Playtomic founders Pablo Carro (L), Pedro Claveria (R) and co-chief executive Felix Ruiz (C)

Following Playtomic’s €56 million Series C raise – we sat down with co-CEO and Founder, Pedro Claveria, to discuss the rapid growth of the Madrid-based booking app & SaaS for sport venues and how the business pivoted during the toughest COVID-19 restrictions to not only survive, but amplify its international expansion.

Tell us a bit about Playtomic and how it all started.

Technology and apps have played a huge role in how consumers search and book their leisure activities – but we saw that the sports category was really far behind. 

We set out to answer – “sports (tennis, Padel) are fun, part of a healthy lifestyle, something people want to be doing more and more of, but why is it still easier to meet someone for a date than it is to book a court to play?”

“It all started with – why is it harder to have fun than it is to date?”

And with the lack of tech integrated in existing sports clubs in Spain, we also saw there was a huge opportunity to do things differently, faster and more efficiently for not only the customer – but also for the club owners. We wanted to be a solution to their pen and paper booking.

Playtomic was launched with the idea to leverage existing tech and tools consumers were already used to using on a daily basis, from – Strava (exercise tracking + social network), Tinder (dating), Instagram (social network), booking.com (accommodation booking) and more – to simplify playing a sport.

Through one’s phone – someone can book a plane ticket, hotel room, go on a date, share photos and videos with their friends, share progress of their park run – but why can’t they book a court and find someone to play with?

“We want to be the one app responsible for people to start to travel with a racquet” 

And what’s important to note is that our leadership team – Pablo (Carro), Félix (Ruiz) and myself – are all entrepreneurs from our past endeavors – so naturally, innovation and adaptation became the key forces behind the business. And of course, we all have a love for sports.

Explain your customer and why your audience is evergrowing. 

As a part-customer facing business – it was imperative that we were aware of exactly who our audience was (and could be) from the beginning.

We knew that we could target players that are already playing (the sport) and simply want a better booking experience. Then there were those that want to try a new sport – and with Padel being easier than tennis and more social – this could potentially be a big audience for us.

So we split our audience into four personas:

  • 1 – Existing Player – high fitness level, already plays, has their own racquet, wants to find courts to play on during work and leisure travels, most likely a skilled player
  • 2 – Amateur Player – this person doesn’t want to go to the gym, as its boring, but definitely still wants to stay fit. They think tennis is a way to stay active and just have fun! 
  • 3 –Engineer – This person is not active, but they’re curious and want to try new things. They see the sport as an opportunity to do a new activity.
  • 4 – Yogi – This person is an expat or simply new to a city. They want to meet new people, and want to be outdoors. They’re using the app as a meet-up app!

In the past few years, we’ve seen racquet sports as the new date spot and after work ‘drinks’ for colleagues, to being included in schedules at corporate events around the world. It’s a new networking tool for professionals – which leads to again, a new audience of players – and customers.

“Racquet sports are the new after work ‘drinks’ with colleagues (in parts of Europe)”

COVID-19 greatly impacted the company when everything shut down. How did you pivot?

I’ve always been super optimistic. I believe that with every problem comes an opportunity.

And when COVID-19 impacted the world, Playtomic’s activity went down to zero. We went from a steady growing active user base to zero customers, overnight. This caused huge uncertainties for the business’ future – where we even had to do temporary layoffs. Urgently, we had to decide what we needed to do to survive.

That’s where an opportunity happened. We asked ourselves – what can we offer to our users when they’re not playing the sport? Because if no one is playing, then no one is using the app.

We had to reinvent the app to be more than just a booking tool. We wanted to become social. And we now had some time to also think of the long term strategy. For once – our engineers had a green playing field of NO users to make changes and improvements. They could think of new services, better user experiences – everything to make Playtomic better. 

And once the restrictions were lifted we also got quite lucky. Other popular sports – soccer, basketball and volleyball – were all seen as “risk sports”, while tennis and Padel were COVID-friendly. All of a sudden, we had a surge of people who wanted to be active and have fun – who wanted to start to play tennis.

And it’s true that we were well funded and in a good position to adapt and change. This led to a huge growth opportunity as we realized other businesses were not in the same position.

One country at a time – we’re making progress. We recently acquired GotCourts, a racket-sports platform operating in Switzerland, Germany and Austria – giving us access to Europe’s largest tennis market – Germany.

Aside from having strong investment, why do you think you were able to survive?

Where we stand out against our competitors is that our app goes so much further than the sport. Playtomic is able to provide a much better experience to the player – as the app itself is super strong.

Our social features have created an international community and hundreds of localized ones similarly – on a digital and physical basis through sport. 

Also, the possibility of split payments, the excellent customer service, the ease of booking – these are all things that allow for freedom of play and for the user to ‘have fun’.

For example, we introduced a ranking system. As you book and play games through the app – you start to be ranked. It becomes a sort of e-game and when you play with someone new – you’ll know their level of skill ahead of time. There’s no surprises. The goal is that these levels create a great user experience, on and off the court.

What’s next?

When we speak about Padel specifically – it’s the fastest growing sport in history. With its rise in popularity, we’ll continue to grow. We’re now present in 34 countries worldwide, with over a million active users.

It’s a multi-billion-dollar opportunity, but it was super hard to convince investors in the beginning. We felt if we weren’t a unicorn in our first year of life, we might not get the investment needed to continue to grow.

But that being said, we have the right team internally (and backing us) and know we’re in a super-hot business with expansion opportunities all over the world. And people are starting to notice.

With the acquisition of GotCourts – we’ve now reached a valuation of over €200 million.

And lastly, any advice you want to share with other CEOs?  

You need to make clear what your purpose is.

When we launched Playtomic – it was an eye opener to find a niche. We were losing money when we thought we would be the booking.com of sports. It was hard to say “bye” to popular sports like soccer and basketball – but it was important for us to find a niche.

Find long-term partners.

In addition – it was crucial to team up with the right partners. And you must always focus on the long term; be demanding on who you want working with you in the long run.

It was necessary during the pandemic that we had the investors’ support. They believed in us and the business and stuck behind it. If they hadn’t, we may not have made it out. We’re so happy with Claret and the team and grateful for the partnership.

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