Two childhood friends who grew up racing motocross and later moved to North County to start the sports tech company they founded in 2001 turned their early success into a multi-million acquisition dollars by a New York-based software company.
KORE Software’s deal to purchase North County-based Hookit closed in February. The Hookit team – including co-founders Scott Tilton and RJ Kraus – moved to KORE and became a business unit within the merged company, said Cardiff resident Tilton.
When the duo launched their business, it was called Sponsorhouse and its goal was to help athletes secure sponsorship deals, Tilton said. Following the rise of social media, the two young entrepreneurs had a change of heart, renaming their business as Hookit in 2010. They focused on helping brands track the effectiveness of their referral dollars. on social media platforms.
“We saw an opportunity. No one was following him, but everyone was asking for him,” Tilton said. “We have pivoted and become a data and analytics company.”
The company’s software collects data and presents it on a dashboard, “so brands can log in every day and monitor what their partners are doing for them.”
For example, Tilton said, if a brand such as Nike pays a superstar athlete to endorse its products, Hookit’s software crawls social media platforms to tally mentions of its brand by the athlete. This includes detecting the company logo in photos and videos, as well as posts that mention a brand or refer to it in a hashtag.
Brands spend $150 billion a year worldwide on sponsorships and sports marketing. Companies therefore want to know what the impact of this money is. Tilton said Hookit’s software uses AI, or artificial intelligence, to monitor social media for brand mentions. Customers receive dollar value for the return on their referral investments.
Although the purchase price for Hookit was not disclosed, Tilton said in a recent published report that the price was well over the $20 million raised by Hookit in venture capital.
The company faced obstacles on the way to prosperity. Tilton said he and Kraus feared the company would go bankrupt during the 2008 financial crisis, but they managed to hang on. They expected another tough run when the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, but the pandemic actually boosted Hookit’s fortunes.
Businesses have become more concerned with tracking the effectiveness of their referral and marketing dollars, which has led to an increase in demand for Hookit’s services.
“Covid ended up helping us tremendously. Our business just exploded,” Tilton said. In 2020 and 2021, he said, the company landed 50 new brand clients.
Among their stable of clients are well-known brands such as Red Bull, GoPro, Nike, Audi, Nissan, Rolex, Pepsi, Visa, Mastercard and Oracle.
Prior to the acquisition, KORE and Hookit offered similar services with a different approach, Tilton said. KORE primarily worked with sports teams and leagues, while Hookit worked with brands. Both companies have focused on improving the effectiveness of referrals.
KORE also recently acquired the professional sports business of SSB. With the acquisitions, KORE will now serve 1,000 sports properties, 20,000 athletes and more than 100 of the world’s top brands, a company press release said.
Under the new structure, Tilton will serve as executive vice president, while Kraus will serve as chief product officer.
When not working, Tilton said he enjoys outdoor activities such as biking, surfing and playing tennis. He and his wife also enjoy cheering on their two children at their sporting events.
Kraus, her partner, lives nearby in Encinitas and has three young children, Tilton said.
As he transitions into his new role at the merged company, Tilton said he’s been fortunate to have basically had a job since college where he’s been able to pursue his passions. He and Kraus were both 24 when they started their business. Now they will devote their energy to growing KORE.
“I’m focused on laser to help grow this much bigger business and help revolutionize this industry,” Tilton said.
For more information, visit www.KOREsoftware.com.