With a lineup of all-star tech, business and sporting co-founders at the helm, Aussie startup Slocoach has raised $1 million in seed funding, and is already creating a foothold for itself overseas.
The startup is the brainchild of Luke Jecks, the founder of Naked Wines in Australia, and the former global chief executive of the business, and Waratahs rugby star Luke Holmes, as well as former Naked Wines CTO Derek Hardy.
The trio combined their expertise to create a self-improvement platform, allowing people to upload a video of themselves practising the sport they love — whether that’s serving a tennis ball, kicking a footy or whacking a golf ball — and then receive detailed and personalised feedback from their chosen coach.
With Holmes’ contacts at their fingertips, the founders have already secured an impressive roster of coaches, including Wallabies captain Michael Hooper, AFL legend Dane Swan, Olympic hurdler Sally Pearson and WNBA champion Lauren Jackson.
Cricketer Michael Slater is also a coach, and sits on the advisory board of the startup.
Customers get personalised feedback from an athlete they respect and look up to. But it also gives those athletes a way to give back to the sport they love, Holmes tells SmartCompany.
“They’re not coming on board for the revenue … they’re coming on board to give back and engage in a different way,” he says.
“They recognise that they were that person once.”
Of course, for the former Naked Wines chief, this seems like a head-first dive into a completely different industry.
And, while he’s a fan of sports, he admits he never really harboured aspirations to head up a sports startup.
But, when all is said and done, the two businesses aren’t all that dissimilar, Jecks says.
“Naked Wines was a platform that introduced winemakers to wine-drinkers,” he notes.
Slocoach essentially does the same, but “connects expert athletes with people who want access to that expertise”.
And, there’s another very clear common thread, he notes, and that’s that Derek Hardy built both platforms.
“My business career has largely been around the consumer, and centralising a proposition with purpose,” Jecks says.
“This business just plays directly to that.”
The founders don’t disclose exactly who has invested in this $1 million round. But, Jecks does say it’s a group of angel investors, including some “pretty iconic” sportspeople.
The seed funding is intended to fuel the next phase of growth, ahead of a Series A next year, he explains.
In the meantime, the founders will be building out their team, and working on making “ongoing improvements” to the product and it’s very proposition, Jecks says.
“We’re living in the data,” he explains.
“We have our own tech team working on the platform and constantly improving it.”
But, the founders also already have their eyes on international expansion.
“We’re setting ourselves up to be able to own the space across the UK, the US, into India and then beyond that,” Jecks says.
“We’ve got big aspirations, which you should have at our stage.”
Slocoach has already launched in the UK, and there are preliminary discussions underway in the US and India. And it’s mostly reacting to demand.
“We’ve been a little overwhelmed by the interest in our product geographically,” Jecks says.
While the founder was planning on perfecting the offering in Australia and then expanding, “we’re reacting to opportunity at the moment”, he says.
That early international push has also revealed other avenues for growth. There has been demand in the UK for coaching for arts disciplines — mostly singing, dancing and acting — as well as sports.
“We were astounded at how well video analysis works for things like singing,” Jecks says.
“It proved to us that this is more than a sporting platform. It can work for any discipline.”
“The potential to grow the business into geographies but also across disciplines is pretty significant.”
A COVID-19 curveball
Having launched Slocoach and closed their seed round during the COVID-19 pandemic, the co-founders didn’t know what to expect from 2020.
“We had some nervousness,” Jecks admits.
“We’d never seen a lockdown before.”
But, it quickly became clear that the social distancing rules actually provided a bit of context to the business that wasn’t there before. The use-case for remote sports coaching was suddenly obvious.
“All of a sudden, it was very easy to talk to people about Slocoach because we had context,” Jecks says.
Already, the platform means the coach and customer don’t have to organise a meeting point, or factor in travel time, or even geography.
“We always knew those things would be strengths … in COVID, those things are absolutely amplified,” he says.
“Everybody is more conscious of it.”
At the same time, the pandemic meant a lot of coaches had some spare time on their hands. That’s been helpful for getting them on board, but it’s also given them a chance to trial Slocoach, and find they enjoy being part of it.
One of the most important things that has driven uptake among the coaches is finding the ‘why’ of the sessions, Holmes explains.
“It’s allowed the coaches to be able to find a real purpose,” he says.
And, even as the Australian sports calendar has recommenced, coaches aren’t cutting back the number of coaching sessions they’re offering. Rather, the sessions have become part of their daily or weekly routines.
“They get to speak their natural language … what they’re passionate about, and what they know best,” Holmes adds.
“This is their brand. This is who they are.
“They’re very passionate about doing a good job.”