'Sky's the limit': Santa's grassroots football startup set to go global

A chance conversation with his brother was the catalyst for Brendon Santalab’s venture into the world of app developers, venture capitalists and tech hubs.

Santalab's handy app is making life easier for grassroots footballers each weekend, as the Western Sydney Wanderers hero explains. 

“My brother and his wife were talking one day and it was as simple as not knowing where their son was playing the next day,” Santalab told A-League.com.au.

“They asked, ‘surely there’s an app for this?’”

That was three years ago. This was his light bulb moment.

One thing led to another and the Santalab brothers devised a concept: an app for football associations to communicate with their members.

Simple idea: you get an alert when there are changes on game day.

“It’s all about simplifying game days. If there’s rain, you get a push notification to your phone, and the game’s on if you don’t get a notification.”

And there are team fixtures, tables and even links to Google maps for match locations.

“That’s how simple it is,” Santalab explains.

AUSSIE FOCUS

Brendon’s brother Michael works in the financial services industry, though football fans may remember he is a former Australian U23 who played in the NSL and is a legend in Illawarra Premier League circles (he retired due to injury to focus on accounting and brokering).

The Santalab brothers partnership has proved challenging for two strong-willed men. But the Wanderers talisman is full of brotherly love when asked about working with family.

“We’re very lucky to have played together in the old national soccer league and lucky to be working together now. Michael and I are like best friends.

“We can have a good time but work hard together.

“I’ve always looked up to Michael in what he’s achieved in his life. There have been a lot of ups and downs and brotherly fights,” Brendon says, chuckling.

“But it’s all part of the journey.”

Michael SantalabAround 30,000 users have now downloaded the My Game Guru app (mygameguru.commainly in football but other sports are also jumping on board.

Capital Football in the ACT has joined the app, the first outside of NSW joining 10 associations in Sydney as well as Football South Coast Summer Soccer.

“The best thing is the feedback from players and parents, how we’ve simplified their game days so there’s no confusion.

“It’s exactly what I wanted to achieve,” says Santalab.

THINK LOCAL, ACT GLOBAL

A business mentor of the brothers saw the potential and invested in the app. So, with the financial backing in place, the Santalab scoured the landscape for developers to work on the product side.

They had the option of going overseas but backed Aussie know-how.

“We really wanted to keep things local in Wollongong - where we’re from and where we started our football. We found a developer at the innovation campus in Wollongong.

“We’re just delighted because we have him on our doorstep. We can regularly meet, we’re face to face, he’s not overseas, and if things need to be done it’s done immediately.

“It really is a great combination having a developer on your doorstep. We could’ve gone overseas and cut the budget, but for us it was Australian-made, that’s what we were after.”

Santalab has been energised by those he met at the innovation campus at the University of Wollongong – a tech hub, ideas network and community of business and research bodies dedicated to global impact.

“I’ve really enjoyed learning something different and meeting entrepreneurs through the campus,” says Santalab.

It’s this global focus that has clearly inspired the Wollongong-born Santalab.  

“I’ve always set my goals very high. When we started this app our intention was from day one to go global.”

It’s been three years since they began with around 20-30,000 users now. We’re very interested in going global. We have some connections overseas at the moment who we’re talking to.

“I want to take this to the top and to a new level. Obviously, funding is important and looking for more venture capitalists to jump on board as well.

“The sky’s the limit; we can have any association on board. And we cover all sports.

“If your son or daughter plays rugby league or netball or your nephew or niece plays soccer, you can have them on the same page, favourite their teams and follow their schedules.”

Brendon Santalab

SANTA’S BUSY

Santalab is a busy man. It was tough tracking him down for this interview as he juggles family, football and business.

“It’s very important that away from football you have something that keeps you occupied and take your mind off into another part of life,” he advises.

“For me, it was an interesting mindset to venture off into this world. Perhaps it’s helped him develop his negotiations skills too?

“With My Game Guru, it was really a big help for me taking my mind off a game I love so much because it can become a burden if you don’t have that outlet.

“For me, it was exciting to learn something different.

“All I’ve ever known is football, so this has been great to introduce myself to another part of life, A completely different thing for me.

“For younger players, it’s important to find something away from the game that you enjoy doing.

“This outlet has allowed me to spend time while I’m not at training or games to focus on something I’m really enjoying.

“It’s helping me with training and I’m really enjoying my life and football.

“I’m happier than ever.”

Santalab and the Wanderers are in action this week in Sunday’s Sydney Derby.

Kick off is 6.30pm at Allianz Stadium.

GET YOUR TICKETS FOR THE DERBY HERE

This article was originally published at: www.a-league.com.au/news/santalabs-plans-global-expansion-his-booming-tech-business