking crowd-funding platform for sports teams, clubs, and independent athletes. The company is already helping 70 teams and athletes at all levels of play raise money to pursue their dreams. Since SwaggerCap officially launched its service to the public last Tuesday, big teams are signing on.
“I received an email out of the blue from the Phoenix FC Wolves back in late January,” Walter remembers. “They were a new team, and seemed very familiar with and open to crowd-funding, almost like a fellow startup! Today they’re kicking off a $125,000 campaign right in time with our launch.”
The FC Wolves are raising money for a team bus to take them to all their games on the national circuit. They join SwaggerCap’s other crowd-funded athletes by creating custom profiles for their team and offering unique rewards for every level of donation to their campaign.
“Every athlete or sports team has a story to tell, and a need for funding,” Walter said. We are trying to make sure that athletes and teams at any level of play have the opportunity to succeed.”
A quick glance at SwaggerCap’s website showcases a range of athletes competing in an even larger variety of sports. Pro and amateur triathletes are frequently featured alongside equestrian teams, water polo enthusiasts, rowers, Ultimate Frisbee teams, and competitive snowboarders, to name a few.
“Typically these athletes must adhere to a traditional fundraising schedule based on major league rules, with only a couple opportunities to campaign for the entire year” Walter bemoaned on his blog. “Athletes at any level should have the option to raise money whenever the need arises and meet new career challenges as they come.”
Walter developed an early appreciation for sports outside the fold of popular American superstardom. He started playing soccer at the age of six, and continued on to the high school varsity level and then the NCAA for Clarkson University.
His passion for sports carried him through two years at Clarkson before the tech world got a hold of him. It was the summer of 1998, the heyday of the dot com boom, when Walter decided to take his first internship at Mothernature.com.
“I was still in college mode at the time, but I was falling in love with technology,” he recalled. “Then Mothernature asked me to come on full time.”
In what he remembers as his first big career decision, Walter left Clarkson and enrolled in the night program at Bentley University while working for his first startup. His early entry into the industry exposed him to countless early-stage startups in Boston, as well as many of the problems facing tech entrepreneurs in his day. By the time he was 22, he had embarked on a path that would take him through six companies in fifteen years.
But it wasn’t until Walter received a recruiting cold call from a contact of Ash Ashutosh that his journey to becoming a founder and CEO reached fruition.
“This was the first real cold call opportunity I’d had since my internship at Mothernature, but I’m so glad I took that chance. Being a part of Actifio so early on meant Ash could show me how he went about building a company from nothing.”
Walter still credits Ashutosh as his primary mentor for the founding of SwaggerCap.
“It turns out Ash and I were very aligned in our views of how to start a company. He gave me the final pieces I needed to become a founder.”
After four years at Actifio, Walter’s passion for athletics was merging with his tech savvy. He was already representing independent athletes through his own agency, Quietly Fierce Media (QFm), and his dive into Actifio had taught him to recognize the importance of seizing opportunities as they come.
“Towards the end of my time at Actifio, lots of people were coming into the company and SwaggerCap was already a few months into beta testing. Once my co-founder and I had defined our message and our markets, I knew it was time to make things happen and take the plunge.”
He has done so in good company. Walter’s Co-Founder Scott Shou is a fly-fisherman, and his Community Manager Amanda Felder is a professional triathlete Walter managed previously under QFm. He has also rekindled his own sports life: since turning 30, he has become a three-time Ironman.