Diane Bloodworth - A Founder Story
In the Beginning
Diane Bloodworth believes she was born with entrepreneurship in her blood. Growing up on farm in rural Flintstone, Georgia, Diane was helping run her family owned grocery store by the age of 10. Running a front register, putting up stock, and making orders was not unique for a child in her family, it was what was expected. Eventually her father focused on launching additional family businesses, and at 12 years old she became solely responsible for running the store for a season.
Looking back at her childhood, there were hard parts of having parents who were entrepreneurs, such as the 100+ hour work weeks and the lack of time it left for family, but Diane believes her experiences made her stronger, more independent, and a better person. In the Bloodworth family, hard work was expected. It was a blue collar life where everyone worked for a living. It didn’t matter if you were a girl or 10 years old. There were no excuses.
Forging Her Own Path
Yet working in the family business eventually ran it’s toll, and as Diane went off to college she made plans to run away from small business and into corporate America. And shortly after graduation, she did just that. Diane scored a job working for IBM and quickly discovered a natural aptitude for computer science.
IBM paid for Diane to get her Masters degree and that is where she took her first entrepreneurship class. A passionate sports fan since she was a kid in rural Georgia (Go Dawgs!), Diane ended up getting paired for a class project with the University’s star running back, Cleveland Gary. The big idea they came up with? To use technology to help college coaches develop more winning teams. This was before sports tech was even a thing, and no one was super impressed. But this idea would stick with Diane in the years to come.IBM continued to train her in mainframe software and Diane eventually became the software developer manager for all air traffic control systems. Being a woman in software development for IBM in the 1980s was kind of like seeing a unicorn, and Diane was managing 30 developers in this male dominated industry. It wasn’t all easy, but luckily Diane was comfortable just rolling with the punches and earned the nickname Lady Di. Her philosophy?
“As long as it was nice, I would roll with it. I could take fun and teasing as long as the men respected me. I worked hard to be credible and a good worker. If anything was inappropriate, I would take you down. But fortunately, I never had anything really bad happen. Sometimes women have to do more than carry their weight to earn their way, but I’ve never felt undue pressure in a male dominated environment.”
But as all entrepreneurs are want to do, Diane eventually made a bold move to leave IBM to start her own company. People thought she was crazy. Her mom begged her not to quit but that didn’t stop her. In Diane’s words, “I always take steps backwards! I had 30 developers and ran a whole department at IBM and decided to go back to zero to do my own thing. I had no contracts, no leads, just a vision for what I knew I could do.”
Her First Startup
So she moved to D.C. and started Bloodworth Integrated Technology, a consulting firm that would teach people how to better use and leverage technology. Think helping the government test software, increase quality, meet schedules, etc. She leveraged relationships from her time at IBM and scored her first major contract with the FAA. Did being female owned help or hinder her? She says at times it did help, especially with government contracts. She shares, “Being a woman can’t be your strategy, but you should leverage your competitive advantage. I didn’t lead with it, but there’s nothing wrong with letting it help where it can.”Diane also chose to hire a lot of women and the inside joke for Bloodworth Integrated Technology (BIT) was that it actually meant “Bitches in Technology.” They had fun with being women in tech as they continued to secure contracts and scale.
Then 9/11 happened, and Diane knew things would never be the same. She was in DC and physically watched how the FAA landed every single plane that day. No one knew the future of air travel at the time, and her business went downhill quick. BIT lost about half their contracts overnight and at one point Diane just stopped answering her phone because she couldn’t take more bad news. But BIT stayed afloat (barely) and eventually won a DOD contract which helped them slowly scale once again and even led to an acquisition. In Diane’s words, “I never have easy successes, and I worked 10 years for that one. It wasn’t a new life. It was more of a new house and gave me a nice base to try something else and move on to other things.”
The Idea That Wouldn't Leave Her
So she packed her bags, left her network, and moved back down to GA to start all over again. Then Diane started thinking about the startup idea from her entrepreneurship class 15 years ago.
“That idea just never let me go! You could call it an obsession. I know it wasn’t healthy but it combined my love for tech and sports and I finally had the ability to prototype it. So I went for it.”
Diane created the MVP 15 years after her initial idea.She had never even heard the word data analytics at this time, but that’s exactly what she was doing. Diane created a data analytics startup before it was even a thing. College recruiters at the time were using paper and colored pencils to plan their strategy and map opponent maneuvers. Her data system literally gave coaches their game planning by predicting opponent strategy for them… with math. But the thing with great ideas is that they don’t always work out. Especially if the market and timing isn’t right. Diane quickly discovered coaches weren’t quite ready to try something new, especially something so complex. So she pivoted into Fantasy Football and launched scoutPRO. But despite her best efforts, Diane learned she just couldn’t win the Fantasy Football market. So she decided to learn from that experience and shut it down.
“That was a really hard thing. It is much more difficult to shut something down than to spin something up. I stayed in longer than I should have because of that. But, I had limited resources so I was not going to keep investing in something I knew I could not win. So I pivoted, dropped the Fantasy market, and went back to the college coaching market. This is where I think I can win.”
At this point it was 2016 and user tech friendliness had massively improved. Wearables were becoming more mainstream along with the idea that data could actually help athletes. This was laying the groundwork for coaches to be ready for Diane’s original product. TWENTY YEARS LATER, people were ready for it. Diane relaunched scoutSMART.Today scoutSMART solves the problem of an archaic and inefficient recruiting process for college football coaches. Players want to play, coaches want to win, but making that match is hard. scoutSMART uses big data to make that match.
A Determined Founder
In a recent scouting meeting, a recruiter told Diane they were worried she was going to put them out of business. She didn’t disagree and said, “Things ARE going to change. There’s simply too much room for improvement.”As Diane said, “I get so in the grind of things, I forget what a cool journey I have had. It’s not a ‘why didn’t I think of this sooner?’ It’s just that the market had to be ready for it. I didn’t give up on the idea, I just stopped spending resources on it until the timing was right. There are no throwaway experiences. Every single step has helped me be a better entrepreneur.“Being a woman in the male dominated industries of software and sports, isn’t really a part of Diane’s story, it’s just who she is. The one pain point is that she isn’t the best person to sell to the coaches. She doesn’t think of it as discrimination, more a little bit of bias and their comfort level. So she uses a contract sales team including former and current high school coaches that have credibility and deep contacts with colleges. Entrepreneurship almost feels genetic for Diane. She believes you have to have that drive and passion for what you are doing or you won’t stick with it. This is who she is. A tenacious visionary, a determined founder, and a critical problem solver who has learned to be joyful in whatever position she was in.
“For entrepreneurs there is more down than up. Even when you are doing well, things happen. But no one owns the success of your company other than you. I don’t need to prove myself to anyone else, I just want to be successful.”