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AFL pros turned startup founders James Begley and Matthew Pavlich raise $1 million for corporate talent booking platform Pickstar

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Pickstar co-founders James Begley and Matthew Pavlich. Source: Supplied.

Pickstar co-founders James Begley and Matthew Pavlich. Source: Supplied.

Ex-professional AFL players James Begley and Matthew Pavlich are picking up the pace on their startup venture PickStar, raising $1 million in funding from undisclosed investors to take the talent bookings platform to the next level.

Begley, who describes himself as a “mid-range washed-up hack footballer”, played for St Kilda and Adelaide until injuries forced him to retire from the game in 2005, while Fremantle legend Matthew Pavlich, who retired from the game in 2016, has served served as president of the AFL Players’ association.

It wasn’t until Begley was working in corporate consulting, and was texting a group of old soccer mates to see if any of them wanted to help him out by appearing at an event, that the idea for PickStar was born.

“I just knew I would be able to help corporates and brands to be able to get hold of footballers and talent,” Begley tells StartupSmart.

There’s demand for sporting names to appear at events or even private parties but “what the market doesn’t realise is there’s a demand from talent to have more opportunities” as well, he says.

PickStar provides a platform connecting those who want to book sportspeople — including AFL players, golfers, cricketers and even Olympians — with those who are looking for talent “for a range of reasons”, Begley says.

And the platform is “non prescriptive with budgets and price”, he says, meaning the talent can sign up to attend events in line with their own interests and passions — or just the ones they think sound fun.

One player, for example, was recently booked for a bucks party.

As a high-profile athlete, Pavlichtells StartupSmart his management team was approached with “a number of corporate and commercial opportunities”, but he became aware that the majority of other players weren’t so lucky, and “weren’t able to network with corporates and the public as much as they would like”.

“It’s quite a fragmented marketplace,” he says. “Unless you know them directly or their managing group, it’s very hard to access talent.”

A global play

The pair founded PickStar in 2013, and to date the startup has made over 1000 bookings and had “some financial success in terms of revenue that we’re pretty proud of”, Pavlich says.

However, with a total of just five people now on the team, they’re still working in a “very manual way”, Begley says.

This $1 million investment is pegged for developing the startup’s technology and allowing for automation of the platform.

“It’s all about volume of talent and opportunities flying through the system,” Begley adds.

“Our technology becomes our shop front, and we need to invest significantly.”

The investment will also be used for developing the PickStar brand and marketing, and the team will also start to look into growing internationally, with an initial focus on the UK market.

“We believe there’s an absolute global play,” Begley says.

The co-founders are tight-lipped on exactly who their investors are, even though Begley says they “would love to sing from the rooftops”.

However, they say the cohort includes an ex-Australia cricketer, and investors with “genuine startup and Silicon Valley experience”.

“For us, it’s not just about the money it’s the value and leverage we can get from the investors,” Begley says.

Learning curves

Pavlich says the founders have faced “the whole gamut” of challenges and learning curves while getting PickStar off the ground.

“From financial to accounting, human resources, who do you go to initially, who do you partner with, branding aspects,” he recalls.

But having “some wise council around us” has been important, he adds, as well as bringing on “really good employees”.

“Good people breed good business, and we’ve got three great core initial employees,” he adds.

In terms of advice for new startup founders, Begley realises he’s in somewhat of a unique position.

“Everyone’s story is different and has different ingredients and formulas,” he says.

However, he says what founders likely have in common is a “depression that will hit a year after having a cool idea”.

Founders should ask themselves early on how serious they are, and whether they’re willing to “give everything to make this work”, he says.

“A year down the line, when the idea is not fresh and fatigue has set in, do you have the ability and the resilience to go again?” he asks.

“It’s a question you should start thinking about,” he adds.

NOW READ: The AFL players building businesses in 2017

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is a reporter at StartupSmart.

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