Community Spotlight: Travis McKay, CEO of Medici Athletic

Community Spotlight: Travis McKay, CEO of Medici Athletic

Adapted from original article posted on October 16th, 2023.
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Today we’d like to introduce you to Travis McKay.

Hi Travis, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today. 
I am a graduate student at NC State studying biomedical engineering. When the pandemic started, I found myself with a lot more time and began exploring the idea of entrepreneurship. Fast forward to 2021, name image and likeness (NIL) took the college sports world by storm, and I was especially privy to issues facing athletes, given that my younger brothers played D1 football. I think there are two kinds of people in this world: those that complain and those that do something about it. So, I went ahead and started a company to address how to properly support athletes with NIL, rather than the hoards of bad actors that say they support athletes but couldn’t care less about people like my brothers. College sports is a business, after all, and sometimes people forget that. We went with the name “Medici Athletic,” inspired by the Medici family of Florence, Italy, during the Renaissance period. The Medici family were the patrons of some of the greatest artists and pretty much ushered in one of the most notable historical eras of creativity. In that same spirit, we want to make sure athletes are supported with all the resources they need to be successful in sports and beyond, and that takes a little innovation. Unfortunately, the sports world is run by big money and a lot of people with traditional mindsets, which is proving to be detrimental to maximizing the positive impact to be had on athletes and enticing a new generation of fans to be engaged with NIL. Over the years, we had to pivot, especially as a cash-strapped startup, because we simply couldn’t compete with other companies that could throw millions of dollars at athletes to get them on a marketplace. The issue we saw there boils down to this: if you want to sell merch, build a marketplace. If you want to sell athletes, build a brand. Obviously, that’s harder, but that’s key with NIL, and that brings us to our motto revolving around “building brands and fostering community,” which we embed into all of our efforts and technological solutions. I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by a highly capable and supportive team, and we’ve identified some gaps where we think we can be competitive and make our mark. It’s not often that you find yourself around other risk-takers, and I’ve found that to be invaluable for choosing a lifestyle and career off the beaten path. One of my favorite quotes is by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To be great is to be misunderstood.” To me, that describes entirely how I got to where I am today. Not to say that I’m great or have done anything noteworthy yet, but you find yourself faced with a lot of doubt and rejection, and you sort of just have to suck it up and remain true to yourself. That internal belief and pursuit of greatness is something only you know for yourself, especially when you start. We all hear the success stories, but you really find out who you are in the trenches, and I’ve learned not to shy away from hard and uncertain times (of course, with the support of loved ones). Anyway, given my personal knowledge and connections, I felt like I could be competitive in the college sports industry so I’m out here giving it a shot and my story is currently being written. 

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The road has not been smooth because I started as an engineering PhD student trying to run a business at the same time. I came to a point where I couldn’t stay sane and do both, so I made the hard decision to leave school and focus on what I thought I wanted to do. All my friends were following a path, and I was on track to following a similar path that sort of became my identity and sense of worth my entire life. Breaking away from that and tapping into self-actualization was a trying journey because I started to feel outcasted from my sense of societal acceptance. Entrepreneurship is a lonely world, but that’s probably preaching to the choir. For the business, it was really hard at first to center in on what to build our company around because we were trying to secure our first client, so our pitch would change all the time based on their needs. That wasn’t easy as the head of the company being in charge of setting the vision, so sometimes I felt like I came off as not knowing what I was doing, and that was tough because I left school to do this one thing. After some company alignment, we renewed our focus and decided what we wanted to “bet the house” on because we couldn’t go on and keep pivoting forever. Super bad for company morale over time. There was an internal deadline for if XYZ doesn’t happen then we should reconsider our business prospects, and luckily XYZ happened. That’s probably the craziest part, dealing with the uncertainty. I’ve learned to take it one day at a time because nothing ever goes to plan, and challenges don’t seem too bad to overcome when you have the right team and minds behind finding solutions. They’re more like opportunities to prove what you all are made of. If we were tackling an easy problem, there’d be no struggles, and that’s probably what gives me solace. Where there’s obstacles, there’s opportunities to build a business. If there aren’t obstacles, then somebody probably already identified and implemented that solution. So, I dive head first into the uncertainty because you never know what you’ll discover when you trek on a path others aren’t willing to. 

As you know, we’re big fans of Medici Athletic. For our readers who might not be as familiar, what can you tell them about the brand?
Medici Athletic is an innovative company building software for name image and likeness (NIL) operations and implementing a platform for increasing athlete marketability. We help entities like Collectives not only play the NIL game but partner with them to be successful at the game. To do this, we build out the fundamental infrastructure utilizing design thinking and execute marketing gameplans with the goal of raising money and engaging fans. Contrary to other companies in this space, we understand that the only way to build a sustainable business in NIL is through an ecosystem. Ecosystems sustain themselves in nature, and ecosystems thrive in business. We focus on the interactions between fans, athletes, and businesses and ensure a mutually beneficial relationship for everyone involved. Supporting all athletes is our mission, and that even starts at the high school level to better prepare athletes to make the most out of their time in college. We want people to understand that our brand isn’t successful unless athletes are successful, and from the looks of it across the nation, we have a long way to go. We’re not here to make the news, we’re not here to line our resumes, and we’re not here to waste anybody’s time. Medici Athletic is a company driven by a mission to see a difference in the lives and experiences of college athletes. If you’re interested in seeing athletes at your school be more successful, please reach out! Feedback will be crucial as we build up our offerings and services to truly address the issues that modern athletes are facing. If you’re a business that is intrigued by the idea of using athletes in your marketing strategy, we can also provide more information on what that could look like. If you are an NIL Collective or are interested in getting NIL more active at your school, we have all the resources you need to get that implemented right away, the right way. 

In terms of your work and the industry, what are some of the changes you are expecting to see over the next five to ten years?
A tiny portion of the population ends up playing sports in college, and even a smaller percentage of that population goes on to play professionally. However, with NIL, athletes can utilize their era of heightened marketability to create sustained sources of income well after their time in high school or college sports. Over the next 5-10 years, I think athletes will become more comfortable using their social media as a business tool for making money by influencing their audiences, and businesses will see higher ROI in working with athletes for their marketing. We see the success stories, but sometimes it’s hard for an athlete today to think they can do the same, especially with the peer pressure to act and look a certain way and pushback from coaches. There is so much money being left on the table if only the athlete chooses to take a few steps in growing their platform, and the earlier they start the better. On a different note, hopefully, with more resources and a sense of community, issues regarding the mental health of athletes can be studied, and fans will have more compassion for these young adults that are giving it their all. There will definitely be a trend in the voice of the athlete being amplified because right now, nobody really wants the spotlight or to really say what’s on their mind in a public manner. 

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