Tennis has long been Tennisbloc Founder and CEO Lee Kincheloe’s passion. But growing up in a working-class family, he noticed hurdles that such families faced when hoping to play what, along with golf, is often perceived as a sport for the rich.
Because he loved the impact tennis made on his life, he wanted to do something about its accessibility. So in 2016, while an entrepreneurship and marketing student at NC State, he created Raleigh-based Tennisbloc.
“I saw these financial and geographic barriers to entry,” said Kincheloe, now an NCSU grad. “But it had a very positive impact on my life, so it got to where I was a semi-pro-rated tennis player and I was kind of at that fork in the road where I had to decide, ‘do I want this as a career, or do I want to pursue entrepreneurship in a way that addresses these pain points that I’ve seen over time and create a solution for it?’”
Tennisbloc’s solution began with tennis lessons, programs and camps via partnerships with neighborhoods and cities. Kincheloe said they originally targeted middle-class and upper-middle-class families in hopes of making an immediate and widespread impact.
“We’re looking at it from the terms of what is scalable, how can we make the widest footprint possible to bring more positive experiences and change the perception for the widest amount of people?” Kincheloe said. “So if we can start to break that barrier downwards, I think over time then we will be able to continually reach a broader and broader span of people.”
The startup, now participating in the NC State Andrews Launch Accelerator (which we wrote about here), has expanded to offer software to manage tennis leagues and tournaments. Although the 23-employee Tennisbloc does not run local leagues, they began matching their users with leagues as an extension of their programs and saw the potential for a software solution to improve the league experience.
“What we started seeing was that there was a much more widespread problem in the realm of leagues in particular, where they’re very poorly managed in respect to what tools are given to each different party that’s involved,” Kincheloe said. “There’s not a holistic solution in place for anyone. So we saw this as, hey, this is a way we can impact tennis in a positive way far beyond what we have with our lessons. So we spun off into creating a software technology.”
Serving Up Efficiency
Without Tennisbloc, each individual location and league coordinator typically runs each league completely differently and provides information to a captain, who then spreads the news to the players in various ways in what is often a chaotic process, Kincheloe said. With Tennisbloc’s software, everyone can see the same information with greater efficiency for the captains, players and coordinators.
“Not only are they getting all these tools upfront, their job is being made much more effective and efficient so they can focus on the general health of a league and improving that experience,” Kincheloe said. “It’s improving the user experience, which helps retention and growth.”
Tennisbloc’s pricing model allows coordinators to use its technology for free while collecting a service fee from each individual user upon sign-up. Kincheloe said the startup is now moving to target tennis federations (state, regional or national organizations) and is in conversations with UTR (Universal Tennis Rating, the world’s largest tennis organization). If and when the software is in the hands of these federations, he hopes it will bring a better experience to even more people at affordable prices.
“I think that will generally improve the ecosystem of tennis as a whole and create and foster better community out of that,” Kincheloe said. “On our service side, it’s the same thing but much more direct. We’re in the trenches. We’re on the ground everyday doing exactly that.”
On track to do about $250K in revenue this year, the startup has grown about 40% year over year. Kincheloe said Tennisbloc currently has around 2,000 users—a number that has been growing every season—and he wants to continue to help make tennis accessible to people who have never had the opportunity before.
“We see that the vast majority of these folks are new to the tennis ecosystem and they were seeking a way to be able to get into it where they haven’t been able to in the past,” Kincheloe said. “So we’re definitely more convenient and we’re driving positive community out of it. That’s our main goal, is to have people have a positive and affordable and really awesome experience.”