Sports are a universal language because they give birth to team spirit – “a simple yet powerful notion that forges deep bonds between individuals.”
Such is the philosophy of Playo, a sports community app that seeks to connect amateur athletes, venues, and vendors. Available on iOS, Android, and Windows phones, it helps users reserve spots at nearby venues, find coaches, and connect with potential competitors of equal skill levels.
It covers sports like basketball, football, tennis, table tennis, badminton, swimming, and even pool. And, being an India-based startup, it doesn’t forget cricket. Users can also book coaches through the app if they want to raise their game. People in the community can track their games and earn “karma points” that can be redeemed on bookings and in-app purchases. Venue information also includes prices, amenities available at the facilities (like parking, equipment, etc.), and business hours.
However, at Playo’s heart lies team spirit and community. It’s not a fantasy football team – people use the app for recreational sports – but it’s not a workout tracker either.
“We don’t pretend to be a fitness app,” laughs CEO Gauravjeet Singh. Their attitude toward developing the app was to simplify as much as possible, inspired by the way children approach sports.
“A number of us played some [kind of sport] growing up,” says Gauravjeet, referencing the startup’s five founders. “We were very happy when we were playing as kids, and it seemed unfair that sport is restricted to professional athletes,” he says. Sports, in their view, begin as fun and then are slowly replaced by diet and fitness regimes later in life. Playo wants to take it back to the basics.
The idea for Playo sparked in October 2014, when Gauravjeet was working at an outsourcing firm. About a month later, he met four like-minded people – Daanish Suhail, Amit Kumar Roushan, Karthik Igoor, and Umashankar An – who were looking to work on similar things. The global sports market, after all, is at an estimated US$1.5 trillion, and sports lovers command a great deal of passion.
“[We founders] sort of fell in love with each other,” Gauravjeet explains. The apps soon followed – an Android app in May and iOS and Windows apps in August. Since then, they’ve added about 11,000 users, and users have created 950 sports teams. They have signed up with 45 venue partners, and about 150 bookings per day take place through the app.
Playo is specifically designed for the non-professional and specifically targets those who want to participate in some kind of sports team in his or her city. The app seeks to help venues, many of which did not use online technology for their bookings. Playo helps integrate the venues into the app with its own software as a service, which venues can utilize to manage their bookings.
Playo’s biggest challenge lies in distinguishing itself in a country saturated by sports apps. One called Orobind connects users with personal fitness coaches who make house calls.
Lack of enthusiasm in India for taking part in sports isn’t a problem, but there’s a lot of room to grow in the recreational sports market. Getting people to play is of national interest, as well. Playo’s approach is perhaps more like that of League Republic’s, which helps users set up team schedules, find venues, and keep track of game statistics.
In order for the app to work in the first place, though, Gauravjeet and the team had to convince several local venues to try out the booking technology, which took about a month. Venues took to the technology well, though, and make up just as much of the Playo sports community as the people playing the sports.
“I think the good thing is that [the venues] are very locked onto our solution now.” Gauravjeet says. “They swear by us, and today, at least in sports venues in Bangalore, we have built a fairly sizable base.”
Venues make up a good portion of Playo’s revenue – it gets a small portion for sending users to the venues and also makes money by its software-as-a-service – installing its booking software at the venues to make them visible to users.
“The idea is that we have brought together these users united by their love of sports, and we [can] partner with these sporting brands to [offer] services and help increase commerce or business for them,” says Gauravjeet.
Get your game on
Though the app was originally sparked by a common inspiration among the founders, the app’s current direction is dictated by its users – players as well as venues.
“A lot of users who have moved out of Bangalore have requested that we launch in another city that they have relocated to in India,” Gauravjeet says. People in other cities have, for example, found a good venue for the sports that they play and have called and asked why Playo is not in the city to connect users to that venue.
The focus, for now, is on Bangalore, but Gauravjeet tells Tech in Asia that expansion is not a matter of if – it’s a matter of when. The team plans to expand the app to other cities in India as well as other countries. They have also just launched a feature called Events, which goes beyond ticketing. Users can interact with each other through the app instead of through outside sources like emails, phone calls, or Whatsapp. The startup also plans to develop the coaching function further, allowing coaches to manage students and attendance.
Since its adoption, Playo’s cozy five-member working team has grown to seven – four work on technology, and three work on business.
“Seeing as we’re in sports, we like to think of ourselves as an integrated… kind of a sports team. We don’t have an organized structure – we have a goalie, we have a center forward, we have a striker,” Gauravjeet says. Everyone has their own role. Together they make up a team; if one person is missing, the whole team suffers.
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