The Italian startup ecosystem is growing. Not fast, but it is growing. Two Facebook groups (Indigeni Digitali and Italian Startup Scene) count in total 14,000 people who actively speak about the subject. In the last two months, I have massively covered deals related to Italian startups, noticing a considerable difference in comparison with the past. Thus, we can say: young startuppers grow. And in these months, one of them, Alessandro Marchesini has worked very hard to launch its own venture focused on discovering sports talent.
He joined us to talk about himself, his efforts, the company, their present funding needs and future plans.
FinSMEs: Hello Alessandro, thank you for joining us. First, can you tell us a little bit more about you?
Alessandro: “I’m Italian, 30, although I left the country when I was 17. I lived 6 years in 3 different states within the USA where I have earned 2 degrees, 1 American football scholarship, 2 knees surgeries, 2 years on crutches and a 3 days coma; then off to the UK for a Masters degree and then Belgium/Netherlands, traveling and working worldwide for 3 major oil, gas, and petrochemical multinationals in a variety of functions and roles. I came back to Italy in September 2012, now living with my parents, earning my “networking” money by doing cleaning gigs in order to preserve cash for the startup, bootstrapping my way to launch VirtualScouting.com: the digital X-Factor/American Idol for the world of sports”.
FinSMEs: Why did you decide to launch VirtualScouting?
Alessandro: “I had lived the talent scouting and recruiting process while in the USA, where I had earned a full athletic scholarship to play American Football. An injury cut my career short, so I started supporting my University in scouting, recruiting and training others. For me, being scouted and recruited was a slow, expensive, time consuming and emotionally draining yet necessary process, as it was for the University that took me in. It was dreadful, but I was lucky: some of my teammates, despite being talented, went unnoticed simply because the nation’s talent pool was very large and Universities’ limited resources made it impossible to scout everyone. Then I saw some of my teammates move on to professional careers, so as a spectator I managed to observe the full chain of sports talent scouting: from youth/high school to the pros.
“As I moved on with my life, my career choice highlighted the general internationalization and global/regional population growth trends, alongside an accelerating global wealth redistribution as a result of the current economical crisis and Asia’s economic boom: as the passion for sports never left me, it became clear that the problem of talent scouting was going to grow exponentially: there was going to be more talent, and it was going to be more dispersed, while teams financial resources were going to remain scarce and international competitiveness was going to become an increasingly important driver to success for big and small teams all over the world. Moreover, lower leagues teams often had so little or no resources that competing to identify the best, appropriate sports talent was simply impossible.
“This entire picture also meant that more and more talent was going to be either not found or not optimally placed. It was strange to me: the world of sports preached fair play on the field, yet off the field it simply isn’t fair: money still can buy success. So I decided to change this situation through Virtual Scouting. It was the right challenge to accept”.
FinSMEs: What is it? How does it work?
Alessandro: “Virtual Scouting digitalizes the entire sports talent scouting process and introduces a social & crowd approach to talent identification, evaluation and short listing. On the platform, athletes worldwide can upload their videos of play, improving their visibility. Fans can transform themselves in talent scouts for their favorite teams: they can identify, evaluate and suggest to such teams the best, most appropriate talent that is present on the platform, but also outside the platform throughout the web and the physical world, thus creating focus and allowing teams to minimize scouting costs while optimizing available resources. Any team’s fanbase become scouts: customers become innovation assets at no conversion costs to teams! This results in a massive growth in the number of eyes seeking and evaluating players, enabling more hidden and appropriate talent to surface and be optimally placed. Teams, agents and scouts are able to focus, improving their competitiveness on & off the field, increasing reach and speed of execution while removing (at times completely) the costs associated with finding talent and evaluating worldwide talent.
“The final result is that now, the small teams can compete with the big teams in the race of talent innovation, being no longer limited by their scouting budgets and geographical location. As more talent will be allowed to surface, the global talent market will also become more liquid, supporting the development of the sports industry worldwide. Now, the world of sports can really be about fair competition! Any team and team’s fanbase, if fast enough and proactive enough, can be the first to identify and sign top talent that fulfill their needs best. We envision the bottleneck that is the player salary gap to progressively narrow as more teams are able to discover better talent, faster and sooner then currently possible, reducing talent acquisition costs and enabling a higher return on investment. We see this resulting in a structural, progressive disruption of the global sports industry“.
FinSMEs: What’s the business model?
Alessandro: “Our business model comprises of monetization through video & banner advertising, users placement (featured & highlighted placement of players videos and users profiles), subscriptions/memberships (freemium model), and ecommerce. For the longer term, we have other additional monetization options that are aligned with our long term vision for the evolution of the platform“.
FinSMEs: Could you introduce us to the other team members?
Alessandro: “A few days ago, just as we presented and launched the beta version of Virtual Scouting during StartuParty in Milan, we met and welcomed in our team Francesco Nacchia and Andrea Cerrato: the three of us will work on the business & marketing side for the platform, while the technical development will continue to be carried out by our development partner Fornace, a web & strategy development company in Verona“.
FinSMEs: Are you seeking funding? How much do you need?
Alessandro: “Yes, we are. We believe we’ll be able to develop the platform and generate the necessary traction to kickstart this progressive disruption with an investment of at least €0.5m, although we would prefer a higher amount to be able to be more aggressive. We know it’s a big round for a startup that has just launched and will start to market its offering in the market only in the next days, but we hope some investors, in Italy or somewhere in the world, will appreciate the potential impact and profitability prospects of our vision“.
FinSMEs: How do you intend to use the capital?
Alessandro: “The capital will be used to hire a technical team to continue the development of the core product, mobile technical development, introduce new products, introduce monetization options, business development, marketing costs & customers acquisition, as well as running/infrastructures costs. All with an eye towards sustainable growth, strategic growth and the creation of entry barriers. We’ll spend smart and strategically, we’ll watch our pennies. As we are doing now“.
FinSMEs: What’s your future plans?
Alessandro: “There is nothing but Virtual Scouting in my future plans. Therefore, my next steps are to continue seeking funds, migrate the platform to the Azure cloud (thanks to our recent admission into the Microsoft BizSpark program), start marketing the platform to its various users segments, continue the platform development, and continue the recruitment of driven technical and business talent to ensure that our vision will have the tools, resources and people to evolve into reality“.