Bookapitch’s goal is to become the world’s leading sports booking software

5 Jun 2017

Bookapitch CEO Craig Bewley with his chief commercial officer Brian Cashman. Image: Kieran Ryan

Our start-up of the week is Bookapitch, a cloud-based end-to-end solution that advertises and manages bookings of sports pitches.

“Our sports booking system enables venues to manage all aspects of bookings on their sports pitches online and our website enables the public to search and book their local sports pitch in a few simple clicks,” explained Bookapitch CEO and co-founder Craig Bewley.

“We enable venues to tear up their spreadsheets and move all aspects of their bookings and payments online whilst making it far easier for the public to find and book their local sports pitches.”

Future Human

The market

“We are targeting sports clubs, schools, colleges, universities and public sector organisations that have sports pitches and facilities throughout Ireland and the UK. For example, five-a-side, hockey, GAA pitches.

‘We have recently been described as “Airbnb for sports facilities”. However, a closer analogy might be the golfing industry’

“Traditionally, these organisations take bookings for their sports facilities over the phone and by email. We help them fully maximise the commercial value of their sports facilities.

“We have recently been described as ‘Airbnb for sports facilities’. However, a closer analogy might be the golfing industry.

“Booking a tee time in golf was done in exactly the same way until a few years ago when two brothers, Brian and Rory Smith, created BRS golf and they transformed the golf industry. Now, you would never think of ringing up or emailing your golf club to book a tee time.

“We aim to have the same impact on booking sports facilities that the Smith brothers had on golf,” said Bewley.

The founders

Bewley describes himself as having always been quite entrepreneurial.

“I co-founded Prodigy Learning in September 2000. Prodigy provides IT learning and certification solutions for Adobe, Autodesk, HP, Microsoft and other technologies. 70pc of our business is in the UK, where I lived for seven and a half years, so I know the market well.”

Bewley also co-founded the Irish Tag Rugby Association (ITRA), which introduced adult tag rugby to Ireland.

“We currently have over 20,000 people playing in our Heineken Light Tag leagues throughout the country. In 2008, I co-founded Alive Outside, Ireland’s largest outdoor sports events company. One of the events that we run is Hell & Back, Ireland’s toughest physical and mental endurance challenge.”

Bewley’s business partner and co-founder is Andrew Flood.

Flood graduated top of his class with a bachelor of commerce degree from UCD in 2008. In the same year, he won the UCD Business Student of the Year award. He was on the UCD School of Business Dean’s List in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

In 2006, Flood was on the winning team for the Merrill Lynch European Case Study Challenge. Flood joined Prodigy Learning in 2008 as COO and is now the CEO.

The technology

Bewley explained that Bookapitch has two parts to the business.

“The area that we are most focused on at this moment in time is the online sports booking system. We provide venues that have sports facilities with a simple to use cloud based booking system.

“As a good percentage of our target market are not IT experts, we have tried to make the booking platform intuitive and very easy to use.”

Once registered, it is simple for venues to create their facilities and pitches online.

“We recommend they upload good quality pictures, because pictures do sell. Venues can put in their opening and closing times, local transport links and their peak and off-peak rental prices.

“For the average academic institution or sports club, it should not take them more than 30-40 minutes to register and set up their venue.

“Once set up, venues can share their profile on their website and Facebook page, via a widget we provide them with. Now the public can now see the venue’s facilities and when they are available to rent and venues can take bookings 24/7. Apart from increasing bookings, there is a dramatic reduction in the volume of enquiries that venues get by email and phone about the availability of their sports facilities.

“Significantly, for venue managers, they can now take bookings by credit card or send an invoice directly from the booking system. It allows them to easily reconcile all the money they receive for their sports facilities and provides them with excellent management reports, like the number of bookings per week and the occupancy rates.”

Bewley said that the other side of the business is the sports marketplace.

“Unlike the hotel or restaurant industries, in the sports industry, there is no one marketplace to search and book your nearest sports facility. Our focus is currently on recruiting venues but once we have enough venues, we will then focus on the sports marketplace.”

“Our ultimate goal is to become the world’s leading sports booking software.

“Our initial strategy is to focus on the markets that we know best – Ireland and the UK. The plan is to become the main player in these markets over the next two years. Once established, the medium-term plan is to look to expand into Europe, Asia and the American markets.”

Finding the right players

Bewley said the response in the market to the sports booking system has been postive and the company’s customer base is growing rapidly.

“And importantly, it is growing across the different sectors. For example, in the academic sector we have third-level organisations like Trinity College and DIT now using it and schools like Belvedere College, Rathdown School and Wesley College have also recently started using it. Similarly, it is ideal for sports clubs and we have customers across the different sports, including GAA and soccer.

“Our main focus now is recruiting venues. However, we are keen to attract the right investment to help with our ambitious growth plans. Enterprise Ireland is an investor and we are looking into their High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) Fund, along with exploring other forms of investment.

“The main challenge we face is changing a market that is dominated by what we describe as ‘biscuit tin’ operators, which are venues that predominantly take cash for booking their sports facilities and store the cash in biscuit tins. This is the way they have been doing it for decades and the mindset is “current practice, is best practice”

Bewley said that Bookapitch aims to change this mindset.

“We want to bring these venues online and into the 21st century.

“It won’t be easy, as they have resisted change up to this point, but we will do it.”

A vibrant start-up scene

Bewley said the start-up scene in Ireland is very vibrant at present.

“There is a huge amount going on. I think it is fantastic to see so many people who are prepared to go out on their own and start up their own business.

“However, it does remind me a bit of the Celtic Tiger and what happened with the property crash.

“I think in the technology sector in particular, the software development companies are charging too much for skills that in a few years’ time will be ten-a-penny. In my opinion, these companies need to offer better value or they won’t be around in 3-5 years’ time.”

His advice for fellow founders: “Get the best people you can on the bus and try to keep them on the bus. Similarly, get the wrong people off the bus as soon as you can.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years