Jamie Foale hopes raising £1M will help fund MyLocalPitch’s plans for national expansion. MyLocalPitch, a search and booking platform for sports allows users a simple way to enjoy an active lifestyle through playing multiple sports while having fun and socialising.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
Myself and co-founder Sandford have previous experience in the tech industry before launching MyLocalPitch. At Leeds University I set-up and ran the Leeds Agenda. It focused on providing a directory for university-based activities and details about the campus, which sold advertising to businesses in the area. Sandford co-founded a car-sharing platform, Grallo, and is now involved in corporate finance trade after starting at Merrill Lynch. We have been good friends since we were at school at 14, so know each other pretty well.
Tell me about the early days, the type of challenges you initially encountered?
Our first steps as a business centred on conversations with operators and venues to make them aware of our new approach to the sector. We’re all in this together as we innovate the grassroots sports space and it was key everyone understood our philosophy.
The next stage was rolling out the technology and making London’s venues available to book online. It wasn’t always an easy proposition as much of the technology in use was old and hadn’t been designed with a platform like ours front of mind.
People loved the concept as the site traffic and social media traction revealed and that brought pressure to deliver a viable product quick enough to meet demand.
What is MyLocalPitch? And what are you trying to solve with it?
MyLocalPitch is a search and booking platform for sports. We give people a simple way to enjoy an active lifestyle through playing multiple sports while having fun and socialising.
Before launching finding and booking sports venues was a frustrating process. It was nigh on impossible getting hold of the right person, checking availability or securing a regular booking as there wasn’t a forum with all useful information in one place.
MyLocalPitch’s philosophy is harnessing technology to remove any source of inconvenience that frustrates grassroots players.
Aggregation and booking platforms have been around for a while and are commonplace for the accommodation, takeaway and travel industries. However, before we entered the space, there was extremely limited use of this technology in grassroots sports.
This was despite sports players being one of the most likely groups to use technology to search and book activities online. Sports venues often lacked knowledge or resource to make this technology available and market facilities. MyLocalPitch provides bookings management software to help venues migrate online.
Disruptive innovation around the booking process has had a positive effect for grassroots sports venues through increasing bookings and growing revenues. Using our tech expertise has opened the grassroots world for an audience which found the previous process fragmented and frustrating.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
MLP kicked it all off by raising our SEIS round from a team of angel investors who have been extremely helpful throughout our mission and have raised additional rounds under EIS. Our investors include an ex-chairman of the FA, and CEOs and founders of FTSE 100 companies. A key element when finding investors was approaching people with experience in expanding services within the public sector or who could provide experience in growing tech companies.
At the end of last year MyLocalPitch became the first London-based SportsTech business to raise more than £1 million to fund our ambitious plans for national expansion.
What advices would you give to entrepreneurs looking to raise funds for their start-ups?
Like with users, make sure you look after and pay attention to current investors instead of always looking for new ones. It’s better to keep a tight group of proactive investors rather than a large group of disengaged ones.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
The first steps were extremely exciting as we saw great traction around the platform and concept. We were certain the business idea resonated, so it was a case of getting the foundations in place and the most important was the technology platform. Seeing all the hard work come to fruition gave us the belief to develop the product further.
The grassroots sports industry is made up of many different moving parts and our platform must take this into account by being flexible enough to handle large organisations and independent facilities. Listening to and understanding our customers is vital to our success, whether players or the venues. With the right infrastructure in place we were able to grow our facility inventory to support the increasing number of sports players seeking places to play.
How did you initially get traction?
Before launching the product we spent time speaking with venues to ascertain what exactly they needed. These conversations quickly led to a wave of venues joining the site to provide an excellent starting point. Once the venues were onboard our marketing team went to work on nailing SEO to ensure we appeared top in searches for a range of key search terms. Each element fed the other to deliver excellent results as the service developed.
Later down the line SEO brought a number of YouTube influencers to the site looking for pitches to create video content. We had an agreement in place for cross-promotion as the Youtubers have a multi-million strong loyal following. Once the first video was posted we saw a huge spike in traffic and thanks to our service we have managed to retain a good portion of these.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
A great deal of our progress can be attributed to the service delivering a genuine solution to a major barrier to entry within grassroots sports. Society wants everything immediately and the grassroots sports space has been a little slow out of the traps in evolving to provide a suitable service. JustEat, AirBnb and Skyscanner have shown the importance in offering a simple and convenient booking journey. Before MyLocalPitch launched there wasn’t a viable equivalent for grassroots sports. We recognised being able to book on-the-move was another key trend which is why we released our iOS app. Its popularity is clear with over 10,000 downloads since release.
Grassroots facilities appreciate the benefits of a service like MyLocalPitch’s. We understand that the grassroots sports space cannot function under a one-size-fits-all approach and we offer a tailored service for venues to meet individual demand whether an established corporate player, school or an independent venue.
Higher volume of bookings delivers increased revenues for facilities, which is reinvested into the venue for the benefit of all. Leading a healthy lifestyle gains ever more prominence and being physically active plays an integral role as there are many physical and mental benefits of sport.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
It was when the KPIs start proving what you’ve been saying will happen, whether that's for a small feature or large product. The best example of this was in October ‘17 when we introduced our Search By Time, the industry-first way of users being able to search for an available slot and saw the conversion rates go through the roof.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the MyLocalPitch team for 2018?
Our roadmap promises an exciting few years and we’re on target to roll out a number of innovative features to further enhance the product for grassroots players and venues. Alongside these we shall be launching in another UK city later this year. There continues to be interest from abroad and this is an element we’ll be focusing on further down the line.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. Keep a don’t do list for things you should avoid doing (despite the temptation)
2. In the same light, don't get distracted from the reason why you set up the business in the first place
3. Focus on yourself as well as your staff - don't become that burnt out business owner who’s not having fun