The Pine Sports platform is like having a buddy with a beautiful mind—except it's artificial intelligence and "you get to tell it what's important about sports, and then the AI does the rest of the work.''
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World’s shortest elevator pitch: “We’re the only platform that allows users to use artificial intelligence to create their very own custom predictive models, as well as come up with player production and fantasy and prop stats.”
Company: Pine Sports
Location: Ridgewood, New Jersey
Year founded: 2020
Funding round to date: “We’re self-funded.”
Who are your investors? “We’re self-funded.”
Are you looking for more investment? “I would say we’re potentially looking for smart money, sort of a strategic partner. We’ve already had a lot of great conversations with VCs who already love what we’re doing and want to be in the space. They see the product as a differentiator, with the artificial intelligence and the custom modeling. If it makes sense, that’s definitely a path we’ll consider.”
Tell us about yourself, co-founder Mike Yam: “My co-founder, Vijay Dewan, and I are high school friends. Both of us
love watching sports. I can think back to our days at Bergen Catholic in New Jersey, talking about sports and fantasy. Vijay went down the path of law. He was at Columbia, then Notre Dame. He was also a computer science major, so he’s got the background on coding and builds the entire website. I started a career in broadcasting. Went to Fordham University, had some really good opportunities on the radio front, Sirius XM Radio and ESPN Radio, doing fantasy shows, also working overnight radio. NBA TV was my first television job, where I started doing fantasy shows. And then studio hosting. Had an opportunity to go to ESPN for television full time, and I got to do everything from SportsCenter to college basketball, college football shows. Then, an opportunity at Pac-12 network came up to be their lead host and do a lot of their football and basketball programming. An opportunity popped up at NFL Network, which is where I am now and it’s been an amazing opportunity so far to go from Saturday football to Sunday football.”
Who are your co-founders/partners? “Vijay was commuting to work two hours a day and decided to go back to his roots in computer programming. COVID was one particular thing he was interested in and used programming tools that are in Python to try to understand whether this was going to be nothing or something important. As the tools said, it was something major. During COVID, over time, he learned to translate the programming skills he learned analyzing COVID data to other data. He called me and said: ‘Is there AI in sports? Are people using AI? Is there AI modeling that any user can do?’ The answer was really no. We couldn’t find anything. He built the programming. I know the sports. And we teamed up, and it’s been great since.”
How does your product/service work? “From the product and service standpoint, there are three different verticals for the website. There’s what I think is sort of the gold standard in terms of predictive modeling, which we call Predict. It’s super easy to use. You pick a sport, select how many seasons you want to go back with our artificial intelligence, you pick a rolling average and then you get the opportunity to select from over 200 stats to determine what decides the outcome of a game. The artificial intelligence essentially does the rest. It gives you a confidence percentage based on actual games that happened, and that confidence percentage is for upcoming games. The other vertical would be Explore, which is so insanely easy to use. Basically has a drop-down menu after you type in a player’s name. Within three clicks, our machine learning tool basically does the rest. You type in the category—whether it’s points, rebounds or assists or any other stats and how many games you want it to go back—and it’ll give you a prop line if you want to use that for prop bets or a fantasy projection really is the outcome. What’s really a cool differentiator on that particular product is the normalized number, which takes into consideration an opponent’s defense. That’s really cool. We’ve got a robot that basically tells you it likes the over, the under, and then gives you that projection. Having tools like that is insanely helpful for fantasy players. The third vertical is the social side of it. A lot of our users right now are able to take a lot of the learning insights they’re using from playing around with the data, and then write articles surrounding the things they’re learning. It’s really cool to see the community sort of exchange a lot of different ideas.”
