When Donte and Dominic Morris were studying business and entrepreneurship at California State University, Sacramento (class of 2011), they were already putting into practice what they were learning.

The twin brothers launched their first business, a recreational baseball league they called The Morris League, in their freshman dorm room and ran the league for their four years at Sac State. "It satisfied our itch for baseball and our itch for business," Dominic says.

In 2015, however, the brothers were finding it difficult to satisfy another itch, this one for basketball. "Our favorite court had closed," Dominic says, "and we were driving around Sacramento after work one day looking for a pick-up game. All we saw were empty courts. We thought there had to be a better way to find a game."

Out of that frustration, Donte and Dominic taught themselves coding and created HoopMaps, a mobile location-based app. Sign in and the app calls up a map that shows games taking place nearby or about to start.

When a local TV station did a story on HoopMaps, it caught the attention of the producers of "Shark Tank," the long-running ABC reality series where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of five "shark" investors. The brothers appeared on the show in November 2017, hoping to land a deal with Mark Cuban, the tech billionaire and owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks. But, Cuban, along with the other sharks, took a pass.

Dominic chatted with us about experience in the tank and what's happened since then. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.

 

Q: Mark Cuban and the four other sharks all went out on funding HoopMaps because they felt you and Donte hadn't shown how money could be made from the app. Were you crushed when you walked away without a deal?

Dominic Morris: Not at all. We felt a little disappointed, but we were really happy about the experience. While our segment ran just 10 or 11 minutes on TV, we actually spoke to the sharks for over an hour. They gave us some good pointers for going back to the drawing board.  For example, [real-estate mogul] Barbara Corcoran suggested that we should think bigger and that HoopMaps was something that municipalities, like parks and recreation departments, could use to enhance their programs.

 

Q: What's happening with HoopMaps since that appearance?

Dominic: One of the great things about being on "Shark Tank" was that 12 million people saw us. We got some great feedback from our users, and our downloads really took off. We now have over 75,000 people using the app. Plus, investors started reaching out to us. We got $25,000 in funding to create an updated and upgraded version of HoopMaps. We're hiring developers and web designers and the new app should be out in April 2018.

 

Q: Are you and Donte able to devote yourself to HoopMaps full-time?

Dominic: No, we both have jobs to stay afloat. I work in a fulfillment center for Amazon and Donte does procurement for a lighting company. I work nights so my days are free for HoopMaps.

 

Q: What would you say to CSU students who might be thinking of starting a business when they graduate?

Dominic: You have to be tough. It's definitely not an easy path. There are lots of bumps and pitfalls and you need to be willing and able to take falls and get up again.


Q: Where do you see HoopMaps five years from now?

Dominic: For starters, we'll have a new name. We're not only going to be about pick-up basketball, but about people's hobbies and interests of all kinds. We'll be a platform for people to connect in real time with others around the things they love to do. If bowling is your thing and you're looking for people to bowl with, you won't have to search for bowling clubs or leagues. You'll be able to turn on our app and find other bowlers right on the spot. Donte and I have already shown proof of concept; the only place we're going from here is up.

 

Learn more about the Center for Entrepreneurship at Sacramento State and find information about business administration and other degrees across the CSU.

Photos courtesy of HoopMaps