Entrepreneur Andy Meikle got himself further down the career path many of us have dreamed of when he moved to the UK to try and crack it as a footballer after completing a scholarship in the United States. But, like celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, that route was cut short by a knee injury – and he quickly had to find a different job.
Not particularly wanting to work for anyone, Meikle decided to move back to where he had grown up, Dubai, to found his first tech business. The text-based question and answer venture ran for two and a half years before the business builder was faced with dilemma.
Having received an offer of investment to help his company grow, he met his current business partner who was himself looking to go it alone. With the Dubai start-up scene not being particularly active, Aaron Shepherd was looking for advice but ended up kick-starting an idea Meikle had been sitting on for a few months.
Realising that sports fans have to visit a number of different websites and applications to follow the events they enjoy, Meikle had envisaged a social media platform which would bring it all together and create the kind of chatter and interaction that would prove to be a hit with brands.
‘Aaron made an intro to someone quickly and like buses we had two offers on the table: one for something new, and one to grow something friends and family and invested in,’ Meikle explains.
Despite feeling he had a responsibility to the friends and family who had backed him in his early days, he decided the new idea was too promising to pass up.
‘I said to Aaron, we have to do this right and move to the UK – Dubai was not the right place to start up the business we wanted,’ he adds.
‘That was in April 2012 and we raised a seed round of £495,000 through the angel route and relocated.’
The move to London was for two reasons, talent and funding. Whilst Dubai is cash rich, Meikle says, the money is also quite slow and the start-up scene relatively new.
‘The culture is changing but I was aware of the maturity of the set up in London – the business is also very sports specific and the capital is a great hub for that.’
Meikle and Shepherd’s venture, called Sportlobster, can trace its roots to a blog written about Novak Djokovic, the Serbian tennis player with seven grand slam titles to his name.
‘The blog was great, had lots of comments, but I only found it by chance. It got me thinking about how writers can build an audience and how readers find quality contents,’ Meikle remembers.
With most writers using platforms such as Twitter to drive people to a blog, he realised that this was in essence two jobs: one finding followers and then getting them reading a blog.
‘That is when I realised the power that could be found with a dedicated environment, specifically tailored to your preferences,’ he adds.
The platform allows sports fans to stay connected with news, rumours, predictions and events by interacting with fellow users.
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Building a product and business in the sports and social media worlds, Meikle quickly realised the importance of getting well-known sports stars to get talking about and endorsing his offering.
Going one further than that, Sportlobster has secured former Liverpool and Manchester United striker Michael Owen and Formula 1 driver Mark Webber as investors.
‘The biggest thing about it is that sportsmen are essentially fans as well. In Abu Dhabi [watching Formula 1] I had a paddock pass and the drivers were telling me about how great the app is,’ Meikle explains.
‘They see power in a one-stop-shop, and other fans are starting to see this.’
Owen, who 40 goals for the England football team, says, ‘The app offers a way for sports fans to interact with their favourite athletes and sports teams and have their own voice heard by likeminded fans.
‘While other platforms may allow you to have a voice, Sportlobster offers a dedicated space to discuss real topics in sport.’
Meikle says that Owen and Webber are in it for the long run, through their minority stakeholding, and will be great for making introductions to their industries.
‘Owen is a really smart and great businessman, he knows how to approach things and will pick up the phone regularly,’ Meikle reveals.
Sportlobster now has 70,000 registered users and, having launched its full offering, is growing at a rate of 5,000 users a day.
The company’s growth was solidified by a further $1 million investment from Luxembourg-based Witchwood Capital Partners in September 2013. Not wanting to rest on their laurels, Meikle and Shepherd are already in negotiations for a larger round, with a strategic investor from the technology and sports fields being looked at.
Furthermore, having secured an adviser who has a background in sport, gaming and gambling, Sportlobster has multiple revenue streams in the offing.
‘Many social media sites have grown in value as users grow,’ Meikle explains. ‘But we’ve been clear in ways we can generate revenue without complicating the user experience.
‘One is to bring in gamification, and extend it to where users can win virtual currency and then exchange it for discounts on merchandise. We’ve already been approached by people who would like to get involved with us.’
Meikle and Shepherd are in talks with major broadcasters in the UK as well as betting companies which are interested in implementing an extension to the sports prediction service that is available on Sportlobster.
And as for the name Sportlobster, well it was one that Meikle and Shepherd didn’t even like at the offset. The suggestion came from a seed investor and was part of a shortlist of names compiled.
‘He suggested and we first said no. As time went on we liked it more and more and the domain name was available,’ he says.
‘We spoke to friends and family about names, and a couple of days later it was the only one they could remember. It came from left field, but we love it now.’