Mike Sorgenfrei knows that being a fan is so much more than buying the jersey and tuning in to the biggest games, yet the relationship between teams and fans remains distant. As CEO and Co-Founder of Encore – the creators of the Fan ID protocol – Mike and his team are building a way to turn fandom into an asset.
Born and raised in Palo Alto, California, Sorgenfrei has a long history in Silicon Valley that’s helped to inform his journey as an entrepreneur. When asked what got him started, he says “I was less entrepreneurial and more curious, constantly asking ‘Why isn’t someone doing this, why isn’t this problem solved?’” he said.
“My ability and desire to chase curiosity without saying ‘Oh, that won’t work has always been a strength. Of course, it also led to trips to the principal’s office and injuries as a kid, too,” he laughs.
Mike also understands the athlete experience. He played Division I water polo at Santa Clara University, which kick-started his interest in technology to improve the experience between teams and fans. Before starting Encore, Mike ran Product for the International Emerging Technology team at Walmart where he focused on consumer tech, sustainability, and blockchain applications. Mike also founded two startups before Encore; AdMass, an influencer marketing platform, and NudgeTV, an app that enabled “buy now” functionality from connected and smart TVs.
His experience as a startup founder has been a lesson in endurance. When asked what business lesson he would tell a startup founder, he said the most important attitude is to “be comfortable being wrong and not fully achieving success from the beginning, because you can learn through what happened in the process.”
Confined by the pandemic, Mike and his long-time friend and now Encore co-founder Nat Greywoode (also a former athlete), would imagine what the fan experience would be like when sports returned.
This curiosity became the foundation for creating starting Encore, and from the start, his founding team was eager wanted to build something that they wanted. “Nat and I were athletes, Kyano is a published musician and Chris still plays pretty much every sport under the sun and goes to more concerts than anyone we know, and when we all came together we realized the experience of being a fan is broken, so selfishly, we wanted to build a better experience,” Sorgenfrei says. Fan engagement today centers on harvesting as much data about fans as possible, and yet D1 athletic departments, sports leagues, and teams still struggle to answer critical questions for their business, like – who their fans are, who their top fans are, who their longest-lasting friends are, who on Twitter has come to a game recently, among others.
Its mission is to empower every fan and individualize the fan experience through the Fan ID protocol. This Fan ID unlocks experiences, discounts, and rewards while enabling fans to maintain sovereignty over their data. At the same time, it helps D1 athletic departments, sports leagues, and teams make data-driven decisions to better engage their fans, increase revenue and create new ways to monetize. The results are a fully integrated program that’s easy to deploy and effective; over 95% of users choose to be notified of new opportunities to earn loyalty points and these programs can increase revenue from loyal fans by over 65%.
Earlier this year, the Encore team joined the leAD Lake Nona Sports & Health Tech Accelerator, a six-month program that gives startups access to mentors and investors in the sports and health tech industries. Mike says the leAD connection has been just the momentum they need to get Encore off the ground: “leAD has mentors throughout all levels and across a wide range of leagues and teams. Working with these mentors, we learn firsthand how to solve their biggest problems. The access to, and lessons learned from the leAD team and mentors is invaluable.”
Since securing non-dilutive grants from Solana and Rally, two key innovators in blockchain technology investors, and funding from leAD Sports & Health Tech Partners, the team will be launching the Encore fan experience with D1 collegiate athletic departments across the U.S. this fall. Learn more about Encore at the encore.fans