Immigrant Founder Stories: Mathew Cole, Sporple
As a young sportsman at high school, Mathew Cole was always first to the gym in the morning. 6am early. In fact, he would arrive at the school gym hoping there would be someone to let him in. This tenacity elevated him to a semi-professional sports career in rugby. As CEO and founder of Sporple, he uses the same commitment and positive habits each and everyday on the field of entrepreneurialism.
After his experience as both an athlete and sports agent, Mathew saw firsthand, the need for change in the global sports market. He took the tenacity required in both sport and startup to build a company that reaches across the globe and brings athletic talent to light, regardless of nationality, gender or economic class.
Mathew found that building a startup is similar to playing a sport. Both require training, team cooperation, courage to use your talents in the field, and persevere to achieve a goal. And just as not everyone can become an Olympian athlete, not everyone becomes a successful entrepreneur.
The game might change, the rules for success remain the same. And with the right conviction and teamwork, eventually, success follows. Here’s his story.
1. When and where did the idea for a global sports networking site come about?
Prior to Sporple, I had spent over 10 years as a sports agent and co-founded a leading sports management agency called The Blaze Agency in Australia. During that time, I saw the limitation of the current model and also the frustrations from all angles of the recruitment process.
I remember the moment when I knew we had something. A big idea. Over a Skype call, I tested the idea with my cofounder, Liam Holmes, who was living in Australia at the time. The technology worked for the use cases and we could see a world of possibility.
I wrapped up my role with Blaze in London, Liam quit his job in Australia, moved to London and 5 days after our original Skype call, we were working full-force Sporple.
2. What is your professional background and how has it helped at Sporple?
I have been involved in sport, in one form or another, for the majority of my life. I started as a sports agent when I was 24. I was very young by industry standards, but it allowed me to develop a unique relationship with clients — most agents were in their late 30’s and 40’s — so while others had experience, my advantage was that I was actually playing with clients and knew their frustrations first hand.
As a rugby player, I had to work harder to win as I wasn’t tall or fast. This is similar now in my business because I don’t have the coding skills most companies have, but from my past in athletics, I know what it’s like to have to train harder in order to succeed.
As an agent, I worked with many different international and domestic organizations and the key pain points were always the same: How do I increase my connections globally? How do we get greater transparency in the market? How do I find out who’s available?
Sporple was designed to solve these problems. When we designed the overarching platform rationale, we knew what had to get into the individual profiles, the level of information that needed to be communicated and the mechanics for how they connect. How these personal data points, video and career highlights are integrated into the platform are all based on years of first-hand industry experience. Being so ingrained in the industry allows you to build a platform that solves local and global issues.
3. How is your company making a positive difference in the world?
The core belief of Sporple is that sporting talent is not based on geography, gender or socioeconomic factors, so why should sports recruitment be? We empower athletes to take control of their careers, no matter what their backgrounds may be. Sporple is free and always will be free for athletes.
Paul Tuaimalo was unsigned and unwanted in New Zealand. Paul missed selection in any National Provincial Championship squad. He registered on Sporple and was then signed by Sri Lanka Police Sports Club. The contract in Sri Lanka was greater than what many of his peers were earning in the NPC. Since this contract, Paul has used his profile (via emailing it to clubs) to sign with a club in Tarbes, France.
4. Who’s been with you on your journey and how are they important to you?
As many people know, a startup is unlike any other professional environment. It requires you to be knocked down, punched out and still have the unwavering belief that what you are doing will change the industry, maybe the world. So having family believe in me has been imperative.
Having parents, a brother and a wife that continue to believe in me has been critical in this journey. For as long as I can remember, my dad has always pushed me to work for myself, to create something. My wife believes in me so much. She is my support, sounding board and my kick in the butt! I am also inspired by my brother. He is a police officer and the courage and bravery he shows daily to make the world a better place is incredible.
I also have a few close mates that have strong business backgrounds and it’s a bit like therapy when we speak, but it’s very valuable for us all as we share each other’s highs and lows.
5. What’s the best advice you have received that has impacted how you work?
“Everyone’s got a game plan until they get punched in the face,” is a quote from Mike Tyson. He may not be renowned for his business quotes but I think for the startup world, it’s perfect. You always have a game plan, a strategy, but you have to be able to adapt, be resilient and still not lose sight of your ultimate goal.
6. Who are you inspired by in the global sports industry and why?
The sporting world is spoilt for inspirational moments and people who challenge mediocrity and push boundaries. Think: the Williams sisters, Cheryl Miller, Yao Ming, Usain Bolt… there is inspiration everywhere.
