How a Trip to a Guatemalan Orphanage Inspired St. Louis Cardinals Manager Oliver Marmol and Amber Marmol to Launch a Company That Gives Back
VS is an AI-powered sports education app. But helping athletes improve their game is just one part of its mission.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
In the midst of an eventful first season as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, Oliver Marmol hasn't lost sight of his biggest hobby: business. He and his wife Amber are the founders of VS, a sports education app that taps pro athletes such as Albert Pujols, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Jessica Mendoza to help train and provide advice to anyone who subscribes.
Related: How Michael Strahan Took Control of His Post-Football Career
Featuring high-level workout drills and ultra-specific responses to any question a user may ask, VS is unique in the accessibility it grants inside the life of a professional athlete. "If there's one word I want you to take away from this it is 'access,'" the Cardinals' skipper shared. For him, the access he had to great minds in baseball through his playing and early coaching days led him to one of baseball's prime managerial jobs, and it's something he and Amber strive to provide to anyone out there with similar ambitions. The co-founders spoke with Entrepreneur over Zoom about growing their startup while managing their super busy lives, why treating the talent and clientele kindly goes a long way, and how a trip to Guatemala fueled their desire to give back.
What separates VS from other training platforms?
Oliver Marmol: Everything else out there right now is just content that you're consuming. You're sitting there, listening to an hour course, taking your notes, and then you're done. What our platform allows you to do is at any point throughout this course, you can stop training and ask that talent questions with the technology that we're using called conversational AI. Our talent is able to answer up to 500 questions. Anyone could stop the program and ask, "Can you tell me more about experiencing doubt in the minor leagues?" or "What did the best coaches you've had do well?" They also will get into the nitty-gritty of mentality and the emotional components of success.
Amber Marmol: One of the things we've always seen with Ollie and the players that he's dealt with is there are a lot of guys that make it not solely because of their physical ability, but also it's their mentality and their grind to persevere. For those that are pursuing their dreams, it's your mentality that really is what's gonna get you there and what's going to sustain you through the good and through the bad times.
What inspired you two to launch this platform?
OM: We took a trip to Guatemala years ago and stayed at an orphanage for seven days. We saw some of the worst poverty we've ever seen in our lives, and on our way back to Miami, Amber looked at me and said, "How do we build something that allows us to give back to this community and people in need?" At the time we had zero money — and I mean zero — but Amber said, "Why don't we start a business where you give lessons?" We then decided to donate 50 percent of everything that came in at the end of the year.
Related: How Venus Williams Is Serving Up Her Entrepreneurial Dreams
I started giving lessons and we sent a check at the end of the year. Those kids were eating one meal every three days, and at the end of what we sent over, they were eating three meals a day for about six or seven months. Amber looked at me after that and she said, "All right, how do we do this times a million?"
With the people that we know, let's allow them to teach, put a high-level production around it, monetize it, and still have a give-back component to underserved communities and give access. If I look back at what gave me this opportunity to be the manager of the Cardinals, it's all the access I had. When we sit back and think, well, a bunch of kids just like me don't have that access, how can we provide that? That's what the heartbeat of this platform is.
How did you secure superstar athletes to share their talent with the program?
AM: When we started this company, we knew that culture was going to be very important to us. That fed into not only how we interact as a team, but how we treat our athletes. They have a tremendous amount of success, and we value that, but we also just value them as people. We really try to do a great job at just meeting them as people and serving them in that way. We built a really great reputation among the first people that we've brought on, and from there it spread by word of mouth.
OM: No doubt. Think about all the different commercials that Albert Pujols has done throughout his career. He came on set and told us he's never been treated like this where he didn't feel like he was just the talent being moved from one room to the other. For female athletes, it can be easy to shortchange them and do a lower-level production, but one got into the building with us and said she was treated like a high-end male athlete. That's what we want to make sure we communicate: the way we treat our talent will continue to allow us to get more talent.
Related: Danica Patrick Spent Years Preparing to Retire -- by Laying the Groundwork for a New Career
Is there any advice you would give to entrepreneurs looking to start a tech company?
OM: Early on, you often feel like whatever opportunity is in front of you is the last one. I would advise being very slow when making those decisions. Don't delay unnecessarily, but at the same time, really take your time and figure out is it the right talent? Is it the right team member? Is it the right partnership? Think of the long game and not just the short game of how this helps me right this very second.
AM: I would just add that you have to know your values. We've done that, but all within the values of our core principles and beliefs. For us, working with honest, high-quality, and high-character people is so much more important than that quick fix and instant success. Take the time to make sure that everything aligns with the culture that you've always had in mind that you want to build.