As a vacationing law student and basketball nut, Adam Epstein did a fair amount of travelling in the summer. Wherever he’d wind up, he’d take his basketball shoes and set out in search of a local pickup game to join.
“In the end, I played pickup basketball in 15 countries around the world,” he notes today.
Even as a corporate lawyer working mergers and acquisitions, the urge to leave a dent on the sports world stuck with him. Now he’s the co-founder of Huddlers, a Toronto startup whose mobile app lets friends coordinate and organize sporting events.
At an individual level, Epstein says, people still follow the path of least resistance and use rudimentary tools: reply-all e-mail chains, mass text messages, notepads of invitees next to the phone.
With their mobile app, Huddlers, users can create a game, set a location and invite friends, who in turn hit a “I’m in” or an “I’m out” button, giving the organizer a read on whether they’ve got enough players for a game. Maps give users one-touch access to directions to the court or playing field, and the company is running a series of open games in a variety of sports, that anyone can join.
Huddlers is, in essence, a niche social network; in fact, the app originated as a web-based social network for recreational athletes. But Epstein and his co-founder Ata Namvari soon found that users’ interest was really in the most practical side of things: the organization of events themselves. So the pair scrapped the original project and recast it as an organizational mobile app.
The mechanics will be familiar to anyone who’s run an event on Facebook, but focused on organizing sporting event.
And there’s value in breaking some events out from the slough of miscellaneous Facebook invites that deluge most users. Recreational sports leagues are big business and league-management software that organizes teams and venues is a well-established market. The Toronto Sport and Social Club alone organizes tens of thousands of recreational players. But Epstein says that such software gets as far as team captains, then leaves them to organize their teams themselves. “There’s a gap where nothing helps the team captain get their players to the game.”
The company just launched their iPhone app last week and an Android app is up next. The service is just getting out the gate with 1,000 users and about 1,200 games organized so far -- partly by pitching themselves to rec-league captains. The service is free and by the end of the year, the startup plans to launch a platform for the microtransactions that flow between players to pay for venue and league costs, taking a cut and giving it a revenue model. And the data from games played will power a discovery engine that will connect players with games.
For now, though, Huddlers is keeping it simple. “We focused on the low-hanging fruit of the rec sports world: the organization of games,” says Epstein. “If organizing games are a huge pain, we viewed it as a very easily solvable remedy.”
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