Working in Digital since 1998, LeoHarrison founded and exited a number of successful businesses. These include Biblion.com, at the time of sale in 2004, the UK’s largest search engine for rare and and secondhand books; Found.co.uk, a multi award winning Performance Marketing Agency (exited in 2011). In 2012, he co-founded Squawka.com, a football media company that has spearheaded the burgeoning interest in data and statistsics for the world’s most popular sport. Leo has big plans for 2016 when Squawka will be expanding their products into Fantasy Football, User Generated Content and Video Production.
1) How did you come with the idea of Squawka?
Myself and my co-founder, Sanjit Atwal, were both working in Performance Marketing in 2011. I had built my own agency and Sanjit was working for an affiliate network, TradeDoubler. We spent a lot of time talking about second screening and how we could allow advertisers seamlessly to cross platforms from TV to Mobile. The original concept for Squawka was for it to be a TV companion where people could chat about the programs they were watching. The grand idea was to sync ads, so when TV was showing an ad for a Ford car, the same model could drive onto the mobile device saying “click me for a test drive”.
It was obvious pretty quickly that the idea would only work for shows that attracted large and opinionated audiences – so we boiled it down to Sport and then further reduced to Football as we are both huge fans of the game.
2) How difficult is it to beat the competition such as Opta?
We are actually partners of Opta. They are data collectors and we are data processors. Opta send us raw XML files of match events and we then do the processing, number crunching and visualisation. It’s a pretty complex business, especially as we process live. There have been other competitors who have tried to do what we do and have failed, perhaps because they were too serious about the data. We try to make everything we do informative, fun and engaging, but with stats underpinning the story. We have a long way to go still, but we do seem to have hit on a winning formula – so far in 2015 our web site has received 150M visits and our total content views across the web (which includes activity through Facebook and Twitter) totals over 1.5 Billion. Fans can’t get enough football content it seems!
3) How are statistics changing the way sport is played and managed?
It’s interesting that stats have played such an important role in US sports for a number of years, but football has been a bit late to the party. Ultimately, stats can inform to a much greater level than the naked eye. In so many sports during play you now see armies of analysts hunched over laptops – they are looking for small advantages that can make the difference. Player tracking can alert coaches to a degradation in performance levels, informing optimal times for substitutions and also areas of weakness to attack. I don’t envisage a day where computers will be managing football teams, but perhaps they could do a better job than one or two coaches out there!
4) We are seeing more teams using statistics for their team selection, is this the future of sport management?
Stats are going to play an ever more important role. Statistics are now regularly used by team scouts to alert them to improving young players. They can provide deep insights into strengths, weaknesses, player form and the potential for successful partnerships. This is true for team sports. There is of course a hugely important human element though – this is where the great managers set themselves apart: Motivation and that aura of success cannot be quantified – yet!
5) What advice would you give to young men and women who want to start a sport based business?
It’s a competitive space, so it’s really important to differentiate rather than replicate, but always remember to keep it simple! Be bold but considered with your decision making and never stop learning through your successes and failures. It also really helps if you love what you do – make sure you build a team who share that sentiment.
We would like to thank Leo for speaking with us.