Athlete coaching website kicking goals

A website designed to connect athletes and coaches in their local communities is one of UQ’s newest startup successes. Founder of Backyard Coach Ben Coughlin shares his story of building a startup.

Much like tutoring, the most effective form of learning in sports is one-on-one coaching. However, despite the number of private coaching and sports academies growing considerably in the last decade, athletes who require the most help are still being left behind. All too often as a coach I saw a division of athletes - where the most skilled students received more focused and comprehensive coaching, while those who struggled were largely left on their own. It was my personal experience with this inequality, along with a story from one of my clients which inspired my business idea - Backyard Coach.

Ben Coughlin - Backyard Coach

Ben Coughlin - Backyard Coach

While playing volleyball at high school, I was placed in a team beyond my skill level. I spent all season sitting on the bench and if it wasn’t for some encouraging words from my mum, I would have never played volleyball again.

Then in early 2016, a student athlete of mine was undergoing a similar experience. His parents requested additional coaching so that he could improve his skills and get off the bench. After working with him one-on-one for a couple of weeks, the young athlete improved his skills, got a starting spot on the team and returned to enjoying volleyball again.

It was at this point that I had the idea to provide a personalised service to athletes - to connect them to a coach based on their needs, to improve their confidence and skill, and to encourage them to continue playing their dedicated sport at a higher level.

In 2014, I graduated from high school and, like most school leavers, I had no idea what I wanted to study. After enrolling to study a Bachelor of Economics at UQ, I received a job offer at a local back-to-school supplier. I worked at this store full-time for three months. It was an uninspiring experience which made me realise I needed to work for myself doing something I was passionate about.

So in my first year at UQ, I invested almost all my savings into selling products overseas. I began by selling 500 units of phone cases in the US. Although I sold all 500 units, I didn’t make my money back and I had to close the online shop. While it wasn’t a success, it gave me great insight into the process of starting a small business.

In the same year, while I was coaching at my old high school, I had more and more parents approach me requesting additional one-on-one coaching for their children. While I was studying, I found I was able to supplement my income with one-on-one coaching. When university exams began, I decided to halt all my private coaching and advised parents to search online as I was sure they’d easily find a coach. But I was wrong - there was a gap in the market. No one was providing private coaching - especially not in volleyball – which suited the customers’ chosen time and place. To me, the solution was obvious.

My experience selling phone cases provided me with the core skills to build a basic website, so I began developing the current online marketplace known as Backyard Coach. I dove in head first without truly validating the idea. In two months I built a basic marketplace with 10 coaches across five sports (all my friends). Anyone could find the website and search for a coach in Brisbane, but nothing happened. I didn’t know how to market my product or how to acquire my first customer. Thankfully, UQ had a vast amount of resources and an entrepreneurial community - so I took advantage of it.

Besides getting heavily involved with UQIES (UQ’s student entrepreneurship club), I also attended UQ Idea Hub, and in six weeks I had an understanding of how to turn an idea into a business. Through UQ Idea Hub I built amazing connections, validated my idea and was encouraged to finally get the word out. In April 2016, Backyard Coach organised two holiday clinics for high school volleyball and tennis athletes.

While I was increasing my involvement in the start-up ecosystem at UQ and building connections, Backyard Coach was not receiving any bookings. I began to think my concept was going to fail and I was very close to ending the business. Thankfully, friends and coaches encouraged me to keep trying and substantiated there was a market for my business. After six months Backyard Coach finally received its first booking, on my birthday of all days! Since then my team has built a greater understanding of our market, signed another 30 coaches and assisted more than 200 athletes in Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sydney.

In December 2016, I was recognised for my achievements as one of nine Lord Mayor's Budding Entrepreneurs. As a result, Backyard Coach was featured in Brisbane News and it received a lot of positive publicity. On top of that, Backyard Coach was recently accepted into ilab’s 9th Germinate program. We’re currently halfway through the intensive three month program, but Backyard Coach has grown faster than ever before and its path to success is significantly clearer. As a result of participating in ilab, Backyard Coach is now booked up and in need of a better website!

The experience has been fantastic not only for myself, but for Backyard Coach co-founders, Nick Coughlin and Michael Dobrijevic. All of us are now looking forward to what the future holds and we hope to provide a great service to all athletes in Australia and beyond!

If you are interested in learning more about Backyard Coach, would like to coach with us,or be coached by us please drop us a line. (email: info@backyardcoach.com.au).