Lary Smith is the owner and founder of The Horse Race Advantage
After leaving careers in the US Navy and aerospace industry and closing an aerospace engineering business that I was plank owner of (that’s Navy talk for one of the founding members, more or less) after twelve years of operation, I was left with a legacy spinoff called The Horse Race Advantage. How did this happen? Well, to cut a long story short, our CEO, Eleonora (El) Gianoulis, is an extraordinary mathematician, aerospace software analyst and thoroughbred race handicapper. It was under her tutelage that our aerospace software engineers developed this “thoroughbred horse race ranking algorithm” that we have grown into a real business.
We were able to make the algorithm into a service that provides subscribers handicapping and rankings for all of the races for all of the major tracks in North America every racing day. The demonstrated effectiveness of our Handicapping by El has been 70%+ in the money since our website launch in July 2012.
In spinning out the “horsey business” from the engineering small business we were challenged to learn its intricacies. We found out that the web subscription service development and maintenance requires daily content updates, technical maintenance and customer support. After a couple of costly learning experiences in website development, we were eventually successful in creating and launching the current website and getting past residual technical issues. Our company, headquartered in Columbia, Kentucky is operated with our domain expert in Eubank, Kentucky and technical support through Incite Support Services, LLC located in the Fullerton area.
Just short of divine intervention, we have been most fortunate by the appearance of our current webmaster, Mr. Kent Behrends, of BEHR Consulting International. Mr. Behrends, a CSUF alumni, is eager to help small business startups as an aside to his very successful consulting service for computing networks and web-based internet technology.
After our website launched in July 2012 we were eager to find out if we would be successful in getting to our market; would being a credible handicapping service for all major thoroughbred tracks in North America be enough for people?!?! At first we ran a few banner ads and we set up Facebook and Twitter accounts linked to our home page along with email campaigns. We also had Google Analytics on all of our pages and we were focusing on Search Engine Optimization.
In the fall of 2013 it became clear that we were not reaching customers and that we needed cutting edge eCommerce marketing expertise and an effective overall marketing plan. Even with an exciting subject like horseracing after a year of operating our gross revenues were just one-third of our gross costs.
And then came the Center for Entrepreneurship from California State University, Fullerton. After a short application process in early 2014, a CSUF team of seven students and a mentor from the private sector, all under the supervision of Professor John Bradley Jackson, created and negotiated a Letter of Engagement with my company that outlined a specific plan of what the team would do for my company.
In part, the team was tasked with looking at certain aspects of marketing for my business. The team was very well organized and would look at my Team Development, Business Development, Current Market/Customer Retention, Potential Markets/Market Expansion, Competitor Analysis, Website Development and Social Media and Advertisement Development.
The team began with a kickoff meeting followed by numerous other meetings throughout the semester where they sat down with me and they also interacted with my team members through email and phone calls. These meetings helped immerse the team in the inner workings of my business and that really gave them a sense of where my company was and where I wanted to take it.
In order to really understand the product, every person on the team subscribed to our service and undertook a crash course on how to bet on horse racing. Additionally, the student team conducted multiple interviews at local racing tracks and these interviews were constructed to discern what gamblers were looking for in a handicapping service. This extra effort was instrumental in their producing a quality strategic vision for my company.
At the conclusion of the semester the team had two crucial deliverables that they made. The first one was a presentation to my staff and myself that focused on the highlights of their results and the team laid out a comprehensive marketing strategy for my company to follow. After the presentation the team leader presented me with their written report that went into great detail about the strategy we needed to follow to energize our marketing efforts.
The written report is the gem of the project. It is well-written and it contains very useful information telling me key things that I am not doing to effectively market horseraceadvantage.com. In addition to the key things that I should be doing they included a detailed list of all of the intermediary steps I need to take as well. All of their recommendations are supported by copious amounts of studies and data.
If I were to summarize in three sentence what I thought of my company’s experience with a CSUF Student-led Business Consulting Team I would say:
- The CSUF Student-led Business Consulting Project was a wonderful learning experience for all involved and very gratifying as well.
- The report produced by the team is factual, strategic in scope and is chock full of helpful insights and perspectives that I could not see before the students started researching my business.
- If my business achieves future success I will directly attribute that success to the experience that I have had with the team from Cal State Fullerton and the strategy that they laid out for my company.
I am extremely happy that I had the opportunity to work with a CSUF Student-led Business Consulting Team and I plan on engaging them in another project once I look to take the Horse Race Advantage to the next level!