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Top of their game

| Liam Marlaire

Reprinted with permission of the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram (May 13, 2012, edition)

Blugolds anchor growing company

TST Media's Core Values

TST Media is guided by a collection of shared principles that shape all that the company does.

1. Leave Everyone in Awe
Go above and beyond what is expected. Always over-deliver. Let your actions speak for themselves.

2. Boldly Embrace Change
Fortune favors the bold. Our world is changing at break-neck speed, and only those who have the guts to question the status quo will survive. Embrace this change and look for opportunities. Confidently continue to learn and innovate your craft. Don't be afraid to fail.

3. Be Honorable
Do the right thing. Conduct yourself with a sense of authentic integrity. Put yourself in the other guy's shoes. Leave your ego at the door. Strive for honesty, transparency and accurate communication.

4. Work Hard, Play Hard
Approach work and play with passion. Work to cultivate and celebrate TST Media culture. Have fun. Be socially, mentally and physically active. Persevere against odds to achieve personal and collective goals.

5. Cultivate Family
We are both a team and a family. Value strong relationships in all areas: with managers, clients, business partners, co-workers and personal family members. Be compassionate, friendly and loyal. Stand up for each other. Humbly offer and accept support. Earn and value trust. Celebrate individual and collective accomplishments and successes.

6. Value Craftsmanship
Take great pride in the work you produce. Work efficiently, but don't cut corners. Strive to create things that are both visually beautiful and a joy to use. Practice "quality through creativity."

Want to know more?

The meeting of two underclassmen in Murray Hall on the UW-Eau Claire campus resulted in a company that has nearly 90 employees, hosts around 80,000 team websites and does business in all 50 states and beyond. Justin Kaufenberg was a sophomore and Carson Kipfer was a freshman in 2000 when they first crossed paths in the dorms. Both already had the entrepreneurial bug — Kaufenberg was running a paint company, and Kipfer did freelance design work for small businesses. A year later they opened a 1,000-square-foot design studio in Banbury Place to house Third North Creative.

The fledgling company specialized in graphic design, Web development and video work for businesses in the Eau Claire area. A shared passion for design, technology and sports eventually led to the idea for Puck Systems, a website tool specifically intended for hockey organizations. By the time they graduated from UW-Eau Claire, Kaufenberg and Kipfer had a dozen hockey associations paying to use their product.

“Justin and I were ‘all in’ from the very beginning, so when the time came to make a post-college commitment to our shared sports technology vision, it was a no-brainer,” Kipfer said. “We made the move from Eau Claire to the Twin Cities — the epicenter for hockey in the United States — set up a new office and welcomed two new partners to the business to enhance our technology and development horsepower.”

Kaufenberg said the time he spent in Eau Claire was influential.

“The most useful experience I had at UWEC was the combination of my economics classes and the painting company that I was running at the time,” he said. “I was an econ major and I loved walking out of class and instantly applying a supply/demand lesson to my own business in the real world and see its impact.

“My painting company grew to be about 20 employees, and application of my econ degree to real life in real time was an amazing learning experience.”

Fellow UW-Eau Claire graduate Greg Blasko and Michael Lewis joined the business, now named TST Media, in 2006. The acronym stands for Team Sport Technologies.

TST conThe group rewrote the Puck Systems program so it could accommodate organizations in any sport. The result was Ngin (pronounced “engine”), a proprietary platform that currently powers more than 2,300 leagues and sports organizations around the world.

The company works to change the way leagues, teams, players, scouts and fans interact with a range of athletic organizations. Ngin software provides tools to enhance league/team/tournament management, real-time scoring and game reporting, online registration and other services.

Clients, who hail from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, China, Germany, England and Turkey, include the National Lacrosse League and University of Minnesota football program. The company recently launched the Sport Ngin Mobile app in the Apple iTunes App Store. The product allows users to follow their favorite teams.

TSTMinneapolis-based TST Media added a location in Madison when it acquired the Wisconsin Sports Network in January. The company also received a venture capital investment in August from California-based El Dorado Ventures, and its partners expect future growth.

“We are committed to build a substantial organization,” Kaufenberg said. “We are committed to being the dominant sports technology company in the country. We have doubled every year for four consecutive years, and we are working to continue that trend. We intend to remain committed to sports-specific technology.”

TST Media by the numbers

Provides online
solutions for:
2,500+ organizations
100,000+ teams

Photos, comments,
stats and live scores
posted to the Ngin

Clients hail from:
All 50 states, Canada,
Mexico, Australia,
China, Germany,
England, Turkey

92 full-timers;
more being hired
all the time

Pond hockey tournament:
Largest in the country!

Ice time

Hockey is big at TST Media. Kaufenberg, who hails from Shakopee, Minn., played four years for the Blugolds, and Kipfer, a Wisconsin Rapids native, competed at the intramural level. Blasko originally is from Stillwater, Minn. The business backs the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, the largest event of its kind in the country.

“Justin and I are both sports fanatics,” Kipfer said. “We both played multiple sports growing up and both have experience officiating and coaching as well.

“We’ve both been stat junkies since the grade-school days of memorizing the backs of baseball cards, and we continue to offer our own ‘expert’ analysis of the latest games and matchups.”

