After spending over a decade working within the sports industry, Mathew Cole recognised a gap in the market to take the global recruitment model, essentially unchanged over the years, to a digital space. In September 2013, Mathew launched the global sports recruitment platform Sporple, an innovative, engineered marketplace that facilitates meaningful connections for the world of sport regardless of race, age, location and aspiration. Sporple is the culmination of decades of experience and success across the vast landscape of professional and amateur sports.
Sporple breaks down the existing barriers to success in the sports world, allowing an individual or business to take control of their careers.
Sport has the ability to changes lives for the better. Sporple now allows this to take effect on a global scale through a single platform.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
Sporple was created by myself and co-founder, Liam Holmes. Having had firsthand experience in the sports world as a sports agent for many years, I often saw players disadvantaged through various circumstances. Examples of this include: not fitting a preconceived model for what they should look or act like, receiving bad advice from a coach, relatives who think they are experts, or even an agent who isn’t acting in their best interests. I have seen countless examples of players that may have been from the wrong school, the wrong background or have made some poor life choices when they were younger, and this has been held against them when it came to being offered opportunities.
I saw that these problems were being encountered by kids all over Australia. If these problems were happening in Australia – a sports mad, first world country – then I knew that the problems were without a doubt happening on a greater scale in other countries. I wanted to break down these barriers by empowering athletes.
I have been asked many times, “won’t agents then fight the platform”? My answer is quite simple; it will create transparency in the market – the good agents will prosper and the bad agents will be filtered out. The good early adopters will take a competitive advantage over their competition.
The idea of Sporple is to open up the marketplace and facilitate full transparency. It allows athletes to take control of their careers and make decisions in their own time by investigating clubs or agents’ backgrounds, through their connections on the platform.
Please explain your business model.
Sporple is a ‘freemium’ model. It is based on memberships, primarily the agents and clubs. They pay a small membership fee for full access and functionality of the site. In addition to that there is an advertising model that will see sports-specific brands and companies achieve optimum cut through with target audience segregation.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
Right now the main aim of Sporple is to scale the platform globally. The overall objective is to change the habits of athletes, teams and agents, and the way they conduct their business. The site now has profiles in over 22 different countries. Its now about creating volume within these communities and with the communities our customers want to engage with.
My role is ensure the business stays on track. Keeping to timelines, talking with stakeholders and also having as much dialogue with our customers as possible; talking with athletes, agents and clubs to ensure the features we are adding to the site are facilitating their objectives.
We received some great news that we have been nominated as a finalist in the Sports Technology of the Year Awards. This has been great external validation for the platform and what we are trying to create. The award ceremony is 4th April so we are very excited about that.
My wife is also pregnant and due 4th June, so that is going to be an amazing time.
How do you make ideas happen?
Simple – work really hard and when you think it is all becoming too much, it probably means you have made some headway and it’s time to work even harder. Make sure you surround yourself with the best team possible. The people you surround yourself with go a very long way to how much you and your business can achieve. So always invest in people.
I guess you have to have an almost single-minded and focused determination to achieve your goals. I have little doubt that some people, friends included, think that I will fail, but you have to have ultimate faith in your ability to achieve a result.
Talk with people who you trust and support you a lot. I Skype with my parents almost every second day. They are amazing at supporting me but also not afraid to give me some honest truths, straight up.
What does your typical day look like?
I wake up around 6am and have just started meditating. My wife has had a huge impact on me, in making me try to remain calm and keep a level approach to dealing with situations. Meditation has also helped with this.
Then I read and respond to emails received overnight. With business partners in 4 different countries we Skype twice a week (coordinating various time zones is a challenge and without modern technology this business would never have been possible).
Then I look at what sort of profiles have signed up over night, where they are from, what age, gender, sport etc and what inspired them to sign up.
My days are taken up with meetings with clubs and potential investors, and then I usually spend the night trying to strategise on where the platform is going.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
Generally I have found the community not quite as encouraging as in London or the US, but with sites like Ideas Hoist this is starting to change for the better. I have been lucky to come into contact with some very supportive people that I trust and respect, who have pushed and supported me, so it means you just have to look a little harder. I was fortunate to come into contact with Carl Peterson (Meridan Capital) & Kev Maloney (Tulla Group & MAC Services) that were incredibly supportive and have always given me great, direct advice.
