Startup of the Week – The Football App “We got 6.5m downloads without spending a Euro on marketing”

Football
Football

Having just closed an impressive €10m Series A investment round lead by Earlybird Ventures, Berlin-based startup The Football App has its sites set on becoming the definitive source of information for the millions of football-lovers globally. The free app is available for iOS and Android and is fast cornering the vast football market by aggregating information from around the world on the one platform.

We caught up with founder Lucas von Cranach to find out how they’re attracting 100,000 downloads a day with no marketing and why a massive funding round is such a relief after over four years of bootstrapping…

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Hi Lucas, who are you and what are you doing?

Lukas von CranachThe idea behind The Football App is to build the number one digital football community with a mobile-first approach. People want to consume content always and everywhere, and football has content always and everywhere – there’s always a game, a rumour, a statistic and, additionally, we were convinced that the overwhelming amount of content in this world needs to be structured for users.

We found football is one of the most interesting verticals: On the one hand it’s social and on the other hand its global. We’re talking about a huge market potential, at least 300m people consume football content through mobile devices. This market is totally fragmented, it’s all local companies and there isn’t really a global football platform.

We don’t produce content ourselves, we currently aggregate content from 40 different sources in 40 languages via syndications. We don’t see ourselves  as a media or content business. The content we buy gets consumers back to the product every day. We’re much more able to structure the content, in terms of tagging, search and optimisiation and customisation, and provide a social network for football fans.

How many users do you have?

Out of 6.5m downloads in four and a half years, where we didn’t spend a Euro in marketing, we’ve managed to retain 3.5m monthly active users – which is a user retention rate of about 50 per cent. This is a very unique number not just in the football segment but in apps generally. Moreover, of the 3.5m monthly active users we have around a million daily active users, up to 1.5m on big game days. We have a really loyal user base on the product. Users spend between one and a half to two hours monthly on the app, that’s really high engagement.

How did you come across your idea?

I love football, I’m crazy for it, I try to go to all the big and best games in Europe because my team – Cologne – is unfortunately in the second division. I played football my whole life and the idea for The Football App was born because it was such a hustle to get information on live matches on the weekends when you were at parties or out. You always had to wait for the results to be in the press, everyone had a smart phone but no one could get the information easily.

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Who are the founders and what have you done before?

I am the only founder. I have an entrepreneurial family. Before I started The Football App, I assisted an entrepreneur in the machinery production business. Through this, I understood the basics of how to be an entrepreneur – including how to understand the numbers of a company. The Football App was cashflow positive in Q2 2013, operational wise, obviously we just got funding, but with the business we are positive. That is a big step for a startup in Berlin, to be profitable.

I have a CTO and shareholder, we’re looking to hire one additional person to join the team too.

THE Football AppHow does such a large influx of cash change your business?

I can’t spend the money like hell, because I had such little money over the past four years. So it is almost impossible for me to throw money out the window. The funding was a huge Series A round, not only for Germany but for Europe, which gives us the chance to invest in the product and visibility and build the biggest football community in the digital space.

Everyone is congratulating me for the funding round, and that’s nice, but I also think they don’t know how hard the past three, four years have been, where I was literally turning over every Euro and had stages where I didn’t know if the company would exist next week. You have to keep the faith that it’ll work and the product is good. You have to be very strong to go for it long term.

What makes you different from everyone else?

Our main competitors are local publishers. But these companies will never have the content in 40 languages so they won’t be able to really compete with us.  That’s our advantage. Also that these traditional companies don’t really understand the mobile market – we only address mobile, football and applications and have so much experience in this area.

We were the 400th App on iTunes – that’s also why it is so hard to compete with us. That’s why we have a four-and-a-half star rating across the platform. We focus on product quality, not building a marketing company. It’s easy to gain users with money in your pocket, but it is very hard to get 6.5m downloads by just having a good product – we obviously didn’t have the money to buy the downloads.

What is your business model?

We’re taking the football business into the digital times. We have the biggest community. We’re doing advertising, we’re doing sponsoring, ticketing, transaction business, betting, merchandising and the gamification of content. The full range of business models are in our product. But, as yet, it is still mostly revenue from advertising.

Who would you like to have a lunch with and what would you talk about?

I guess 90 per cent of people get pathetic when you ask them this question and say they want to talk to the Dalai Lama and ask about their next lives. But I wouldn’t choose anybody. It’s just distracting, there are so many successful people in the world, why choose the most successful person to tell you what to do when you can do it yourself. It would be inspiring, but I don’t need it.

Who’s your favourite football star?

I like the underdogs, the crazy players, the young ones that aren’t already arrogant with €40m in their pockets every year.

Any advice you’d give for fellow startups?

Focus focus focus. Never lose the faith in what you’re doing. Even if it doesn’t work for a year, it doesn’t mean it won’t work long term.

Are you missing anything?

We’re looking for great developers, sales people, designers and a COO.

Where will you be in a year’s time?

In two years, for sure the market leader in Europe. Also, we have on average, per day, 100,000 downloads, and that’s still growing. We want to have the biggest global football community. So that Adidas and other big brands want to advertise and target their customers through us.

Image credit: Flickr users Viking

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