Second-time founder takes a gamble on sports app success

4 Sep 2017

Oisin Walsh, founder of Playnbrag. Image: Oisin Walsh

Founder Oisin Walsh is taking a mulligan and trying his hand with Playnbrag, a sports betting platform and app for friendly rivals, and our latest Start-up of the Week.

Oisin Walsh has been involved in start-ups for nine years. His latest venture, Playnbrag, is his “second bite at the cherry”, as he puts it.

His first was a platform seeking to sell seats that would otherwise remain empty on long-haul flights (known as ‘distressed inventory’), while avoiding the dilution of the airline’s last-minute high-yield sales.

“We had interest from American Airlines and ended up pitching to British Airways at Heathrow, who were interested but they wanted us to test it on smaller and mid-sized European airlines first. At this point, myself and my business partner decided to walk away from it.”

Walsh then charted a new course for himself. He started working on Playnbrag on a part-time basis initially, before it became his full-time job.

‘When you’re working off a limited budget, you have to get creative’

Playnbrag targets casual sports fans who want to participate in sports leagues with their friends, or the general public, where they are able to create and join bets with minimum fuss and effort.

The platform enables users to bet against each other on 10 global sports, either for virtual credits and bragging rights, or real money and real stakes. Users can gamble with friends or create and join public leagues as they wish.

The team recently launched an iOS app in time to give users the chance to bet against each other on the Premier League and the 2017 PGA Championship (the last of this year’s golf majors). The Android version is expected to be added to Google Play by mid-September but, in the meantime, is available as a free download from the Playnbrag website.

This is the simple customer acquisition strategy Playnbrag is pursuing. With both apps live, and word spreading through press announcements and profiles, it then hopes to gain organic growth.

“Customer acquisition has been challenging, as any start-up will know. Marketing is a tough gig because, when you’re working off a limited budget, you have to get creative.”

In its own case, Playnbrag has found Instagram useful in spreading the word, posting one-minute videos every day, documenting the start-up’s story.

Walsh emphasised that marketing the product and acquiring new customers is the single biggest challenge. “We knew from the initial launch of the site that people loved the concept of betting against friends, and enjoyed the fun element (and adrenaline when there is cash involved) when playing the site. But we had to provide a more seamless and effortless user experience for the user on mobile phones, as this is where our audience was.”

Walsh’s ultimate goal is for Playnbrag to become the number one global sports platform where friends and family can play against each other on their favourite sport, no matter where they are in the world.

“The Playnbrag platform is pretty extensive,” he explained. “We host 10 global sports where we pull the data from a sports data provider, which is updated in real time on our platform.”

For security, the team selected Secure Trading as its payments provider, while the application is hosted on Amazon Web Services for scalability in the event of traffic surges.

“On the deployment front, things are going smoothly and seamlessly. I work every day with my development team out in India,” said Walsh.

The team in India are “the nuts and bolts of the operation” and Skype has been a valuable tool in this international collaboration. “All of our work is done remotely,” Walsh explained.

Screens from the Playnbrag app

Screens from the Playnbrag app. Images: Oisin Walsh

In terms of the Irish start-up scene, Walsh has identified a lack of support for ventures such as his.

“We were not able to avail of any grants or government support from Enterprise Ireland and the County Enterprise Board as it is against their policy to support betting start-ups, even though we have an Irish Betting Licence,” he said.

“More needs to be done to support Irish start-ups, both in terms of support and access to funding (angel investors etc).”

‘We are always open to investment opportunities, of course, but I think the best approach is for the investors to find you’

When it comes to investment, Walsh believes the US market is much friendlier to early-stage start-ups.

“Irish and European investors take a low-risk approach where they want to see that what it is they are investing in is going to become a success, by showing them the metrics and bottom line. US investors understand the long game (and the bigger picture), and understand and realise the risks and the potential rewards more clearly at an earlier stage. It’s no coincidence that all of the major tech companies continue to come out of the US due to a much more open-minded and progressive early-stage investment scene.”

For now, though, Walsh is staying focused on product development.

“We are always open to investment opportunities, of course,” said Walsh. “But I think the best approach is for the investors to find you. Our primary focus is our service: the product, the app and our customer.”

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