Categorized | Shoestring Startup

Tennis Round – from Paper Name Tags to Online Tennis Scheduling

Name of your company and URL?

Tennis Round, Inc. – http://www.tennisround.com/

 

Date started?

April 2009

What is your product or service?

http://www.tennisround.com is website for connecting tennis players and finding tennis courts anywhere in the country, in over 4,200 U.S. cities. Players can search for compatible opponents by skill level, gender, distance, ZIP code or city, and click a button to invite them to play.

Invite Tennis Player

Invitations are received by email and all tennis related conversations are kept in one place on the site so that players don’t have to dig trough their email or phone book trying to remember who they played three weeks ago.

Users of the site can find the closest tennis courts simply by dragging the map. They can see the courts in satellite view and Google Maps Street View, which gives them an extra clue about the parking situation and the quality of the courts.

All tennis facilities contain court specific information – if they are lighted, indoor or outdoor, publicly accessible or private (members and guests only), total number or tennis courts, name, address and phone number of the location. Players can select their home court and see who else plays there.

Tennis directors of facilities like the Racquet Training Center in Seattle, WA – http://www.seattletenniscenter.com/rtc/ – and AV Performance Training Club in Bellevue, WA – http://avtennis.com/ – have introduced Tennis Round – http://www.tennisround.com – to their members, so they can more easily find a tennis partner and schedule a match.

Why did you start your company?

It was a mix of different things that came together – personal frustration with the whole tennis match scheduling and tennis partner discovery hassle, the desire to build something with my own team and the lack of challenging work at my full time job.

There are 27,000,000 people in the United States who play tennis, according to the Tennis Industry Association. In San Francisco alone, a city of 750,000 people, there are 75,000 tennis players, according to research done by the city. You would think that at such density of players, one would be able to set up a match just about any time and simply walk to the tennis court and play. Instead – almost all tennis clubs and facilities still rely on paper based message boards where people pin their names and numbers, and from there – phone tags and email threads begin to no end.

How was it financed?

Initially I contributed some of my savings to incorporate the company, pay for servers, hosting, domain registrations and other admin bills. I wanted to get all that out of the way first, in order to give everyone some peace of mind, address all company formation questions and focus on building the product. Eventually, we all started pooling funds together from our day job paychecks to finance recurring bills for Tennis Round.

In the beginning we discussed different options for building out the product, specifically around raising venture capital to focus 100% on the project versus keeping our day jobs and working on Tennis Round part time. We quickly ruled out the option of raising capital so early in process, since most investors wanted to see not only a working prototype, but one that’s gained some user base and demonstrated traction with customers.

Date officially launched?

August 22, 2010

What free online or offline tools do you use?

We use Google Docs, Wiki, Bugzilla, Dropbox, GoToMeeting, MailChimp, Skype and Google Sites.

Another great resource is the Microsoft Biz Spark Program – http://www.microsoft.com/bizspark/ It is a 3 year program granting private companies less than 3 years old with less than $1MM in annual revenue free access to all Microsoft software. No kidding. At the end of the 3 year period there is a $100 fee.

Do you use Social Media tools like Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn or ?

We use Twitter with an open door policy, looking for news, feedback or cool stories – http://twitter.com/tennisround – and Facebook to share pics, videos and excitement around Grand Slam events: http://www.facebook.com/tennisround

Youtube watch video URL?

Youtube video (1 min) featuring how to use http://www.tennisround.com/ to find tennis players and courts, and schedule a match:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7h1HKYL_jJ0

How many people are currently working, including employees (freelancers or independent contractors for specific projects)?

We have a core team of 6 people and two professional service providers – 1 attorney and 1 accountant. Occasionally we hire consultants to help us with different topics where we need more clarity and figure out what’s the latest best practice – in PR, SEO, SEM, video production and social media engagement. Networking with the local startup community, supported by organizations like http://www.NWEN.org and http://www.Seattle20.com, has been a great resource of free and meaningful advice – straight from the experience of other entrepreneurs.

What is the best advice you never got?

The biggest risk for the company is its core asset – the team. It’s not competition or the market. If the team works well and builds good products, the company will survive and do great things. If not, no matter the size of the market opportunity or in-house talent, the company can fail.

What almost killed your business in the start?

There were multiple technical challenges – cross browser compatibility, registration issues, factors for sorting tennis player search results, general feature prioritization and so on. The most challenging of all seem to be outside of the technical domain and in the realm of prioritizing next steps in product development.

What is the one thing that you did right?

We’ve managed to maintain a productive discussion despite working remotely and not being in the same room. As much virtual offices sound great, every little question takes ten times longer to resolve, than if you’re all in the same room pointing at the screen. Email is wide open for interpretation and it can be often misinterpreted. But, as long as there is a fruitful and meaningful conversation leading to everyone’s consensus with few compromises, chances are, that the resulting product will work and add value. Perhaps one thing that has helped us doing things right is that we’ve kept the team small and as a result made decisions more quickly.

What was the biggest transition you had to make (i.e. new skill set, habits, abilities, focus)?

In comparison to the corporate environment, where tasks are often packaged and delegated in silos, the startup environment requires a constant ramp up of new skills and new knowledge. The extra challenge comes from having to determine all the time which task to focus on first and which one can wait. This can be particularly difficult with tasks one has never had to deal with before and that can’t be estimated over time.

Are you currently in the black or red?

We haven’t started making revenue yet, so for what it’s worth, we still need to recover our initial expenses. However, we have no debt and very low burn rate. No office space, no phones, no cars, no payroll or other overhead. There are different opportunities to monetize the product and we’re excited about getting to profitability as soon as possible.

What type of marketing or advertising do you do?

Search engine marketing, social media and email marketing, press releases and PR work, strategic partnerships and business development work. We had an entire full blown sales forecast financial model with a serious number of assumptions. We expected some marketing channels and initiatives to perform much better than others. In reality, bid prices and cost per click for search terms our industry changed in the course of the last 18 months and the Google AdWords share of voice changed dramatically because of new advertisers in the field. Conversely though, some marketing tactics completely exceeded our expectations and forced us to put more emphasis on them going forward. What I’ve learned about marketing is that everything needs to be tested for performance before committing resources and making plans. Try something and see if it works. Then plan to scale and expand. Not the other way around.

What would make your business more “Successful”?

Achieving user engagement and getting people to look forward to their next match. We still need to build out the product with the long term vision it was initially started. Interaction among players is still fairly manual and lacks continuous engagement.

There is still a lot of work to be done before the software starts doing 99% of the work, so tennis players won’t have to. Currently players need to invite others manually, one by one, wait for a response and schedule a game.

Granted, clicking buttons is easier than writing down names and numbers from the announcement board at the back of a tennis club and then calling them individually, but there’s still much room for improvement. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to pick a tennis match on our phones just like we pick a restaurant.

Would you want to be acquired by a bigger company, run it yourself or sell in a couple of years?

If the opportunity presents, we’ll consider all options. Especially the one that will further the vision of finding a tennis partner and making tennis scheduling a one-touch, on-demand service. A bigger company with larger promotional resources can help realize that vision.

What do you think your projected annual revenue will be

$10,000,000

How long do you think it will take you to get to your projected annual revenue?

5 years.

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