On a typically wintry Melbourne morning, Bullpen caught up with Alex Mednis the Managing Director and Teresa Simonetti the Digital Director of revolutioniseSPORT, a company that develops an all-in-one solution that makes managing sport simpler.
It is an online platform that allows clubs, peak sporting bodies, and state and national sporting federations to easily manage memberships, payments, registrations, scheduling and statistical data in a simple and efficient dashboard.
Both Alex and Teresa thoughtfully spoke about their company’s five-year journey, talking about their persistence and patience to grow an award-winning software management solution that has signed up over 80 governing bodies and 4000 clubs across Australia and overseas.
They explained success wasn’t overnight it took a lot of grinding and evolving.
Bullpen: How were you initially bootstrapped?
Alex Mednis: “What’s interesting is that we had the choice of going down the investment line and I think there’s a lot of pressure on start-up companies and especially there was a lot of pressure on us to go out and seek funding.
“I think the typical idea of starting a business is, “oh well if you start a business you need money therefore go out and find an investor, they’ll take part of your company and that will kick-start you.” I guess we always thought from the start that never seemed like a good deal and everyone that we approached always wanted more than seemed reasonable for what they were giving us in return. Through a lack of opportunity to get investment at the start I had to bootstrap and I did that until it became viable.
“At the start it was just me. Teresa was working in a job at the time, I’d left my job so I put whatever savings I had into it. When I started making enough money to pay basic bills that’s when Teresa joined.”
BP: Teresa, what made you join the company?
Teresa Simonetti: “I’ve always wanted to do something where I could drive the creative process, the development process, rather than being told by someone what to do. I saw an opportunity in this to create something out of nothing that would benefit lots of people.”
BP: “The company is about five years old, so what was the problem that you set out to tackle?
AM: “My local sporting club is a water polo club, I started with them in 2002 and we only had about 300 members at the time. A decade later we reached over 1000 members which is atypical for water polo as it’s quite a small sport nationally. What ended up happening was every weekend someone would come up and say, “oh you made some software for your own sporting club can we use it?” The answer was always no because we’ve made something specific for our club, it made our lives easier because with a 1000 kids playing and 30 referees we had to make something.
“At the time I was working in law and that was unforgiving 15 hour days. While I enjoyed it, it wasn’t a lifestyle that I really wanted, not that this isn’t 15 hour days now! What happened was I took a chance and said, “well if people are serious and keep asking about this maybe I should give it a go as a natural product and see if we can sell it.” Considering what I had learned from over 10 years I started a product from scratch, and thought whether I could help not just water polo clubs but other clubs and make a sporting product that was really flexible.”
BP: How did it grow from there?
TS: “We started pitching it in club land. Most of our competitors tend to go from the top down, go for the big guys at the top. We went the opposite as we saw this as the natural way of progressing. We started signing up more water polo clubs and then we had other non-water polo clubs on board as well.
“Then we thought maybe we can actually do something with this. We then got approached by Gridiron Australia about a year and a half after we started and they asked if we could do a national database, Gridiron Australia on top and the states and clubs underneath, and we went with it.”
AM: “It’s quite ironic because when we started the business, selling to individual clubs is actually really hard. If I said to you right now “go out and sell to local clubs,” where do you find them? There isn’t a list, unless you’re a state body that has a list of clubs you can’t just go to every football field on a weekend and approach the club and ask to sell something. The return for each local club you might say is actually quite low and you need a critical mass for it to be viable. You’re not going to get that by going in one club at a time.
“Everyone had told me when I started the business you probably need to give it two years. And in my head, I thought “I don’t have two years, I’ll give it three months.” That was very naive at the time but I got to that point three months later and I actually said, “you know what this is it, I’ll just have to go back to being a lawyer, this isn’t going to work.” On that day we got a call from Gridiron Australia.
“When we got them as our first national body we thought this will be amazing. But then that’s all that happened we just got them, nothing else, just one sporting body. Everything just kind of stayed the same, we got them on board but then no one else joined so it remained slow after that.
“Again a few months later I was actually at a second point thinking, “you know what we will support gridiron forever, that’s what we’ll do. If anyone else joins, fine, but this isn’t going to work.” I kid you not, this is pure luck, a good friend of ours David Bell the CEO from Diving Australia called us to say he was their new CEO, said he needed a new membership system and asked us to meet him in Brisbane. From there it took off.”
