Inside Oliver Marmol and St. Louis Cardinals manager Amber Marmol’s new baseball practice app
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Amid a turbulent first season as manager of the Cardinals of St. Louis, Oliver Marmol hasn’t lost sight of his greatest hobby: business. He and his wife Amber are the founders of VERSUSa sports education app that appeals to professional athletes such as Albert Pujol, Fernando Tatis Jr.and Jessica Mendoza to help train and advise all who subscribe.
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With high-level training drills and ultra-specific answers to any question a user may have, VS is unique in the accessibility it grants into the life of a professional athlete. “If there’s one word I want you to take away from this, it’s ‘access,'” the Cardinals skipper shared. For him, the access he had to baseball’s great minds throughout his early playing and coaching days led him to one of baseball’s premier leadership positions, and that’s something which he and Amber strive to provide for anyone with similar ambitions. The co-founders spoke with Entrepreneur on Zoom on growing their startup while managing their busy lives, why treating talent and customers with kindness goes a long way, and how a trip to Guatemala fueled their desire to give back.
What makes VS different from other training platforms?
Olivier Marmol: Everything else right now is just content you consume. You sit there, listening to an hour-long lesson, taking your notes, and then you’re done. What our platform allows you to do is that at any time during this course, you can stop the training and ask this talent questions with the technology we use called conversational AI. Our talent is able to answer up to 500 questions. Anyone could stop the program and ask, “Can you tell me more about the doubts in the minor leagues?” or “What have the best coaches you’ve had done well?” They will also get into the thick of the mentality and emotional components of success.
Amber Marmol: One of the things that we’ve always seen with Ollie and the players he’s dealt with is that there are a lot of guys who are successful not only because of their physical abilities but also their mentality and their will to persevere. For those who are chasing their dreams, it’s your mindset that will get you there and sustain you through good times and bad.
What inspired you to launch this platform?
Om: We took a trip to Guatemala years ago and stayed in an orphanage for seven days. We’ve seen some of the worst poverty we’ve ever seen in our lives, and on the drive back to Miami, Amber looked at me and said, ‘How can we build something that allows us to give back to this community? and people in need? At the time, we had no money – and I mean zero – but Amber said, “Why don’t we start a business where you teach?” We then decided to give 50% of everything that arrived at the end of the year.
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I started teaching and we sent a check at the end of the year. These children were eating one meal every three days, and by the end of what we sent, they were eating three meals a day for about six or seven months. Amber looked at me after that and she said, “Alright, how do you do that times a million?”
With the people we know, let them teach, put high-level production around it, monetize it, and still have an element of giving back to underserved communities and giving access. If I look back at what gave me this opportunity to be the Cardinals manager, that’s all the access I had. When we sit and think, well, a bunch of kids like me don’t have that access, how do we provide that to them? This is the heart of this platform.
How did you manage to convince star athletes to share their talent with the program?
A M: When we started this business, we knew that culture was going to be very important to us. This has fueled not only the way we interact as a team, but also the way we treat our athletes. They’re hugely successful, and we appreciate that, but we also appreciate them as people. We really try to do a great job of just meeting them as people and serving them that way. We built a very good reputation among the first people we recruited, and from there it spread by word of mouth.
Om: Without a doubt. Think of all the different commercials that Albert Pujols did throughout his career. He came on set and told us that he had never been treated like this where he didn’t feel like he was just the talent being moved from room to room. For female athletes it can be easy to short them and do lower level production, but one walked into the building with us and said she was treated like a top male athlete. That’s what we want to make sure we communicate: the way we treat our talent will continue to enable us to attract more of it.
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Is there any advice you would give to entrepreneurs looking to start a tech business?
Om: At the beginning, you often have the impression that the opportunity which presents itself to you is the last one. I would advise being very slow when making these decisions. Don’t procrastinate unnecessarily, but at the same time really take your time and figure out if this is the right talent? Is this the right team member? Is this the right partnership? Think of the long game and not just the short game of how that is helping me right now.
A M: I would just add that you have to know your values. We have done so, but all this while respecting the values of our fundamental principles and our convictions. For us, working with honest, high quality, characterful people is so much more important than that quick fix and instant success. Take the time to make sure everything aligns with the culture you’ve always had in mind and want to build.