Kiwi footballers take on the world - with an app
Quitting a well-paid job to pursue his dream of establishing a successful tech start up while enriching the lives of football enthusiasts has been a hugely successful form of birth control for MY F.C. CEO and co-founder Sam Jenkins.
Most recently a commercial manager for a golf travel company, Jenkins – along with co-founders Mike Simpson and Sam Jasper – decided to chuck in his day job and go all-in on a plan to create the biggest global sporting community on the planet. The trio’s ‘cloud based software platform’ is designed to ‘digitise football administration and connect footballers across the globe’.
With 300 million junior, amateur and semi-professional footballers across the planet, M.Y. FC has a massive market to tap into. And with its ability to provide a marketing channel for major global corporations, the rewards could be spectacular. But the risk – and the huge effort required to go from cool idea to global dominance of a highly competitive space – means now is the not the time to be planning a family.
“This is effectively birth control for the next couple of years,” quips Jenkins, a 30-year-old former Olympian with the Olywhites in Beijing in 2008. Jasper, another age-grade New Zealand football representative, recently married, but it’s doubtful the stork will be visiting his residence any time soon either.
MY F.C. has kicked some early goals, landing two ‘angel’ investors and winning a BNZ competition to find the country’s most promising start-up. But a start-up is a still a start-up.
“We live off noodles – as cliché as that is for a start-up,” says Jenkins.
“It is a big risk. You don’t know when your next pay cheque is going to come at you.”
One thing MY F.C.’s founders do know is football, with the trio having immersed their lives in the sport since childhood. It hasn’t always been a rewarding experience.
“We were basically sick of how poorly the sport was administered, right from grassroots level through to the professional game,” says Jenkins.
So they came up with an idea to ease what Jenkins described as pain points - things that piss us off - to those of us who don’t regularly find ourselves pitching to investors.
“Initially we built the platform to solve many of our pain points, but we soon realised there are 300 million amateur footballers on earth and a lot of them are facing similar pain points,” says Jenkins.
Bungled player registrations, the double-handling of paperwork and not having access to simple match information were near the top of the list of things that annoyed the MY F.C. founders.
“There is a lot of money aimed at the professional end of the sport but people have neglected the grassroots, amateur football,” says Jenkins. “Fifa has been very slow to uptake technology and I think that is why it hasn’t stemmed through the game. We are in a good position to really disrupt football with technology and improve it for everyone.”
Although designed to be a streamlined communication tool, the MY F.C. app does much more than ease the burden of frazzled administrators and volunteers. It encourages social engagement through features such as a live match centre – which allows any match on the planet at any level to be live scored – statistics leaderboards, and goal of the month video posting.
None of this is particularly unique. Social networking platforms such as Facebook allow people to share their experiences, while sports club administration apps such as Teamsnap and Sportsengine are established multi-million dollar companies with millions of global users.
However, those apps are generic and relatively unsophisticated whereas MY F.C. is sports specific and comparatively feature-packed, while platforms such as Facebook are so content-rich that it can be hard to find the wood for the trees.
“The Facebooks of the world are quite fragmented because they are just so big now,” says Jenkins. “A lot gets lost there. We are trying to bring together the 10 different website apps that people were historically using to try to run their lives onto a single platform.”
If they achieve the cut-through they are aiming for, the rewards will be spectacular. Jenkins points to My Fitness Pal, a company with a healthy eating and fitness app used by 25 million people. The one-time start-up sold to sportswear giant Under Armour for $500 million 15 months ago.
“If you can build the eyeballs, the potential to exit or the long-term value of the company is quite enormous.”
So far, so good. Since launching in February, MY F.C. has signed up 30,000 users and 2,000 clubs across 27 countries despite a non-existent marketing budget. Most of the uptake has been organic following pitches to “champions” at targeted clubs.
With a team of two full time engineers and six developers to sustain, the company is about to undertake a funding round that Jenkins hopes will raise $1m. Its efforts should be boosted by a trip to San Francisco courtesy of BNZ, which presented the fledgling company with free flights and $15,000 for winning its start-up of the year competition. Jenkins and co will use the trip to meet with potential investors and seek advice about how to enter the U.S. market.
“We are in a good spot, plenty of momentum,” he says. “But I guess this is when the hard work really starts. We have got the goal and the vision. There are a lot of things that need to fall into place to reach that goal but if we are stubborn and take each day and week as it comes we’ll get there. It’s exciting. It gets you out of bed in the morning.”