Co-founders Ian Lancaster and Tom Cowgill run a technology company specialising in fan engagement and rewards platforms. They share how they got here from corporate law, and their growth plans.
What is it the company does?
Rewards4 is a fast-growing British technology company which has created an award-winning fan engagement and rewards platform that connects sports clubs and organisations with their fans. Through its bespoke technology, clubs can offer their fans a way to earn points from their everyday spending, which can then be used to watch and support the sport or club they love.
The company operates a range of dedicated programmes including Rewards4Racing, Rewards4Golf, Rewards4Cricket and Rewards4Rugby, with almost two million passionate sports-loving members now signed up. The success of the platform was recognised when the Rewards4Racing programme won the silver award for Best Fan Engagement programme in the 2017 Sports Business Awards.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
TC/IL: together, we create the vision for the business as well as defining the objectives that we want the business to achieve. Fundamentally, we like to keep our business plan as simple as possible so that: 1) we can focus on making key decisions that create maximum impact for the business; 2) each department within Rewards4 understands the part they play in achieving our objectives and the company’s vision. We also play a key role in terms of running the day to day operations of the business. This involves keeping up to date with each department’s activities and providing direction and guidance through regular meetings with our senior management team. We are also heavily involved in driving business development (through the recruitment of new sports club clients) as well as looking after key partner and client relationships.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
TC: With a background in amateur golf, I went straight into corporate law after graduating. After spending time working in London and then Sydney, I returned to the UK where I decided to concentrate on entrepreneurial projects, setting up a successful player management and events business, Sports Masters International, in 2003.
Two years later I met Ian, a former Saracens Under-21s player who was looking for a new challenge, and he joined Sports Masters International in January 2006. Given the seasonal nature of the events business, we decided to investigate other areas, specifically membership schemes and the ways in which organisations within sport dealt with loyalty and rewards for their fans.
Seeing a gap in the market for connecting fans’ shopping behaviour to their sporting passion in order to create a deeper sense of engagement saw the launch of Rewards4.
IL: I have always had a passion for sport and having failed to make it as a rugby pIayer I began my career working at Saracens Rugby Club at what was an amazing time as the sport had just turned professional and Saracens were (as they still are) very innovative in the way that looked at marketing and engaging with their fans. After 7 amazing years I went to work at Sporting Class for a year creating and selling packages to the incredible 2005 Ashes series. However, with my sights set on a new challenge, I joined Tom at Sports Masters International in January 2006.
As Tom said, after deciding to explore other areas of business within the sporting world, in particular, membership schemes, we conducted some research which delivered to us a lightbulb moment – and so Rewards4 was born.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
TC: two things: 1) someone who is able to inspire and motivate others; and 2) someone who is able to ‘block out’ all the ‘noise’ that comes with running an organisation/business to focus on the truly important issues.
IL: A great leader is someone who has a clear vision but understands how to turn the vision into action. I really like the Japanese proverb:
Vision without action is a dream
Action without vision is a nightmare
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
TC: making the move from corporate lawyer to business owner and establishing a successful, growing and wealth-creating business.
IL: Keeping everything simple has been the biggest challenge for me. When you start out you will look at every opportunity that comes your way. It is really important to understand who you are and what your plan is so that you can focus on the opportunities that will take you in the right direction.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
TC: going for crazy bike rides in the Peak District!
IL: I still play rugby because I have not found anything that alleviates stress as much as tackling a 20-stone prop. Although my body is desperate that I do!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
TC: a professional golfer – never mind!
IL: I wanted to be in a boy band, but as I could not sing, I then wanted to be a professional rugby player – as Tom says never mind!
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
TC: laziness and sloppy work / mistakes. Educate the perpetrators!
IL: People who think they are too important to do the smallest of jobs – recruit people with the right character.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
TC: we are aiming to have 50 sports clubs in the UK signed up to our various programmes with 500,000 sports fans actively collecting points through our platform to spend on their favourite sport / club. During that time, our plan is to double our turnover and have set up at least one programme in an overseas territory.
IL: From a commercial perspective, I agree with TC; on a personal level, I want to see the company become part of a sports fan’s overall experience in supporting their team or participating in their sport.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
TC: you have two ears and one mouth, use them in those proportions! When planning your business, be mindful of the ‘four by two’ rule ie. things will generally take four times as long as you’d planned and cost twice as much or vice-versa!
IL: Learn to be patient, have a clear focus and hire people that have the right character.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
TC: you can’t do it on your own and so your business becomes all about its people. Recruit wisely and well and always try and recruit people who are cleverer than you!
IL: I agree with TC, it is all about people. The best piece of advice we were given as we were starting out was ‘enjoy the journey’. Running your own business is never easy but the whole experience and journey is amazing. PS. don’t tell him but it is also a hundred times easier and more fun when you have someone like TC with you!