NFL player Najee Goode tackles technology game
When he’s not plying his trade as a linebacker, Najee Goode is an executive for Veepio, a technology company he co-founded four years ago. And when he’s introduced as an NFL player in meetings with potential investors, invariably the financiers ask when he played. They are shocked to learn, as he flashes the Super Bowl LII ring he earned while playing with the Philadelphia Eagles, that he’s still very much active.
“Oh my god, that’s the question I [get], ‘Do you still play?’” Goode, who played for the Colts last year, said with a laugh during Super Bowl week in Atlanta. “‘Yeah, we just got done two and a half weeks ago.’ It’s funny to see [their] reaction.”
Any surprise is understandable. Former athletes starting businesses or working in finance are hardly uncommon. An active NFL player helping found a technology firm and then signing up his team as an investor and client may be unprecedented.
“Najee Goode and [Philadelphia Eagles owner] Jeffrey Lurie might be the first player-owner combination in NFL history to partner in the owner and player’s primary business,” said Jonathan Ohliger, Veepio’s CEO. The Eagles, for whom Goode played from 2013-17, signed on as Veepio’s first client in 2017 and own 20 percent of the company. Both they and the Colts, whom Goode signed with last April, use the product, as do the Broncos. Neither team owns part of the company.
Veepio is a mobile-devices-only technology that provides users additional information — often a social media page or a link to an e-commerce site —by touching photos and videos, thus allowing someone to learn more without having to leave the page they’re on. For example if a fan is browsing the Eagles app and sees a photograph of defensive end Chris Long, touching the photo could show users whatever Veepio has tagged with that photo, be it Long’s Instagram page, information about his charitable work or even a link to a site to buy his jersey.
Veepio did not release any financial data, but maintains that it creates more fan engagement and leads to greater e-commerce sales. It says users who engage with the team’s apps stay longer when using Veepio’s technology, thus allowing teams to track what information fans are looking for and then use those longer engagement times to charge higher rates to advertisers.
■ What It Does: Allows mobile users to click on photos and video, linking to e-commerce and player information
■ Headquarters: New York City
■ Founded: 2015; technology launched 2016
■ Founders: Jonathan Ohliger, CEO (former WVU placekicker); Grant Wiley, Chief of Culture (former WVU linebacker); Najee Goode, Chief of User Engagement (former WVU linebacker, current NFL linebacker)
■ Investors: Philadelphia Eagles; players Tyrell Adams, Kenjon Barner, Bryan Braman, Jon Najarian (former), DeMeco Ryans, Jerel Worthy
Source: Sports Business Journal research
The original idea for Veepio came from Ohliger, a former West Virginia University placekicker, in January 2014. Ohliger, who has a background in financial technology software development, brought on former Mountaineers teammate Grant Wiley as a co-founder a couple of months later. That October Wiley and Goode crossed paths at a game in Morgantown while the latter was on his bye week from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Wiley encouraged Goode to come to New York to learn more about what he had in mind.
Later that fall Goode took his first train ride — “I thought it was something magical, like out of Harry Potter,” he said with a laugh — from Philadelphia to New York to talk with Wiley. After that meeting, Goode agreed to invest an undisclosed amount of his own money, and the company was incorporated in January 2015. One year later it had its technology in the market.
Just a couple of months after Goode signed with the Colts, Veepio had a deal with the team, and negotiations are now well underway with 15 other NFL clubs, Goode said.
During the season, Goode will take meetings with a team’s business staff after practice. “It’s weird for them, I have noticed, because players don’t usually exist on the front-office side of the building,” Goode said. “It’s kind of like an unwritten rule.”
Jen Kavanagh, the Eagles’ senior vice president of marketing and media, wrote in an email: “The fact that the opportunity aligned strongly with our focus was the driving factor for the partnership. Veepio has been a strong tool in our overall toolkit for increasing engagement rates with our content.”
The company, which is based in New York and has seven full-time and five part-time employees, is well down the path of a Series A funding round, which will help Veepio scale to meet the mountain of photos and videos that need tagging in the firm’s system.
Goode, 29, is looking for backing of a different sort, as he’ll reach free agency next month. He has no plans to focus on Veepio full time just yet, but he has found a similar thrill from making hits on the field to securing deals off it.
“You never replace the rush, you go out and beat up on each other,” he said. “So I get to go into meetings [and] have the same rush and effect. Because we want to talk to you about how we can upgrade the climax of your content.”