MyLocalPitch co-founder Jamie Foale tells BQ how the innovative tech firm is changing the way people find and book sports facilities.
If you’ve ever tried to arrange a game of football amongst the staff in the office or your friends – you’ll have faced the same challenges we do every week.
Gathering numbers, bringing in ringers when you have a drop-out and most challenging of all, finding and securing a pitch at the right time, for the right price, to suit everyone.
Luckily for all of you tenacious organisers out there, who get stuck with the chore week-in, week-out, there is a new platform helping make the process as easy as possible.
Jamie Foale and Sandford Loudon started working on the technology behind MyLocalPitch back in 2013 before officially launching the platform in 2014.
The platform, which is available online and through its iOS app, allows people to search for and book sports facilities in London, Dublin and Manchester.
The company is now a leading online sports booking portal, enabling the search of over 9,000 sports facilities across three cities and has ambitious plans to continue growing.
Foale told BQ: “Our focus is on simplifying the booking process, maximising revenues of grassroots sports venues and increasing sports participation by making it easier to play sport.
“The service is available for players and facilities in London, Manchester and Dublin. And as well as the website, there is also a free iOS app to cater for bookings on-the-move.”
So, what is the story behind the business? Foale recalls the struggles he and Loudon faced themselves when trying to arrange games of football for their team and in true entrepreneurial fashion, they decided to come up with a solution.
“Sandford and I are keen sports players and would struggle to secure football pitches for our 11 a side team in London,” he said. “We could never find contact details for grassroots venues and when we did, getting hold of the correct person was another mission altogether. Our solution was to build a platform with all of London’s sports venues and give people a simple way to book them.
“Before launching MyLocalPitch, we were both involved within the technology sector. While at Leeds University I set up the Leeds Agenda, a business that provided a directory for university based activities and information around the campus, which sold advertising to local businesses. Sandford cofounded car-sharing platform, Grallo.”
Ask any tech start-up founder what their biggest challenges have been and you can guarantee a lot of the responses will be ‘finance and funding’, especially for companies looking to turn their idea into a reality. Foale and Sandford were no different.
He added: “After we had investigated the B2B demand - critical to the business - and made early assumptions about the model it was all about getting enough funding to make the mistakes that show you how to grow the business.
“It was a huge help being able to benefit from SEIS and that helps you to partially de-risk the investment for the investor. We were lucky enough to bring on some extremely useful investors in the early days who helped to act as mentors when navigating the local government landscape. Then it was all about building the MVP, and getting as much feedback from the sports venues and players as possible.
“The first couple of years were really exciting but it had its challenges like any start-up. We knew the business idea was a good one, so it was case of getting the foundations in place and the most important was the technology platform. The grassroots sports industry has many intricacies and our platform needed to be malleable enough to work with large organisations and individual sites.
“Listening to the needs of our playing customers and venues was also vital in ensuring the company maintained its progress. Working with a passionate team in the office brings the tech and concept together to give us the best chance of realising MyLocalPitch’s undoubted potential.”
Launching in 2014, MyLocalPitch has since enjoyed significant growth and the future is looking very positive. The site has 50,000 monthly users, over 1,000 pitches and courts listed, and there have been 70,000 bookings placed.
It has also secured major partners such as PlayFootball, Better Leisure, Fusion, Islington Council, Salford Community Leisure, Powerleague and Everyone Active and is now available in Greater London, Greater Manchester and Dublin.
Foale says: “Much of our growth can be attributed to the service providing a genuine solution to a major barrier to entry for grassroots sports. Society today wants everything instantly and the grassroots sports space has been slow at evolving to provide a better service.
“Success stories from AirBnB, Uber and JustEat highlight the importance of being able to offer a streamlined and simple booking journey. Until now there wasn’t a viable equivalent for sports.
“Grassroots venues are also aware of the benefits a service like MyLocalPitch can provide. We understand that the grassroots sports space is not uniform and we offer a bespoke service for venues to satisfy demand whether they are a major corporate player or an independent site.
“Additional bookings also deliver increased revenues for venues, which can be reinvested into the site for the benefit of all. The idea of living well has risen in prominence and being active plays an integral role as there are many physical and mental benefits.
“MyLocalPitch shows people where they can play 17 different sports and then allows them to book them in a matter of seconds. The more people regularly playing sport, the better.”
Looking forward, Foale and Sandford are hoping to continue on their upwards trajectory and have ambitious plans for the future as they look to continue rolling out MyLocalPitch not just in other UK cities, but also overseas.
Foale concluded: “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.
“We will also be launching in another UK city later this year. There has been interest from abroad too and this is an element we’ll be focusing on further down the line.”