In part 1 of this series, our partners at Bullpen caught up with the Treiner team to talk about the platform. Read it here.
In part 2, we catch up with James Muir, founder and CEO of Treiner, a football coaching platform based in Australia that acts as a one-stop-shop solution for high-quality football coaching for players and athletes.
Zushan Hashmi: Tell me a little bit about yourself away from Treiner.
James Muir: So, prior to Treiner, my background has mostly been in football and sports coaching. I started coaching when I moved back to Australia from Europe after spending around 15 years in Europe.
Back in 2004, I launched my own startup, which went through an accelerator program, and at the same time, I started on my coaching journey across a few different clubs in the Geelong area and started my own soccer school.
I ran both of those together for a few years until I got an opportunity to go and coach over in Fiji in 2008 and worked there for around three years with their national team.
Then in 2011, I moved back to Australia and worked for Football New South Wales as the coaching development manager.
Finally, in 2013, I moved down to Victoria and worked with teams in the National Premier League.
I’ve been working in football for around 15 years and also played U-18s rugby union at the county level over in Scotland at youth level. I played a variety of different sports at the representative level in Malta too, so yeah, quite the sporting background.
I’m also married with one young child and one child on the way.
And what about the platform itself?
Yes, Treiner is an online platform that enables players and teams to book the best training sessions that they can with football coaches and providers.
We actually launched it in October 2017, at the Australian Football schools tournament in Shepparton and initially, we only had around 30 coaches.
Then we quickly expanded to around 250 coaches on a really basic MVP-platform built on WordPress, with a simple book integration. It was essentially like a calendar integration similar to Calendly.
We found that it really slowed down the platform, so we started looking for a developer to bring in-house to help improve the platform or find a potential CTO. We found a full-time developer after around six months of talking to local and offshore developers and agencies.
She then developed the previous version of our platform. And we launched that last year. Six months into it we found that again, it slowed down because it was in WordPress, even though it was fully customized and had fully customized search options, so we decided to bring in the developer as a founder.
Interestingly, we also found another co-founder at the same time. So after talking with them, both Joe, who’s now CTO and Nee who is CIO, we decided to switch over to our Laravel framework and have just recently really launched that platform as well.
Even though we’d built up to around 3000 coaches on that platform, the previous one, we’ve started quite slowly this time around, because of COVID, and we’ve only onboarded around 30 odd coaches, we’re really maximizing their bookings at the moment just on one v ones, mostly
We also do have the camp’s version of the platform where we have a lot of different providers, academies and clubs, who list a lot of their school holiday programs and camps and clinics.
We had around 30 different clubs and academies, with their programs listed for the April school holidays but those have since been cancelled or postponed. Potentially, there might be some opportunities for the next school holidays, whether that’s in July, or September is what we’ll have to wait and see.
The aim of the platform is to provide the best football training experience at the moment. It is really difficult for a player to choose between different coaches or different providers.
There’s not really an objective system for doing that. And the Football Federation Australia (FFA) hasn’t really introduced their academy rating system properly.
They’ve started to do it with some of the elite clubs, but they haven’t done that with any other clubs or any private providers.
So, we believe through our platform, we’re able to provide that objectivity and to provide some alternatives to the traditional club system, as clubs don’t fully provide great service since there aren’t many clubs with full-time employees. They’re pretty much volunteer-led.
So the focus is on just pushing out a product, for clubs and coaching. There’s no thought around customer experience and the whole customer journey through the lifecycle of being a player at a club, which is what we bring to the table.
How have you been able to utilize your coaching experience to improve and grow the platform?
I look back at when I first started coaching in Geelong and I coached at Geelong Grammar, Geelong College, North Geelong Rangers, Geelong Warriors and a variety of different clubs.
I worked with heaps of different providers, coaching in the Victorian state system and coaching futsal with Viking futsal.
I was working for probably 10 or 11 different types of providers, and none of them would be getting me to work on a consistent basis. I wasn’t able to maintain a really regular steady income so that was quite difficult, obviously when the opportunity came up to go over and work in Fiji with one employer I grabbed it.
Prior to that, I had been for interviews with football Victoria, but I was pretty young, in my early 20s, and I even I got shortlisted and interviewed for a few of those roles, but I wasn’t successful.
Going over to Fiji was my next option to work full-time football because as I said, it’s very difficult to be doing 10-12 jobs, you’ve got to have pretty much a full bag of different polos and jumpers from each of the different clubs and schools in your car, at all times.
It’s not great for your car either. So the platform was the way to solve these problems.
When I first started coaching, same with my co-founder who started coaching a little bit later, and a lot of the other coaches we talked to, they didn’t really have the time to do the marketing, even if they do have their own website and social media pages, it takes a lot of time to answer all questions from the parents. And they just wanted to focus on coaching.
So I think having that experience as a coach and a coach educator really helped develop a platform specifically for the needs of the coach.
And also we had a great existing network with both coaches and players, not just within Victoria but across the whole country and then into Oceania as well, and a little bit over in certain countries in Asia.
Do you have a limit or age range for the players that you work with?
No, there’s no age limit. It’s really up to the coaches, some coaches have preferences for working with players of certain ages.
Generally, then I’d suggest if they’re five and above, they’re at least playing football, and that’s the key.
Normally, for one on one sessions, I’d say, seven, and above is probably ideal.
If it’s five and six, it’s probably better to jump into a small group session, and for anyone younger than that, we start to work with a few toddler providers. And again, for those sessions, they’re better off to be small group sessions to jump in with those.