BP: Was it word of mouth between administrators across governing bodies?
TS: “A lot of sports go to the Australian Sports Commission for advice. Once we got in touch with the ASC it helped.”
AM: “So to suddenly come into the spotlight of the government and they recognised another sports technology provider which we met, showed them what we did and they seem reasonably impressed.”
BP: Regarding other providers, it’s quite a competitive space and it’s not a big country with a finite amount of governing bodies, how do you stay relevant and ahead of the competition?
AM: “It’s interesting because when we came into the market I think the internet at the time had gone through a change. We came in at a time where suddenly words such as cloud started appearing. Before we started that wasn’t a word anyone used, it wasn’t in our vernacular. But when we started, the idea of having a decentralised online platform with everyone needing to be “in the cloud” really came up and at the time at least one of our competitors still had downloadable software which was an impediment.
“For us we entered at a time where we built something that was brand new as the technology that already existed was a number of years old. Sports were looking for something that was a bit more modern.
“We came in at a lucky entry point I think into that space, for us we try to always look at the next thing that people are doing. It’s not just about storing data it’s about analysis of data.”
TS: “Rather than playing catch up, we’re always looking to be a step ahead, though it can be maddening!”
BP: Are you now teaching clients to interpret their membership data for better use?
AM: “A CEO of a particular sport might run a report for their board. They prepare the report, synthesise the information and present it in a way that the board will understand. What we’ve tried to do in the last six to eight months is build tools that do those kinds of reports in a single click. Rather than a CEO having to spend several hours extrapolating numbers from last year comparing them to this year, putting them in a graph and making sure it all looks good, we’re really trying to help deliver that analysis of data in a single click.
“Almost every sport runs very similar analysis, year on year, month on month, members per month, members per state, state growth, gender growth. We’re really trying to automate this as much as possible by building stuff sports administrators need.”
BP: Smart decision making means a lot of sports can concentrate on growing their own footprint, membership and retention. How has the management platform changed since 2012, 2013?
AM: “It’s funny, we look back now when we started selling to our first clients and it’s amazing to think about how people bought what we had originally! It certainly wasn’t bad but there just wasn’t a lot to it and maybe that was partly a good thing, it was simple.
“Storing database information has changed in the last year or two to analysing that data, that’s been a huge shift in what we do too. If you use us as a database resource, use the tools we build to help you analyse your data.”
TS: “Another thing that has helped us evolve is we really take on board the feedback we’re given and rationalise it.”
BP: What has been some crucial feedback you’ve had from particular clients?
AM: “It’s knowing where our service stops and when their own intelligence themselves begins.
“The most important lesson I think we take from our clients is where our boundaries are. I think people respect that when you’re honest and say what you can’t do.
“It’s the middle ground on teaching clients how to use our platform correctly and where we need to back off and let them do things so they learn.”
BP: Is there any plans to grow beyond Australia?
TS: “We actually have little bunches of clubs around the world. We have football clubs in Slovenia, a curling club in Canada, it’s taken off organically. We’re looking at partners in New Zealand, we’ve signed our first national sporting association in Singapore (Singapore Floorball).”
AM: “I think Asia-Pacific is really interesting for us because our competitors generally look at the United Kingdom and United States. For us Asia-Pacific is more interesting because New Zealand, Singapore specifically are similar markets to Australia, not a lot of localisation required other than a few little things. We’re even considering whether to look at Malaysia or Indonesia, markets that are on our doorstep we could be assisting.”
BP: Looking ahead, what are goals and growth opportunities in the next 12 to 24 months?
AM: “I guess in our minds if you see what we do now as a first phase in sport, we can see a second and third phase of supporting our existing clients even further and then supporting sports that may use us in varied ways other than the core services we provide. Also, being able to extend our reach to those sports, and help them with things, even though they don’t use our main product.”
BP: That’s a bit of an evolution into the consultancy and service space to complement your software platform.
AM: “Consulting and service based work is definitely an interesting area.
“We see a lot of sports hire consultants. Ironically those consultants aren’t from sport, have very little experience in sport or quote themselves as digital experts but they have no experience in that market. Sport operates uniquely.
TS: “Sport mixes business and community in a different lens to anything else out there, therefore it needs a unique approach.”