GOING TO B-SCHOOL FOR THE STARTUP DEVELOPMENT AND NETWORK
All the while, Xi was applying to MBA programs. She knew she wanted to start a business and she knew she wanted the network of an MBA program to build the business.
“I came to get an MBA because I wanted the network,” she says. “I knew I could probably find the class materials online, but the network is extremely valuable.”
With an app already created, Xi was able to take full advantage of the Booth network from the get-go. Every day, she says, a classmate comes up to her and gives her feedback. Input from classmates, investors, professors, and entrepreneurs-in-residence led Xi to ditch the app, which had about 1,000 downloads but poor retention for a daily newsletter brief.
The feedback had another benefit: it helped Xi and Lee hone their voice, content style, and length.
“That constant feedback and those suggestions and advice has been so valuable to me building this business,” Xi says.
FROM ‘MS. CLUTCH’ TO JUST ‘CLUTCH’
Xi also learned an important thing about her audience that would eventually lead to a name change. “We found guys actually wanted this content more than the women,” she says, noting that it can be even more frustrating for men who are not up on sports events. “For guys, it’s even harder for them not to know much about sports,” Xi says. “It was a bigger pain-point for them.”
That’s especially true for the international men, she explains. “They come to America and want to get their MBA and fit into the culture, and sports is such a big part of the culture here,” she says. So the team decided to drop the “Ms.” and become simply “Clutch.” About half of the current audience receiving the newsletter are current or recently graduated international MBA students — both male and female. The other half are mainly American females, along with a few men.
Xi and Lee spent October through the end of the year experimenting with content. They also picked up contributing author Kevin McCarthy, another current Booth MBA student. From January to now, the number of subscribers has grown from about 100 to 400. “Last month, the month-over-month growth was around 70%,” Xi boasts.
A CROWDED MARKET WITH STARTUP CASUALTIES
Still, the sports newsletter business is a crowded one. For one thing, pretty much every major sports publication from ESPN to Sports Illustrated has a newsletter it sends daily or weekly. Upstarts like Casual Spectator or FanSided Daily loom as threats. Sports Ketchup — a similar newsletter founded by Harvard Business School grads — seems to have been defunct since 2015, soon after it started sending content.
Undaunted, Xi says she hopes to pursue Clutch full-time after graduation.
“There are a lot of competitors,” she says, noting that she recently spoke with another founder who had a similar business shut down. “One of the biggest obstacles is getting the content people want to read. Because we are targeting people who don’t really like sports, but who want to know just enough about them.”
In the short term, Xi says, Clutch hopes to generate profits from ad revenues. But in the long term they want to stray from that common model and create partnerships with sports teams and leagues to sell merchandise and tickets to events.
“Getting casual followers to keep up with sports is something all of the teams and leagues have been trying to do for a long time,” Xi reasons. “So I’m solving this problem for them.”
For now, Xi and team will continue to strive for the sweet spot of quickie daily newsletters.
“It’s about making the content so simple but also a lot of fun,” she says.