Lebron James and Paul Queally are a few of the influencers who have impacted a business venture founded by University of Richmond alumnus, Stephon Jacob.
Jacob, who graduated from UR in December 2018, is a 6-foot-4-inch, 255-pound tight end who was easily recognizable as an athlete on campus. For five years, football has been a defining component of Jacob’s college career, and as an NFL prospect who participated in the 2019 draft, he hopes the sport will continue to be a central fixture in his life.
But Jacob wants people to know that he is more than an athlete, and that desire has motivated the creation of a new social media platform, KnowUs.
Three years ago, Jacob took his first business course at UR, wherein he was tasked by professor Fred Talbott – who is now retired from teaching – to come up with an idea to pitch to investors.
Inspired by professional basketball player Lebron James’s #MoreThanAnAthlete campaign, Jacob noticed there was a disconnect between athletes and their fans, in that the fans do not have a genuine idea of who athletes are outside of their sport.
“People know we lift weights, go to class and play our sport,” Jacob said. “But they don’t know about the extra-curricular activities we do that make us just like them. The idea behind KnowUs is to serve as that first-person bridge between athletes and their fans.”
Initially, the idea just existed as a class assignment. But Talbott, who says he has taught over 1,000 students who have launched million-dollar businesses, instantly recognized the power of Jacob’s enthusiasm.
“What I did was I taught him to formulate an idea,” Talbott said, “and he fell in love with it. So, it doesn’t surprise me one bit that Stephon is having success with it now.”
After receiving encouraging feedback from his professor and peers, Jacob created a KnowUs Instagram page in 2018. Initial content consisted of homemade videos that Jacob made which highlighted UR’s football team. Still, the page quickly gathered more than 1,000 followers and ultimately grew to a size that Jacob says he was ill-equipped to manage on his own.
Fast forward one year, and KnowUs – now supported by a team of mentors and support of more than just Jacob – was ready for a revival. Notably, prominent UR donor, Paul Queally, is now a supporter of the KnowUs concept.
“Mr. Queally has been a business mentor to me,” Jacob said. “I’m hoping when this gets big he can guide me down the right path, which he has already started to do.”
In addition to Queally, Jim Brady, former entrepreneur-in-residence at UR, has served as a crucial adviser for the KnowUs team.
“To be honest with you, when I first started with them, I wasn’t sure where the business was going to go,” Brady said. “As I worked with them more and more though, and saw the passion that Stephon and the other guys have for the idea, I realized this can really grow into something that a lot of people will be interested in.”
In reference to “the other guys,” Brady was referring to the support group Jacob has cultivated of both former UR football players and contributors to the KnowUs brand: Trey Moore, ‘18; Jarmal Bevels, ‘18; Jarriel Jordan, ‘18; and Dale Matthews, ‘18.
As the KnowUs CFO, Moore has specifically been tasked with building business plans for a KnowUs app and speaking with potential investors who the team is hoping will help fund the $150,000 bill for building the app.
“We’ve been talking with investors since early 2018, and they wanted something where they could see that there was interest,” Moore said. “So, that was the main point of the Instagram.”
In the six weeks that KnowUs has been fully operational on Instagram, the page has featured 30 athletes and generated 750,000 user impressions – a feat the Jacobs says is helping to prove the concept.
“The goal is for KnowUs to continue to grow at Richmond,” Jacob said. “Then, we’ll be able to attract investors and build the brand to a regional and national level.”
As a way to continue reaching a wider audience while funds are being raised for the app, Jordan, the chief marketing officer, is in the process of creating a KnowUs website. The website is expected to be finished within a month, and it will serve as a landing page for the brand, with links to KnowUs podcasts and forthcoming merchandise, Jordan said.
“There is no ceiling for where we can go with this,” he said. “People truly don’t know what athletes do. You can follow them on Instagram, but most of the time that’s run by someone on a marketing team. Here, we want the raw version; we’re putting the script and the mic in the athletes’ hands.”
In these early stages, everyone on the KnowUs team has been contributing on a volunteer basis. But, the eventual goal is to monetize the brand.
“KnowUs will be more than an app,” Jacob said. “The big dream is to be a multimedia company for sports and athletes where athletes will get paid for exclusive content.”
Like any startup, KnowUs is a long way away from printing paychecks. But the team behind the brand is committed to seeing it continue to reach a larger audience.
According to Jacob, they’re just getting started.
Contact contributor Jessica Stanfill at firstname.lastname@example.org.