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From pivot to product in 3 months; how we built a modern app for women's sports (part 3 of 3)

Principles and lessons learned while building a product addressing one of the largest untapped growth markets still left in sports, and how we got to beta in under 3 months.

 

Read part 1 and part 2 first.


This is the story of how we went from product to pivot in three months, the principles that guided us and lessons learned along the way.


 

The pivot

Late in the fall of 2022, we decided to build a low-code prototype in-house as a proof of concept. Within days, we had a working MVP with dozens of sports, a handful of content feeds and over 4,000 athletes. We shared our prototype with our advisors who encouraged us to continue building in-house.


This was a different approach from what we originally envisioned, but the upsides were already obvious. We could construct an experience suited to the needs of the modern sports fan, on the latest technology, so we could move at the speed that a startup should.

One of our advisors made an investment that unlocked additional development talent for us to build the prototype out further, and we all rolled up our sleeves.


“There’s no substitute for hard work. If you work hard and prepare yourself, you might get beat, but you’ll never lose.” – Nancy Lieberman

Less than three months later, we launched our beta. Our app is now on the phones of real users from seven different countries, who are giving us feedback so we can make the product better for its full launch.

 

Build your value as you build your product

Long before we picked a platform, we started work on aggregating content and data. Content is queen 👑 after all. For the scale of what we were building, we needed to work hard on gathering what was already robust in men's sports, but either dispersed, incomplete or missing for women's sports.


Having a sports product means we'll always need new data. After all, data can become outdated the second an athlete scores a goal, is injured, or traded. Because we are covering dozens of sports from leagues around the world, all with different means of publishing information, we needed a multi-pronged approach to intake, manage and organize semi-structured and unstructured data, and get enough of it to make the product feel whole at launch. A few of the tactics we used to do this include:

  • Some providers had APIs or feeds we could integrate / ingest

  • Partners with neither of those could use Google Sheets to share information with us

  • SPARQL queries allowed us to discover some public sources of information on women athletes in Wikidata that could fill in information gaps from elsewhere. We also made contributions back to Wikidata to grow public knowledge of women athletes.

  • Data from a leading stats provider also gave us access to deep data for nine popular women's sports in markets around the globe-- more on this in another post 🤭

Our pre-platform efforts on content and data were fruitful. We now have records on over 4,000 athletes from 93 sports around the world-- one of the largest centralized and organized sources of women athletes online.


Our data collection methods have and will no doubt continue to evolve over time, as we add more partners, as more technology is developed and as more data in the women's sports industry is automated. Some of what we did was automated, a lot of what we had to do was manual, but women's sports are worth the effort.


 


Prepare for scale and think like a platform

Even though we're a small startup today, we have big plans to build a global women's sports business.


We designed and built the product using scalable infrastructure and technologies like Google Cloud Platform, Amazon Web Services, Algolia, Sendgrid, Google Translations and other proven solutions that big enterprises use, but which offer free tiers or discounted pricing for startups. This lets us control costs, but be ready to scale when fans are.


Building in-house has opened up new business potential, which we wouldn't have had if we rented a platform. We built a B2C product, but with a few changes, we now also own a platform that we can repurpose for B2B and grow the business with.

 

Adopt a strategic framework to innovate the right things

When you're busy writing code, talking to partners, and pitching to investors, it's easy to get caught up in the tasks to do without taking a pause to consider if those tasks align with the strategy and mission of the company, which should be aligned with unmet customer needs.


On our team, we use the Jobs-to-be-Done perspective to keep our activities aligned with what we know, and what we're hearing from customers about what they want to achieve. We even have a JTBD view of our roadmap in Linear so each task and feature lines up to the unmet needs customers have.


Framework adoption helps us stay strategic and customer needs focused, with each task we do.

 

Identify and leverage your unfair advantage

It may feel like you're starting from zero, but you're not. You have a competitive edge, something that makes it more likely you'll succeed than others. Figure out what that is and leverage it.


For us, SheIS' origins as the charity makes it so that we're starting with the power of the SheIS collective-- that group of sports enthusiasts, athletes and companies with a combined organic social reach of 280,000,000. When we talk to investors about go-to-market, this is one unfair advantage we have that is hard for others to replicate.


Team experience and connections within the sports world is another. Together, we have over 100 years experience, complimentary skills, a deep understanding of the industry and contacts in different leagues and teams around the world. Best of all, we all work well together and support one another. It feels like a team and it's truly a joy. There's someothing special in your corner-- fin it and use it.

 

Take advantage of innovation perks

Discounted pricing, credits from cloud services, incubators, accelerators; there's a whole ecosystem of support for startups worth looking into that will help you gain access to tools, knowledge and a network.


If you're reading this from a well-established company, depending on your market, you can apply for government innovation grants, undertake public/private partnerships, or spin-off a business unit into skunk works and take up tenancy in an accelerator space for access to more innovation structures.

 

Passion is mandatory, so is reality

Building a product, validating it, improving it, launching it, growing it-- these are all hard things that require passion for what you're doing. But balance that passion with a willingness to face reality so that when the market tells you to pivot, you don't go headstrong in the wrong direction.

 

Don't give up your day dream

If you have an idea for a product, you should try to do it. If passion, reality, hard work and luck align, your product will succeed and if not, you'll still succeed because you took the risk and tried. Go for it.

“I'd rather regret the risk that didn't work out than the chances I didn't take at all.” - Simone Biles
 

More noteworthy tools and talent

Good tools and people can be hard to find, so here are a few more not mentioned above that deserve attention.

  • Codify Tech in India has delivered some impressive custom work; I recommend them if you need offshore development talent

  • Figma is the home of our brand kit, UI elements and visual assets. Figma plug-ins also helped us automate loads of graphics

  • Flowmapp makes it easy to build appmaps or sitemaps

  • Flutterflow makes creating app UIs about 70% faster

  • Miro has been great for virtual whiteboarding sessions, brainstorming, and data flow diagrams (we also use Miro a lot in our strategy work and workshopping OKRs)

  • The usual tools like Postman let us setup and test APIs before app or cloud integration and GitHub serves as our code repository. Codemagic for CI/CD.

  • If you need graphics, icons, animations, illustrations, you should check out LottieFiles, Font Awesome, Noun Project, and Unsplash. If you need a tool, start at ProductHunt.

  • Students from the University of Toronto and our amazing intern from Rice U deserve our thanks for dedicating their time and sharing our passion to grow women's sports 🙏

 

What's next?

  • Sign up to our newsletter to get access to the beta of our product.

  • Partner with us on a first of its kind global business, with a mission for social good, contact our founder.

  • Meet our team and our advisors.

 

Sneak Peek

Preview some of our app features before you download.


“I believe in the impossible because no one else does.” – Florence Griffith Joyner
 

References

By Guinevere Orvis, March 3, 2023

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