The ball may be on the field, but the game is always in the player. One entrepreneur who has his game on is 21-year-old Sebastijan Ribic, founder and MD of Cape Town-based Football Academy Plus, which coaches children from two to 14. He recently completed a BCom in management and has been operating the business for four years, while studying.
How did you come up with the idea?
There was no big idea and no ‘launch’. It started as a hobby at 17. I coached a child, with four cones and a soccer ball in the park. At the end of each lesson, the parents paid me. The growth was incremental. I was offering a service and receiving an income.
When did you realise you were onto something?
Demand grew by word-of-mouth and I was soon coaching 30 kids. That’s when I knew it was more serious than a hobby. My brother, who has a start-up of his own, pointed out that I had a niche market offering. I started making more money, and after eight months it got too big and I hired coaches and admin staff.
What was the big game-changer?
To access a bigger share of the market we started offering our service as an extra-mural at schools, running their football programme in a developmental, structured way that caters for different age groups and abilities.
At the beginning of 2014 we had 85 children; by the end of the year we were coaching 450. Access to the schools offers an affordable infrastructure. We control finances by invoicing parents directly.
What’s different about what you do?
I have always focused on adding as many benefits as possible. I employ good coaches, and we train all-year round. The approach is holistic and helps children to develop their full potential. It’s also a price competitive offering.
What changes did you make as the business grew?
When we started, there were no processes or structures in place. The business model was simple. I was fresh out of high school. Experience has been a great teacher.
In 2014 we put in all the processes and structures to enable expected growth in 2015, targeting up to 18 new schools. While we needed to formalise the business, we may have had slower growth had we applied too many rules.
What challenges have you overcome?
In a market where many schools don’t even offer soccer, we succeeded because I love football and I enjoy working with kids. Customer service is at the heart of the business.