TST Media located in the Minneapolis Arts District

TST Media also boasts a unique work environment and recently was named one of “The 100 Best Companies to Work For” by Minnesota Business magazine. Friday Happy Hour and Donut Day are just a couple of the traditions employees enjoy at TST Media.

“The true benefit of Donut Day is not the tantalizing Danish in one hand or the world-class espresso that is accompanying it in the other hand,” Kipfer said. “But instead (it’s) the weekly social gathering of co-workers and friends eager to connect, gain insight and share in each other’s accomplishments.”

Kaufenberg agreed.

“As a young technology company, we work extremely hard but we play hard, too,” he said. “Our office is filled with pool tables, foosball tables, ping pong tables, dogs and free beer Fridays.

“Our employees are proud of what they create each day, and you see it in their smiles at work. We’re a family … and a growing one.”

TST building

Q&A with Carson and Justin

TST CThe following interview in Q&A format provides a little more insight into TST Media and its founders.

The View: How would you describe your business partnership?

Carson: Like any entrepreneur will tell you, startup success relies heavily on rapid experimentation, constant evolution and resilient tenacity. Our own careers have mimicked the trajectory of our organization. Each stage of growth has presented new challenges that have forced us to think about things differently, learn new skills and adapt our own responsibilities.

Justin: During our startup years we were a bootstrapped technology company, and in order to keep the company alive, we slept in the office, used our credit cards to make payroll, took nonexistent salaries, worked insane hours and sustained that pace for a multiple-year period. To have gone through that and be as strong and as excited as ever tells you everything you need to know about the quality of our partnership.

TV: What is TST Media and what does it do?

C: We are a collection of talented and passionate sports and tech minds working to continuously revolutionize the way leagues, teams, players, scouts and fans interact with a broad range of athletic organizations. In a nutshell: We design and create digital tools that empower sports organizations to engage their audience in meaningful ways. We are best known as the team behind Ngin.

J: The Sport Ngin platform is the market's most powerful sports organization management software. It allows sports organizations to run 100 percent of their operations using the platform.

TV: What do you most enjoy about your jobs?

C: What's not to love? I get to spend my workday hanging out with great people, talking about sports, creating incredible software and collectively enhancing the lives of millions of people around the world. Honestly, I get the biggest thrill out of seeing an idea coalesce into a valuable tool for our clients. Hearing from people who say we've helped make their lives easier is incredibly rewarding.

J: I really enjoy seeing our employees grow. When we started out together, Carson and I lived by the quote, "If you're good enough, you're old enough." As 20-something founders, we had no choice but to jump out of our comfort zone and be confident that we would land on our feet. We are passionate about allowing our employees to do the same.

TV: What's special about the work environment at TST Media?

TST 1C: We have worked extremely hard to preserve our culture and core values. It's incredibly fulfilling and rewarding when you're part of something larger than yourself, aligned with goals and values that transcend individuals.

J: We have a culture that allows people to make mistakes at full speed. We tell employees to think like entrepreneurs and push the limits. There is no room for average effort. Run at full speed all the time. Succeed graciously, and fail fast.

TV: TST Media employees receive some interesting benefits. Discuss.

C: Things like Donut Day and Friday Happy Hour are more than just benefits. They are traditions that we have been practicing since the earliest days of our organization. They are traditions that celebrate and encourage camaraderie.

J: Every Thursday morning at 9:30, a couple of TSTers grab their guitars and play the Donut Day song, strolling through the office and playing to let people know that donuts are being served. Nearly 100 people converge in the kitchen to fight for the last long john, have a cup of coffee and hear from one representative from each department about the things their group has accomplished thus far that week. The story behind Friday Happy Hour is not quite as charming. Primarily, we just employ a lot of people who like a good beer on a Friday afternoon. And they prefer that it be free.

TV: Are there instructors or other mentors at UW-Eau Claire who had a big impact on your careers or lives in general?

C: Li-Ying Bao (professor of art &design) was an incredible inspiration during my time at UW-Eau Claire. She continually encouraged me to keep pushing myself beyond my comfort zone. She provided insightful and demanding critiques that helped me grow as a designer, problem solver and creative thinker.

J: Paul Canfield was a marketing (professional sales) professor who taught me what it really means to sell. I was running my painting company at the time, and I would run out of Paul's class with his lesson fresh in my mind and immediately start knocking on doors and selling painting. Fred Kolb, my adviser and economics professor, taught econ in the type of common sense and applied way that made me choose it as a major. Chuck Tomkovick is a brilliant marketing professor whose class is as much about life as curriculum. Should I ever be so lucky as to go back and teach someday, I'll aspire to do it half as well as Chuck does. You cannot walk out of that class without being truly inspired.

TV: How did your studies at UW-Eau Claire prepare you for what you're doing now?

C: UW-Eau Claire provided me with an incredible environment to not only learn but to grow as a young adult. The instructors I interacted with offered great insight into a broad spectrum of topics and disciplines and challenged me to think about things in entirely different ways.

J: UW-Eau Claire was a wonderful place to become an entrepreneur. The class work was outstanding, but, more importantly, the staff was supportive of what we were doing.

Interview conducted by: Ann Hoffman, Editor, The View

Liam Marlaire is business editor for the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.