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May 27, 2024
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Growth Engines: A kick-off starts the game, but the win is in the final score

In this article, originally featured in Business Leader: James Thomas’s Azzuu sports platform has grown rapidly after initially focusing on honing its platform by working with just one team: Everton


The heightening anticipation of the football club’s performance and that of its most loved players explodes in song, cheer and jovial jeering between the fans of the competing clubs as the game begins. Their immersion in their clubs and star players, consumed in real time through multiple formats and social channels, has been orchestrated and enabled by the Azzuu platform as it eats into a market with over 4 billion sports-obsessed fans.

It’s smart. It’s seamless and, most importantly, says its founder James Thomas, it’s simple. Yet, the path to this platform’s accelerating success has been anything but simple.

A scrappy start

A short stint in hospitality as a pot wash earning £1 an hour had Thomas determined to build a better life. Stumbling into advertising, his likeable character and artistic talent saw him flourish. He climbed hard and fast up the ranks of Leo Burnett in Australia.

Yearning for home and familiarity, he found a product and attempted to bring it into the UK. While it failed, his family life began, as did the economic and DIY responsibilities of being a husband and father. He visited a local bathroom tile store determined to upgrade their modest bathroom, which inadvertently led to a flourishing five-year career.

Using his artistic talent, advertising prowess and competitive nature, Thomas expanded the small family store from its location in Leeds to include showrooms in London and Manhattan. Thomas exited after the family sold out to a PE investor.

He quickly won a consulting job developing software. He needed and found a partner with the requisite technical skills. Selling anything and everything consumed each day to secure monthly cashflows. His business grew, as did the team. The relentless nature of project revenues from offering bespoke software saw Thomas allocate team time to building products as an antidote.

The team showed him a sports betting app, Thomas loved it. It was late 2016 and social media distribution was booming. In the sports industry, fans, media, sponsors, players and clubs clamoured for simpler, better-organised content aggregation and distribution across all the social media channels was the unspoken call Thomas envisioned. Courageously, he halted all other work and went fishing for a client.

Finding Star Players

That first club he spoke to was Manchester United. “At a school drop-off, I chatted with a parent connected to the club,” says Thomas. “We got to present to them, but we were clearly out of our depth. It was a blessing we didn’t secure that deal; it could’ve ruined us before we started.”

It was a blessing we didn’t secure that first deal; it could’ve ruined us before we started

His first client was Everton. “Another school drop-off chat led us to Everton. They took a chance on us, for which I am eternally grateful. They’re still with us, pivotal in shaping our company because we invested our first year only servicing them.”

Moving up the ranks

The commercial success of business requires two elements. The first is a product or service that fulfils its job and solves a well-defined problem for a well-defined customer. In effect, the agile development of the Azzuu platform achieved this with the guidance, commitment and relationship afforded by Everton. The evidence sits in upwards of 70 clubs and associations across 15 sports using it and a pacey 40% annual growth rate promising more.

Overlaying this element is the commercial system. The success in the second element scales and accelerates growth, while yielding capital value for a company. It’s the most challenging element to get right.

Thomas has embarked on that journey with recent recruits to succeed in business development and sales functions. Success here will release his time to get Azzuu to its next level – or to play golf.

Thomas has a number in mind for what success looks like for him. We can’t share it, but Thomas says: “I always thought that number is a scorecard of success and would give us a good life.”

A Growth and Value Perspective

Wear two hats when starting, building, growing and exiting a business.

  1. The operator hat: With this hat on, define the company’s purpose and build the commercial operating system and team to drive it. Your blueprint emerges from your positioning: who you serve, what problem you solve for them and what experience they want. Thomas’s focus on Everton in the first year helped Azzuu get this right and define the ideal customer experience. That would inform the design and development of Azzuu’s commercial system and team delegations. It’s called your system of delivery and is the chassis to support accelerated growth.
  2. The investor hat: This hat is about selecting the right tactics to grow revenues, deepen profitability and limit the business’s dependency on you. Two solid indicators are an increasing profit margin as revenues grow and not being hauled back into daily, weekly and monthly operational activities. It is the key to unlocking a clean future exit and lifting the company’s valuation multiples above industry benchmarks.
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