Wilmington — One deal can change everything for a startup. Todd John nurtured Wilmington-based PlayerSpace, a sports program management solution, for a decade before landing a deal with the number one player in the data management space for YMCAs, which led to “Unbelievable growth” John says.

If anyone was prepared for digital media success, however, it was John. He started the company while still working for AOL back in 2006. But he was no stranger to running a business. He started a book binding and publishing company in Falls Church, Virginia in 1999 when he was 25 years old. “It was a small plant and we did a lot of vanity work,” he says. It also did fairly lucrative printing of proposals and presentations for an Fortune 500 companies up and down the East Coast, all via digital transfers.

Like a kid in a candy store

He eventually sold the business and went to work for AOL five miles away. He started selling online local ads and by the time he left seven years later, had done ecommerce for Road Runner, local ad strategy, and had 22 people reporting to him. “I was like a kid in a candy store,” he says. “It was an amazing experience.”

Getting PlayerSpace up and running though was both “a blast” and “incredibly hard work,” he says. He incubated it while at AOL and was on the cusp of “raising a bunch of money” when a recruiting firm called to ask if he wanted to help a small technology company in Greensboro, a real estate focused firm called “Listing Book,” scale up. He said he would so long as they didn’t mind if he incubated PlayerSpace on the side.

He spent the next four years there until he had PlayerSpace to the point where it had customers and he could support his wife and four children.

The company, he explains, handles sports program management, “Everything from registering for sports programs, to leagues, tournaments, and camps. It creates game schedules and tournament brackets and is built on a social network and communications platform. It’s a robust software as a service program.”

The company charges a licensing fee based on how many participants use the system. It has about 100 association customers and multiple accounts within them. “We’ve probably eclipsed a million users,” he says.

It also allows sports participants to create free profiles when they register.

It wasn’t until he inked a deal handling data management for YMCAs that the company really took off. That led to agreements with the data management firm’s top two competitors and with local companies that noticed its work for the YMCAs.

John, who is from Uniontown, PA, originally visited the Wilmington area to attend a friend’s wedding. “A year later I lived here,” he says, a not uncommon refrain from folks who come to North Carolina.

John says the company may hire an additional two to four people over the next four to eight months.

On the web: www.playerspace.com