Former AFL players' startup Pickstar attracts $5m investment

Former AFL players' startup Pickstar attracts $5m investment

Pickstar co-founders James Begley and Matthew Pavlich

Adelaide-based startup Pickstar, co-founded by former AFL players Matthew Pavlich and James Begley, has taken an important mark after announcing a successful $5 million capital raise.

Pavlich, who captained the Freemantle Dockers during a 17-season career and Begley, who played for St. Kilda and Adelaide, founded Pickstar in 2016 to help connect the public with sports stars, celebrities and media personalities through its online marketplace.  

The end-to-end digital platform, which allows consumers to book talent for all types of commercial arrangements, has attracted investment from former Australian cricketer Adam Gilchrist and ex-Afterpay chairman Mike Jefferies.

“It's a massive achievement; it gives us a real affirmation that there is acknowledgement from the capital markets that what we're doing has got huge upside and huge opportunity," Begley tells Business News Australia.

“People don't put $5 million down in a business that's not going anywhere.

“For us, it validates the hypothesis, which we always had many years ago, that there's a huge opportunity for us in this talent activation landscape.”

Pickstar users, including individuals, brands, charities, and sporting teams, can choose which talent best suits their requirements for events such as public speaking, ambassador roles or virtual events through the two-sided marketplace.

Investing in the continuing development and deployment of the technology will take up a significant portion of the funding, and the business plans on expanding its product in the US market, where it has recently established an office in New York.

Begley acknowledges it has been a significant challenge scaling up from 15 people to 45 during the pandemic period.

“It causes you to reflect on how you're going to run the business and what scale-up actually means,” he says.

“Typically, I’ve worked in businesses which have been about instincts, passion and about a small team working together, but that doesn't equal a great scale-up.

“We've built out our entire UK and US teams without ever meeting any of them, doing it remotely through COVID. We had to work hard to export our culture face-to-face.”

Begley wasn’t always convinced the business would be a success, switching between believing the company could fail within a year and it could dominate the market, depending on what time of the day he was asked.

Not becoming overwhelmed by his emotions, and taking one day at a time, was vital to staying grounded – although he has found some elements harder than others, especially balancing different time zones.

“It’s been hideous - it's always the case where you look back and say it wasn't that great, but I've been working mornings and evenings for almost two years,” Begley says.  

“It's not sustainable, and that's why we have now put on an amazing senior leadership group, who've taken a lot of that effort, and a lot of those time zone issues and helped my world immensely.”

In an ever-growing space, Begley thinks the business can differentiate itself from other players, especially the likes of Memo, Cameo and video shout-out companies, through its product offering, which it claims can reduce the administrative effort of talent agents by roughly 60 per cent.

“I think what separates us is that we've got a SaaS product and a marketplace product,” he says.

“What we acknowledge is that booking extra revenue for talent is one part of that puzzle, but the other part that is the ability to organise and systemise the workflow associated with all these talent activations.”

Having defined the methodology around attracting customers to the marketplace, Begley sees ramping up customer numbers after COVID as the next strategic priority for Pickstar.

Pickstar offers guidance to its talent on how they should market themselves to brands on the marketplace and doesn’t believe people’s background is the essential part.

“The best advice that we give to talent, when they're signing up, is to understand their passion points,” Begley says.  

“The more that the athlete can convey what they're passionate about in life, the more appealing they'll be to the market, because brands and communities and schools and clubs and associations, they want to understand the passions that the athletes are meaningfully engaged with."

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