Building a smart basketball hoop
How Paul Anton is revolutionizing basketball with technology
Paul, his little brother, Frankie, and his best friend and now co-founder, Lyth, used to spend their days in Milwaukee, bonding over basketball. When Paul moved away to Boston for college, they had to find a way to continue sharing their love for the game. A little hack they came up with was to live-share their shots remotely.
However, as much fun as this virtual basketball game was, they couldn't help but feel that there had to be a better way. That's when Paul ventured into the world of augmented reality (AR) glasses, and set out to develop a game that would allow people to play basketball remotely.
Iteration after iteration, that initial idea led to huupe, the world's first smart basketball hoop, which allows you to train with lessons from professional trainers, track your performance, and compete with fellow hoopers globally. So what happened to the AR glasses? And how has huupe become a viral sensation on social media without spending a dime on marketing? Let's dive in.
Why didn't the AR glasses work?
The huupe was officially launched to the world just one year ago, and it immediately became a viral sensation with influencers organically creating videos that generate millions of views. However, as the saying goes, "it takes 10 years to become an overnight success." And this wasn't any different with huupe.
One of the early iterations was a game for AR glasses that would allow people to play basketball remotely. They built it on the Microsoft HoloLens and even joined the Deutsche Telekom accelerator program. But as they delved deeper, they realized that this wasn't the right solution.
"If I were to nail it down to one simple thing," Paul explains, "the user experience of the AR glasses was not ideal. You just don't play basketball like that." The lesson was crystal clear: "You can't force your product onto someone to do something they wouldn’t naturally," explains Paul. Indeed, so many businesses fail because they try to reinvent the wheel. Consumers' habits are difficult to change and it's way easier to tap into their habits, rather than trying to change them.
Validating the idea for huupe
It was Paul's friend and current co-founder, Lyth, who had the idea for huupe. The first thing he said when trying the augmented reality game was, "What if we put this game on a screen on the backboard!?" Paul immediately fell in love with the idea. "I knew right away it was a great one," recalls Paul. "When he said it, my jaw dropped."
As you would expect a good founder to act, before building an actual prototype, they tried to validate the idea by using a CGI (computer-generated imagery) video. The video showcased a product that looked remarkably similar to what huupe is today. They showed it to a hundred people to gather feedback, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
This validated their concept and provided the confidence they needed to move forward — sometimes, a well-illustrated vision can be just as powerful as a tangible prototype. And with a well-designed prototype and a lot of valuable user feedback, they were able to raise the first $400,000 check to bring the product to life. They have since raised $11 million.
Attracting experienced operators
We have discussed this in our interview with Renji Bijoy — building hardware is not a walk in the park. And building hardware, software, and educational content at the same time is even harder. "Before huupe, I had another hardware company," says Paul. "This was a whole new level of product development. Hardware durability, weatherproofing, machine learning, educational content, software. All of this is happening in parallel, and the amount of work required to build a product that touches so many different areas is unlike any other startup."
Building a similar product requires a diverse set of skills and talents, as well as senior engineers, and designers. In our interview with Guillaume Moubeche, we discussed how difficult it can be to hire senior operators as an early-stage startup. You don't have the revenue, the capital, or the track record to attract them. However, Guillaume said that if he had to redo everything from scratch, he would focus on hiring talented people from the start because "if you really want to go fast, you really need exceptional people."
Paul echoed this sentiment, "I'm glad we're talking about this because I want to give a huge shout out to the engineers on our team. Mark Sires, Corey Axelowitz, Matthew Yoon, David Weckerly, Zi Yang (Ethan) Choy. Corey was a lead system engineer at Apple for seven years. When we hired him, our company changed in 24 hours. He took us to another level."
So how has Paul attracted such good operators to work at huupe? According to him, it’s all about building something that's truly innovative and that people love. "All of our team is inspired by the products," he notes. That’s why they joined huupe. They all loved what they were building.
Building a long-lasting brand
The huupe is an incredible product that immediately gained traction in the basketball community. However, building a great company is about more than just one product. "If you have a great idea for one product, that's not enough for building a company," emphasizes Paul. "You need to build a tech platform, a product line, or multiple products to establish a long-lasting brand."
At huupe, they have a robust product roadmap. Three new products are set to launch next year. Their flagship one is the smart basketball hoop that tracks makes, misses, shot locations, and other cool stats on the court. But they also offer the Hoop Classic, a smart TV behind glass for those who want to combine basketball and entertainment. And there's a third product, a camera that turns any regular basketball hoop into a smart one.
This is often overlooked by founders, but it’s very difficult to build a long-lasting brand with what is actually just a feature of what could be a bigger platform. An example I see very often is some sort of variation of Airbnb's categories. Something along the lines of "Airbnb but for bungalows/camping/treehouses [insert category]." This is not a company. This is just a feature. And except for rare exceptions, it's usually not enough to build a solid business.
One of huupe's standout achievements is its content marketing strategy. They published their first piece of content on social media just one year ago, and they have already amassed 100,000 followers across Instagram and TikTok, generating millions of impressions for the brand.
"It's all about being authentic," explains Paul. That's the key when creating organic content. Many companies create branded content that is corporate and boring that will never gain traction on social media. The only way to succeed is to analyze what works on each platform, study other creators' content, and play by the rules of the algorithm, creating content that looks like organic content.
Of course, not every consumer company is suited for this strategy. Usually, this works best for companies that have innovative products (like huupe) or innovative brands (like Dude Wipes or Scrub Daddy). And having an innovative product is also what helped huupe to receive millions of organic views from videos created by famous influencers, like this one that received 3 million views:
To conclude, Paul leaves us with one last piece of advice. "There are bad times and good times," he says. "It's really up and down. But when you are inspired by what you're building, whether it's a good day or a bad day, you're there. And that's what being a founder is. Try to keep a smile throughout the good days and bad days and try to lead with love." If you want to follow along, you can find Paul on LinkedIn.