Podcast Ep 92: Warren Healy, founder of Clubforce, talks about the Galway firm’s ambitions to transform sports participation forever by putting players and volunteers to the fore.
Hailing from Carna in west Connemara, Warren Healy used to joke “next stop America.” He found out for himself in a career in digital marketing that brought him all over the world and leading advertising giant’s Ogilvy’s digital efforts. During the course of his travels Healy pursued his love of sports with the passion characteristic of Irish expats and played GAA with Washington Gaels.
After 14 years in America he felt the lure of home. “When we came back I was talking to the local GAA club and a lot of the conversations were around fundraising. But the payment methods at the time were cheque or cash. It was clear that they were never going to raise funds from America that way and so we formed a small entity, just a bit of software that we called Local Lotto and it helped local clubs manage their lotteries.”
“It’s all about the platform now and clubs can do everything under this one platform – they can collect membership revenue, they can sell tickets for events, they can run teenage summer camps. We’ve gone from local lotto to micro finances to Clubforce in one linear journey”
Zoom forward another 14 or 15 years and what began as MyClubFinances has morphed into Clubforce, a very serious Irish software business with its eye on the global market for participation sports.
Clubforce is an Irish leader in club automation, simplifying payments and providing a communications, promotions and fundraising platform for members, clubs and leagues.
Making sport happen
Earlier this year it emerged that Clubforce plans to double its workforce following a €2.5m investment.
This expanded workforce of 40 members of staff will be spread between its Galway city headquarters and UK offices and will allow Clubforce to accelerate delivery of an ambitious product roadmap.
The investment is pivotal to Clubforce’s existing club management system evolving into a complete sports participation system, transforming how club members, sports clubs and other governing bodies interact with each other. In a way, Clubforce is becoming the Salesforce of sports participation management technology.
At the heart of it is Healy’s instinct that grassroots sport relies heavily on volunteers who are time poor.
If anything, he found that the pandemic made fundraising more challenging and Clubforce is about solving those challenges.
In March of this year it emerged that Clubforce was instrumental in helping sports clubs across Ireland raise €1m in that month alone with ticket sales exceeding 100,000 per month – a ten-fold increase on pre-pandemic fundraising activity which was mostly conducted offline.
The business has been spreading its wings and recently joined forces with global sports data giant STATsports to make performance analysis data available to clubs and participants across the world.
Clubforce also forged a partnership recently with UCD start-up Output Sports to help sports clubs to improve on-field play and enhance player’s performance by providing them with a means to monitor and track their progress.
“We originally built MyClubSport as a way to help expats support and play their local club lotteries back home. Other clubs started seeing what we were doing and asked ‘can we have a bit of that?’ And so it began to gain its own legs, really. And what we did really well early on was we listened intently to everybody that was using it.”
What started with a local club soon became 20 or 30 local clubs across Ireland and soon the larger, more significant county boards were signing up. “It just took off and we decided ‘okay, this is something, we need to form a company’. And it has been growing ever since.”
Clubforce is essentially growing beyond the Irish market and its original GAA focus to supporting all sports in all markets who have the same challenges: raising money, organising players and keeping everyone on top of their game. As such the platform includes capabilities that include membership management, fundraising, ticketing, online lottery, organising events, kids’ camps, communications, reporting and more.
“It had its roots in one GAA club, but it grew significantly,” Healy said.
Accordingly, Healy and his team directed the business constantly to where it saw the market going, not where it was. And so elements like kids’ camps, safety, communications and more.
“It’s my belief that we haven’t really pivoted at all. It’s always been a linear journey. We’ve expanded the service, changed our name but we haven’t really pivoted. It’s all about the platform now and clubs can do everything under this one platform – they can collect membership revenue, they can sell tickets for events, they can run teenage summer camps. We’ve gone from local lotto to micro finances to Clubforce in one linear journey.”
But as Clubforce has been expanding, Healy maintains his principle of listening to volunteers.
“Our passion is to build software that helps volunteers. I remember being down in Limerick with volunteers in Young Munster. I was in Clare talking to volunteers about all the wonderful things that volunteers are doing, day in and day out. I told them they are benefiting the entire nation because of the work they are doing to provide children with a healthy, joyous environment to grow up in so we as a nation can benefit from that.
“All the work that is done by volunteers across the nation, seven days a week, is incredible. And for the most part it goes unheralded. So that’s our passion – to build software on the platform that makes the life of the volunteer easier.”
As Clubforce strengthens its platform and grows its ecosystem around supporting player excellence and empowering volunteers, the business is focused on becoming a global force for sports volunteerism.
“It’s not just about the excellence of the player, it’s about joy for the players. If you talk to any volunteer, they are focused on making sure the children have a good experience. It’s not just about winning every match anymore, it’s about creating healthy, joyous environments. But we do need to protect those volunteers also. We need to provide them with systems that protect them. So things like Garda [police] vetting and making sure there is a system to make sure that is all covered. Is there a system to make sure they have their Covid (vaccination) certificates, that they’re mapping attendances? And then we build. We build the service to make the life of volunteers easier.”
The global journey is beginning with London offices. “The focus has always been to drive this from Galway. We’re looking to expand our London offices. It’s a global opportunity we are pursuing. Enterprise Ireland have been fantastic assistance to us through the years and especially now. From the investors to the key management and staff. It’s all about the team.”