When two high school friends were chatting at the back of class, lamenting the lack of basketball content on social media, they could not have imagined that several years later they would be at a Hong Kong summit for the Forbes 30 Under 30, for transforming the competitive world of sports media.
Jaden Harris and Alex Sumsky, both now aged 22 and studying at USyd, co-founded the Forever Network, a digital sports media company specialising in publishing aesthetic and curated sporting commentary and illustration on social media. Its flagship innovation, Basketball Forever, is the largest publisher of curated basketball content on social media, boasting a global audience of 60 million across multiple social platforms and a place in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list for Media, Marketing and Advertising.
Recognition by Forbes “was a tremendous honour that definitely wouldn’t have been possible without all of the great people we have on the team who have been able to elevate us,” Sumsky says.
At 17 years old, while working a part-time job at a motel, Sumsky began creating aesthetic basketball content in his spare time. He then worked as a content producer for a tech start-up, before reuniting with Harris a year later to take their high school idea to the next level. Now operating out of a sublet office with plants hanging from the ceiling, the fresh-faced entrepreneurs have had to adapt to an unfamiliar world of boardroom meetings.
The business is based around basketball because they love the game; Sumsky used to play competitively, while Harris fondly remembers watching Sydney Kings as a child. The choice was also strategic: basketball has one of the lowest median ages of any sporting audience, which complements their social-first, mobile-focused approach.
Sumsky and Harris are quick to express their gratitude towards the University of Sydney’s Incubate program, which they say was severely instrumental in helping them find their feet. Founded by two students in 2012 and fostered by the USU, Incubate has nurtured over 80 student start ups by providing funding of up to $5000, office space and workshops. The award-winning program also connects students with mentors, experts, and investors.
“I remember the very first day of Incubate,” Sumsky begins. One of the founders, James Alexander, said to him “‘Look around. There’s no windows, but you’ve got to get used to it because this is where you’ll be for the next three months. This is the first day of the rest of your life with your startup.’ I remember that moment as it was like ‘alright we’re actually going to do something now’.”
Incubate provided the pair with a lifeline—$250,000 investment from Tempus Partners, a Sydney-based venture capital firm with an ethos for backing high growth startups. They were introduced to Alister Coleman, the managing partner, through Incubate.
Of course, Basketball Forever’s quick success has not come without setbacks. Harris says that their relative lack of experience was the main barrier to attracting investment earlier in their journey. In 2016, the Forever Network planned and failed to distribute an ambitious sports short-film, Clutch, which shortly fell out of production after failing to crowdsource the funds. Similarly, they have been told by multiple marketing and communications consultants that potential investors are unwilling to gamble on inexperienced 20-somethings.
At some point in the future, Sumsky and Harris hope to move to their own office and establish sister networks, publicising soccer and the relatively new world of eSports. It will be a step up, but they’re going to miss the plants on the ceiling.