At the moment, there are two Australian’s doing great things in the NFL, Jarryd Hayne and Jesse Williams. Jarryd Hayne turned his back on a very good NRL career to follow a dream and play in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers. Meanwhile, Jesse Williams is back on the field after beating cancer! That’s such a mountain to climb on its own, but he’s done it and is back in pads. I couldn’t wish for anything but success in their respective paths.
7. How has Unshackled provided you with an opportunity to succeed?
When we joined Unshackled, it was the first time I felt I had industry/professional support. Manan and Nitin have been great sounding boards and the introduction to people such as Marc at WSGR, a successful law firm, has been superb.
April, the office manager, has also been such fantastic support during the on-boarding process, we might end up drafting her for our own team too! Who would pass up moving to Australia, right?
The opportunity has allowed us to bring on additional talent, accelerate our product timeline and in the coming months, connect with key industry figures from fellow founders to investors and assimilate into the best startup environment in the world.
1 . Why does the world need this company?
Sport has the ability to change lives. The sports agency business is becoming increasingly competitive. Agents need to be able to increase their global reach while keeping their costs low.
A young American basketball agent cannot afford to jump on a plane to China in hopes of finding the next Yao Ming. While most regions have talent scouts, sometimes their judgements are questionable. Sporple allows agents to access all the information via the athlete’s profile to make better business decisions.
Clubs are in a similar boat, they need to get the best talent at the lowest price. That means they have to be across all markets globally. Sporple increases the visibility for clubs and agents and keeps their costs minimal, making them more effective businesses.
2. Why do you think Sporple will be successful in the long term?
Sport has been around for a long time and the global sports market is growing at a rapid rate. The highest paid women’s basketball players are now in China. Some of the most talented baseball players are now coming from Uganda. If you had said that to people five years ago, they would have laughed. Sporple is positioned to connect the globe’s sporting talent with opportunity.
As the strength of global sporting leagues increases, the need for global talent increases, technology is the conduit between the two. If an athlete hasn’t been able to secure the opportunity they are looking for domestically, there may be great opportunity in another league in another country. They just need the connection point and platform to engage with their target audience. Sporple provides that. Without Sporple, opportunities are missed, talent goes unutilized.
3. For the uninitiated, what’s the challenge of working on a sports networking site in the global sportsindustry?
The challenge is that Sporple has to give the same opportunity for success no matter where you are or what your background is. We have to ensure that an athlete from a remote island such as Fiji has the same opportunity for success as an athlete from Palo Alto, California! If you don’t, you only further increase the distance between the have and have not.
Take Jarryd Hayne for example, Jarryd is of Fijian heritage. He played rugby league for Fiji. How many more players are there like Jarryd in Fiji that could play in the NFL? At Sporple, we have to make sure the platform we are providing, gives every athlete this opportunity.
The other challenge is that you have to ensure that all parties have the outcomes. It’s no good for anyone if it’s just athletes, just agents or just clubs, you have to make sure the growth in the balance is accurate.
4. Tell us about your favorite success story with an athlete, recruiter or club.
One of the first successes was rugby player, Tobias Hoskins from Perth, Western Australia. Tobias wasn’t able to secure a contract in Australia, he had tried all options, various agents, various coaches. All he needed was a specific platform to showcase himself — Sporple. Once his profile was complete and live, a UK club contacted him directly and signed him up. It was that simple and he got to live his dream of being a professional athlete.
Damien Bresson is an agent that was looking to increase his client base across athletes and clubs. As Damien is only a small business, he has to keep costs low and cannot speculate on potential international clients. Sporple allowed him to increase his global reach and in the last 6 months, Damien has increased his national and international placements significantly.
5. What type of people do you look for to join the Sporple team?
Of course we would like the best talent — smart, driven, creative — to join Sporple, but we also want someone looking to change the face of sports recruitment globally.
You must be competitive and a great teammate to the current squad. You must challenge the status quo: bring new ideas to the table, a strong work ethic and be prepared to share in good and bad times. Joining Sporple is just like joining a sports team; we’re in it together!
6. How is Sporple innovative in it’s use of technology in the global sports networking industry?
There is currently a huge growth in sports biometric data and wearable tech. We are looking to give additional purposes to this new technology though integrating this data into athletes’ profiles. Additionally, we are in the early stages of developing some really amazing video analytics tools that will only further empower athletes and open up the global world of sports recruitment.
Stay tuned throughout our Founder Stories series to learn more about the portfolio companies making a difference in their industry with Unshackled.