The challenge is generally associated with perceptions of risk V reward, and generally people will choose the safety of a salary job. I think this has become engrained in people over generations and the fear becomes too great for people to try something new.
Also, specific to my industries, Australian sport is some way behind the states and the big sides in the UK in regards to the adoption of new technology. The smaller populations make the scale and potential upside a lot smaller but some of the best digital sports guys in the world are in Australia and they (e.g. @SportsGeek) are only now getting some traction. The competition for the digital audience in Australia should encourage a greater willingness to adopt new technology and new platforms, but all too often they resort to the old engagement strategies. I see this as a massive opportunity for the right guys in the sports digital market in Australia – I look at Matt Rowley from Green and Gold Rugby and Sean Callanan from Sports Geek; these guys are doing some great things and if given the opportunity they will play a real role in shaping the way Australian sports teams approach the digital space.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
Look at how you live you life, look at the day to day challenges, and then look at how you would change things if budget was no option. I think you would be surprised how far you can get on small budget and a heap of hard work.
If I had time to look at a new project, I would look at a new sport news aggregation platform.
I want the news stories relevant to me, delivered to me as a podcast that I can plug into and listen to offline as well as online. This would allow me to get my news, when I want it and I could listen on the tube, on a flight, in places where I don’t always have mobile reception.
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
I thought the social engagement around the Australian Open tennis was very good. Enabling small country towns to engage with international stars allowed the tournament to have incredible reach. The authentic fan engagement was something that could not have been possible pre twitter and Facebook. It was a relatively low cost initiative but the exposure achieved from it was superb. Really smart stuff.
I also think some individuals in the Australian sports markets are doing really fantastic things. Andrew Condon from Gemba group is great, Shane Harmon is someone that I have used as a sounding board for ideas and he always makes time to come back with honest and accurate feedback. I always listen to Sean Callanan’s Sports Geek podcast and the Beers, Blokes and Business podcast; there’s plenty of banter but, as a start up and small business owner, after listening you do realise that in the challenges you are facing you are not alone.
He’s not in the digital space but Cam Day has been a huge influence on me and the way I do business. Cam is, I believe, the best agent in Australian rugby by a long way. He’s not your typical agent but he certainly approaches every deal in the right fashion and with his client’s best interests at heart. If you are a young guy or girl looking to get into the industry you could do a lot worse than try and get 30mins of Cam’s time over a latte. Great guy.
What about internationally?
In regards to individuals on social media, Man City Captain, Vincent Company is a very effective user of Twitter. He is honest, open and I think a great ambassador for country and club. Also, for football fans, Squawka is a great site that will give you a real advantage in your fantasy football competition.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
Sporple’s aim is to break down the existing barriers to recruitment. Athletes from all backgrounds now have the opportunity to market themselves to a global audience of potential organisations. The site has already seen players from Russia to Haiti and Australia to Ireland take to the site to promote themselves.
Sport has the ability to changes lives for the better; Sporple now allows this to take effect on a global scale through a single platform.
Speaking of affecting social change, is there a particular charity you’d like our readers to support?
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.
Sporple.com – had to give that one a plug!
Sportsgeekhq.com – Australian digital sports
Facebook – I know it sound obvious but it is such an incredible tool for small business. I still see it being used so ineffectively. Speak to experts in social media and digital media; Facebook can be your biggest driver of traffic.
Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter.
@SportsGeek – see comments above.
@oherrol – Great banter from two girls that really know their footy.
@TimCahill – I think Tim on Twitter is exactly what you want an icon of Australian sport. A great ambassador for Oz sport globally.
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
We are currently looking for writers for the Sporple Blog that we will be launching in the coming months. Sporple is a start up, so there will be many roles created over time that I am happy to share in due course.
We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?
I mentioned Facebook above as a platform that I still see being used poorly. It can be very cheap to advertise on and get amazing reach. However, simply getting ‘likes’ won’t often achieve any results. My question would be how to really use Facebook to cut through in busy markets and to drive authentic customers to the site.
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
On the Green on Camperdown Oval was a favourite in Sydney. I have a healthy appetite and the guys there made up a couple of special dishes just for me.
In London, I’m a fan of The Riding House Cafe and The Groucho Club in the West End. Sporple has definitely taken up a semi permanent space in my local Cafe too.
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?
I’m not sure what we can offer at the moment, maybe a signed item from one of the Sporple ambassadors? Certainly happy to look at site advertising if it’s relevant.