A lot of apps are helping us meet people with similar interests and hobbies online. Whether it’s a coffee chat from LinkedIn or a date from Tinder, apps are connecting people who would otherwise have never met. Javelin Sports is in the same field. This app connects likeminded people in the area to play pickup sports games. To ensure that there’s always a game around, Javelin works with sports leagues and offers them low-cost membership management tools in exchange for onboarding their members to the app.
The competition in Javelin’s industry is tough. On the B2C side of organizing pickup games, Javelin is up against massive websites such as Meetups and Facebook. On the sports membership management side, tech companies like Teamsnap are already dominating the industry. But by combining both, Javelin has discovered a niche area for themselves.
“If we only focused on our B2B business, we would be playing catch up and not creating anything different,” said Colman Chan, co-founder of Javelin Sports. “Some people have told us to only focus on the B2B side, but we believe in our business model.”
Chan and his partner, Justin Ford, first developed the idea for Javelin in a senior-year business class. At Ivey Business School, the duo took a course called the New Venture Project, where students had to develop a business plan for a startup and pitch it to a panel of judges.
Chan and Ford were also paired with an alumnus of the school who mentored them through the process. In their case, it was Darren Rabie, a serial entrepreneur and master salesperson. Rabie was highly impressed by the two and their business plan. So much so that he decided to act as their angel investor.
“After the class was over, Darren offered us some starting capital on the condition that we take the business seriously,” Chan recalled.
After the class ended in December, Chan and Ford were off to the library to research their idea further. They also went to sports league after sports league looking for interest and got a total of 3,000 sports enthusiasts saying that they’d want to use the app—all before graduating.
Once graduation came, Chan knew it was time to take Javelin Sports full time. But this decision didn’t come easy.
“I graduated watching all my friend secure great jobs at top firms to pay off their student debt, while I wasn’t getting paid at all,” said Chan. “In fact, I had to spend money to develop my product.”
Both Chan’s father and brother are entrepreneurs. To him, Javelin Sports was his way to follow the family tradition. This app wasn’t Chan’s first venture either. A few years before, he and his brother founded Flaming Kitchen — formerly known as Aka Teppan — a restaurant that serves noodle and rice dishes on hot, sizzling iron plates. Although Chan was still in school when Flaming Kitchen started, he helped bring the business through a rebranding and brought it from one storefront to three. Javelin Sports is Chan’s main focus now and his brother manages the restaurant. While his experience in the food industry brings a wealth of learnings, growing a tech startup has different challenges.
“With Flaming Kitchen, there are all the traditional challenges of opening a restaurant such as competition, profit margins, innovation, etc…,” said Chan. “Tech startups are about growing users and identifying and executing our roadmap for the next two years.”
The biggest challenge for Chan and Ford was when their technical co-founder left. After their New Venture Project class, they found a third co-founder with programming experience to build the app. But once Chan and Ford took the business full time, the two couldn’t come to an agreement with their third partner, who wanted a more stable revenue stream. Chan and Ford knew that the most important part of a tech startup was someone who could code.
Eventually, this third partner left the company, and Chan and Ford found a solution by outsourcing their product-building needs so that they could focus on their audience and partnerships. Building Javelin’s strategic partnerships have been the happiest moments for Chan. To date, Javelin has built ongoing relationships with large corporations like Canadian Tire, with some of the biggest sports clubs in Toronto, and with other tech companies like Zuluru—a WordPress Plugin that will eventually help Javelin onboard 30,000 new users.
After solidifying their audience in Toronto, Javelin has big ambitions for the future. “In two to three months, we’re aiming to reach 10,000 users just in Toronto,” said Chan. “Next we want to take our product down south and approach 10-15 sports leagues in the US.”
To secure these US partnerships, Chan is looking forward to more than an alliance. If American sports leagues are willing to invest in Javelin, it would move the app from a former school project to becoming a North American tech juggernaut.