The transformation that talent booking marketplace PickStar has gone through has been rapid.
What was initially built for fans to book their favourite athletes and stars for events in a centralised platform has evolved into being a key marketplace for brands and agencies to book athletes for media campaigns.
The evolution is due, in part, to the large PR pulling power of athletes and the commercial opportunities that they can command.
PickStar recently inked an alliance with US-based social content and tech platform opendorse and Australian-based athlete content business PlayersVoice to provide an end to end solution for clients or brands who want to create, distribute, measure and monetise marketing campaigns and videos.
The partnership between the three shows PickStar is transforming its talent services to brands and agencies whilst retaining its core of allowing fans, schools and local clubs to book sports and esports talent and personalities at any price point.
We talked at length with CEO and cofounder James Begley and got some key insights from their Head of Marketing Andrew Montesi.
We started by getting both of them to explain how their recent partnership will help their business evolve.
On the recent partnership between PickStar, opendorse and PlayersVoice, what synergies are there and how does each company complement each other?
James Begley: I’m super excited with what I believe is the next evolution of athlete centred media and content. In terms of the complementary aspects of the business, opendorse is very strong in the logistics and analytics behind social campaigns.
PickStar is really the conduit between the media entity and the talent themselves. We have the ability to source hundreds of talented people for a variety of reasons in a very short space of time. For someone like PlayersVoice who continues to grow their content offering they want to be connected with as much talent as possible.
When you put all three together, PlayersVoice creates the content, we think we are world experts in connecting with the talent themselves and opendorse is the technology company that supports the logistics of the social campaigns which invariably brands and agencies are spending more dollars in.
Andrew, you helped lead the arrangement between the three parties, how did you help put the partnership together?
Andrew Montesi: From a PickStar perspective I drove it but it was really led between the three of us, particularly PlayersVoice who took the initial lead.
Our approach at PickStar is that we’re really collaborative. We actively look at opportunities to partner with organisations if there is some likeminded philosophy and mission. As a startup we’re pretty open with what we want to achieve and if there’s complimentary services that can add value to our clients or talent we’ll always look at it.
PlayersVoice create all of this content, they have a great distribution channel, they have a production arm and we want to be the component that facilitates the booking of talent. We’re developing our tech to focus on the booking aspect. Then there is opendorse, the distributor of content.
What PlayersVoice and opendorse provide is an ability to solve a lot of our problems. We’ll get clients come to us with a brief or a request, they want to book talent but they also want assistance with strategy or content production but we can’t because it’s outside of our remit.
Once we’ve booked the talent there’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of the execution of the brief. We want to book the talent and not get involved with the entire campaign. opendorse solves those problems with their ability to help execute a campaign at a level of quality that’s required.
I get the feeling that in the athlete content space we’re going to be in a consolidation phase but also a period where an end to end solution is required to enhance athlete media and brand messaging.
JB:“You’re 100 per cent correct, if you look at what is occurring at the moment there is a significant fragmentation in the technology space of client solutions and I think this partnership recognises that we’re doing things really well individually but when you put together a more streamlined approach only the client can benefit.
AM: There will be consolidation but it is early days and only the credible ones that deliver excellent content and has the best end-to-end solution will survive.
We’re talking about clients with complex needs and athletes who operate in a complex world. When you’re comparing sports stars with celebrities and influencers, sports stars have a whole other career that they’re trying to manage as their first priority. Of course sportspeople are interested in the commercial side but it is their second priority. It just means a bit more complexity from our end to make sure the talent has what they need to deliver the best possible results for the client.
In my view, there’s been some growth areas in PickStar that has allowed you to make these partnerships. So what areas of the business has achieved a lot of growth in the last 12 months?
JB: I wish I could give you one category! The best way to describe it is we serve the two bookends of commercial transactions for sporting talent, we serve the mum’s and dad’s and the sporting clubs through to the big brands and agencies. We serve both ends but we are experiencing huge growth in the brand and agency uptake of sporting talent through our system.
With your wide-ranging customer and client offering, do you think that is your competitive advantage?
JB: I’ll let others work out what the competitive advantage is but all I knew instinctively is if you’re going to provide a platform to engage with commercial opportunities we all know that 20 per cent of all talent get 80 per cent of all the revenue at the moment. I started with a problem I knew I wanted to solve and it was a lot of emerging and mid-tier talent to engage with lower and mid-tier budgets.
