Ben Sherwood has unveiled his next venture, almost two years after he stepped down as President of Disney-ABC TV Group and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks in March 2019, after Disney’s acquisition of key Fox assets was completed.
While he was rumored for high-profile executive posts at the time of his exit, Sherwood opted to switch gears with a tech startup. Drawing from his experience as an avid parent-coach of two sons for more than a decade, Sherwood started Mojo, an app catering to young athletes and their families. It is set to launch in early 2021.
Sherwood co-founded Mojo with Reed Shaffner, who serves as the venture’s chief operating officer. The two partnered in October 2019 and raised Series A funding in February 2020. The company’s high-profile financial backers include top producer Tom Werner (The Conners), who is a partner in Fenway Sports Group and chairman of Liverpool FC and the Boston Red Sox, as well as UTA Ventures, the investment arm of the Hollywood talent agency, and WndrCo, the holding company co-founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Mojo’s first content offerings are being produced by Mandalay Sports, the company behind the Emmy-winning ESPN docuseries The Last Dance.
Sherwood calls Mojo “a mobile app that’s a one-stop coach in a box that is aimed at taking the stress and the chaos out of coaching.”
Mojo will carry exclusive short-form content. That includes instructional videos classified by sport, age and skill level of the young athletes. They are designed to help parents, who comprise 80% of youth sports coaches, and save them hours of browsing YouTube for appropriate clips.
The videos will feature well known professional coaches and athletes whose names, along with subscription information, will be revealed closer to launch.
Starting off with informational videos, Mojo’s original slate will eventually expand to include “fun” family entertainment content, Sherwood said.
“Over time we’ll have both instructional content and then we’ll also have the kind of (entertainment) content that kids and families will love to watch, great stories in sports for kids and families, great characters and great teams,” he said. “We’ve also got a bunch of projects in the works that are about the hilarious, crazy, wacky side of these sports that we’ve all seen from the sidelines on the field.”
As a parent coach in various sports, including soccer and baseball, basketball, flag football, on both coasts, “I’ve seen the incredible power of great coaches to connect with kids,” he said. “And what I felt when I was wrapping up at Disney was a huge opportunity to be in this new sports space to make the experience more fun and less stressful for 50 million kids who play sports in the U.S. and 500 million around the world. I thought that, rather than just put on the uniform of another media company and go to work for another team, I would try something brand new.
I think that sports, like traditional entertainment, is storytelling and content reach, and I’m going to use everything I’ve learned at Disney-ABC and across my career as we try to go after this new sports market with a mobile app that is trying to make sports more fun for everybody.”
The career path of Sherwood’s Mojo partner, Shaffner, also has taken a number of turns, from elite club soccer teams in Florida to Duke to Microsoft, Zynga, Scopely, and Workpop, a company he co-founded and later sold. In addition to a respected technology and product leader, Shaffner is a volunteer coach in Culver City.
“Reed is a world-class technologist, and I have humility about the technology side, so Reed is really leading the way,” Sherwood said. “So, I think that we have kind of a one plus one equal three situation where, with my background in content and storytelling and Reed’s background in technology, we think that we’re really positioned for when we launch to make a real difference in youth sports.
Sherwood is not worried about launching Mojo during the pandemic, which temporarily grounded youth sports in many areas of the country.
“We’re focusing on early next year because that’s when we think that a lot of teams will be back out on the field with a lot of pent-up energy, having been shut down for a while. And so, we want to be ready to capture a lot of that pent-up energy and help families have a better experience with youth sports. Where kids and teams are back out on the field, we’ll be with them. And where kids and teams aren’t yet out on the field, we hope that they’ll find Mojo and they’ll be able to use it at home to do some of the things that they would otherwise be doing out on the field. With an estimated three million doses of vaccine out there, we think that families are going to want to be out there, playing sports by the middle of next year, and we’ll be ready for it.”