Two Microsoft veterans are building apps to help people put down their mobile devices and engage with others in the real world through sports.
Seattle-based Mavengo, which launched in 2016, helps sports enthusiasts find and communicate with other players and set up games and matches. The software uses artificial intelligence to manage the monotonous task of organizing and scheduling games and re-matching the winners and losers. Co-founder and CEO Imran Aziz calls it a “personal assistant for sports.”
The startup last year raised $400,000 and has been testing an initial version of its app for squash players at three Seattle-area racquet clubs. About 100 people are using it regularly to set up matches. Mavengo is also working with two universities to help students connect and play sports.
The company has earned revenue by organizing golf and squash contests, charging participants $20 to $25 to play. The tournaments awarded some of that money back in prizes. For now the app is free, and Aziz said they’re considering a monthly subscription of about $5. If the partnership with universities goes well, they could consider charging the institutions a fee for providing the app to students.
There are other apps available to manage sports contests, but they target large events, said Aziz. Mavengo is focused on groups of friends playing sports and more casual athletes.
“We’re trying to be the unleague,” Aziz said. Their real competition in the space is text messaging and email.
Aziz’s co-founder is Chief Technology Officer Trace Ferrier. The two met while working at Microsoft on Office software. Ferrier was at the company for 24 years, leaving the role of principal development engineer. Aziz was at Microsoft for 14 years, then at Apple for one year. This is their first startup.
It was hard to leave a secure job with benefits, but Aziz said he’s learned so much launching his own company. And the duo bring with them years of experience successfully taking products to market.
At Microsoft and Apple you learn to fine-tune products, he said. “When you come up with an idea, how do you refine it, come up with the right features,” Aziz said. One of the key steps is “how do you let customers influence how you build the next version.”
We caught up with Aziz for Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We make it simple and fun to engage in your favorite recreational sport. Discovering new people, coordinating match times and tracking results is now easy.
Inspiration hit us when: While working at Apple, I realized that it’s hard to coordinate and play recreational sports with friends. I’m a hard-core squash player and also enjoy golf and chess. Apps like Facebook, Netflix and Instagram are taking up a larger portion of our screen time and it’s getting harder to connect in-person around common interests.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We bootstrapped our company initially to build a prototype and get feedback from friends. In 2018, we raised a pre-seed round with support from angels in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area and launched our beta app Mavengo. This approach has enabled us to establish product market-fit and pilot with users in the Seattle area. We’re planning on raising an institutional seed round to fund development and marketing of version 2.0.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: We’ve got domain expertise in both playing and organizing recreational sports. We’ve developed apps at Apple and Microsoft that are used by millions worldwide and have a novel solution for a large underserved market.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Pivoted from developing a two-sided marketplace for sports and fitness classes to building a peer-to-peer community.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Spending too much time early on building the app and not validating pain points with users.
Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? Steve Jobs! He cared deeply about building a delightful and innovative experience for users. Not only did his products gain market adoption, but he created die-hard fans of the Apple brand through his obsession for detail and design aesthetics.
Our favorite team-building activity is: Going for long team walks or heading to the driving range.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Passion for solving problems and attention to detail.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Invest your time refining your idea and testing with users. Don’t feel that you have to build the product before starting user testing.