What problem is your company solving? “The problem is that users right now don’t have the ability to create custom, predictive modeling using artificial intelligence anywhere. The ones who do know how to do it have to have a background in coding. Pine is no-code AI, and anyone essentially within a few clicks can figure out how to use these predictive models or basically create the predictive models. Other sites are kind of using Excel spreadsheets, but there’s no real math and there’s certainly no real analysis on actual games that have happened. The way we like to look at it is we’re letting the artificial intelligence do what the brain can’t do. I worked with so many coaches and players in my career and they can reference specific plays like Sean McVay. What AI does, though, is take every single play from every single game and analyze it. There’s literally not a human being that is going to be able to do what AI can. As a sports fan, you have the ability to tell the perfect memory of AI what’s important, and that leads you to an outcome or potentially an outcome.”
What does your product cost and who is your target customer? “Free right now for users. We were invite-only, but the site is now open for anyone to use the tools for free. For our user base, we’ve been in beta and they made more than 13,500 custom model projections. Doing a lot of different iterations and getting feedback from a lot of users.”
How are you marketing your product? “The marketing comes already on the platform with our writers who are using the tools to write about their learned insights. Anyone who goes to pine-sports.com has the ability to read the articles our users are generating. There’s Twitter amplification, as well. So, anyone who’s posting articles, that immediately goes to our Twitter feed, not to mention our Discord feed where there’s a few hundred users that are on there, just swapping different ideas, watching the games together, and having some fun. Our marketing is our users. Hopefully, our goal is that they love the platform and tell their friends. That’s our current marketing, and it’s been going well.”
You pick a sport, select how many seasons you want to go back with our artificial intelligence, you pick a rolling average and then you get the opportunity to select from over 200 stats to determine what decides the outcome of a game. The artificial intelligence essentially does the rest.
How do you scale, and what is your targeted level of growth? “From a scalability standpoint, it’s once we open up and have the ability to kind of hammer home our user base and let them use the tools. The sky’s the limit, to be honest with you, because these tools don’t exist. You have other sites that are charging an ungodly amount of money for inferior tools. To me, the scalability is just going to come as soon as we open it up. For us, it’s about community. We have a very strong community, both on the platform and on Discord. Our targeted level of growth is to scale that community to a point where it’s large. The great thing about Pine is that it’s language agnostic and data agnostic. What I mean by that is people from all different countries can write in whatever language they want. We’re getting more data on the platform month after month… From our perspective, it’s getting users from across the globe involved in the community. We don’t have specific numbers. It’s about scaling smart, which means making sure the community’s sort of ethos is the same as it has been since the beginning. Which is that it’s people who are helping each other, people who are trying to make better bets and people who are trying to grow together. We have a large target market. In terms of growth, if you think of other people in the space, or just generally the social space, I looked at Reddit—which grew sort of linearly for a long time because what they did was they made a product that was good and people found it. I don’t think you need that extreme exponential growth; I think you need to focus on community first.”
Who are your competitors, and what makes you different? “I actually don’t think there’s competitors for what we’re doing because no one out there is currently putting artificial intelligence in the hands of normal sports fans. The closest thing would be Action Labs. But once again, no AI, no machine learning, no math, no analysis of actual games.”
What’s the unfair advantage that separates your company? “The easiest way to describe this is imagine having a friend who has a perfect memory. That’s artificial intelligence. You get to tell it what’s important about sports, and then the AI does the rest of the work. The unfair advantage for us is having a friend who literally has a perfect memory and never forgets anything.”
What milestone have you recently hit or will soon hit? “One of the biggest milestones is opening up the site for everyone and growing the community and seeing people engage in the data, messing around with building models and having fun with it. That’s the biggest next milestone, opening this thing up and going outside of beta. What is really important is giving people the ability to use AI for themselves. Right now, AI is being used against you every day of the week, whether it’s Amazon predicting what you’re going to buy next and shoving that in your face or whether it’s Netflix telling you what show you’re going to want to watch next or whether it’s Facebook telling you what ads you’re going to want to watch. It’s literally the same AI model. They’re being used to take your attention away. What we’re trying to do is show you what AI is and give you the ability to use it to help yourself. Some recent notable trends: We had more than 8,000 prop projections in December, and Pine users are averaging more than five minutes on the site. For context, according to similarweb.com, that’s more than Yahoo Sports, CBS Sports, NBA.com and NBCSports.”
