A career-ending professional football injury brought former University of Tennessee football player Will Overstreet back to campus to pursue an MBA degree and launch an entirely different career as an entrepreneur.
As Overstreet explained to teknovation.biz in a recent interview, he asked the question, “What now,” when he suffered the injury and realized his football career was over. The initial answer was to get the MBA degree while also serving as a radio and television sports analyst.
Overstreet said people repeatedly told him, “I’d like to be able to watch (the sporting event) with you and discuss the game.” He interpreted this to mean that individuals “wanted to be interactive with the game, not simply watch it.” If they wanted to have this experience around sporting events, Overstreet wondered about other venues and opportunities where a single individual, such as a sports hero or movie star, could connect with thousands of people through social and mobile media.
“When you get a thousand people talking to you, what are they really saying to you,” he asked.
The answers to these and other questions led Overstreet to invest some of his money to launch Voices Heard Media in April 2007. The company bills itself as the “leader in social communication applications and user engagement strategies.”
“It has been a life learning experience,” Overstreet said.
Over the ensuing five years, he has continued to refine and mature his concept with options such as allowing companies and individuals to “mine” the information that they gleaned from these connections. Overstreet said that “the words people use in talking to you should be used in your future communication with them.”
Operating from an annex to the Cherokee Mills complex near downtown Knoxville, Voices Heard spent 2007 developing its initial product and secured its first major customer in 2008.
Overstreet admits in retrospect that he did not conduct as much market intelligence in the early days as he should have. This led to a four-week scramble to modify the product to meet the requirements of that first customer.
By 2011, Voices Heard was serving mostly media companies like Fox Sports and newspapers while also licensing its technology. Overstreet said the next opportunity lies in serving smaller businesses like individual restaurants and automotive dealers.
He is an advocate for individuals, not-for-profit organizations and businesses using his product to actively communicate with their customers or members.
“We know they want to talk with you,” Overstreet said, adding that businesses can build brand loyalty by interacting with their customers and saying, “We listened to you and made changes.”
He admits that he encountered skeptics early on including some who blatantly said, “I don’t care what my customers think.” To Overstreet, this philosophy is unthinkable since he has focused Voices Heard Media’s product line on high quality customer service for his customers and their customers.
He says that the “basics of what we do are scalable to any company.” To underscore the point, he cites a restaurant that might want to know how to generate traffic on a slow night. The software tool and interaction with the restaurant’s customers will provide the answer.
Overstreet said that Voices Heard does not simply sell as software, but also consults with its customers to ensure that the technology is used effectively to gain maximum benefit.
As to the life of an entrepreneur, he said “it’s not for the faint of heart. Every loss (of an opportunity) hits you personally.”
Like other entrepreneurs, Overstreet has faced the challenges of raising capital. He’s gone through the “friends and family” phase as well as a Series A and B, and expects a Series C in the near future.
“Fund raising is the biggest challenge in this part of the country,” he said, citing risk tolerance for failure, which is inevitable in the start-up world, as something that needs to be changed. Another challenge is the region’s air service to cities where the venture capitalists are located.
Five years into Voices Heard Media, the Jackson, MS native is pleased with his progress and excited about the future.