Posted: Fri 21st Feb 2014
Enterprise Nation member Tim Underhill was inspired to start his business Sport on Spec during the 2012 London Olympics. It's Tim's second stab at an internet business, and this time he's going for gold!
Tell us a bit about your business idea
Sport on Spec is an online business celebrating the diversity of recognised sports in the UK and the excitement of watching top-class local events in the flesh.
The concept is unique in the UK - an A to Z of local sporting events promoted on a level playing field with ticket information (always at face value or better) available to the consumer in one place.
What was your motivation to start your own business?
It was my own difficulty in keeping tabs on all spectator sports. I call myself a sports fan, but beyond the high-profile events, I had no idea how much top-class sport was going on every week on my own doorstep!
I'd also witnessed, first-hand, during the 2012 London Olympics, how people in the UK can engage not only with the sports they already love, but with sports they've never seen before when the opportunity is presented to them.
The next step was to research the spectator sports market in detail to validate my hunch and launch the business.
I also like the idea of short term pain for potential long term gain - and not knowing what would have happened if I hadn't taken the plunge would have bugged me permanently - especially when someone else came along and did it!
I was a victim of the infamous dot.com boom and bust of the late '90s. I'm older and wiser, and perhaps I see this as 'unfinished business'. Hopefully with a happy ending this time.
What were you doing before you started your business?
I was operations director of Monkey Music, a national franchise network in the pre-school marketplace, where I am still involved on a consultancy basis. Prior to that I was a solicitor, with the dot.com adventure sandwiched in between. I had some pre-planned time-out in 2012 to enjoy the Olympics, which was the inspiration for my business, and it gave me time to stand back and build up my confidence. I've worked virtually full-time on it since the end of 2012, alongside some consultancy work.
How did you fund your business?
I funded the business with a mixture of personal savings, borrowing and - not to mention - a supportive family network, including my lovely wife Jenny! The plan is to raise more capital once the business model is proved, in order to then grow the business much more quickly.
What's been your biggest success to date?
Gaining credibility and trust with sports governing bodies and clubs.
From being unknown in Glasgow this time last year, Sport on Spec has built trust and formed strategic relationships with a whole range of sports, including many involved in the Commonwealth Games this summer. It's taken considerable time, but these foundations are key to having a competitive advantage and should bear long term fruit.
Are you an Enterprise Nation member?
Yes, I am! It was a word of mouth recommendation that saw me attend a StartUp Saturday class in February 2013. the one day booster on all business areas came at the perfect time. Now I'm a member, I follow the newsletter and blog posts and come along to events. Finding a good community of like-minded business owners is easier said than done, so I'm really grateful for the initial recommendation.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting their own business?
The million dollar question! Let me throw in a couple of things I've experience first-hand:
Attitude. Know deep down you're up for the challenge. Sounds a bit corny, but if you're not fully committed then ultimately you're likely to come unstuck. If you've got nagging doubts then best not to start at all, which is completely different from other people have nagging doubts!
Be careful about 'what you don't know you don't know' . For example, coming from an operational/legal background, and with experience of cash-flow, I felt comfortable in those areas, but market research and sales and marketing was something different - and then there was the world of tech and e-commerce, which had moved on so as to be unrecognisable from when I'd been involved in those worlds previously, with the advent of growth hacking, social, AdWords, MVPs, accelerators, etc.
'Not knowing what you don't know' is an issue you're going to have to address in some shape or form, and best to get it out the way as quickly as possible. For me that meant gravitating towards the area known as 'Silicon Roundabout' and attending as many relevant seminars and meet-up groups as possible to get a grasp on those subjects. The good news is that they're more often than not free (or cheap), but you have to be selective, as there are so many!
Managing money and time: Both are finite and, more often than not, an acute source of pressure, especially early on. Don't be afraid to make it clear you're a startup when paying for services - it's not your fault! Customers should be in for the long haul, so if they can see you mean business (excuse the pun) and like your vision, then they'll give you a friendly rate at the start, as it will pay dividends for them in the long term.
As a founder or co-founder, the demands of running a startup where you're all departments in one or two people can see you running around like a headless chicken. It's impossible to do everything you want to do and, hence, decisions have to be made on what's the priority for the business and then for these objectives to be executed with a definite plan with timescales to be met. Easier said than done. Managing time is a day-to-day exercise and just as hard. Google 'time hacks' for some tips to make the most of your day, especially if you feel yourself going stir crazy. Turning off email alerts is a good one for starters!
Where do you want your business to be in five years time? How can Enterprise Nation community help you get there?
I'd love Sport on Spec to be synonymous with the excitement of watching top-class local sport in the UK, and with a track record of being a highly profitable company.
Enterprise Nation can help, by continuing to provide a platform for enthused startups and business owners to come together to share and learn about running a successful business. And by continuing to encourage potential startups to take the leap in an informed environment.
Find out more about Tim's business Sport on Spec at www.sportonspec.co.uk