“Peyton Manning sucks in the snow,” Julia Senior said to Britt Danneman on a snowy Boston day last winter. The two didn’t know it then, but the phrase would alter the courses of their immediate lives.
Both arrived on the campus of Harvard Business School in the autumn of 2014 in pursuit of an MBA. Even before graduating with their degrees, the duo has founded a startup called Sports Ketchup that helps less than fanatical sports fans in the know. The goal: To help young professionals talk more shortly about sports at work, at a bar, or perhaps a Tinder date.
Even though they were both collegiate athletes, they possessed incredibly polarized interests in viewing and conversing about sports. “My dad used to say he’d rather chew tinfoil than watch a football game,” Danneman, 27, recalls of her childhood in Paradise Valley, Arizona, an upscale Phoenix suburb. “But Julia loves spending five hours on a Sunday watching the Patriots with her dad.”
While Danneman says she couldn’t imagine spending hours watching football—or any other sport, for that matter—Senior was the product her sports-obsessed environment. A Boston native, she began the tragic journey of Red Sox fandom as a seven-year-old in the second grade. Every day she would scan the Boston Globe to checkup on her team’s place in the American League East standings.
“They (Red Sox) were on top of the AL East all season,” Senior, also 27, recalls. “And in the playoffs they played the Cleveland Indians in a best of five series and lost the first three and were done. It was heartbreaking and it was my introduction to being a Boston sports fan.”
‘I WORKED WITH A LOT OF BRO-EY NEW YORK GUYS’
Danneman, who stands greater than six-feet, was a standout high school volleyball player and competed for Penn while earning a degree in finance from The Wharton School. Senior was a multisport athlete in high school and, as a junior, helped Harvard’s crew squad earn a spot in the NCAA National Championships.
After undergrad, Senior moved to New York City and worked in equity research for Bank of America. Danneman left Philadelphia for Sankaty Advisors, the global credit affiliate of Bain Capital in Boston. Both were thrust into the finance world that at times can seem like an extension of the frat house. Danneman watched ESPN every Monday morning to keep up with office small talk. Senior made fun of her New York-centric colleagues.
“A lot of time, I was the only female in the room and a lot of the time there was small talk about sports, about what was happening with the World Series, about what the Red Sox were doing, and whether or not the rugby World Cup was on last weekend,” Danneman recalls of her office setting.
“I worked with a lot of bro-ey New York guys and it was great for me. We talked about sports all of the time,” she says, also noting the constant ribbing from the Boston-New York sports rivalry.
PIVOTING WITH AN MBA
Senior also served as a sports advisor. Every morning, she would go for a run with a friend who worked at another bank and had a “Boston guy” as a boss. Her friend would ask about all-things Boston Sports. And Senior, whose father owns a restaurant at Patriot Place—adjacent to Gillett Stadium where the New England Patriots play football—always obliged.
Eventually Danneman and Senior came to that pivotal spot in their careers. The point where they could commit to rising the ranks in their companies or fulcrum a new path. They both chose the latter and chose to get MBAs at Harvard Business School. They also ended up as roommates.
“As we were going through school, I’d ask her about sports,” Danneman recalls of early conversations with Senior. “Such as what happened over the weekend that I should know. A lot of our friends were interested in sports.”