Cathie Anderson

Did coach cancel practice? Parents get scoop from mobile app

Entrepreneur Medo Eldin is changing the game for youth sports league coaches and parents around the nation with his new mobile app called My Team Sphere, offering a social platform that lets them quickly share schedule updates, photos and videos.

“Really, the thing that makes it really useful is that it opens up communication across all the different people that are involved in youth sports or youth activities,” the Roseville resident said. “It allows the administrator to communicate with parents. It allows the parents to communicate with each other. It allows the coach to be able to schedule events. Basically, it makes the whole process of participating in any youth activity and sports more organized.”

Eldin formally introduced the free app on Jan. 10, and nearly 3,200 users have adopted it. Tiffany Gordon and Tavane Juhnke, co-coaches of the Las Vegas Lightning Cheetahs, are using the app this year in their age 7-and-under soccer league.

“All the parents have downloaded the app onto their phones, and we are able to communicate practice dates, send messages like when practice is canceled, and post pictures to the app,” Gordon said. “Instead of having to email them to everybody, you can just make them available in the app itself. It’s been wonderful because we don’t have to worry about pictures being too big to email. It’s almost like a cloud atmosphere.”

My Team Sphere is a next-generation application for Eldin. He originally started out in 2012 with an app called Whirlii that allowed people to invite friends, family or business acquaintances to a closed social network where they could share pictures and comments. But that app fizzled, Eldin said.

“What would happen is people would download it, use it for one photo album or event and then stop using it,” Eldin said. “It wasn’t sticky.”

Eldin, however, closely watched usage, and he noticed one particular network of Whirlii users who continued to use the app for a good while. It was a high school class trip, and an administrator had posted pictures to the album and invited parents and students there to see the images. It was a huge “aha” moment for Eldin.

“You had what’s called an influencer,” Eldin said. “They’re telling people, ‘You guys have to be on this.’ I realized that we had tools that are useful to influencers.”

He began to think about youth activities that required the kinds of tools he could offer, and he thought of bands, drama clubs and many other groups. But he felt he would see the strongest demand from youth sports where the influencer, team coaches, often have an urgent need to communicate information quickly to parents.

Eldin comes at this challenge from the vantage point of an academic who wrote his master’s thesis at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design on dual-sided networks. There is almost a chicken-and-egg dilemma with such networks, Eldin said, because you can’t get one group without the other, but then again, how do you lure one group without the other?

“If you look at all the social networks out there … nobody has really figured out something for small groups who want to have a private social experience. It’s an important thing because a lot of people don’t like Facebook. They don’t understand how their stuff is being used or privacy.”

The 41-year-old Eldin, a Rio Americano High School graduate with a history degree from UCLA and an MBA from Sacramento State, started with Whirlii by designing a distinctive-looking picture album, one in which photos were framed by longitudinal and latitudinal lines on a globe. The globe could be spun to reveal different images, hence the names Whirlii and now My Team Sphere.

That design intrigued users enough to store photos from weddings, birthdays and other events on the app, Eldin said, but once they had enough of commenting on and gazing at the pictures, they did not return to the app much. But when Eldin decided to go after teams, he added tools such as calendars, network messaging and video sharing to make it useful enough that coaches and administrators would access it regularly.

Of the roughly 3,200 people using My Team Sphere today, Eldin said, 25 percent log seven to 19 sessions a week. Thirty percent more use it three to six times a week. A small group of super users, about 6 percent, go to the app 20 to 49 times a week. Already, he said, about 8,000 photos and videos have been uploaded.

So, far, Eldin doesn’t generate any revenue from the app. His day job is in the communications and public relations field. One day, after the network has grown, Eldin said he could offer coaches and league administrators the ability to sell advertising on their networks to the many business that sponsor their teams. His company would take a small fee from the teams to provide this feature.

My Team Sphere could also sell special add-on functions, such as emoticon keyboards geared toward specific sports or the ability to export information on team calendars. While Eldin has thought up many ideas, he said, he is carefully considering how each one works with his platform because he wants parents to always feel safe providing their children with access to the family account.

“My Team Sphere can be used by the kids and the parents,” Eldin said. “That’s the other innovative thing that was difficult to achieve. How do you establish individual identities for people, so they can use the messenger. It’s not like Facebook where I can just connect with you. You have multiple family members, so we came up with a way where one person gets invited, and on the information form, they can add the player and the player’s emails. Or, if they don’t want to do that, they can just add both the parents’ emails.”

Gordon, whose children’s soccer leagues are based in Las Vegas, said she likes the ability to download any photo posted to the app. She has a daughter on another soccer league, she said, and she’s already pushed the coaches to adopt it.

“I told Medo I’ve been recommending it to everybody, and he will probably have a flood of people, and he said, ‘Bring it on,’ ” Gordon said. “I actually sent a message to the organizers of the whole Nevada Youth Sports league to let them know about it.”

At some point, Eldin said, he can see leaders of other activities adopting the application: Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, church groups. My Team Sphere is available at the iTunes and Android app stores.

“Someone contacted me last week; they’re using it for their band,” said Eldin, who also has a master’s degree in Internet marketing from Full Sail University. “It has three-minute videos, so they can record moments from their gigs.”

To maintain the private network, he said, users can invite people to join only by giving them a security code that signals the type of content that user can access.

“Let’s say that Grandma lives in Florida, and a parent says, ‘I want Grandma to be able to see what’s going on with Johnny’s season,’ ” Eldin said. “The parent can send an invite, and the system will generate a private code, and when Grandma downloads the app and uses the code, she only sees the albums. She doesn’t see the management functions. The system, by virtue of the codes, is always aware of who’s using it, and it’s only presenting each one with the functionality and views that are specific to their needs.”

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee