PlayerTek is one of Ireland’s leading firms in the sports science sector. Co-founder Ronan Mac Ruairi reveals how PlayerTek started and grew into a market leader.
How did you get into this business?
My background is in physics and I landed my first job in data and analytics. I moved to IBM and spent a few wonderful years working there and much to my parent’s dismay, I left the company to join a startup called Web Factory in the early 90s. It was a time when very few people used the internet and we saw ourselves as innovators. We even invented our own version of Facebook which was called PaddyNet and at this point the term social media was unheard of. We then sold it to Horizon in 2000 and I spent the next decade working in academia (in computer science). I then moved into the sports science field as I felt there was a gap in the market which I could fill.
“We’re able to answer all the questions coaches ask.”
Is the sports science sector big in Ireland?
It’s a big market in relation to our population. We’re a country that’s sports-mad and by that I mean the level of participation, not just fan engagement. The GAA is one of the major drivers in that because they are able to get communities all across Ireland to back their local teams from grassroots level up.
“It’s an easy-to-use system for coaches who don’t have deep sports science experience.”
What is PlayerTek?
We’ve developed a small physical device which weighs about 50 grams and it’s placed on your back when you play football. It has a high-precision GPS tracker. It can track you down to within 30cm of your location so it’s incredibly accurate and we try to do that ten times per second. This will then gather a lot of data in relation to the moves you make on the pitch and it will also track your workload. With the help of this device, we’re able to answer all the questions coaches ask in relation to how hard their players are working.
“We work with teams who don’t have those resources.”
What’s your USP?
Our USP is that we try to make this a very simple, easy to use system for coaches who don’t have deep sports science experience. To put that into context, we’re certainly not the first in the world to build this. Catapult Sports were the first to create this about 12 years ago and are the global leaders in this market and they have since acquired PlayerTek. They focus at the high end of the market and work with a number of international teams and large sports clubs across Europe and the US. But with these teams, they generally employ sports scientists to work on the data whereas, with PlayerTek, we work with teams who don’t have those resources.
“We’re able to answer all the questions coaches may have in relation to how hard their players are working”
Is the device expensive?
We have a range of different offerings at PlayerTek. If you’re a football player, you can buy your own PlayerTek device for about €200. Teams can invest in this type of outlay or spend ten times as much depending on what they are looking for.
“If you’re a football player, you can buy your own PlayerTek device for about €200.”
What teams do you work with?
In Ireland we work with the Kerry football team, the Limerick hurling team who have just won the All-Ireland and in the UK we work with Birmingham City Football Club, Liverpool Ladies and Celtic Ladies to name a few but there are many more.
“Our USP is that we make this a very simple experience.”
How did you fund and start the business?
We were lucky to meet some wonderful people very early on. After establishing the market, we set out to talk to certain people and quite early on we found investors who included the Danu Partners, Mark O’Mara, Michael O’Rourke, Leonard Ryan and then Brendan Gilmore separately. From there, we raised €1.1 million which was massive to us. Our investors allowed us to make a few mistakes along the way and after a year and a half, we released the product and within six months we made a profit.
“Our investors allowed us to make a few mistakes along the way.”
Who inspires you in business?
I take inspiration from my father. He has just turned 80 and is still working away in the field of journalism. He mostly reports on the courts now and he has shown a tremendous work ethic throughout his life which he instilled in all his children.