How Canberra company is solving a major headache for global sporting organisations

Posted 19 Jan 2017

Story by CBR Canberra

Conquer Canberra and then the world.

That’s the plan for long term friends, and now business partners, Daniel Oyston and Mark Thompson, with their company SponServe servicing 65 clients globally.

SponServe provides inventory and sponsorship management software unlike any other program in the world. The technology allows both sponsors and rights holders to manage sponsorship programs more effectively, efficiently and securely in any industry.

The Canberra start-up company, which was founded in 2015, stemmed from a conversation in 2011 where Mark was venting his frustrations to Daniel at the inadequacy of using excel spreadsheets to manage sponsors.

“I was working at the Brumbies at the time and I was quite frustrated with the use of excel spreadsheets,” Mark said. “I had a matrix of four A3 pages printed out on a wall containing everything that we were meant to deliver for partners.

“Then I had a whole wall full of hard copy agreements and it was really administratively heavy and time consuming.

“I was actually talking to Oyster (Daniel), just complaining about my life and work and he said ‘surely there is a technology solution out there that can help automate that?’.”

After a USA study tour in 2010/2011 where Mark visited the San Francisco 49ers, LA Galaxy and UCLA, it became clear that global sporting giants were experiencing the same excel-driven headaches.

“I had come back from the US with an idea that this issue was global and after having that conversation with Daniel together we established that there was a really big opportunity,” Mark said. “We sat down and started writing a business plan and doing extensive research into how the gift of technology could drive our idea.

“We actually went around to 18 different rights holders and tried to get them to kill the idea. None of them could kill our idea, they actually really liked it.”

Over the next two years Daniel and Mark spent their time researching a solution, developing their business plan and canvassing their contacts within the Canberra marketplace to understand what was required to be market ready.

They also had the challenge of finding a developer to build their cloud-based program. After several less than ideal meetings with potential developers, Daniel and Mark contacted Tim Canham, a former Canberran who was residing on the Central Coast.

“We had originally run the idea past Tim in 2014 to see if it was actually achievable and he said it was,” Mark said. “He circled back in 2015 and asked how we we’re going and we put all our research and business plan in front of him.

“After a quick chat, he agreed to build it as long as he could join us for equity share. Having that capacity and ability in-house at SponServe was huge, as outsourcing technology can kill companies pretty quickly.

“We built a prototype and had engagement from Touch Football Australia, Canberra Raiders and Netball ACT who all provided invaluable feedback for us to progress our software.”

Three months later SponServe had completed 14 system demonstrations and attracted seven clients, a number that grew to 35 after 12 months.

With 65 clients now on board, SponServe’s expansion into Europe is gathering pace, and the Canberra based company is having a substantial impact globally.

They have already been rewarded for their success in Canberra, receiving the inaugural New Innovators Award from Chief Minister Andrew Barr at the Australian Sports Technologies Industry Showcase in 2015.

Mark said he only had two bits of advice for new businesses looking to get off the ground in Canberra.

“My first bit of advice would be to get to market as soon as possible, even if your product is not 100% perfect,” Mark said. “Our first prototype was a minimal viable product, but we were then able to work with two or three of our clients to let us refine and improve it with their feedback. That was really important.

“Secondly, we don’t have any conflicting skill sets on our team. Make sure that everyone has got the opportunity to add value to the business.”

And what about Canberra being a place to launch and grow a national, or even global, business?

“Canberra’s really good because it’s like the Switzerland of Australia, you know?” Mark said. “It just sits in the middle and there are no negative connotations from a business point of view.

“You’re going into Melbourne and you’re not from Sydney, so there’s a bit more receptiveness there! The same the other way around.

“You can easily get out of Canberra Airport into Melbourne and Sydney every hour. Then with the international growth, our focus there has been UK and New Zealand, so you can now fly direct there.

“I’m really excited about the new Qatar Airways direct from Canberra to Doha to London because that just makes it a lot easier to do business.”