Lauren Schwaar is a basketball coach, communications professional, and the founder of Fathom Performance, an emerging mobile platform that is redefining impact measurement within the world of sport. We sat down with Lauren to hear more about her sports entrepreneurship journey and career in sport.
Zushan Hashmi: What is your sports background?
Lauren Schwaar: I am from Chicago in the United States and was born during the days of the Bulls and Michael Jordan. Today, I run Fathom Performance, but basketball was my primary sport growing up and I played basketball for a small university in Illinois.
After graduating, I coached basketball at the college level in the States for five seasons and have also coached around the world.
However, I enjoy a range of sports and physical activity including adventure sports, weightlifting, climbing and more.
How and where did the idea for Fathom Performance come from?
The idea for Fathom Performance originated in 2018 while I was living in the States and heavily involved in CrossFit.
I was rehabbing a previously injured shoulder and imagined creating an app that would make it easier for me to see my progress – anyone who’s experienced an injury knows how tedious and long that process can be and I wanted to gamify the process to motivate myself to keep going.
However, I wasn’t able to develop that app because I moved shortly thereafter and put the idea on the back burner.
I moved to Scotland to complete a master’s degree in Sport Policy and International Development.
While completing that program, I learned about the difficulties the sporting world experiences trying to prove the impact that sports programming can make.
The more I explored, the more my idea for an app that helped reveal progress changed from its original intent to something that could be much more far-reaching and useful.
I realised that the entire sports industry – from team sports to individual, adventure, developmental, recreational, elite, inclusion and more – is increasingly dependent on proving the impact it creates for those who benefit or partake. People want to know that what they are doing is making a difference, and the stakes are high – resources, funding, participation, recruitment and more dependent on it.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve had conversations with hundreds of individuals – from those involved in running sports clubs and organisations to those who manage significant funding foundations to those who create a national policy.
I have heard over and over again the difficulties we all face in trying to assess what impact sport can actually make. I want to change that with Fathom.
How does Fathom work?
Fathom is designed to be an empty canvas that allows athletes, individuals, coaches, teams, organisations or other entities to see the progress they are making in real-time. It works with any type of metric, indicator, status or program.
This can manifest in a variety of ways. For instance, an athlete in an individual sport like climbing, squash, tennis, athletics and more could plot their training program against their performance over time to see exactly where their efforts are producing the best return (performance increases).
They can also collaborate with their coach(es) to align their focus areas and maximize the effectiveness of their training strategy.
Team sports have a tandem need for performance evaluation – not only does each individual athlete have specific skills and improvements they need to concentrate on, but the team as a whole needs to work collectively towards improvement and mastery of various elements of the sport. Fathom allows those tandem goals to be aligned and visualized by everyone involved: from athletes to coaches, managers, training staff and club personnel.
Case study: Football (Soccer) for Change
Fathom is currently trialling its app with a small number of organisations before releasing to a wider audience. One such organisation uses football programming to encourage its participants to engage in creating awareness and activism around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). This organisation plans to use Fathom to allow its participants around the world to keep track of not only the football activity they are engaging in but the steps they’re taking to promote the SDG’s, which will all be scored during the course of the season. Fathom is designed to power sport teams and clubs that work towards a wide variety of aims – whether those be entirely performance-oriented or involve a range of desired outcomes and impact types.
What positive outcomes have you experienced while developing Fathom so far?
I get to wake up every day and help people who are passionate about what they do actually see the positive changes they’re making. This journey has been a long process and we’re just getting started. But getting to contribute to the process of people’s lives changing for the better keeps me going.
Another one of my favourite parts of this process has been building a team. We’re small but mighty at the moment – but my goal with Fathom is to create a world-class team that works on its performance as a unit just as intentionally as each individual within it performs their own role. If we can make that happen, we can accomplish profound things as a company.
What is your mission as an organisation?
If we can make the process of evaluation and measurement one that delivers value to everyone involved, from the athlete or participant to the people that inform national and international policy, we will get to see sports organisations become leaders in global change. And what could be better than using sport to solve more of the world’s problems?
Where do you envision your company in the future? How will Fathom change the sporting community?
Fathom is still in its infancy. We are currently trialling our app’s beta version with a few organisations and sports teams including football teams, as well as other types of organisations that work in training and wellness.
We’re using this time to hone our process and create high-quality experiences for our early adopters. But we’re excited about completing these early trials and getting to release our first public version of Fathom.
Our long-term vision for Fathom is to enable a new breed of sports organisation. We imagine organisations that are widely acknowledged by policy and decision-makers as the most effective and efficient intervention option available for tackling individual, community and systemic development challenges.
We imagine clubs and community sport organisations that change and improve significantly from year to year and season to season.
We imagine a world in which full confidence in the effort a participant, athlete or sports organisation expends is possible because they can see the objective results of that effort. In a nutshell, we want to create a language and a canvas for progress.
What is something you’d like to say to young and upcoming sports entrepreneurs?
Nothing is more important in developing an innovative solution than maintaining an in-depth relationship with your prospective user. When in doubt, don’t assume.
Dialogue with the people – i.e. your prospective customer – that know for sure. Attack all your assumptions as often and as aggressively as you can. Be humble. Ask for help. Invite people into the process. And enjoy the ride.