Just Football is the first mobile game that connects adolescents’ own football performance on real football fields to a digital football-career game.
We caught up with founder, Kasper Skov, to talk about his journey as a founder and the gamification of football with augmented reality.
Zushan Hashmi: Tell me a little bit about yourself, outside of Just Football?
Kasper Skov: I grew up in Denmark which is a very flat country surrounded by water – this naturally led to my passion for windsurfing and kitesurfing. I will take any opportunity to go snowboarding and I enjoy competing against myself in cross-country skate skiing.
I had a brief period when I was around 16 years old where I competed in snowboarding and I did manage to become Danish youth champion in slopestyle and halfpipe. A knee injury, unfortunately, put my competitive snowboarding to an end, and I now enjoy being out in nature with my wife where we train our golden retriever.
Besides my interest in sports, I grew up in a time with a lot of exciting new technologies, innovations and products coming to the market, and I think this shaped me in many ways. I was a huge fan of Apple and their approach to product design got me interested in digital concepts and products in my mid-teens.
I quickly fell in love with the endless possibilities of technology and design combined with the ability for a single person or a small team to create something truly amazing.
I love challenges and am very competitive, and I believe this has given me the confidence to take risks most people would avoid. When I was 21, I moved to New York City for a job and ended up being embedded at Apple in Silicon Valley for a year and a half, working mainly on apple.com for iPhone and iPad.
It was an amazing experience that gave me some unique insights that I have brought with me on my journey with Just Football. During my time in Silicon Valley, I started to have a greater itch to follow my entrepreneurial ideas and decided to move to Sweden to study Digital Business. Six months after moving to Sweden, I found my co-founders and we started Just Football in early 2016.
How did you get involved in sports technology yourself?
I’ve always found great pleasure in inventing concepts. I believe my love for sports and physical activity combined with my innovative mindset led me to where I am today.
Back in 2016 when we founded Just Football, I wasn’t aware of the Sports Tech ecosystem and I think it’s something that has been developing quite quickly since then.
The main reason I ended up being involved in sports tech is simply that I believe it’s an underdeveloped area with a lot of untapped potential, and it gives me and everyone I work with extra motivation to know that we’re working to have a positive impact on people’s lives and wellbeing.
Over to you, for an introduction on Just Football, the product as a whole
80% of young people don’t get enough exercise and they spend an average of 7 hours in front of their screens every day.
Just Football connects real football challenges to a digital career where players strive to climb the leaderboard, unlock achievements, and show off their best football skills.
With our own AR/AI technology we’re able to track the speed and accuracy of a shot while adding visual effects based on the data.
This opens up new opportunities for brands and clubs to reach a young football audience in an innovative way while creating a healthy balance between physical activity and digital consumption.
Our users often describe it as “PokemonGo for football” or “Fifa in real life”.
What is your role at Just Football?
I’ve always had a heavy focus on the product and was head of product for the first three years of Just Football’s life.
I have since then transitioned to CEO where I am mainly focusing on building a strong team while ensuring funding and external relations with partners.
I find great satisfaction in seeing our work in the hands of hundreds of thousands of young people around the world, and how we can encourage them to socialise and be more physically active.
Where did the idea for Just Football come from?
We didn’t start out with a clear idea for the solution, but rather with the insights that real-life sports were and are decreasing in popularity, while digital games and social media have been booming.
We saw this as an opportunity to merge the best of both worlds to give sports a fighting chance against the digital mega-trends.
We asked ourselves the question; how can we make it easier, more fun and more available to play football?
The initial idea was to help people find other players nearby, locate an available pitch, arrange games, and we then wanted to add scorekeeping and leagues in the app as an extra layer. You could compare it to meetup.com, but for football.
After testing the first version for a few months, we realised that the gamification aspect was an undiscovered market opportunity, and something especially young users absolutely loved. At this point, we decided that we wanted to build an innovative product by combining real-life football activity with exciting mobile game mechanics.
What would you say have been some of the toughest aspects of running the app and the company as a whole?
We chose early on to focus on the market we knew best, Sweden, and have since then expanded to other northern European countries.
While it has some benefits, it has also proven challenging due to the long winter months when it’s dark, cold and rainy and generally less football activity. T
his has meant that every summer has been super exciting with thousands of new users per day, but as we approach winter, growth is, of course, slowing down.
