5 May 2020

Bucking the trends in business #3: Sponserve

| Suzanne Kiraly
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Who would have thought that a conversation between two people could have led to a most innovative business idea that is taking Canberra (and overseas) by storm? Enter www.sponserve.net

Two mates, Daniel Oyston who ran Content Grasshopper (a marketing consultancy) and Mark Thompson (who was the then sponsorship manager for the Brumbies), had a conversation in late 2010. In that conversation, Mark was whinging to Daniel about the onerous task of having to plot and monitor the Brumbies sponsorship program via an administratively painful spreadsheet, and thinking there must be a better way – a technology solution that he hadn’t discovered yet. Daniel suggested that Mark should do some research to try to find out what other clubs were using. So he did just that.

But after thorough research, including spending time in the US with the San Francisco 49ers, LA Galaxy and UCLA and even asking very large sporting clubs in the UK, as well as here in Australia what they were using, he came up with the same inadequate solution. The response was (overwhelmingly), a simple spreadsheet. And they didn’t enjoy the task either; indeed they found the task onerous, as had Mark himself.

So, Daniel and Mark knew they were onto something. They knew that they could possibly develop software to solve what seemed like an overwhelmingly massive market gap and corresponding niche. In fact, the not-for-profit area was another that had issues with using spreadsheets, as did smaller community and sporting clubs.

The two friends took a lot of time (18 months in fact) coming up with a viable business plan which included estimates of what the market could be worth, based on their extensive research. It was during that time also that serendipity happened. They found the right developer in Tim Canham (who Daniel had had some dealings with through Content Grasshopper). Tim saw the business plan, liked it, and wanted “in” as a third partner. So he came on board to build the tech in-house, as an equal shareholder. It was a godsend for Daniel and Mark. Tim also had a lot of commercial acumen. He already had a proven record of success with half a dozen similar ventures.

So, by January 2015, Tim was on board, and they began building a prototype, which was tested by Touch Football Australia, the Canberra Raiders and Netball ACT. Their first sale came in July 2015 after their testing period was complete, with the team working nights and part-time hours until April 2016 when their self-funded venture had enough sales across all major sporting codes in Australia to bring Mark in on a full-time basis, closely followed by Daniel in July.

The second piece of serendipity occurred in September 2016, where the guys managed to attract and close an investment deal worth AU$600,000 in return for equal shares with the investor. This investment had all been made possible by a chance meeting with a client, based in Canberra, who introduced them to Chris Dow, who together with Matt Tripp bought an investment, network and international business acumen to the group, to help them through a significant growth stage.

This investment allowed the business to open a UK subsidiary targeting the massive European sporting and event market, to go along with other international clients across New Zealand, Canada, and the US.

So the enterprise has grown from an idea in 2010, to launch in 2015, and 18 months later they have 65 clients worldwide, with projections and opportunities that will triple that in the next nine months.

These guys are movers and shakers in the tech world, and anyone wanting to investigate their product for any organisation that deals with sponsors ought to chek them out. They know what they are doing and have done their due diligence. They continue to tweak their product following client feedback, so it is now safe to go in and look at a well-developed piece of technology. (And no, I am not on commission.)

I was most amused by Daniel’s great sense of humour, as well as his gift of the gab when I approached the company for their story. I told him that someone had (anonymously) recommended their business on my www.canberrabusinesssuccessstories.com website, and he laughed and said, “It was probably my mum!”

Among other qualities, you have to have a good sense of humour when you go into business, and I can vouch for these guys – they are the real deal – movers & shakers of the 21st century. What’s more, they are in Canberra and not moving to Silicon Valley anytime soon!

Pictured at top are Daniel Oyston and Mark Thompson of Sponserve.

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