The Big Idea

Built to Scale

The man behind NBA Math Hoops offers advice for aspiring moguls


Khalil Fuller knows a thing or two about how to take a small idea and turn it into a big reality. As a math tutor in his native Los Angeles, he found that working basketball stats into his lessons helped keep his students engaged. “Instead of starting math equations with, ‘Sally went to the store,’ I would say, ‘Kobe Bryant took X number of shots,’” he recalls. After switching coasts and enrolling at Brown University, he turned that simple concept into a big idea: NBA Math Hoops, a game in which students compete head-to-head in timed, simulated basketball games by solving math problems based on real world NBA statistics. The game now has an official NBA license, is produced by Hasbro and being piloted in 350 schools across the country. Along the way he won $50,000 from Mass-Challenge, a startup accelerator, and at 19 was named one of the youngest ever Black Male Achievement Fellows by Echoing Green, an organization that supports social entrepreneurship. We asked him for some advice on translating ideas into action.

• The most important step you can take when you have a “great” idea is to figure out if other people think it’s a great idea, and find your first customer. If no one is interested, ask them why: is it just a dud of an idea or does it need tweaking? Learning about the customer and being able to figure out and then clearly articulate your value proposition is the most important first step.

• The most important thing is to have something that is actually beneficial, and then talk to the right person who actually needs that. If you have those two things, it should be simple, and if you don’t, don’t try to force it.

• Be nice, and really give a damn about the person that you’ve begged to take your call. I start every introductory call/meeting with a primary goal of being a bright spot in the other person’s day. This is less about good business and more about being a good person, but it’s good for business, too.

• You need to create urgency. Talk to them about why the time is now, and how their action will have a catalytic effect and create more action.

• Always have good news or an exciting update whenever you see someone. It doesn’t have to be earthshattering new every week, but have something good to say.

• It’s all about momentum. Momentum creates momentum. Go for small wins, and then use them as fuel to get increasingly larger and larger wins.

• Landing the big deal is about showing three things: 1) This works and is needed. 2) We know how to scale, and we are the right people to do it. 3) We need to do it now and have big vision for the future.

• Managing scale is very tough. It’s impossible to keep your hands on everything as you scale, so bringing on amazing people is key, and having a real plan in place helps.

• Create policies around your data collection and analysis. Document as much as possible.

• To keep everything on track you need to be good at multitasking and you need to be accountable. Things will change, but so what? Change the document. Don’t think you can keep your whole organization in your head.

Hear Khalil Fuller speak on May 11 at TEDx Providence.