Growing up in Orland Park, Illinois, Brian Ludden was interested in sports from a very young age. As a young sports fan in the Chicago area, he was all about the White Sox, Bears and Bulls.
Ludden wasn’t only a baseball fan, he was a player. After high school, he played at Moraine Valley Community College and then moved to Northern Illinois University, where he was the shortstop and became team captain.
Like many fathers with young sons, Ludden and his boys decided to hop back in to the sports card hobby in the middle of the pandemic back in December of 2020.
As anyone who left the hobby looking to return knows, it’s entirely different world than it was 30 years ago. His finance and entrepreneurial backgrounds kicked in and inspired him to create LUDEX, a sports card app that allows collectors to upload, organize and store their entire collections on their mobile devices while offering a real time price guide and card identifier for a very large number of cards and sets.
The app currently covers baseball, football and basketball cards as well as Magic The Gathering and Pokémon. Football, soccer, UFC and other sports will be added.
Available in the App Store and Google Play, the app comes with a free trial period. After that, there are monthly ($9.99) and annual memberships ($89.99) available. There have been growing pains as expected, but so far, it’s seen over 10,000 downloads.
In our latest Hobby Q&A, I chatted with Ludden about his background in sports, launching and marketing the app and the money behind it.
Tony Reid- You grew up an athlete and a sports fan in Illinois as a fan of the Bulls, White Sox and Blackhawks. What athletes were you drawn to and collect as a kid?
Brian Ludden- If I ranked my teams it would be the Bears, White Sox, Bulls, Hawks and Cubs. I loved watching Frank Thomas. He was one of the best hitters I have ever seen. I was a big fan of the 1985 Bears and I have been lucky enough to meet many of those guys during my time here at Ludex. That was pretty cool. No kid could be born in Chicago and live in the 80’s and 90’s and not be Michael Jordan fan. We were blessed with some great players.
TR-You played baseball for Northern Illinois University. Can you speak to that experience in your life?
BL-Growing up playing baseball, my dream was to play college baseball. God gave me enough gifts to make it happen. I worked hard for it. It wasn’t the traditional college experience but man was it unique and wonderful to meet the teammates I had, traveling on buses to all the different universities. The friends I met there are still friends today. They put in about 20% of the startup capital for Ludex. After all of these years we are still good friends.
TR-The teammate to teammate relationship and the overall team aspect is so powerful even years and decades later, right?
BL-When you are up at 6 in the morning and grinding it out you get to spend a lot of time with these guys. You go through that grind together and earn a lot of respect for each other.
TR-You saw a lot of barriers to entry and obstacles to get involved in the hobby. What was your experience in getting back in?
BL-It was during COVID and we were in the house quite a bit. My wife and half of my family got COVID. My youngest son (Nick) and I were away for the week end so we didn’t get exposed. We had about 30 days to chill out at our apartment in the city. During that time we started looking through my cards and quickly realized that sharing this hobby with my son would be more frustration than not because I couldn’t figure out what my cards were worth. Then I tried to buy a new pack of cards and that was even more confusing. You could see the fun tanking and the frustration rocketing up to super frustration level.
I said to Nick that there has to be a better way but there wasn’t. It’s pretty remarkable how much of a dinosaur era that the cards were in. It was very low tech. You were still reading magazines, which is tough as cards move a lot. They are alterative assets and prices move every day. It was remarkable how little of that type of information was out there for a collector.
TR- In layman’s terms how did the technology for LUDEX get developed and how does this system work?
BL- I would say the speed and accuracy we are at now has never been reached in this industry. It looks pretty clean and easy but it was a lot of work. As an entrepreneur you have to get used to living with fear and fear is a constant companion. There were times where I didn’t think we would be able to get it. But in the end our CTO Ryan Fisher and his team really grinded it out and never stopped. It really is about the databases of cards we built. You take a picture of the card and in under two seconds we grab it from our database with one highway going to the identification and another highway going to get the values of the algorithmic models on and we pull those two together and it happens in under two seconds, which is pretty cool. I am not smart enough to understand it all but I think I have the vision of it.
TR- Knowing how many parallels, inserts, variations and all of the other cards collectors can pull from packs coupled with all of their values and price points, how do you make it all work?
BL-The base cards were pretty easy, to be honest. We raised a little over $5 million for LUDEX and it took us about six months and $1 million to get base cards. We were super confident. Then we ran into the parallels and it took 18 months and $4 million more to get where we had to get for the parallels. Base cards will get you to about 75% accuracy but to get over the 90% that I needed for this to be successful, the parallels were so hard. We took pictures of over 50,000 different parallels in our office. I t was really rolling up the sleeves and working to get us to where we got.
TR- You were quoted as saying that LUDEX is like the iPod for card collections.
BL-It was remarkable to look at my iPod and know my whole CD collection was there. Now I look at my phone and know my whole card collection is there. There are a lot of parallels (between the two). I hope we are as successful as Apple.