Australian augmented reality soccer app myKicks has scored more than 65,000 downloads within three months of launch and topped the sports app store in the UK within two weeks. And according to co-founder and venture capital veteran Andrew Hall, that success was all down to connecting to the audience — but authentically.
Director of Perth’s Founder Institute and a venture partner at Stone Ridge Ventures, Hall has a passion for all things sports, with a background in competing in triathlons and a love for soccer.
He co-founded Formalytics, the development startup behind myKicks, in 2016 alongside David Budden, a senior research engineer at DeepMind, who now runs the technical advisory team on a part-time basis; and Holly Ade-Simpson, who developed the trajectory technology, and no longer works with Formalytics.
The founding team were also initially advised by Paul Hawkins, founder of Hawk-Eye sports technology for line-keeping.
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In the early days, Hall utilised his contacts in Perth’s startup community to secure $2 million in seed funding to get the ball rolling on the app development.
In terms of technology, “the world of sports was all about wearables”, says Hall, who saw an opportunity to create technology that doesn’t require investment in expensive devices, merely a mobile phone.
“You can measure, get feedback, and have fun doing it,” he says.
“There’s a long way to run with this opportunity.”
The app uses augmented reality to create a 3D “Tron-style” environment, allowing users to take their mobile phone to their local park and place it near a goal. If there is no goal, it will helpfully show users where to place their shoes or dump their sweaters.
Users prop the phone up against the goal post (makeshift or otherwise), use voice activation to start a countdown, and take their best shot at a penalty kick.
They’re rewarded not only with feedback on the speed of their kick and comparisons to other users and their previous shots, but also with a probability as to whether they would have scored for real, based on an open-source database of more than 3,000 professional penalties.
MyKicks launched on June 22 this year, and already it’s racked up more than 65,000 downloads and compiled a database of 300,000 penalty kicks — which Hall says is the largest amateur database of its kind in the world.
To get that kind of traction, Hall says myKicks made “a really interesting partnership” with five-time world soccer freestyle champion and “one of the fastest-growing soccer influencers” Andrew Henderson, who has more than 2 million followers on YouTube.
Henderson “opened the doors to all the top YouTubers in the world,” Hall says, and together they recruited two “mega star” soccer vloggers to feature the app: ChrisMD, who has 4.1 million subscribers, and miniminter, who has 7.2 million.
Downloads of the apps saw “very big spikes off the back of those videos,” Hall adds. “That’s what really propelled things.”
Those downloads led to a wave of viral activity that myKicks is still riding.
The majority of myKicks players are aged between 13 and 21, Hall says, and people in this demographic “live a very different lifestyle”.
The startup experimented with advertising the app, using colloquial language, but found the best way to get the attention of this demographic, by far, was through “genuine influencer use of the app”, Hall says.
And, while the influencers were paid, this marketing method was “a much more scalable and cost-effective strategy than pay-per-click [advertising]”, he adds.
According to Hall, these 13- to 21-year-olds are also the most at risk of losing interest in traditional sports all together. Big soccer clubs around the world are “conscious they’re losing engagement of [this] demographic to eSports”, he says.
“They’re really concerned about filling their stadiums in 20 years’ time.”
This kind of app could provide a “crossover between ‘real’ sports and the eSports,” he adds, suggesting the app could ultimately lead to tournaments, where finals would be battled out in half-time shows at live games.
Not the final whistle
MyKicks is just the first app to come out of Formalytics. The co-founders are now planning to raise another $1 million in a ‘bridge-to-Series-A’ raise, half of which has already been committed by existing investors.
But the startup is in “a conundrum”, as it falls into the categories of both deep tech and an app.
“It takes a bit longer to grow outwards,” Hall says.
That funding would allow Formalytics to demonstrate technology to assess longer-range kicks, and to move into more sports such as basketball, Aussie rules football and even baseball (with smaller balls requiring more complex tracking capabilities).
Eventually, Hall says, limb-tracking will mean this type of technology will be able to track other exercises, potentially even providing feedback on yoga poses.
“We’re just on the start line and there’s a hell of a lot with this tech platform that we can do,” he says.
For other startup founders looking to gain traction for their apps, Hall says the first thing to do is to “make sure the market is right”.
Then “you’ve got to work out how to be authentic”.
“In a world of Snapchat and Instagram, attention span is very different,” he says, and so it’s more important to find an “authentic path to market”.
Having an influencer on board can be “a great way to kickstart your campaign”, but founders also have to “spend a lot of time building out your viral hooks”, or figuring out the features of the product that might give it a viral edge.
“You need to be very ambitious and think very big,” says Hall.
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