Nestled on the Long Island Sound in coastal Connecticut, there’s a town called Westport, home to financiers and Sunday sailing on the water. It’s also home to two second-year students and entrepreneurs, Jared Vishno and Grant Sirlin — best friends turned business partners.
Versatile athletes throughout their childhood, both found their athletic niche in high school — soccer for Sirlin and basketball for Vishno. They trained younger athletes in their respective specialty sports until leaving for college — both had enrolled at the University. They had no idea that within just months of leaving Westport for Charlottesville, their shared sports experiences would land them in the University’s Entrepreneurship Cup. They were even more unaware that they’d win.
“When my dad first reached out to me about coming up with an idea for [the Entrepreneurship Cup], the first person I thought of was Jared,” Sirlin said. “We both like the same things, we’re both very academically focused and we’re both motivated. I knew if I wanted to create something, the best person to do it with would be him.”
And so, in typical first-year fashion, the two sat in a dorm room with a whiteboard, brainstorming ideas and bouncing them off of one another. Unbeknownst to them, less than a year after those dry-erase board sessions, they’d be sitting across from one another answering questions about an actual company that they’re running together — Division 1-On-1 trainers, an athletic training program that transforms the way young athletes are able to learn from Division I collegians.
After nearly two decades of friendship, their bond has turned into something more — it’s turned into a highly successful business relationship. The two have been friends since birth, thanks to their dads — who are also best friends — bringing them together. While family introduced the two, sports were what kept Vishno and Sirlin connected as they grew older, and it’s what keeps them connected now. From Little League to middle school soccer to sprints at Carr’s Hill Field, their friendship has always flourished alongside their athletic careers.
“[Grant] would always play right wing in soccer when we were younger and I’d play up top,” Vishno said. “Whenever he’d get the ball, I just immediately knew to start running because it was coming my way. He would blast it up field, I’d run on to it … From kindergarten through 10th grade, that was our signature thing. We’ve had that chemistry ever since day one.”
That chemistry extended beyond fields and family and has now brought them together in the business world as well.
As first-years at the University, the newly-minted business partners beat over 50 undergraduate and graduate student start-ups in the University’s 2016 Entrepreneurship Cup with their Division 1-On-1 trainers pitch.
The NCAA-compliant company not only allows younger athletes to receive personal training from some of the country’s top athletes, but it also empowers those athletes by providing an unprecedented opportunity to make money without the fear of violating the strict NCAA rules that regulate student-athlete’s lives.
The current NCAA Bylaws prevent student-athletes from collecting compensation for any employment related to their “athletic reputation,” but they are able to “receive compensation for teaching or coaching sport skills or techniques in his or her sport on a fee-for-lesson basis,” given that they meet an extensive number of requirements. Those requirements also prohibit use of an athlete’s identity for promotional purposes, which makes finding students to train difficult for Division I athletes. Division 1-on-1 trainers ensures that all the complicated requirements are met and takes care of the marketing elements for athletes — focusing their on athletes’ abilities as trainers, rather than their reputations.
They’ve created an NCAA-compliant employment system that many didn’t know was even possible. All the rules and regulations prevented people from digging deeper.
“We work within the rules of the NCAA — it’s explicitly in their bylaws,” Sirlin said. “We were looking for a way to work in the rules but still give student athletes this opportunity. We found it literally right there in the bylaws and were able to then get student athletes on board.”
As the startup continues to grow in Charlottesville, so does the relationship between Vishno and Sirlin.
“Our whole lives we’ve been working to be our best and competing against one another on a team — so translating that to business, we know we’ve had 15 years of experience seeing how hard the other person works,” Vishno said. “We knew if we could both put that same mentality and work ethic into something like this, we’d have the best chance of success. And we’re still learning and still growing with that.”
After becoming business partners, Vishno and Sirlin had to overcome a series of significant obstacles before reaching success.
“As we’ve been working on this business we’ve had so many different people saying no to us, so many people telling us we shouldn’t be doing this or that they can’t help us,” Vishno said. “The only thing to do is play it off, because if we got hung up on every single time someone rejected us, we’d be nowhere. We learn so much from the no’s.”
Their persistence has paid off. Division 1-On-1 trainers is up and running — albeit still in “beta” mode — but they plan to launch fully as soon as this spring. They’ve learned from the rejections and also learned from one another.
It’s evident in their unmistakable respect for one another. As Vishno and Sirlin talk about their business confidently, they take caution to not interrupt the other when they’re speaking in their respective areas of expertise. Sirlin is the people person, focusing on parent outreach and customer acquisition. Vishno is the money man — the finance and logistics arm of the operation. There’s a mutual understanding and a palpable trust between the two, meaning there’s no second guessing the other’s strengths — they credit that fact with their partnership being rooted in a long-standing friendship.
“We have certain times where we’ll talk about the business, and other times where we go back to what our friendship was before,” Sirlin said. “We just had to figure out how to be both friends and partners.”
Vishno and Sirlin have become their own two-person team — one that was formed in the competitive Connecticut town of Westport and has come to fruition in the world of Charlottesville startups and sports.
But even beyond the opportunities they’re carving for themselves, they’re also opening doors for student athletes and young sports stars as well.
“Student athletes should definitely have the right to use their own identity or their skills and abilities related to their sport,” Vishno said. “So we think that our platform is the best alternative for the athletes given the circumstances in place.”