Yoke Har Lee: Passion for sport helps NZ firm score in the UK

(From left) AllTeams' Jimmy Gardner, Mike Hargreaves and Will Stamers-Smith want to sign on 600 NZ sports clubs by the end of next year. Photo / Brett Phibbs
(From left) AllTeams' Jimmy Gardner, Mike Hargreaves and Will Stamers-Smith want to sign on 600 NZ sports clubs by the end of next year. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Putting together the power of the internet and sport would seem a natural combination for a New Zealand company.

What's more surprising is the success that Auckland-based AllTeams has had overseas.

AllTeams provides a web-based system that allows sports clubs to stay in touch with players, supporters and sponsors, offering services such as news, competition draws, results, videos, and text messaging.

In New Zealand AllTeams has signed on around 30 sports clubs.

Its bigger coup, however, was achieved in Britain, where the company pitched for, and won, a contract to run a pilot system for school sports administration in the West Midlands area.

The pilot scheme will initially cover 40 schools in the Black Country, Birmingham, Hereford and Worcester. The project is part of the British Department of Culture, Media and Sport's drive to create a national database of school sports results.

If it goes well, plans are for the same project to be introduced in 20,000 schools with nine million students, says AllTeams founder Mike Hargreaves.

In March this year, 4iP (an innovation fund belonging to Britain's Channel 4) and Screen West Midlands put out a call for proposals that used digital networks to engage, inspire and reconnect young people to sports.

Daniel Heaf, commissioner for 4iP, describes Allteams as the "undisputed favourites" when it came to picking suppliers to deliver the school sports database. AllTeams will have a small team in the West Midlands for the duration of the project and will be working with Birmingham-based Made Media.

Still high from the adrenalin of the pitch - initially carried out via Skype - Hargreaves says the West Midlands pilot project is a strong endorsement of the company's sports administration tool.

"The base concept is built around connecting different roles within an organisation rather than having individuals manage the system," Hargreaves adds.

If all goes according to the blueprint, AllTeams websites will dot the country's sporting landscape, combining the networked communities offered by services such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn with database management ability.

Currently, says Hargreaves, there are isolated sports websites doing bits and pieces of what AllTeams does, but nothing that sets out to capture club administrators, members, parents, and sponsors under one platform.

"What we are doing is enabling clubs to connect better, invoking the passion and commitment that sport enthusiasts have, with a better means of communication," says marketing director Jimmy Gardner, who spent years working at IBM.

Sports clubs in New Zealand have strong support from members but need the sponsors' support to stay viable, and AllTeams will give clubs the tools they need to approach their sponsors effectively, Hargreaves says. Former All Black Michael Jones, chief executive of Village Sports Academy, offers this endorsement on AllTeams' website: "AllTeams have done an amazing job on our site. We are proud to endorse a solution which helps clubs communicate and network together."

Hargreaves - a self-confessed mad-about-sports person - came up with the idea for the business and soon roped in his cousin Will Stamers-Smith, then working in Zurich, to help with the start-up. Stamers-Smith, now AllTeam's chief executive, brought Gardner on board.

Hargreaves is now based in Britain. Stamers-Smith says: "Once we got the contract, Mike had to plan to leave New Zealand. Splitting up the management team at this time was hard but it was something we couldn't say no to."

The three are excited at the prospects for Allteams to turn a healthy profit. Success would mean having some 600 New Zealand clubs signed on by the end of next year. All going according to plan, AllTeams should see a turnover of over $10 million by the end of 2012, Hargreaves says.

Clubs do not pay to list themselves on AllTeams-run sites, but are charged a commission for transactions that take place within the site.

Another business model, which involves business listings, is also being built.

After three rounds of fundraising, the company has over four dozen investors - a combination of family, friends and private investors.

Cash burn rate is high, Hargreaves says, given the cost of investing in a front-end commission-based sales force.

AllTeams wants to be a leader not only in the sports administration arena, but also in not-for-profit community-building, says Hargreaves, who is keen to see technology used to connect and improve the way people reach out to like-minded communities.

Constructing the organisational networking site that the three envisioned was not without its complications. One of the most difficult processes was explaining to the software specialists what the website's architecture entailed and what it had to do.

If he was doing it all again, Hargreaves says he would first hire a business analyst to translate the site's requirements into language that developers would understand, for added efficiency.

Another key lesson he offers is this: "The thing to do is not try to bite off too much - trying to have everything prepared for the perfect launch.

"I think if you come from a structured business background, you can get too much into the details you end up developing down the line, where it might not be as important [as] focusing on getting revenue in the door."

- NZ Herald

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