John Hyland understood the challenges facing sports clubs across Ireland from engaging with members, to receiving membership payments. His app, ClubSpot, adresses every issue that committees are faced with.

Tell me about your background and the journey you took to arrive at where you are now?

I studied business and marketing in GMIT and got my first job in NAMA after college, quickly realising that the 9-5 lifestyle wasn’t for me. While I enjoyed my time there, and learned a lot, I always planned on running my own business someday and wanted to gain exposure to different roles and industries in order to broaden my skills set. I decided to do a Masters in sports management in UCD while still working full time in NAMA. That was an extremely tough year, but it taught me how to be disciplined and manage my time. It also gave me a taste of the level of work required to be successful.

How did your original idea come about?

While completing a project during the masters, I developed the original idea for ClubSpot, however I felt the market wasn’t yet ready for the product, and more importantly I was not yet ready to start a company. Having spent some time in New York after my masters, I moved home to work with my Dad’s sportsground contractor business (Hyland Turfcare) in the hope that this would allow me to work on my idea and see if there was a potential business in it.

Last year I finally decided to take a leap of faith and give the business a go. I had some early success winning the ‘Best Idea’ category in my local IBYE competition and being selected on the New Frontiers Phase 2 programme. The momentum continued and by July I had competing investment and development offers in addition to receiving a priming grant from Cavan LEO.

I decided to partner with Zoosh Investments due to their venture builder approach and the knowledge and supports they could offer along the journey. Thankfully the pilot of the product has received positive reviews and we have generated significant interest from prospective customers.

“I had some early success winning the ‘Best Idea’ category in my local IBYE competition and being selected on the New Frontiers Phase 2 programme”

How does it work?

ClubSpot is a club management platform helping volunteers run sports clubs to reduce the administration workload on volunteers and increase their recurring revenue streams.

ClubSpot is unique in that we deliver the product to the end user through a white labelled app. The sports industry does not behave in the same way as traditional businesses, so we have studied the emotional connection between clubs and their members and designed our platform with this in mind. It is our unique understanding of sports clubs that has allowed us to develop the most complete club management system on the market.

What is your core product?

Our core product is the ClubSpot online management platform. This comprises of a web-based club admin system; we automate a lot of the onerous tasks that volunteer club administrators are faced with. Our easy to use system will greatly reduce the work currently done by club administrators.

We also provide a customised club app that will become the central communications hub between members and their club. Members will have a place to visit to pay membership, view fixtures and results, read club news, contribute to fundraisers and more. Our app will help strengthen the relationship between a club and its members.

“It is our unique understanding of sports clubs that has allowed us to develop the most complete club management system on the market”

How difficult has it been getting sports clubs on board?

We have been pleasantly surprised by the early market reaction to our product – clubs are extremely keen to get on board with our product. Clubs see our product as a tool to boost their chances of success off the field through increased membership acquisition and retention. Our product is unique in that it provides value to both club administrators and club members, add to that the fact that if used correctly the platform will act as a revenue generator in addition to its many other features.

Our initial target market is GAA, soccer and rugby clubs within Ireland before moving into the UK and US markets. In Ireland the ‘big three’ sports have approximately 4,500 clubs between them, but we don’t see our product limited to just these sports.

What are your growth plans?

We plan to expand to international markets next year and we hope to create ten new jobs in Cavan by the end of 2021. We will be seeking a larger funding round towards the end of this year in order to fund our growth in 2021 and beyond.

“Our easy to use system will greatly reduce the work currently done by club administrators”

And you always wanted to run your own business?

From a young age I’ve always dreamed of having my own business. My Dad and three uncles all have their own successful businesses and growing up it was something I admired. To be able to create jobs and contribute to your local community and economy is what I want to do.

What are your impressions of the start-up ecosystem in your region and in Ireland in general?

The support I have received to date has been incredible. Cavan LEO have helped me at every stage of the way, assisting with funding and advice. I was also lucky enough to complete New Frontiers Phases 1,2 and 3 with Enterprise Ireland.

“Our app will help strengthen the relationship between a club and its members”

Without the funding and support from these programmes I would never have been able to commit to working full-time on my business in the early stages.

I was also lucky that Cavan opened a new Digital Hub last year, which has provided me with office space that is comparable to anything available in Dublin. Having a facility like this available in Cavan is a big boost to anyone looking to start a business in the region.

What advice would you give someone starting a business in Ireland?

Starting a business is tough, but if you can validate your business idea early on with prospective customers, then you know you have a product worth pursuing. I sat on my idea for two years because I felt the market wasn’t yet ready for it, and I wasn’t ready to start a business. As time passed, I realised there was a growing trend towards sports clubs adapting online systems.

By Stephen Larkin

Published: 8 April, 2020

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