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ProReferee: Our #ProFinderContest Story of a Small Business, Big Ideas

Posted by Jason Sholl on November 30, 2016


What does it mean to be a professional soccer referee? Is it a mindset? How does it shape your character? Who has the guts to run six to eight miles in 90 minutes and blow a whistle in front of enormous stadiums and global audiences? How many of those referees started at weekend youth games in their local park? Soccer officials are typically dedicated to mastering their craft. There is classroom training, some uniforms to carry, and strong camaraderie among participants. This is our company founder story.

At age 13, I noticed players on my competitive team changing jerseys after one of our afternoon matches. At first, I thought they were getting ready to play for another team. When I asked them, they explained they took a referee course and get paid to continue on the same field and whistle a few calls. That sounded fun to me, and on my 14th birthday I passed my entry level referee course.

Over the years of officiating youth, high school, college, indoor, amateur adult, and professional matches, I gained many friends in many states. It gave me confidence and pride in my ability to make quick decisions. I was also exposed to uniform design changes, frustrating gear that prematurely wore out, and technology that increased the likelihood of the right call being made. My entrepreneur spirit fired up and I formed the professional soccer referee supply business, ProReferee, in 2009.

The first product was branded yellow and red cards, designed by my mechanical engineer father and sourced locally in San Jose, California. I emailed overseas companies and formed my first partnership distributing B+D Allzweck Sportartickel of Germany. Their referral led to specialized referee watches by Spintso International AB of Sweden and electronic referee flags from A&H International in the United Kingdom. All products carry a 100-day guarantee from defect and electronic products have a two-year warranty serviced by ProReferee. The business has grown from selling cards and whistles to weekend referees to LED substitution boards to Major League Soccer and Copa America. The customer base has grown to thousands of referees from around the world who carry ProReferee branded products in their pocket from the youth soccer game to the professional stadium level. Customers are delighted by our catalog, our service, and the lasting quality of professional gear.

Our primary business is through our website. In the past year, we have added sales channels to include eBay, a mobile optimized website, an iOS/Android app, and a storefront in Morgan Hill, California. Our technical partnerships include BigCommerce, ShipperHQ, ShipStation, HubSpot, Yotpo, Shopgate, Sweet Tooth, Google, AdRoll, Facebook, Twitter, inkFrog, PayPal, McAfee Secure, and Sift Science. All these relationships involved LinkedIn for vetting each company, their business development staff, and connecting with the right representatives. It formed a mutual trust and understanding that ProReferee and these companies were committed to what they say they do. Some relationships failed and some strengthened. ProReferee stood to benefit from the impact of a professional community on LinkedIn. Our blog posts are regularly posted on our LinkedIn company page and shared on group pages to build engagement.

We will continue to use LinkedIn for its portal with our business partners, to remain visible to new prospects, and to use LinkedIn ProFinder for upcoming project needs. Our marketing engine is gaining full speed and we will need help when there are blind spots. We will need talented programmers, designers, marketing experts, and a sales team. The future of our company depends on the new talent that discovers the referee whistle, puts on the official uniform and badge, and trusts ProReferee from their journey to the local park field to the stadium with 100,000 soccer fans.

This article was submitted to the LinkedIn ProFinder Small Business Contest. It stands as a benefit to our customers to know our real story and where our passion for refereeing continues to fuel what we love to do.

Main Photo: Jason Sholl, Founder of ProReferee (left) with Colin Arblaster, PRO MLS Assistant Referee (right).

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