Jeremy Melul is the CEO & Co-founder of Jogabo, a platform that allows users/soccer players to organise, share and discover unique games in their city or around the world — online or from a mobile phone
I recently sat down with Jeremy to find out more about his startup, and his journey leading to its launch.
Hi Jeremy, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
I am doing great, thanks. I have just spent a few days with family and friends in Morocco and France after a non-stop last 8 months. And now I am in London, it is sunny and the soccer Olympics event has started so I will get to see a few games before moving to San Francisco. Can’t complain!
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I am French and English but I have lived most of my life travelling around the world. San Francisco will be my 16th city or something like that.
I went to the French lycee here in London but decided that I wanted to go to university in the USA so I spent 4 years at Tufts University in Boston studying Mathematics and Mechanical Engineering. After that, I enjoyed learning how to build stuff and understanding how things worked so much that I went on to Stanford to get my MS. That is where I discovered design and where I fell in love with soccer all over again. Co-ed soccer will do that to you.
I ended up working in Engineering consulting in Belgium on some pretty challenging and cool projects but after about 2 years, there was a death in the family that was a big turning point. I made a change in my life: it was more about others, solving problems where I could have a real impact and following my passion. That lead me to quit my job and to volunteer for Grassroot Soccer, a soccer for development NGO using the power of soccer in the fight against HIV/AIDS. I travelled throughout Southern Africa for more than a year working for them and loved it every single day.
Since I was a simple engineer, I thought I needed an MBA to learn more about the business side of things so I went to IE Business school. That is actually where I started really thinking about Jogabo as a business as I was really getting involved in the soccer community at the school.
Once I decided to follow this calling of entrepreneurship, I left to India for a few months and returned to London to set up the company there. Soon after, I was accepted into Start-Up Chile and moved to Santiago to continue working on my venture from there which was one of the best experiences so far in the startup world.
Tell me about how you got into business?
I have always been very entrepreneurial, it just wasn’t in business until recently. I guess I was always looking for freedom in my work, in my travel and even in my lifestyle and where most people would see risk, I would see challenges and excitement. After my MBA, the job market sucked so it was the perfect time to make the jump so off I went.
How did the idea for Jogabo came about?
The idea was born during my time in Africa and after seeing how central the soccer field was to the social and cultural life in villages. Soccer there is not just a sport. It is a way of life, a way to get exercise, a way to socialize with your existing friends and make new ones, it is a way to communicate... soccer is a religion.
Nowadays for us in Europe or the US, soccer is everything BUT social. With our busy lives and our old-school ways of getting games together, millions of players every day are left unable to play. If you look at a field in London let’s say, there are about 5,000 players that would play on it. Yet most of the players who play there would only know a small group of 30 players or so and won’t even know they guys or girl that play before or after them. How crazy is that when you know that almost every game is either looking for a few players or they have extras players looking for another game to join.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
Haha well I personally think we are still very much in the early days of Jogabo. That said, finding the right co-founders and starting in London with little money were two of the hardest things at the real beginning. Some people are lucky enough to have met their co-founders while at school or after a long term working relationship. To the rest of us, it is like trying to find a wife or husband except that we can’t spend 30 years at it. And when you know that more than 50% end in divorce, you can see where it can go all wrong. We are 2 co-founders at the moment but at one point we were 3. I would say considering the odds, we didn’t do too bad.
The other thing that we found really hard is starting up in London. Let’s be honest, it is not the best city to start in if you are bootstrapping. The costs are just outrageous and the community is still very scarce and spread out. If you look at Berlin or San Fran it is the exact opposite (ok SF is not THAT cheap but still cheaper than London). Being an entrepreneur there is being normal, the others are the weird ones.
What is Jogabo and what are you trying to solve?
Jogabo is a trusted community platform for soccer players to organise, share and discover unique games in their city or around the world — online or from a mobile phone. Whether they are a group of friends playing pickup, a community leader organising open games or an organiser running a business, Jogabo is easiest way for them to set up their games and share them with a growing community of players.
In addition, field owners can also start engaging their community and promoting field openings while soccer NGOs and brands can organise awareness or fundraising campaigns. Our mission is to inspire and empower people to play the beautiful game and making amateur soccer “Bonito”.
As it stands, getting a game together is a painful process that leaves too many people unable to play.
For the organizer it is a royal pain in the ass and he has to do all the work. There is also no easy way for him to find available fields or for these field owners to communicate these availabilities to the playing community. And finally, players in general struggle to find games or others to play with when they are short.
How have you been able to fund it?
We have bootstrapped the business at first and used up our personal savings. Once we had a basic prototype and a small community using our alpha, we applied to Start-Up Chile (a Santiago based incubator) and managed to get a $40,000 of pre-seed investment from them which allowed us to work the following 6 months on our venture from Santiago.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
Before Jogabo, I spent some time in India to learn about startups, the lean startup movement, web development and all sorts of relevant things. It was a deepdive learning experience that was really exciting. The context of being in such a new and exciting country also made it fun.
Once I really got started on Jogabo, that was the biggest rush because that was it, I had made the famous “jump”. Soon after came the just as famous “ups and downs” of the entrepreneur lifestyle and the “can’t sleep” nights. This was even more accentuated because we were in London, which is more a city of bankers and consultants than crazy and passionate entrepreneurs so you feel this pressure from the “normal” people.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Build relationships! Whether it is with brand or NGO partners, our users, potential advisors, venue owners... the key thing we did and are still doing is building relationships with them. We are building a community and starting a movement here, we are not simply building an app.
You've just finished DemoDay travelling to NYC, Boston and SF, what were some of the key things that you learnt from that experience?
San Francisco is where we want to be and where we need to be. Oh, did I tell you we were moving to San Francisco?
Another thing I would say came out of this experience is that when it comes to pitching, a ridiculous amount of practice makes perfect. I say practice, but I don’t just mean repeating the same pitch over and over again. I mean pitch kids, pitch grandmothers, pitch finance people, pitch your friends, pitch your dog, you name it! You will learn a lot from all these very different types of people that know or don’t know all sorts of different things and you will learn to adapt.
What should be expecting from yourself and Jogabo for the rest of the year?
You can expect some key partnerships being announced, some professional player support and a whole new site because what we have so far was just the prototype. As for me personally, well you can expect just as much dedication and perseverance because I just love what I am doing. So I will be either in our new offices or on a field somewhere either playing, talking to players or helping some soccer NGOs one way or another.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Alright, here is my top 3:
● Get your hands dirty
Learn by doing. It is ok if it is far from perfect or if it takes more time. The point is that you will learn from it and it will help you communicate with the people that might be doing it in the future, be it interns, employees, experts or outsourced workforces.
● Be passionate
Your passion is what drives you and what gets you over the hill in tough times. It is what makes you want to wake up at 6am and not 9am just because you want to implement what you thought of last night as you layed there in bed unable to sleep. It is what will give you that spark in your eye that investors and employees will look for.
● Never give up
Do you know why we fall sometimes? So we can learn to pick ourselves up and that is what is important. So go ahead and fall. Make some mistakes, fail, but do it quickly and iteratively. Get right back up and never give up.