Ashley Howden – cofounder of Sportaroo

Ashley Howden is a Melbourne born and bred serial entrepreneur and corporate advisor. He haslived and worked in London, Singapore and Sydney at executive management and board director level in many media/technology companies over 20 years including being at the pointy end of:

  • an Asia-Pacific start-up PR agency
  • a digital & marketing services agency in the UK – Brass Tacks – sold to Chime plc (FTSE) for $10M
  • one of the UK’s largest publishers, Origin, and sold it to BBC Worldwide in 2004 for $75M, subsequently becoming the BBC’s specialist publishing arm.
  • The development of a SaaS, social commerce company, Community Engine, where he oversaw the growth of the business from 5 employees to over 100 and successfully led funding rounds raising over $40m.

In 2008; nominated in the UK as Online Publisher of the Year by AOP (800+ entries) for pioneering work in social media.

Ashley is now founder/principal of Consigliere, a corporate advisory firm in the technology and media industries and fulfils non-executive director roles for a portfolio of emerging tech/media companies and acts as a business mentor with Commercialisation Australia.

Most of his time at the moment though is working on Sportaroo – an idea of his which he’s working on with some great friends and colleagues who have cofounded the business with him – it’s a web platform for crowdfunding sponsorship for sports clubs and athletes from grass roots to professional.

Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?

…many fans and smaller businesses are unable to easily access these sponsorship and supporting opportunities…

In sport, it is essentially a truism that off-field commercial wealth drives on-field success. As such, all sporting clubs and athletes from grass roots to professional acknowledge, and pursue, the need for funding through a range of sponsorship opportunities in addition to other revenue streams such as gate receipts and membership. Due to the nature of the industry though, most commercial sponsorship drives are only feasibly sourced at a high-level to justify the sales activity required to generate them. As a result, a vast array of club or athlete ‘inventory’ is left uncommercialised. At the same time, many fans and smaller businesses are unable to easily access these sponsorship and supporting opportunities of this unsold inventory.

Sportaroo is in many ways an online marketplace that allows clubs and athletes to cost- and time-efficiently make their uncommercialised inventory available to the long tail of fans and smaller businesses to support and purchase.

We launched about three weeks ago and have just been featured on Sunrise, Fox Sports & The Project with our first campaign for Australian Women’s bobsled team (think Cool Runnings).

How do you make money? (please explain your business model)

It’s a transactional business model, so it’s free to start a campaign on Sportaroo (a la most crowd funding sites) and we simply take a small percentage of the funds raised from successful campaigns that hit their funding targets run on the site. It’s an all-or-nothing model to ensure the quality of the campaigns and keep the drive in place for campaign owners. It also encourages them to create reasonable targets.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months? (

The most important aspect for us is creating the self-service aspect of the platform so we can properly scale both within Australia and into other territories.

I’m always active in the start-up space and attend the Innovation Bay events regularly. In addition, I’ll be attending a number of events in the tech industry back in the UK in second half of the year.

How do you make ideas happen?

Some great business ideas get junked prematurely because there’s no real passion for the idea and the willingness to charge through walls isn’t there.

I’ve been lucky in that I’m young enough to still have the fire in my belly, but old enough to have had a number of successful businesses and exits to date – I think the thing that’s characterised the stuff that’s worked for me has been partly around the strength of the idea, but mainly around my (and the team’s) strength of commitment to the idea. I often get the impression that some great business ideas get junked prematurely because there’s no real passion for the idea and the willingness to charge through walls isn’t there. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve pushed too hard for too long on things that really were ‘the living dead’ but I don’t see enough passion in a lot of start-ups. There’s no greater joy in business than seeing something created from nothing. But to make that happen, you can’t be dispassionate – you’ve gotta drink some of your own Kool-Aid.

What does your typical day look like?

Hmmm. Cliché, but there’s no typical day! I split my time between Sportaroo and another exciting tech start-up, eunèv, plus a range of business strategy and mentoring to start-up and early-stage companies, some non-exec director work and M&A deals. My time’s split between in Australia & the UK so it makes for a diverse and exciting working week.

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?

As an Aussie, I desperately want to evangelise the virtues of starting out here, but it’s just more difficult.

Seriously, just the size (lack thereof) of the market and the lack of infrastructure to support a start-up or early stage company. As an Aussie, I desperately want to evangelise the virtues of starting out here, but it’s just more difficult. My experience of building companies in the UK is that it’s simply easier there in terms of ability to scale quickly and the support you get. Don’t get me started on share option schemes and the lack of incentives for angel investors here compared to the UK; let alone other fantastic hubs like Berlin or Singapore.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

None, they’re mine, mine, all mine… No? OK, well if you’re looking for a consumer market to disrupt, find a way of doing it in China…

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?

Not exclusively my industry but in the start-up and emerging company vein as a whole I’d say – (sort of an upmarket Etsy for art), VitaMan (Men’s cosmetics – global Hilton supply contract, now used by Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman and George Clooney), and Bausele (Sydney-based Frenchman who’s created a range of Swiss-made watches with Aussie beach sand in the crown – sheer class)

What about internationally?

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

It’ll definitely make it possible for more local sports clubs and facilities to survive and thrive.

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?

LinkedIn – it still amazes me how many business people don’t use this to the full.

AngelList – wait for LinkedIn to buy this and then watch out.

Seedrs – the only site that’s genuinely solved equity crowd funding in my view – UK based and they’re starting to get some decent start-ups through there. It’s the way of the future to build your portfolio if you don’t want to invest in a fund or an incubator.

Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter?

James Tuckerman

Nick Abrahams

Matt Hayden

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

Yeah sure, we’re looking to talk to anyone with a sports club or an athlete who wants to raise sponsorship $$ and if anyone want to help us with the social media activation that’d be brilliant! We’re not actively seeking funding at this stage as we’re just concentrating on building the platform and a customer base, but if there’s someone who wants to bring some cash and their passion to the story to help us accelerate our growth then we’d be up for the conversation.

Our readers are smart, creative, talented and good looking. Here’s your chance to ask them anything.

How do you stay so smart, creative, talented and good looking?! I’m fighting a losing battle on all those counts.

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

L’Auberge Bressane in Paris – wonderful traditional Bistro with the best Coq au Vin in the city for over 50 years & Felix in Sydney which has managed to capture at least some of the same art deco Parisian patina.

We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?

Sure – I can try and find something suitably sporty.

What are your favourite sayings?

“Shoe, meet bullet.” Anon. and “Do or do not, there is no try.” Yoda

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