Creating mobile apps and data-sharing experiences for soccer fans is no small feat. There are the enthusiastic supporters to appease, as well as business brains behind the franchises. Then there’s the technical challenge of trying to share data on hectic game days when networks are already flooded, as well as the need to stay relevant in a crowded commercial field. No, it’s definitely not a walk in the park.
However, none of this bothered Jon Rimmer. Before his company took off, he was more concerned with collecting old bubble gum wrappers than with the latest signing at Brighton & Hove Albion. That was until his colleague had a bright idea and InCrowd was born.
What drew you to user experience (UX) and user interfaces (UI) as a profession?
I’d worked in a government department where they had the biggest books I had ever seen. These books were the size of a desk, containing all the financial records for local road projects, like the M25. Introducing computers into that environment in the early 1990s was quite a shock for people and I was tasked with writing the user manual for this new system. That’s really when I started to see the gap between technology and people skills.
Then during my time as an undergraduate in the early 1990s I started looking at the impact of the internet on people. It was called ‘Cyber Psychology’ at the time and I decided I wanted to take the topic a little bit further. That’s when I took a postgraduate course in ‘Human-Computer Interaction’, which is the study of behaviour around technology. It was really in its infancy at that time.
And where did the idea for InCrowd come from?
Ian, who was my colleague at the time, has always been a huge soccer fan. One day he was watching his team, Arsenal, in the Champions League at the Allianz Arena in Germany and had taken a selfie. However, he couldn’t send it out because of the poor connectivity in the stadium. He thought that, in this day and age, we should be able to send a photo from a major sporting event.
We knew we had to be able to find a solution – something like a fan network that can share the connectivity instead of competing for it. And that was what drove the project in the first place.
How did you turn that into a business?
A friend of mine at the University of Sussex had government funding to do research on soccer stadiums. We worked with Brighton & Hove Albion and developed some technology to connect fans in the stadium, or in any on-site area where there was poor connectivity. That generated a bit of interest among the soccer clubs, so we decided to spin it out as a startup from the University of Sussex.
Has it been a challenging process?
Initially we were quite lucky. Brighton has a big, close-knit network of tech talent. It’s sometimes called Silicon Beach for that reason. This meant that we were almost hiring friends of friends, and we started to grow quite naturally.
When we began taking orders there was a sudden sense of urgency, so we had to hire a couple of people quickly and one of those guys didn’t work out. Having to let someone go early on was difficult, but now I’ve learned the importance of fully integrating the team.
What does your role involve now?
In the last year I’ve been doing a lot of de-risking. This means looking at what would happen if we lost a member of staff for a year, things like that. Really, I was trying to make sure we were all dispensable, but by assembling a talented team who all get on and work well together.
What are the perks to the job?
I wasn’t a very big soccer fan at the start, but then I got the chance to spend time with fans and experience why it’s special to them. One Saturday in winter, I was dropped at a stranger’s door in Peacehaven, just outside Brighton, and met a father and son as they prepared for the day ahead. We took a couple of buses to the stadium and shared the whole experience.
I love Brighton so much and it’s a real perk just to be able to walk to work and to have visitors in the summer. It means we can take them down to the seafront for an ice cream. The Regus offices in Brighton were a perk too with glorious views of the bay.
What features would you say are important in a workspace?
Initially, it was ideal to have a space to meet other people and have those ‘water cooler moments’ where you have discussions and share ideas. But now the key thing is being able to utilize the physical space a bit more.
I collect old bubble gum cards and wrappers, and many of these old pieces of packaging from the 1920s and beyond are going to form a display on the wall in our office. I never thought old rubbish I’d collected would form part of a valuable collection for our company, but it’s actually a great record of sporting memories. Lots of fans remember them fondly.
Three tips from Jon
- Avoid knee-jerk reactions. Take time to pause and reflect before making a decision.
- Spend more time in the problem space instead of running around with a solution trying to find a problem.
- Hiring isn’t just about finding the right skill set; it’s about finding the right people. Look for enthusiastic, supportive team players.