While this is challenging, it’s also motivating to find new ways to engage our audience, and this is partly why we have built ‘indoor home challenges’ and are exploring the possibilities of launching in countries with outdoor football activity year-round.
And the successes? Both at a business and a personal level?
It’s been an amazing journey so far and I’m really grateful for all of the relationships I’ve been able to build. There are so many people cheering for us, our team, investors, advisors, non-profit organisations, parents and of course our users.
In my experience, being in a startup allows people to explore many different tasks and roles that they never thought they would work with.
I initially started out doing designs and product features, but as the company grew, so did my responsibilities. I’ve had to learn how to hire the right people, raise money, do financial- and metrics forecasts, and lately, lead the team and company through a global pandemic. While this has been challenging at times, I have learned so much which I’m really grateful for.
Tell me about your experience with the Hype Accelerator?
It was a good and educational experience to go through the process and great to be awarded 2nd place on Demo Day from the initial 50 applicants to the program.
We have met interesting startups and contacts through their network, and it is good that programs like this exist to connect people. It’s crucial for a startup like ours to get exposure both nationally and internationally so we can start preparing for new markets.
I found it particularly interesting to get advice from mentors and advisors from some of the top schools in Sweden including the Stockholm School of Economics and the Royal Institute of Technology.
What is it like working in Sweden, particularly in the SportsTech space?
I think Sweden has a really unique startup scene with lots of successful companies and expertise. The people behind these successful journeys have a really deep understanding of Just Football’s path to success and we’ve been fortunate to attract advisors from some of the leading interactive entertainment companies for mobile, King and MAG interactive amongst others.
We have a distributed team in different European countries and this means that we have a very remote-first culture, even before Covid-19 hit us.
I think the really nice thing about the SportsTech space is that most people share a passion for physical activity in some way and I think it’s easy to find common ground for conversations and connections.
What is it that makes you unique, relative to your competitors?
While there are many app companies in the football space, I think we’ve found a niche revolving around gamification. I believe that there’s a tendency to focus on elite players and training tools, but we’ve taken a different approach and focus on a broader audience and people who just want to have fun. Besides our exciting AI/AR technology, I believe that our focus on gamification is what sets us apart and makes Just Football unique.
What can people do with the app during the COVID-19 lockdown?
We’ve tried to be extremely agile and completely revamped our feature roadmap due to Covid-19. One of the most requested features last year was to be able to play at home and in their backyard by themselves. Without revealing too much about Just Football 2020, it is safe to say that this will be in the first release this year.
In addition to this, we’ve experienced a lot of interest from brands and clubs and this is also something we’re pursuing this year due to Covid-19. 2020 will be a very different year for clubs, brands, and organisations, and I think many of them understand that Just Football can be a way for them to recover some of their potentially lost revenue and turn Covid-19 into an opportunity to engage with fans in new ways.
What would you say to individuals who want to launch a company or product in the sports tech space? Particularly in the AI/AR space?
It’s very exciting to see how quickly things move in the AI/AR space and it can be hard to predict the future without the insights from the big corporations. I would recommend finding people or companies that are willing to collaborate with you to speed things up and test your concept as quickly as possible.
I’m not a big fan of gimmicky use of AI/AR, and I’ve seen a few examples of something a user might try out for fun once or twice but we’re laser-focused on ensuring long-term retention on these features.
Sportstech is a nice environment and I find people to be very helpful and driven. If you’re thinking about starting a company in this space and you have a brilliant idea, I would simply say go for it. There’s a lot to be gained in this area and I think we’ve only touched the surface of what’s possible.
What do you envision for Just Football in the coming years?
I think there will be more competition emerging in our field so I consider time-to-market a critical factor for our future success.
We’ve been very satisfied with the increase in usage of Just Football in the last years, we’re now preparing for further international expansion. Our ambition is to become a truly global app and thereby have the biggest possible impact.
Our partnerships have proven extremely important to our expansion strategy and we’re therefore working on securing more key partnerships to prepare for this expansion.
I’m really excited about our AR/AI technology, and we’re in particular looking for organisations and brands who share our vision of inspiring young people to live healthier lives through sports and be part of building the most innovative football app in the world.