Q&A: Bringing sports stars into your back yard

This week we talk to former AFL star James Begley, founder and CEO of Pickstar, a platform revolutionising the way brands and fans find and engage with sports stars. Pickstar matches members of the public and companies hosting anything from a birthday party at home to a major speaking engagement with sports stars to appear at those events.

ISB: Tell us briefly about the ethos behind Pickstar, and the sportspeople it connects the community with.

JB: Our underlying mission is to open up access to sports stars so the fans and general public, mums-and-dads rather than just corporate entities with big budgets. Most people put sports stars on a pedestal, seeing them as either out of touch or too expensive to engage for an event.

On our books we have a really good representation of Australia’s top sports stars, but also lots of really engaged “lesser lights” who are nevertheless stars in their own right and who want to get out and about in the community and support causes they’re passionate about. Our bookings range from backyard events that cost just a couple of hundred dollars to get a sports star along to, to high-profile launches with endorsement budgets of thousands.

We have over a thousand stars on our books, from the highest profile players from our most popular sports – such as Gary Ablett, Adam Gilchrist, Paul Gallen and Sam Kerr – through Olympians, Paralympians, jockeys and extreme sports.

ISB: When and how did the idea for Pickstar come about?

JB: Pickstar started as a series of arrows and bubbles on a piece a paper while I was having a coffee in late 2012. When I’d developed the concept I took it to my friend Matthew Pavlich, who I’d played with in junior footy teams in South Australia. Matthew has a great understanding of business – he is a rarity among professional sportspeople in that he has an MBA – and served as President of the AFL Players Association, one of the organisations with whom we now have a strategic partnership. Matthew came on board as co-founder and director of the business.

ISB: The business is based around a very advanced website – you come from a sporting, rather than technical, background, who designed and built it?

JB: Once we had the concept mapped out the website was built by a local Adelaide agency, Codium. In the last three months we have brought the IT in-house, employing a CTO and a team of developers to ensure the website allows stars and the people booking them to interact in real time 24/7.

ISB: How did you fund the business in its start-up phase and early stages of operation?

JB: We bootstrapped the business, raising money from friends and family, breaking even for the first 18 months or so. The business took off and we needed to fund that growth so we went to Adelaide-based investment firm Fortis Ago and we raised $1 million in a funding round in the middle of 2018.

ISB: What about marketing – how did you get the message out there?

JB: We started out with Google Adwords and social media, and through this built a good repeat customer base. The marketing focus moving forward will involve agencies and brands, and raising awareness of our services with the likes of sporting clubs and schools.

ISB: Where do you see the business developing in the next couple of years?

JB: We will be releasing an app for our talent which will make it even easier for the public to connect with them. We aim to launch in the UK by middle of 2019. Having started off in Perth and then Melbourne, and had to adjust to the different sporting culture when we expanded into NSW and Queensland, taking the concept overseas holds fewer fears than might otherwise have been the case.

ISB: Finally, what’s the best piece of advice you would pass onto others with an idea they’d like to turn into a business?

JB: The one thing I would say is that you need to learn about yourself: starting your own business will test you more than anything else you ever do – if you’re not aware of your own strengths and weaknesses, you won’t be able to galvanise your team to come on the journey with you.

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