Rate Your Player: Russell Whitter
The online entrepreneur on work-life balance and keeping it in the (footballing) family
Tell us what your business does:
Rate Your Player (RYP) is the only online social football network which is endorsed by professional footballers. It’s a revolutionary way for football fans to have their say on all things football.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
The idea stemmed from the closure of the BBC 606 forum. As an active member of the forum, I was left in limbo by its closure but, searching the internet, the alternatives I found were quite boring, with very unappealing interfaces.
I decided to approach a small group of friends who shared my passion for football and possessed the attributes to help me construct a bespoke system that could not be matched by anyone else.
How did you know there was a market for it?
Initially, the unique selling point of the site was that members could directly interact with players. My brother Wayne Routledge plays for Swansea City FC and is also part of the team. We were able to use his network of football friends to make this happen.
However, as RYP began to take shape, we realised that we were offering our members a revolutionary way to interact with each other. We have used a number of modern features, including activity feeds, @mentions, and advanced notification systems to improve social interaction between football fans.
What were you doing before starting up?
I attained a first class degree in information system (internet business) and was awarded ‘student of the year’ on my course.
I then worked for a large corporate photocopier business, running their e-presence operation. During my two and a half years there I drastically reshaped their fleet of websites to help the business increase efficiency and boost their profitability.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
I’m known by my peers to be very ambitious. I have always strived to be the best at everything I do. This confidence prompted me to leave my previous occupation, despite the financial incentives I was in receipt of.
What planning did you do before you started up?
The shareholders (the team) and I discussed the project at great length and left no stone unturned. We looked at the SWOT of our competitors and used them to provide a base for our core features, taking advantage of missed opportunities.
We developed a business plan to provide clarity about our expectations for the future; however we only had this for personal use as we never needed investment from any outside parties.
How did you raise the money?
Fortunately we didn’t need to raise any money. One reason for this was that the cost of development was cut down to next to nothing due to the experience and expertise within the team.
Funding for RYP has been raised directly from me and the shareholders of the business.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Our biggest challenge has been dealing with rapid growth and the high amount of traffic and data we’ve received. We have overcome this by making large changes to the database structure and substantially upgrading the server.
Where is your business based?
Because RYP is an internet business, our team can work from anywhere – which has its pros and cons. The pros are that we are able to make amendments to the business from anywhere, which gives us a great level of flexibility. The cons include struggling to arrange meetings to discuss changes. However, this problem has been easy to overcome using technology like Skype and conference calls.
How have you promoted your business?
Twitter has been our main focal point, as we have a substantial number of football contacts through the site. Many of these have followers in excess of 10,000.
We have players such as Joey Barton (QPR), Danny Simpson (Newcastle) and many others promoting the site via their Twitter accounts. We have also used Facebook for advertising, as well as handing out flyers before live football matches.
What has your growth been like?
Our growth since launching the site has been enormous. We accept that we are unlikely to generate any funds during the development stages, as we are more concerned with establishing a large base of fans. However, we plan to make revenue in the future by placing carefully chosen advertisements on the site.
What’s the impact on your home life been like?
I do miss the social aspect of working a full-time job and working longer hours does impact on your social life. However, I do spend more time with my family.
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
The biggest difficultly was actually getting the site ready for launch. We had lots of aspirations for the site, but we had to agree to omit some features in order to have the site ready for the start of the season. Our members are astonished by the updates we have added to the site since our launch.
What was your first big breakthrough?
We were able to get an influx of members to sign-up to the site hours after launch, by getting professional players to tweet the web address. This brought across substantial traffic and, more importantly, a large number of members that generate new content on the site.
What would you do differently?
I would have hired a good PR company to help spread the word. As many people know, having the best product in the world means nothing if no-one knows about it. Our initial launch was huge but after this period we had to look at other avenues to keep the momentum rolling.
Running a business has definitely opened my eyes to many things, including dealing with the highs and lows of business ownership. Most importantly though, I’ve realised that, although your business is important, you need to spend time with the family and friends closest to you.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Firstly, I would suggest that you get a partner or group together who have similar goals to you and ensure that they share your drive and focus. I would also say that you shouldn’t expect that business to be all smooth sailing – but being in partnerships can help this process. Finally, be prepared to give up most of your spare time.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I want RYP to become a hub of all sports-related discussion; a market leader in sporting debate.