To date, we’ve seen 13 startups pitch live at Twickenham Stadium in 2019, during the inaugural edition of The Clutch, an esports startup pitching competition segment to last year’s ESI London conference, which esports health and performance analytics GScience was the victor.
Tomorrow, August 18th, Esports Insider will present the second edition of The Clutch Digital during ESI Digital Summer, where we’ll showcase four more aspiring startups taking the digital stage to pitch to the panel, featuring: Matthieu Dallon, CEO of Trust Esport Ventures; Helen Sarah Gammons, Relationship Manager at Media & Entertainment Group at HSBC Private Bank; and Spike Laurie, Venture Director at Hiro Capital.
In anticipation of the event, Esports Insider caught up with the winner of the inaugural The Clutch Digital, James Duffield, Co-founder of TEAMS, to chat about his experience and how things have progressed after securing the digital win.
The journey to The Clutch Digital
Duffield launched TEAMS with two other gamers, Tom and Stu, almost exactly one year ago. James with a background in design and with Tom and Stu being developers, the group knew that they could build anything. But, they actually met long before this startup venture, experiencing the problem that TEAMS has set out to solve. “We actually met 10 years ago when we met looking for our ideal teammates to enter a tournament. I ended up putting up a forum post on the tournament website and I ended up finding a couple of friends,” Duffield noted.
Duffield had a five-year stint at Twitch and, on a whim, he decided to check back on an old YouTube channel he and his eventual co-founders and other friends had put content on years ago. One video severely outperformed the others, checking the analytics, he learned that their video titled “How To Find a CS:GO Team” was on the first page of Google search. A bit of algorithmic luck has led thousands of gamers to the video.
“What was most fascinating was the comments below the video, there were hundreds and hundreds of `Counter-Strike players who were essentially advertising themselves, you know saying: ‘I’m 17 years old, I’ve got this many hours in game, I play these nights of the week, add me on Steam,'” explained Duffield. “And another one, and another one, and another one. Hundreds of them. And it was then when I messaged Tom and Stu and said ‘This is it. This is the thing. This should be the thing we’re trying to fix.'”
Fast forward to 2019, Duffield and the team were actually in attendance at The Clutch’s maiden voyage at ESI London. “We saw The Clutch as a fantastic opportunity to spread the word about what we were building, specifically for the esports industry and investors in general. We were going through, and are still going through, a period of fundraising to accelerate the production of our product in many different ways,” Duffield reflected. “Not only being in front of the judges that we would be pitching to on the day but also being on a platform that hundreds if not thousands of people in the esports and gaming industry would watch.”
Duffield recollected thinking ‘“Wow, I wish I could get up on stage and talk about our product because it’s something we’re very proud of,” the opportunity to share their vision and their product was a powerful motivator for the team to apply for The Clutch Digital. Duffield stepped on the digital stage alongside esports player betting platform Puntt, a part of RPGG Media; mobile-focused service provider Gamerpro; and fan-funded platform FANFUNDER – giving his best digital pitch from his kitchen.
The judges at The Clutch Digital consisted of Malte Barth, Founding Partner of BITKRAFT; Fabio La Franca, Investment Director at Station12; David Gowans, Head of Creative Technologies at Barclays; Patrick Mahoney, CEO of Nations Ventures; and Dave Martin, Director of Esports Global – who ultimately decided one company stood out the most.
Watch Esports Global’s Dave Martin, the presenting partner of the competition, announce TEAMS as the winner below.
Advice from Duffield
Duffield shared a bit of the thought processes of forging a new startup in the gaming and esports space, beginning with investing time doing pointed market research among their potential users to really understand what they want and brainstorming how the team could build such a thing. Focusing on the product/market fit is essential to avoid developing a great business model with a sub-par product that consumers do want to use. On the other hand, having a great product without a solid model to monetise it, leads to an inability to sustain both the business and product.
“My advice would be (to discover) which (facet) to focus on and when. From my brief experience doing this over the last year, focus on the market first, focus on getting product-to-market fit with the users that are going to use it,” Duffield explained. “You know, it might end up that you pivot what you’re building and be more aimed at businesses anyway. You might build a B2B product when you might have started out as a B2C product, and it will constantly be evolving.”
“That’s the kind of research you want to do upfront, is this something that players want? Is this something that consumers or viewers want as a product for them? Or is this actually something that maybe you’re solving problems for the businesses around esports and gaming? And you want to figure that out early.” Duffield encourages startups to have an idea of what opportunities there are to monetise the product or service. If a model doesn’t become apparent in the beginning, it might not be worth it to begin building until a commercialisation model fit is found.
“Or maybe you have to explore, ‘How do we build this thing without traditional monetisation?’ Maybe something like a Kickstarter. If you can bring so much value to a gaming community that they’re willing to support you to build it, then just pay for the product or have some other monetisation strategy There’s a lot to explore there,” Duffield concluded.
In terms of The Clutch going digital, Duffield expressed that while many of the pros and cons of working remotely apply to pitching remotely, he stated that because The Clutch is a very one-way presentation, the digital aspect is perhaps a better viewing experience for the judges and the audience because the pitch is baked into the screen. Duffield said, “From my point of view, I was still able to pitch in the same way that I would have done on stage and I was able to present my pitch deck the same way.”
After the victory at The Clutch Digital, Duffield noted that there was a marked uptick in attention via LinkedIn connection requests and messages on Brella, the digital networking system utilised throughout ESI Digital Summit, and returning during ESI Digital Summer. “There were people for weeks afterwards who wanted to get in touch. Some of which were from the investment world, some of which were from esports in general,” he shared.
“A little bit of advice if someone would be in a position where they won The Clutch, I would say don’t discount some of the people who are coming and getting in touch with you because it might not be obvious straight away how that is valuable to you,” he continued. “Don’t just pick out all the investors, and only talk to investors, because there (is) actually a lot of classic networking to be done off the back of that.”
All this advice might come in handy for the next round of hopefuls pitching for The Clutch Digital, tomorrow, August 18th – streamed live during ESI Digital Summer.