The Data Game Changer

JumpForward founder Adam McCombs is using technology and data analytics to hack the fundamentals of how college athletic departments are run

Adams McCombs helps college athletic departments use data to run more efficiently. Photos by Caleb Fox

As a kid, Adam McCombs loved playing soccer. Now, as the founder and chief data officer of JumpForward, McCombs gets to channel his passion for sports into a company that relies on technology to revolutionize the world of college athletics.

College athletic departments face particular challenges in managing budgets and priorities between coaches, compliance professionals, CFOs, athletic directors, and recruiters. JumpForward uses data analytics technology to provide a platform for department personnel to connect with one another, communicate with student athletes, or recruit prospective students athletes, via web, mobile, or tablet.

McCombs founded the company after leaving his position as senior product manager at Cisco in 2008. Today, more than 150 colleges around the country are using JumpForward’s products to streamline processes throughout an entire athletic department.

Here, McCombs speaks to Sync about how he built his company and the effect it’s having on the world of college sports.

Sync: Tell us about your background in sports.

Adam McCombs, CEO at Jump Forward
Adam McCombs, Founder & Chief Data Officer at Jump Forward

Adam McCombs: I played both club and high school soccer and was recruited by various colleges. But during that time, I was also frustrated  with the recruiting process itself, how inefficient it was overall.

Sync: When did you realize that technology could play an integral role in recruitment?

McCombs: At Cisco Systems, I was a part of a product management team that helped shape the next generation of unified communication and collaborative, Internet-based technologies. It was powerful to see how these technology architectures and solutions can be transformative and disruptive to entire industries. These experiences convinced me that my background and exposure with these technology solutions could be truly transformative for college athletic departments in how they recruit, collaborate, and protect college coaching staffs from costly NCAA violations.

Sync: Was it a challenge delivering that vision?

McCombs: Working at Cisco, you’re dealing with Fortune 500 companies, which employ a lot of specialized people working with technology day in and day out. On the flip side, athletic departments are really focused on delivering a superior student athlete experience, and sometimes at the expense of that, technology takes a back burner. It’s not on purpose; their focus is rightly on the student athletes. But initially, it was hard to sell our vision because of that. We were confident, though, that our long-term vision would catch on.

Sync: How did you work through that initial skepticism?

McCombs: It was really all about educating an industry on the value of technology and technology platforms, and showing how consolidating various solutions onto one platform can help them achieve the goals stated in their strategic plans. During this educational phase, we received a lot of great feedback on our vision. But it was our deep understanding of the market, coupled with our technology background, that made us confident our platform strategy would win out at the end of the day.

Sync: As chief data officer, vision seems to be essential for you.

McCombs: My background at Cisco gave me a strong foundation to connect the dots and look ahead of the technology curve. We were able to see how collapsing legacy disparate solutions onto a common architecture and platform would be beneficial for college athletic departments. As you share your vision, you incorporate feedback that will enhance and broaden this vision.   

Sync: What specifically did you do with that feedback?

McCombs: As customers got close to us and grew confident in our vision, we created the JumpForward Development Council, which has been invaluable. We receive constant, intimate feedback from fourteen to fifteen of  our largest customers, and they are driving the development of our technology roadmap. Our team is making sure we’re listening to them and that customers are holding us accountable for that vision.

Sync: Could you describe your process in creating a roadmap for the company?

McCombs: I think there are three to four key components of a roadmap. First you want to have a roadmap for projects one to three years out; you see things that are coming on the horizon that are going to impact your industry. From there, you start to establish the foundational pieces that will allow you to achieve that long-term vision by focusing a year out.

You generally map out about twelve months, and then work backward to map out three to six months, which is really what you can control and then execute. Execution is what matters at the end of the day.

Sync: So what sets JumpForward’s solution apart?

McCombs: What makes JumpForward unique is that our employees truly listen to our customers and are always striving to solve really challenging problems for college athletic departments. Through this feedback, we noticed a trend three to four years ago that a unified
platform was needed. We have taken an industry that had seven to eight different vendors and consolidated these loosely coupled solutions onto one integrated and seamless platform.

We positioned our product to take advantage of that movement and trend, and this is what we delivered to the market. We also noticed from an operational standpoint that data-informed and data-driven decisions are paramount, and we are helping college athletic departments develop custom analytical dashboards. At the same time, colleges are facing enormous challenges around big data, and JumpForward is helping these college athletic departments develop transformative data architectures and analytical, data-driven solutions.

Sync: What trends do you see developing for professional sports?

McCombs: The NBA is by far the most advanced league in using analytics on a couple of fronts, first for in-game analysis. Another trend on the horizon is ticket analytics. When you look at professional sports organizations, they have a product and they deliver that product on a nightly or weekly basis. For example, tickets to a Cavaliers/Warriors game, that is a hot product right now. Rather than an NBA sports team setting a flat price at the beginning of the season, which is what has been done traditionally, why not leverage internal data and other third-party data sources to determine the most efficient price for that product?

I believe you’re going to see the NBA and other leagues leverage data to maximize their pricing. What’s really going to be exciting is to leverage these different data sources to produce predictive models and forecast potential revenue streams and opportunities in a way that hasn’t been done before. That would be truly transformative for any sports business model.