In what ways have you adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic? “Pine Sports actually came because of COVID. Vijay was aggregating data in local jurisdictions in New Jersey, realizing there’s a hole in the use of AI for sports fans and empowering those users. In a lot of ways, Pine doesn’t exist without COVID.”
Beyond the pandemic, what obstacles has your company had to overcome? “Time is one of them. It feels like there’s never enough time in the day for the two of us. Relationships, just sort of leaning on the people we’ve worked with in the past. A lot of times that’s been an advantage for us, but getting it in front of the right people, the decision makers. The people we have talked to have really loved the product. Overall, we’re in a really good place. The track line of where we’re trending is certainly an upward trajectory. We’re taking something that’s really complicated and trying to simplify it. In the sports space, unfortunately, a lot of people take really simple data analytics and dress it up to make it sound complicated. When we first opened up to beta users, it was a really complicated product and was really hard to use. It was chiseling and simplifying until we got something that still held that core of being really good at what it does, but also easy to use. That was our largest challenge to date. Some people might call that stickiness, but it’s getting people who are in the sports base to understand the value of what we’re providing.”
What are the values that are core to your brand? “The best way to describe that is looking at Pine Sports as a way to empower sports fans by fulfilling two different goals. One would be to put the power of artificial intelligence in their hands. The other side of it is to create a community. Vijay and I talk about this all the time and just how cool it is to see people using the tools, writing about the tools and then writing about how much they love the tools and how it’s helping them just become a smarter fan. Making every sports fan smarter is one of the main objectives of Pine.”
What does success ultimately look like for your company? “We want every sports fan to use our tools. We live in sort of a day and age where people are scared of the math, scared of the data. Vijay and I have been able to pare down this product so that it is, at its core, super easy to use but also still really powerful. Once again, to see people engage with Pine and to see their reactions when we run a demo for them and that light bulb goes off, is a really cool thing and in a lot of ways gratifying for the two of us.”
What should investors or customers know about you—the person, your life experiences—that shows they can believe in you? “First and foremost, Vijay and I were high school friends who were really fortunate to have a lot of advantages because of the sacrifices of our parents and our families. I would classify us both as grinders who really work hard on our craft. For me, specifically, as a storyteller and someone who’s been around sports my entire career, I want to see a lot of our users use the data and have fun with it, but I also want people to get a sense of control that just didn’t exist before Pine. Vijay spent a good portion of his career as an attorney, but also as a federal prosecutor putting bad people away. At the end of the day, at our core, both of us want to do the right thing. Right now, from a sports perspective, the right thing is putting the power of artificial intelligence into the hands of every sports fan and making it easy to use.”
How has the rise of legalized gambling affected Pine Sports? “Artificial Intelligence is about making predictions about the future. Betting is about making predictions about the future. Fantasy is too, but the more you are giving people the opportunity to make predictions about the future, the more useful our tool is. Betting is clearly very important. Everything we do is making predictions about the future, which is why AI is so important, because it allows us to do that in a way that’s really smart. Some people might see a line for Tom Brady that’s 310 yards and they might have no idea how many yards he’s passed for previously. They may not even really think about his opponents, but the AI will do all of that for you and give you a projection about the future and do really complicated math to do that. So, yes, betting is important. Betting is about making predictions about the future and putting your money down. AI, at its core, helps you make really smart, informed decisions about the future. That’s where we shine.”
Do you have a favorite quote about leadership? “Vijay and I have similar backgrounds and a similar thought process. Both of us feel it’s important to listen first. That’s something both of us do when we’re doing demos or even bouncing back and forth ideas. But the biggest thing we try to ask ourselves on a regular basis is: What’s your impact? It goes back to the predictive nature and the power of artificial intelligence. The impact we’re trying to have on sports fans and those communities of users is the ability to give you something that is very difficult to master, but making it really simple so that anyone can use it. We’re trying to build a community of people who want to be smarter and give them those tools.”
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Photo credits: Pine Sports
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