You need tech to solve that problem, it can’t be solved via managers or clubs, and to their credit they try, but it’s not feasible. Whether or not it’s a competitive advantage I don’t know, but I look at it as trying to solve a problem and we’re most passionate about trying to deliver opportunities to a huge array of athletes, Paralympian’s, young netballers, the Matildas to Olympic gold medallists and Australian cricketers.
Does the opendorse aspect of the partnership allow PickStar to begin testing ideas to expand into the US?
AM: Absolutely, and it’s no secret that it’s our intention is to expand overseas. That’s why we see these relationships as a huge positive.
We start thinking about the relationship first, harness that correctly so we can all benefit from a business standpoint.
It’s early days but there is potential. If we get to the point of looking to the US that type of partnership, if nothing else, will give us a good understanding of the market and its differences with Australia.
JB: I think naturally the side benefits of us forming a close relationship here in Australia is the opportunity for us exists to leverage off that into the US. We want to continue to solidify how we work together but firstly we’re really keen on helping opendorse expand here in Australia.
We’re pretty certain if we continue to deliver good results for our clients here in Australia we can replicate that in the US.
We really rate the founders and operations team at opendorse. The same can be said for PlayersVoice. We wouldn’t get into any type of partnership if it weren’t any good people at the core and it’s funny that it’s not always a given in this space.
Some of the shared values is we all want to increase the pie of the commercial dollars for talent, we believe in collaboration and being open about what we’re trying to achieve and working together to do it. I think there is an underlying honesty and integrity that exists with all the founding partners that I’ve witnessed which excites me about future collaborations.
From when the business was founded to now, and from my point of view, the business seems quite agile and has gone through some subtle pivots. Do you agree with that?
JB: It might seem like that!
It does to an outsider like me!
JB: I’ll tell you why. When I created the platform we didn’t create a super narrow, rigid framework of a system. We worked for a long period of time in a manual way, our offering is ‘if you’ve got a budget and a need for talent, let us know and we can help you.’ So we started really broad and that allowed us to find pockets of what the market really wanted and then worked out how we could continue to improve the technology associated with those pockets as we’ve grown.
Some businesses choose to build a very specific, narrow product and then try and sell that to market and I just knew right from the beginning that because this was unchartered waters and a fast-moving atmosphere that it was the wrong way to go. In some respects we have been fortunate that our system in a technology sense has allowed us to be quite nimble.
James, out of interest and you probably get asked this a lot as your playing career is still intrinsically linked to your business career, you now wear a CEO hat, but has your elite playing background informed your management style?
JB: Oh 100 per cent. Sport of any level, any sport at an elite level is an amazing grounding for future careers, not because of the technical skills you develop but because of the attitudinal ones.
Sport, whether you like it or not, forces you to deal with constant failure, it forces you to deal with the unknown. Both sports and startups have a lot of similarities. It also forces you to develop a thick skin. Starting a business is invariably a personal crusade and if you don’t like being personally commented on or you don’t want negative comments then it won’t be for you.
The thing I don’t talk about too much is sport has introduced me to a lot of influential people. I have probably underestimated the calibre of my network and if you nurture that network correctly, and with honesty, they will invest their dollars, time or potentially their faith in you.
Were there coaches you gleaned management ideas from?
JB: I’ve recently used a saying that my former coach at the Adelaide Crows, Neil Craig, he used to use on us and that is, ‘there’s one thing worse than not knowing why you lost and that is not knowing why you won.’ It’s simple attitudinal calls to actions that really shape you as a younger person and I’ve been constantly surprised by how much I borrow from my experiences as a younger athlete.
You probably don’t understand until you’re in that position what an influence they have been. Not just the good experiences also the bad ones, you also realise what you don’t want to be in a leader and that’s also shaped by negative experiences as an athlete.
You realise the attitudes and the themes that coaches reinforce in your early 20’s become your DNA in your 30’s and it’s not until you access that part of your being that you realise that you’ve suddenly got an opinion which happens to be sounding just like your old coach.
This article first appeared on Bullpen, a site that focuses on the Australian sports business, sportstech and the sports startup ecosystem.
Image: Matthew Pavlich and James Begley. Source: PickStar.
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