Successful local sports analytics business Hookit acquired by New York-based software company

Hookit co-founders RJ Kraus and Scott Tilton
(Courtesy of Scott Tilton)

Two childhood friends who grew up racing motocross bikes and later moved to North County to build the sports tech business they founded in 2001 have parlayed their early success into a multi-million-dollar acquisition by a New York-based software company.

The deal by KORE Software to purchase North County-based Hookit closed in February. Hookit’s team — including co-founders Scott Tilton and RJ Kraus – have moved over to KORE and become a business unit within the merged company, said Tilton, a Cardiff resident.

When the pair started their company, it was called Sponsorhouse and its focus was on helping athletes gain sponsorship deals, said Tilton. Following the rise of social media, the two young entrepreneurs pivoted, rebranding their company as Hookit in 2010. They focused on helping brands track the effectiveness of their sponsorship dollars on social media platforms.

“We saw an opportunity. No one was tracking it, but everyone was asking for it,” Tilton said. “We pivoted and became a data and analytics company.”

The company’s software collects data and presents it on a dashboard, “so brands can sign in each day and monitor what are their partners are doing for them.”

For example, Tilton said, if a brand such as Nike is paying a superstar athlete to endorse its products, Hookit’s software scours social media platforms to tally mentions of its brand by the athlete. This includes detecting the company’s logo in photos and videos, as well as posts that mention a brand or refer to it in a hashtag.

Brands spend $150 billion per year globally on sponsorships and sports marketing, so the companies want to know how much impact that money is having. Tilton said Hookit’s software utilizes AI, or artificial intelligence, to monitor social media outlets for brand mentions. Clients are provided a dollar value for the return on their sponsorship investments.

While the purchase price for Hookit was not divulged, Tilton said in a recent published report that the price tag was significantly in excess of the $20 million raised by Hookit in venture capital.

The company has faced bumps on the road to prosperity. Tilton said he and Kraus feared the business might go under during the financial crisis of 2008, but they managed to hang on. They expected another rough ride when the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, but the pandemic actually boosted Hookit’s fortunes.

Businesses became more concerned about tracking the effectiveness of their sponsorship and marketing dollars, which led to an increase in demand for Hookit’s services.

“Covid ended up helping us tremendously. Our business just exploded,” Tilton said. During 2020 and 2021, he said, the company landed 50 new brand clients.

Among their stable of clients are such well-known brands as Red Bull, GoPro, Nike, Audi, Nissan, Rolex, Pepsi, Visa, Mastercard and Oracle.

Before the acquisition, both KORE and Hookit offered similar services with a different approach, said Tilton. KORE worked primarily with sports teams and leagues, while Hookit worked with brands. Both companies focused on improving the effectiveness of sponsorships.

KORE also recently acquired SSB’s professional sports business. With the acquisitions, KORE will now serve 1,000 sports properties, 20,000 athletes and more than 100 of the top global brands, said a company press release.

Under the new structure, Tilton will hold the title of executive vice president, while Kraus will serve as head of products.

When he’s not working, Tilton said he enjoys outdoor activities such as cycling, surfing and tennis. He and his wife also enjoy cheering on their two children at their sporting events.

Kraus, his partner, lives nearby in Encinitas and has three young children, Tilton said.

As he transitions to his new role in the merged company, Tilton said he has been fortunate to have held essentially one job since college, in which he was able to pursue his passions. He and Kraus were both 24 when they started their company. Now, they’ll throw their energy into growing KORE.

“I’m laser-focused on helping grow this much bigger business and helping to revolutionize this industry,” Tilton said.

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