We also have players that are in their 50s and 60s and do it for a bit of physical exercise. So, there’s not really an age limit from that perspective. It’s just down to the coaches of who they have experience or who they prefer to work with.
What are some of the key achievements you’ve had with Treiner so far?
I’ve been through a few different accelerator programs, went through the Spark Deakin accelerator and the Australian Sports Technology Network accelerator. We won the NASSCOM student innovation award last year and thAT included a free trip over to India to spend some time with Tata consulting, which was great.
I guess another achievement has been partnering with the Professional Football Association in Malaysia and getting a lot of elite players and coaches onboard the platform was fantastic, especially because of the trust
So that’s been really good.
Having over 7000 bookings through the platform today, it has been really good too. In turn, we’ve had, positive impact on thousands of players.
There are a wide range of options on the platform that people can choose from. Could you tell me about those, in particular sports science and sports medicine sessions?
The aim of the platform is to provide a holistic experience for the player so they can seek out a job on the platform, whether it’s a one on one session, whether it’s a group training session or anything within the wellness and sports medicine field.
Often players will get injured and then they’ll go to a physiotherapist, massage therapist, or a doctor who doesn’t really have any experience within that sport.
And they might not have seen that injury before and may not know what the best recovery period to get back to playing as quickly as possible is.
So they’ll just give a general prescription or return from injury program, but our platform includes the services of sports, medicine and allied health and wellness professionals who not only have that knowledge but can give a specialized program for that sport.
They focus on football, so they’ve seen the said injury or problem on multiple occasions and have a really good understanding on what specifically the player needs to do to get on the pitch as quickly as possible. But also to be safe and make sure that the injury is managed or maintained or doesn’t happen again, depending on the type of injury.
These are some of the options for those sessions and the same goes for sports science and, and video analysis as well, you’re trying to get people who’ve got expertise and knowledge and have seen a lot of the things that can give you really deep insights into the game.
So it’s pretty much the same type of experience that you’d see if you’re involved with a professional club. You’d have access to first-team coaches, specialist coaches, video analysis, sports science, doctors, physiotherapists, etc.
We aim to provide a similar type of platform, which, generally young players don’t have the opportunity to get access to, unless they’re involved with an elite club and even with the elite club, often they don’t get priority there.
And if they do, sometimes there’s only one option. So if they want a second opinion, they can’t go anywhere else.
Whereas. this is an opportunity to get a second opinion if you’re not happy with the current provider’s opinion.
Do you think you are disadvantaged as a football coaching platform within the Oceania region as your based there?
To a certain extent. We often get asked why don’t we go into other sports?
I guess there are a few reasons for that.
One, our networks are thorough in football, and we can make sure that we provide the best possible training experience through the platform for football players and coaches.
Not really having a background in some of the other sports, I couldn’t guarantee that.
And I guess the second thing is, people are really tribal in their sports, they want to go somewhere that’s specific for that sport and I think that’s really important.
With marketplaces, in general, if we’ve seen all the marketplaces that have been successful, the top trending marketplace professional, all marketplaces start off of constraint, so often by region, but sometimes by the types of services that they’re offering.
So we’ve just constrained our marketplace to a specific sport, and that’s where we think we can create that virility within the sport and then potentially, we can expand to other sports at a later date. But we prefer obviously to focus on that one sport and expanding into new regions, rather than new sports.
And as we are based in Australia, obviously it’s quite difficult, as football in Australia is opinionated and very fragmented. COVID-19 has created an opportunity for organizations to work together, but I haven’t seen that as of yet.
But I do think a lot of other Asian countries look at Australia and see Australian coaches and players as being at a really good standard and our discussions with partners over in Asia have been quite open. So, in terms of having Oceania is a base, that’s fine.
From that perspective, even partners, at times, within Australia want to wait and see what you’ve done oversea before they’ll partner with you. So, we wish we had more support from the national and state Federations, they’ve had some discussions with us, but they haven’t really been engaging as much as they should be.
We’re developing this platform with our own money and all the money’s going back into the game and back into the platform. Whereas, most other clubs are owned by overseas companies and the owners and the money are going out of Australia.
So, we think there should be more support for local businesses, not just ourselves. There are a lot of other sports tech startups that focus on football, and a lot of other sports-specific businesses that focus on football.
And the governing body talks about a football first-approach, but it’s just a club-first approach, even though, most of the money coming into clubs is through the player registrations, they should really start with a football-first approach.
What do you envision for the platform in the long-run?
We are currently looking to start funding rounds. We‘ve already had some interest from a few angel investors.
We really want to push into the Southeast Asian market, and then over into the UK, and potentially Europe, as well. Even in the UK, we see that there’s been a large increase in the number of academies and providers out with the professional club system because there are a lot of players that drop out of the professional career environment pretty early on and find it difficult to get back in.
And that’s where having an individual coach to work with you and give you specific feedback that you don’t get at the club level is ideal.
Most places don’t get that support, providing that that kind of mentoring, motivation wellness, mentally and physically, is often superior through a private coach that you’re paying for.
Whereas in a club environment the masters are not the players, rather it’s the club and what they’re trying to get out of the player. Longer term, we’d love to expand overseas and provide opportunities for coaches in other countries as well.
And obviously it really assists with their pathway in terms of helping them move along to become a professional coach and that’s one of our goals as well.
How are you going about achieving that?
We’re already getting inquiries through partners and also sales by reaching out to potential partners in various countries, which is a great start.
I think that completing our funding round by the end of this year will really help in enabling us to achieve these goals too.