By Hugh Bailey Connecticut Post, Bridgeport.
If ever a company was built by social media, it's SoccerGrlProbs, started by three recent Fairfield University graduates and already a burgeoning phenomenon.
Carly Beyar, Shannon Fay and Alanna Locast, all from Long Island, were teammates on the Fairfield U. soccer team in 2011 when they started passing the time doing what countless young people do every day -- making each other laugh.
"We were just sitting around the athletic center waiting for lunch; we were exhausted, and our team just started tweeting, hashtagging it 'soccer girl problems,' " Beyar said. "It made everyone laugh and connect with one another."
That led to a Twitter account, SoccerGrlProbs, where they would post details of the particular challenges of life as a female soccer player. It caught on quickly, amassing 100 followers in a week and 500 a week later.
From there, the trio made a YouTube video, unscripted but with the same theme as the Twitter feed. Three days later, the video had been viewed a million times. It became clear they had a winning idea.
Then came the notion to put the sayings on T-shirts and sell them, making use of a family friend in the business. Fans voted for their favorite tweets to be featured on the shirts -- "I can't, I have soccer" was on the first one.
They debated how many to order. "We were thinking maybe 20," Locast said. "Once we posted the link, we had 307 orders in one day, and they kept coming in so fast."
It was then that the enterprise took off.
"That was the moment," Locast said. "It's one thing for people to watch a video or be a fan online, but something else to spend money on something."
T-shirts sell for about $20, and offerings have expanded to include sweatpants, tank tops, water bottles and more, with a separate line aimed at soccer parents.
The next step is to bring the merchandise to retail stores, which has started with an apparel company in Montclair, N.J. Partnerships have been forged with professional soccer teams, and the company's social media presence has exploded, with 190,000 Twitter followers, 68,000 more on Instagram and 50,000 YouTube subscribers.
The company has totaled more than $390,000 in sales. It's enough for the three to live together in Fairfield, focus on the business full time and make a living.
And they've had plenty of help along the way.
The Fairfield University Accelerator and Mentoring Enterprise, or FAME, is a partnership between the town and university with space provided by Kleban Properties, a commercial real estate developer in town. It was designed to help exactly this kind of young business.
"What they had was completely organic, and it became a phenomenon," said Diane Salerno, FAME project manager. "The next step after that is making it a true business."
FAME offers access to mentors and services from Fairfield's Dolan School of Business, the School of Engineering and the local business community, as well as discounted legal services and technology resources. Potential startup funding is also available.
Salerno said FAME, which opened in 2013, helps get a business to the next level. "You need to get some control, do budgeting, figure out how to spend more time in front of customer instead of filling order themselves -- those kinds of things," she said.
The SoccerGrlProbs entrepreneurs would like to continue growing, possibly reaching beyond soccer to appeal to women athletes of all types. And a recent video for the first time features male athletes, which might help tip the 70-30 split towards women in their social media circles, they said.
Though none of them planned for this kind of success, they said their schooling prepared them well, with one exception. "I kind of wish I took more business classes," Fay said.