We’re very much at an age and persuasion where technology is the answer to doing anything large and at scale, it’s certainly true for sports and fitness coupled finding people and places to do these activities.
Melbourne-based company Just Play’s mission is to make it as easy as possible to join a local sports team. Their co-founder and CEO David Argyle told Bullpen how they are technologically breaking down the barriers for people to find teams and games to play in at all skill levels.
Their app is designed to be a streamlined, interactive way of joining an organised sports team at a local venue or court as it would finding a gym or yoga class.
The emphasis on making sure all skill levels are catered for is certainly of note because that is one of the most crucial barriers for people participating in sport. Placing a big importance on encouraging participation drives the best experiences, something that Just Play is focussing on.
I do start with the genesis of the idea, how did it start and how did you identify the problem?
David Argyle: “It essentially started from delivering sporting competitions working for another company in Melbourne – futsal, netball, basketball – and had people walking into the venue, calling up, sending emails basically stating a desire to play and not having a whole team. It seemed really obvious that there needed to be the opportunity for anyone who wasn’t an elite player, who was friendly and of an adult age.
“It was a matter of wanting to accommodate these people but it wasn’t an idea originally to start a business. Within those venues we were running it was trying to make teams with those people and working out how we could do that.
“The problem was crystal clear it was just trying to organise these people into teams. What are their qualifiers, what do they need? It grew from there.”
Then the idea became crystallised and expanded. You went from a couple venues and you’re realising that this is a city-wide problem. Take me through the expansion.
DA: “It happened organically in the sense that we started with the venues we had relationships with, which was four across Melbourne.Then we would have people getting in contact with us through our website and putting assorted requests asking if they could have such a platform in their area or city.
“After a year or so operating in Melbourne we had enough encouragement to suggest that it was a problem in the big Australian cities.
“It was approaching the first couple venues that we weren’t affiliated with, their response and excitement about the concept I think really drove it from there.”
What were the difficulties faced in building your own platform from scratch?
DA: “It’s everything and it’s constant! We started building four years ago and we haven’t stopped at any point. At no point will we say there will be no more.
“If you’re a serious technology company, which is what we view ourselves as now, you’re always striving to make a better product.
“The first challenge is understanding scope, we’re really fortunate in that we did the reverse of what some people try and do, we had real participants first and we understood what they needed from us – needing to update their game times, being able to RSVP, finding an extra game to book. We had an understanding of our player needs but understanding the scope of the project still changed, you build something and then you get lots of requests for something else. Then it’s the technical challenge.”
One thing with indoor sports, it could be futsal, netball, basketball it’s generally required to have some skill, equipment, uniforms. In that sense gyms have a bit of flexibility that sporting spaces don’t. These can be barriers to participation.
DA: “I think the answer as far as the market, and you’re right about gyms, they’ve innovated well in the sense that they have 24/7 access, classes, explained their exercises, they’ve innovated more than sports participation.
“What sports generally do is they say it’s for everyone but in reality social competitions are still only catering to the most skilful 20 per cent of Australians. I consider myself an average futsal and basketball player but I’m probably still in the best 10 to 20 per cent of those players because in reality if you’re not in that top 10 or 20 per cent there’s just not a division low enough, welcoming enough or inclusive enough for you to play a social game. We’re seeing a few companies that we’re working with that are pitching themselves a lot more at that beginner friendly, socially focused area. We’re seeing them get the most growth in the space and that’s because that’s where most of the market is.
“Sport is so caught up in the elite, everyone is obsessed with the most talented kids, most talented adults in professional codes but the majority of the market by definition are not good. The reality is most places aren’t offering something that’s suitable to the majority of people.
“When Just Play started we were completely hamstrung by what people are doing and now we’re in a position where we can advocate for changes and new types of competitions. It’s exciting for us when new teams form and hundreds of new players are running around every week because of new competitions that we helped encourage our partners to run and then helped get off the ground by forming some Just Play teams from individuals wanting to get involved.”
What are the user bases of the app and what tends to be the sports that is most played?
DA: “Our average player is 28-years-old and completely even split between male and female. Netball skews a slightly younger demographic, basketball skews a bit older and futsal and touch rugby is bang on that age.
“The most popular sports for us are basketball and netball. They’re both number one, they represent between 25 to 30 per cent each of total users. Then the variants of football (futsal, indoor, 5-a-side, 6-a-side) follows at around 20 per cent and the remaining 20 percent is touch rugby, volleyball, indoor cricket, dodgeball.”
Taking all of that into account, what does that tell you, how does that inform your relationship with partners and customer capture?
DA: “Age is an easier one to explain, at 28 it’s someone who is a person that’s had experience with the game, they played in high school or university, or played at a club and now they’re looking to reengage with the sport.
“We do have a lot of people that have played continuously for years but so many people are reengaging for many reasons, it could be they’ve had children or they’ve relocated to a new city and are looking to meet people and get active.
“Our surveys are interesting because we ask people what sorts of games they’ve joined and why, and overwhelmingly people list the social element as opposed to the sporting element. They’re looking to make new friends and sport is one of the least intimidating ways to do it because it’s an organic meeting place.”
Just Play focusses on organising teams and players for full seasons but now you’re tackling individual, one-off games having spun out an app called One Game.
DA: “Now you think in 2019, people meet their partners on Tinder, you get into an Uber with a stranger, the idea of joining a sports team via an app is not that weird! When we started six years ago, it might have been but we think six years from now it will be the most normal thing in the world. Given that we had already made it possible to join up for a season of sport as an individual, we wanted to make it possible to play a one-off game as an individual – especially given how many people were asking us to do just this!
“We view it as a blessing that we’re not funded by government in any way, we’re not tied to any bodies. We can focus on the customer completely because we have no other interests.”
It’s nice to ask this to entrepreneurs, but your fuck-ups. Where have you fucked up and how do you overcome it?
DA: “I’m fortunate to have founded Just Play with a couple other people who have had other businesses and I think that’s helped massively in terms of their understanding of what’s involved. We’re in sports and tech, so it’s an easy analogy, but from the sidelines everything is easy, refereeing or playing a game is easy, but the moment you put it out on the line to do anything it’s hard and you’ll fuck stuff up and that is just part of it. The sooner you realise that and you’re doing it all the time the better.
“I think it took us a while to have confidence in our own product in terms of just standing by what it was and charging the right amount as well.”
What does growth mean to you and Just Play? It could be revenue, technological or personal.
DA: “I think when you start something business, life and growth are intertwined. One of the fun things of being a business owner is that growth is always there. Personally, in the last six years, I’ve learnt about offering good customer service to people, learnt about dealing with issues, learnt about web development, then digital advertising practices and in the last 12 months mobile app development. It’s so great that you can grow yourself and your skills and hopefully Just Play continues for many more years but if it doesn’t or if I become less involved in the day to day then the amount of skills I’ve learnt over the last six-years has been so wide-ranging that I will hopefully be able to keep doing interesting things.
“On the business side it’s just the ability to impact more people and make the product better all the time. We’ve been given so much encouragement by so many people and when we’re getting so many positive messages and feedback it means we have a responsibility to make it better for our players and all the players out there that haven’t discovered us yet.”