5 Questions with Todd Deacon

Sep 08, 2021

Todd Deacon is the Managing Director of the Techstars SportsTech Melbourne Accelerator and also General Partner of Wildcard Ventures, the venture capital fund for Tennis Australia. Prior to Techstars, Todd founded sportstech media startup Unscriptd (acquired by The Players' Tribune in 2018) and has over 20 years of experience in the sports & entertainment industry.

01. What are the key elements you look for when investing in startups for the Techstars SportsTech Melbourne Accelerator?

I look at every company and each opportunity in terms of what I need to believe to build strong conviction. 

I tend to ask myself 4 core questions:

  • Do I believe in the CEO’s vision and ability to attract top talent?

  • Do I believe the founding team are among the best people in the world to solve this problem?

  • Do I believe the team are solving a problem of such significant pain and regularity that it’s a no brainer for customers to pay?

  • Do I believe a $80-100m annual revenue business will be created in this defined niche within the next 10 years?

02. What types of companies are you looking to invest in for the Techstars SportsTech Melbourne Accelerator?

Broadly speaking we are on a global search for founders of technology led startups with big ambitions solving significant problems impacting the sports industry. 

I take a fairly wide view of sport and like to look through the lens of 3 core categories.

  • Sports organisation and event technologies...this could be technology for sports orgs and venues, media and commercial or the gambling and integrity side of sport.

  • Performance and health technologies...this covers things like wearables and equipment, coaching and training, as well as general health, fitness and wellbeing.

  • Entertainment technologies...here I tend to look for new technologies or approaches to news and content, fan experience and social, or fantasy, e-sports and NFT’s which have grown significantly in the last year.

So that is kind of my mental model of how I box startups in a sporting context, but in terms of what I am looking for this year? I really like to keep an open mind as often the things that excite me the most are the totally surprising opportunities. Having said that, I love AI applications in sport, startups targeting mass participation, NFT’s are super interesting especially with tech to support all the activity, future of work tech driving efficiencies (there is so much inefficiency across the sports industry that can be improved through tech), and I think there are large opportunities for fintech and sport, which hasn’t been well served to date but is a massive market. 

03. What are some of the biggest learnings from your career and entrepreneurial journey that you bring to being a Techstars MD?

Take control and simplify the complicated. Leading a startup can often feel like you are failing and can become totally overwhelming as there is so much going on at such a frantic pace. So it’s super important to simplify and take control of what you can control. The common threads of successful startups where I have seen them take control have been in 4 key areas. If you get these aspects right, I believe it significantly impacts your chance of success.

  • Direction...having a very clear vision and strategy based off true insights that everyone understands, 

  • Speed...continuously building a killer team that can execute quickly and to a high quality against that vision, 

  • Information...building repeating feedback loops that allows the team to understand what’s working and what’s not to modify their course, 

  • Confidence...but also having a healthy dose of intuition to move quickly before any or perfect data is available.

04. You are based in Melbourne but the program is virtual, can you explain that?

Yes we are running the 2022 program virtually from Melbourne, just like we did last year. We had companies from all over the world involved, some based in the America’s, Europe and across Asia. That is the beauty of virtual in that we can run a global cohort with global mentors. We also plan to have a couple of weeks during the program where we all get together in Melbourne. Australia’s borders are currently closed due to COVID, but we are hopeful these will be open in time to have a component in person in Melbourne working from the home of the Australian Open.  

05. What do Techstars partners Tennis Australia, Victoria University, and LaunchVic bring to the accelerator?

I genuinely believe our partners present an enormous opportunity to accelerate these businesses and provide a fantastic launchpad for global growth. That can manifest in many ways, such as scientific validation, nailing product market fit, market testing, commercial partnerships, access to talent, or warm introductions to global sports organisations, teams, and athletes. And Tennis Australia has just launched the VC fund Wildcard Ventures - so the potential to access capital is also there.

Bonus question. If you could meet one professional athlete, who would it be and why?

As a kid, one moment that had a lifelong impact on me was Ben Johnson at the Seoul Olympics. Ever since, I have had this fascination with drugs in sport. I think it’s to do with trying to understand the psyche of why some athletes make that choice. Can it really be satisfying winning but knowing you have cheated your way there? But to answer the question, the athlete I would most want to meet is Lance Armstrong. I don’t think we understand what was really going on in the sport and in his mind back then and even more interestingly today, but I would love to know.