On day 1, I was cycling around the local sports clubs in Scotland nervously tapping on the doors of the club managers. Today the team is 10-strong and it would be fair to say we're all learning a huge amount as we navigate this uncertain but tremendously exciting and rewarding path. What's more, we've very much had to develop as a virtual team with calls regularly attended from Spain, Turkey, America, Ireland, Scotland and England.
The development of the app has been the hardest challenge of all. In the Autumn of last year, I had to make the very difficult decision to cut loose 9-months of work and savings because things were just simply not working out. This presented all sorts of issues including funding, finding a new development team and managing the expectations of our first customers. With a bit of luck, hard work and some successful pitches for funding we got things back on track and have taken the app to a whole new level.
Along the way, I've been fortunate to have input and discussions from several mentors and advisors; the innovation department at the university; the director of Sport England; the lead app designer for many known apps including: Nike, PayPal and Tesla and many other young entrepreneurs, not forgetting the valuable contribution of friends and family. Without this support network, there is no way that I would have got this far.
I've also been incredibly honoured to interview so many athletes on our podcast. It was initially set up right at the start of lockdown (just over a year ago) as a bit of fun to keep spirits high. I never ever realised that it would become such a huge part of our brand. It just goes to show the generosity of the sports community and the willingness of athletes to support others, particularly young people. If you haven't listened I do genuinely recommend some of our latest episodes. Highlights for me have been: Alistair Brownlee, Mark Beaumont, Keri-anne Payne, Amy Williams, Schalk Brits... to name just a few.
Engaging students on social media in lockdown has proved to be way, way harder than I expected. The market is so saturated and trying to 'stand out' not just once, but constantly, was never going to be easy. However, we have persisted and been creative in building our online community, most notably through our recent series of ‘Quiz the President’ where we brought 16 sports club presidents at Bristol University onto Instagram live for a head-to-head tournament. It has proved to be very successful and alongside many of our other marketing approaches has created a real buzz for the app within Bristol. Several times in the last week I've been questioned by people on the street who I've never met before about the app.
Funding has been truly elusive. Living at home during lockdown has enabled me to divert my student loan into Armago. I have pitched, successfully and unsuccessfully, for a number of grants and was delighted to be selected as one of the top 5 start-ups at Bristol university, having narrowly missed out the year before. Then, at the last hour Armago was selected as one of two businesses to a benefit from the ‘start-it pro’ favourable business loan sponsored by St Paul’s School, where one of the team was a former pupil.
So where does that leave us next?
The app is finishing off its testing (another process that has taken longer than expected). Once completed we will be launching the ‘matching’ side of the app to all tennis players at Bristol university and at the same time the Bristol Tennis Club (our first client) will be piloting the club features. We are in discussion with a number of other clubs who are keen to promote and use the app as soon as we can make it available to them. The next few months are going to be busier than ever with the constant need to review the app, iterate where appropriate and bring in new features to make it suitable for a range of sports. We will be running through a series of practices taught in innovation to ensure the app is absolutely fitting the needs of students for every single sport we offer. Once we are fully confident the product is spot on, then we will look to scale and ultimately set out to create a global sports community.
Onwards and upwards....