- Company: Playfinder
- What it does, in a sentence: Makes it easier for everyone to play sport by providing a sports booking platform
- Founded: London, 2014
- Founder/s: Jamie Foale, Sandford Loudon
- Size of team: 22
- Your name and role: Jamie, CEO
What problem are you trying to solve?
After I graduated from Uni I was put in charge of booking the pitches for our Sunday league football team. Each time it was a hassle, no-one ever responded to calls and there was no online booking. The team disbanded as a result.
We realised there is a huge market out there of people who play sport regularly, thousands of sports facility operators ill-equipped to provide a digital experience up to date with consumer expectations, and a national health crisis which highlights the need for people to stay active.
How big is the market – and how much of it do you think you can own?
There are 130,000 facilities managed by 30,000 operators, so a hugely fragmented supplier landscape; 16 million people who play sports once a week, looking for choice and convenience; and the market cap of sports facilities of £2.4bn which is still hugely underserved and lacking innovation.
How do you make money?
Our model is split into three: a simple commission per booking on our web and app; a subscription license for our SaaS software; and a revenue share with venues where we incentivised to reduce spare capacity and rises proportionally with performance – the latter in particular because we believe in our ability to increase utilisation of facilities.
Who’s on your team that makes you think you can do this?
We were fortunate enough to be introduced to Zoe Howorth, ex-Marketing Director of Coca Cola in the UK, who immediately got our concept and now leads the marketing team; we’ve added an experienced tech lead from Alchemetrics, Dimitris Demiris, to head up our 11-strong Development team; and our board includes the ex-England footballer Graeme le Saux, who shares our goal to improve the standards of recreational football.
Who’s bankrolling you?
We’ve raised over £2.8m to date and have built up a group of knowledgeable Angel investors who can lend their experience as we grow, such as a founder of Capita, an ex-chairman of the FA, and an ex-CEOs of Serco. We’ve also had investment from Ramla Capital, a US based fund.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs trying to secure that kind of finance?
We started with Angels who knew the landscape and wanted to support a company to make positive changes to it, and which had a clear financial model. They have been our brand ambassadors from the start, especially at a corporate development and funding level, and have given us tremendous support. There is a great culture in this country of those that have made it backing the new crop to succeed.
What do you believe the key to growing this business is?
That we always focus on our objective of making it easier for people to play sport. Ultimately if we can do that through our product and venue partnerships, then we are in a position to do well. It also has the potential to grow even further through activating the shadow market of people that have played sport but since given up.
What metrics do you look at every day?
Conversion rate from a user to booking: for me this shows both the ability to satisfy the customer need by providing enough availability for them to book.
What’s been the most unexpectedly valuable lesson you’ve learnt so far?
An investor / mentor encouraged me to take a day out of the office every fortnight to get perspective, to focus on developing 5 things to do to make the business perform better. As someone who has grown a business from the first employee to being 20+, it’s important to ensure I’m keeping my eye on the bigger picture.
What’s been your biggest mistake so far?
We started with a brand name – MyLocalPitch – which while we were fond of, we found it presented a challenge when we stepped outside of our initial area of football pitches. Rebranding was a huge effort but at least we did it when we understood the market better.
What do you think is on the horizon for your industry in the year ahead?
The momentum behind digitising sport is huge, it’s become a key criteria of funding decisions and Sport England are putting a lot of resource to improving digital access. Along with the ODI (Open Data Institute) they are working with Openactive, a group enabling large leisure operators to open up access to companies like Playfinder.
How would a no-deal Brexit affect your business or others within your industry?
The most immediate impact is the brain drain of good talent, particularly software engineers, who have been put off by working in the UK because of the uncertainty.
We have plans to scale to Europe and so while we are not clear on what the future arrangement would be, it would no doubt add to the administrative workload.
Which London start-up/s are you watching, and why?
I love Justpark, as they have also made the previously inaccessible, tiresome job of parking easier; much like what we’re doing with booking sport. As a new father I find myself in the car more often! Also JAFA, which is a sports fan app and connects sports fans across the world; it helps in an age when sport has become global and social.