Born out of frustration with the norm, Disrupt Sports' co-founder Gary Elphick wanted to make a difference and disrupt a whole industry, while simultaneously working with — and not against — major retailers.
Think of any design, and picture it on sports gear, from a football to a surfboard. That’s what Disrupt Sports is all about — giving customers the opportunity to create and personalise any kind of sports gear to suit their needs.
With a solid background in sport, Mr Elphick said he wanted to disrupt the sports gear industry to clear up confusion in sports.
“My background's been in sports and technology marketing. I was a surf instructor in the UK,” he said.
“We [he and co-founder Chris Bailey] got together and ... we were getting annoyed that in lessons, people would always turn up with the wrong sized equipment.
“Stores were just selling them stuff, whatever they had in store basically, rather than actually finding out what was correct for them. It stopped people progressing in their sport.”
Mr Elphick also said there is an aesthetic element to it.
“There's nothing worse than spending $700-800 on something and then getting to the slopes or getting to the surf and then ... looking exactly the same,” he said.
“We really wanted to shake up the industry and the way things were.”
Disrupt Sports, like its name suggests, came about to disrupt.
“We really wanted to shake up the industry and the way things were,” explained Mr Elphick.
“We were looking at [the] whole idea behind [it all]: everything has to be made overseas, has to take 18 months to get into market; that this slow process — like the local manufacturing — can't work; how can an artist get involved.
“We just wanted to stick two fingers up to the industry and say: 'You know what? It can be done!'
“You can make things locally for the same price as overseas; you can make things for a customer and still make a profit out of it; and you can help everybody in the ecosystem.”
Disrupt Sports wasn’t just set on disrupting sports gear businesses, but local creative businesses too.
“We both worked in the creative industry, and we knew these amazing artists that could never find a way to monetise their skills,” Mr Elphick said.
“They were just painting something or drawing something and then selling it at a local market. That's where the idea came from; let's use these local manufacturers that are amazing and talented at what they do, let's make sure you get something that's exactly the right size and shape and design for you, then let's put the artist in the other side, so that you can commission their work.”
“There's this big perception that [in] business ... someone has to win, somebody has to lose. And we see it the other way.”
Being a team player
With a name like Disrupt Sports, you’d think that the business would want to distance itself from competitors and established players. Yet as far as Mr Elphick is concerned, Disrupt Sports has no competitors.
“It's not an 'us versus them': we're happy to share our ideas, share our processes and working,” Mr Elphick said.
“We see that if the whole industry moves, then it benefits everybody.”
As such, Disrupt Sports has moved to work with bricks and mortar retailers, implementing 3D customisation stations into stores.
“They're starting to experiment in this area, so it's less of a case of keeping it away from everybody else and just help them ... along the journey as well,” explained Mr Elphick.
“There's this big perception that [in] business ... someone has to win, somebody has to lose. And we see it the other way, which is, you can create win-win-win situations, which is better for everyone.
“The customer wins because they get something that's unique and made for them; the retailer wins because they don't have to hold any stock and spend money on working capital; and local manufacturers win because they get more work which is not being offshored anymore.
“Everybody wins, and as long as there's enough profit in there, you can remove all the inefficiencies, then it's great for everybody.”
Learning the ropes
Because what Disrupt Sports is doing is so new, the difficulty lies in expressing how disruptive they are to potential customers.
“A lot of what we do is educate people behind how sports equipment is made and how they can get involved in the process,” Mr Elphick said.
“It's not like you can go straight out there and go: 'Hey, I really want to go and buy a cricket bat' ... but they don't necessarily know: 'Okay, I can measure it myself or get it measured and then I can design it and how does this work?'.”
“There's a lot of research they do around that, and that leads to a longer sales cycle, which obviously means cost to acquisition is higher as well.
“It's definitely been a challenge in that.”
At its core, Disrupt Sports is a people business. For Mr Elphick, that’s one of two important things for business.
“People build businesses like this,” he said.
“As much as we're a technology business and we're a platform, and that's what people see, it's the people behind the scenes that make the difference. Having a team that's incredibly passionate and dedicated to the end goal of the cause makes all the difference.
“Loving what you do means the guys are willing to stay until late in the evening, they'll help out on the weekends, they'll run around like they'll do everything, and you can't underestimate how important a good, solid team is.”
Mr Elphick said the other important thing for business success is to seek advice.
“People that have been successful in business have had help along the way, they have people help them, they're willing to give back,” he points out.
“One of my biggest mentors is Jodie Fox, who runs a company called Shoes of Prey. She gives me a call once a week, even though she's in 20 countries at the moment, because she knows how valuable having advice from someone that's been there before helped her, and she's willing to give back … that's why we do the same thing at UNSW for the students there.
“If you don't know the answers, go ask, go find someone.”
Game changers – tips for becoming a disruptor
Taking the lessons he’s learned from being a disruptor, Mr Elphick teaches at UNSW not to believe in the old cliché of 'build it and they will come'.
“I actually firmly believe in the other side, which is go and speak to your customers, ask them what they want,” he said.
“Go to your partners and ask them what they want. Ask them if they're willing to pay for it. Do everything you possibly can before you go and build and invest in technology. Build the business first.”
Choosing not to build first has proven successful for Mr Elphick, as Disrupt Sports pre-sold out a month and a half's worth of orders before anything was actually built.
“We just went and spoke to customers and asked them what they want. If you're really solving a problem and you're innovating to the nth degree, people are willing to pay for it, and ask for them to pay for it upfront,” Mr Elphick said.
“Figure out what problem you want to solve and make sure it is a problem, not just a 'nice to have'.
“Bring your customers along on the journey with you as well, so ask them for their input in developing [the product], keep them up to date, and build it for them as opposed to build something and then try and sell it to them.”
Mr Elphick adds: “Use technology to back-fill. You can always add more people at the front, use the technology to back-fill the problem that you're solving.”
Business name: Disrupt Sports
Industry: Sports gear manufacturer
Location: Sydney, NSW
Customer base: Australia-wide, as well as the US and UK
Number of employees: Nine