Q&A: Making it easy to get out and play sport

This week we chat to Ben Sanders, founder of PlaySport, a tech start-up pioneering a new way for Australian communities to reconnect over sport.

ISB: What attracted you to the concept of sport as a tool to build relationships and communities?

BS: I love how sport and play can enrich life. I also love music. Music is easy to listen to through platforms like Spotify and iTunes. But as a parent and a player it was too hard to find sports to play. To me the photos or videos of the experiences looked tired and dated and didn’t motivate me to play. So, I created a platform where sport was as easy to play as listening to a song, and I wanted the experience to look and feel beautiful, where people can find information quickly and discover a whole new sport to play that they didn’t know existed.

ISB: How difficult was it making the shift from corporate career to entrepreneur and how did you manage the transition?

BS: The choice to move from career to entrepreneur was an easy one because my partner Haley agreed to work alongside me as she is equally passionate about community sport as I am. My personal challenge was the sheer volume of work across a wide range of skill sets that was required on a limited budget. This also alludes to the importance of having the “right investors” as they can often de-pressurise an already challenging situation through additional capital or more time.

Building a culture that “fusses over constant improvement all the time” was very challenging, especially when time pressures means it would be easier to just finish the task in a mediocre way and “get it out the door”.

ISB: Please tell us briefly how the concept works for clubs, players and parents.

BS: PlaySport allows clubs to promote their organisation, run all their administration, collect fees, publish notices, venues and sell equipment and uniforms. Up until now clubs have either had to maintain their own website, or increasingly, use Facebook which has limited utility for clubs.

For players every sports club and organisation in Australia will soon be listed. You’ll be able to check for sports clubs or organisations in your area. Or, search by lifestyle, so for exercise within a three-kilometre radius, after 5.30pm. Or even an empty gym to hire.

For parents, whole families’ sporting life

can be organised and arranged in one simple dashboard: fees, practice times, game day schedules and training grounds are all listed.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting the business off the ground, and how did you overcome it?

BS: Brand and funding were the two biggest challenges. The vision I had for PlaySport was to be a beautiful exciting brand people would find intriguing. So, building a brand that had versatility that could be applied to all types of sport and demographics was a real challenge.

As for funding, it was hard to explain to investors the concept of “network marketplaces” where the power of social combined with a marketplace was valuable. It was also difficult to explain the challenges of innovating with technology, where often you build a product three-to-four times before you get it near to where you envisioned. This can be frustrating to some investors but essential to position your product closer to your customer.

ISB: How did you go about convincing sports clubs of the value of partnering with your platform?

BS: Every club is unique. At the grassroots level some value promotion while some simply need new players and a communication capability. Regional, state and national level clubs have very different needs. Their challenges are around compliance, information syndication, brand value and insights.

You need to know your customer types and needs and to not assume you have all the answers. Working together to solve problems is the winning formula.

ISB: Finally, what is the #1 piece of advice you’d share with those who are looking to bring their business idea to life?

BS: Work on something really important and get closer than ever to your customers. Create things that really impact and improve the lives or generate opportunities for others because that will drive deep motivation within you and your investors to succeed.

“Get closer than ever to your customers” means “working with” your customers to not only understand what they need, but also create things they didn’t know they needed until you created it that they end up loving. This can only be achieved from a deep relationship with your customer.

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