Tech start-up of the week: Pundit Arena

26 Jul 2014

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Ross O'Dwyer and Richard Barrett, co-founders of Pundit Arena

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Our tech start-up of the week is Pundit Arena, a sports media website powered by articulate fans, and aspiring and experienced sports journalists.

“We empower fans and aspiring journalists to become paid journalists by monetising their content on our interactive platform,” explained co-founder of Pundit Arena Richard Barrett.

“The fans write about the sports and topics that they are passionate about and we amplify their opinion by publishing their content on our website.

“Contributors earn a share of the revenue generated from the content through our revenue streams of content syndication and advertising. We currently have over 200 writers and over 100,000 unique visitors per month,” Barrett said.

The market

At present, Pundit Arena is targeting the Irish and UK market.

“But we are expanding to the European market in the near future,” Barrett said.

“Our content has been read in over 204 countries so far and the majority of our traffic comes from the UK, Ireland and then India.”

Barrett points out that user-generated media is growing at a ferocious pace and this is underlined by the emergence of blogs and other social media websites.

“Pundit Arena takes the passionate knowledge of sports fans, curates it and then amplifies it. We provide the sporting public with high-quality, passionate content. Certain aspects of current sports media appears stale and lacks passion.

“This is a huge problem. There is an abundance of fan knowledge out there and we’re helping to bring it to the masses.”

The founders

Barrett co-founded Pundit Arena with Ross O’Dwyer in November 2013. They are both graduates of University College Cork (UCC), graduating with a bachelor of education in sports studies and and a bachelor of commerce, respectively.

“I have been involved in online media for a number of years, running a previous website called SportIsEverything.com that was an aggregator for top bloggers,” said Barrett.

“Ross has been involved in a number of entrepreneurial ventures and we both met on the IGNITE accelerator programme in UCC.

“We had similar ideas about attacking the digital sports media space and felt our time would be best utilised if we were to join forces. I think the decision to collaborate and co-found Pundit Arena has enabled us to get so far in such little time.”

The technology

If you are an articulate and passionate sports fan, you can click the ‘Become A Writer’ section on the Pundit Arena homepage. Prospective writers submit a sample article on a sporting topic of their choice and this is sent to Barrett as chief editor.

“The article is then assessed briefly and if it meets the required standard, it is forwarded to our sub-editorial team of six editors through the backend of our website.

“The editors then pick the piece apart and provide feedback on whether the piece is good enough to go on the site.

“If the article gets over this speed bump, it is saved in the backend of our site and reviewed once more by myself or our chief sub-editor, before deciding when to publish the piece.

“We optimise each piece of content to ensure that it reaches as many people as possible. We also push the content out through our social media channels.”

If the writer is successful and gets over the Pundit Arena (PA) speed bumps, they will then become a member of the PA team and are provided with login details to the backend of the site so they can submit articles for review from anywhere in the world.

“We have over 200 writers, located in countries as far away as South Korea and America,” said Barrett.

Barrett said the bigger goal is to be the go-to website for sports reportage in Europe and eventually go global.

“We have targeted the UK and Ireland as a starting point but our focus is on the European market as a whole. We want to make Pundit Arena the biggest user-generated sports website on the continent, while also expanding to the USA and India.”

Skyrocketing

Barrett said the business is gaining momentum and the team has moved into new offices.

“We had an embarrassingly low 300 unique visitors in November and now we have skyrocketed to over 100,000 for July already. It has been incredible growth in such a short period, but we know we need it to continue.

“We have partnerships and have had articles published by a number of media outlets, ranging from regional papers like the Evening Echo in Cork, to national media outlets, such as the Sunday World.

“We are actively seeking investment at present and have met with every seed fund in Ireland. We have also been engaging with a number of angel networks and we hope to have our seed investment round closed by December of this year.”

A pressure cooker of emotion

While start-ups are in vogue, Barrett is clear the journey can be a roller-coaster, with more lows than highs.

“As with every venture, there are countless challenges. These can vary from financial, technical and even personal.

“A start-up is a pressure cooker of emotion and strain but the highs most definitely outweigh the lows. It is the ability to overcome the challenges you face that help define your success.

“As they say, perseverance is the secret of all triumphs, and this is something that definitely rings true with all entrepreneurs.”

Get out there and don’t look back

Barrett observes that the Irish start-up scene has enjoyed immense growth in recent years and there is an abundance of entrepreneurs out there who are willing to aid start-ups.

“The support we have received from people has been incredible. People are so approachable and willing to give up their time to provide help and advice and it’s important to note that Ireland possesses a huge number of talented people.

“Anyone that thinks Ireland is a bad place to start a business is obviously speaking through inexperience. The Dublin Web Summit is a testament to the start-up ecosystem that exists in the country, and one only needs to look at the likes of Storyful and Datahug to see that it is possible to start a successful business in Ireland.”

Barrett has two pieces of advice for budding entrepreneurs:

“Firstly, get out there and start networking. Even if your business is currently just an idea, get out there and familiarise yourself with the start-up and business community. Everyone you meet will offer something, and you never know what door they can open in the future.

“Secondly, get your minimum viable product (MVP) out there as soon as possible. You will learn so much more from the market when your product is out there.

“That was the line we took with PunditArena.com and we have been constantly iterating since.

“Don’t fall into the trap of analysis paralysis; just get the product out there and don’t look back.”

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com