DevReady PodcastUnleash the Power of Sports and Join the ‘Heros Club’ – EP 101 – DevReady Podcast

In this episode of the DevReady Podcast, our hosts, Andrew Romeo and Anthony Sapountzis, are joined by Stuart Thornton, Founder of, a membership club of athletes and fans committed to inspiring and investing in each other. Listen in to understand Stuart’s journey—of how he co-founded hoolah (now Shopback), Asia’s omnichannel ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ ecosystem headquartered in Singapore, and how he then went on to found 

Stuart was born in the UK and lived and worked overseas in the Netherlands, Ireland, Australia, and Singapore. His work has spanned across countries and also industries. He started in the telecom space—at the forefront of technology, back in the day. And then he got an opportunity to move into payments—fintech, as it is now popularly known. This was his first foray into the world of start-ups, and he loved the experience of building the ecosystem of ‘Buy Now, Pay Later.’ When asked about what made him take up the opportunity in Asia, he has a few pointers for start-up founders:

  1. The cornerstone for a start-up is to base itself on a problem worth solving.
  2. The next step is to ensure that it is sizable: the offering needs to be scalable as a business.
  3. The final criterion is knowing the space and being passionate about it

Using the example of hoolah, he talks about how he knew that the payments problem needed to be solved, that Asia was a huge market, and that he knew about and was passionate about setting up the Buy Now, Pay Later ecosystem. As a non-tech founder, he knew he couldn’t do it all alone—he credits finding the right people at the right time. Not just that, a multitude of elements come into play when bringing the right set of people together:

  1. Is your start-up the very start-up that these people are passionate about? Are they passionate about what you are trying to create?
  2. Are they coming in with the right mindset at the right time?

Stuart also credits his corporate background for being able to put up a team together to work towards a common goal. Understanding each other and knowing what was important in the early days helped him and his team members set the tone for the coming days. 

Furthering the conversation and moving on to the sales process, he emphasized the need to understand the market and the ability to use data. To gain traction, he added, one needed to understand the different merchant engagement models:

  1. The Early Adapters (who believe that technology is the way forward) 
  2. The Wait and Watchers (who say the service can go live first, and then they will see)
  3. The Sceptics (who don’t believe in it and think it is too early to say anything).

Having said that, Stuart believes that it was their value proposition that helped ease the sales cycle. Their quickest sale was made in a mere 10 minutes! 

How did Stuart end up founding It stems from a problem and the will to solve it. It stems from a sad story of Stuart’s athlete friend, who struggled to make ends meet despite having given 30 years to a sport. Upon looking closely at the industry, Stuart realized that the problem was faced by endless athletes and not just his friend, to a point where many athletes would either sell their property or ask family members for help even to attend sports tournaments and events. He saw a problem worth solving. And then there was also a market for the solution: a $1.3 trillion industry with arguably 100 billion athletes trying to make a career out of sports. And then he understood how sports worked, how athletes were real-life heroes who represented the epitome of human potential. But an obvious disconnect exists between the value they hold and the value they get paid. And Stuart and his team set out to bridge that gap with is modeled on Patreon and it is a membership club of athletes and fans committed to inspiring and investing in each other. One can either join the club as an athlete or as a fan. When you join as an athlete, you can grow your team of fans by inviting them to be a part of your journey both within your sport and beyond. When you join as a fan, for a small subscription fee, you become a part of the athlete’s team, giving you access to a range of exclusive content, experiences, digital products, and rewards.

Topics Covered
  • Stuart’s background and how hoolah was founded
  • What are the elements for a start-up?
  • How to form the right team at the right time?
  • Understanding merchant engagement models
  • Need for MVP
  • Value of communication in a team
  • How was founded
Key Quotes (Time Stamps)
  • “I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to then move into payments, which sounded quite boring at the time, but all of a sudden it became fintech and that was another growth in the technology space. Again, right at the forefront of all of that—it was incredibly exciting. And as you alluded, it was my first step into the startup world which was an incredible experience.” (3:31 – 3:57)
  • “To answer very briefly, the question around what took me there, I think it was something that I always wanted to do, and it was really just trying to find the first scalable opportunity that perhaps was worth the sacrifice because it is a massive sacrifice to go and do anything like that.” (4:00 – 4:20)
  • “It’s the cornerstone of a startup. You have to go and have something that’s worth solving. And then the next step to that is, is the problem big enough? Is it really a problem or is it just a common-nice-to-have that you could fit your base, perhaps the solution, or there is a place to actually build a business around it? And then the next step around that was how sizable could it get. If you are really going to sacrifice something, there’s ultimately something that you want to get—some sort of return.” (5:48 – 6:18)
  • “Buy Now, Pay Later. It was payments. I knew about payments. It was Asia, it was a huge market. And, I think all of those things really led me to go and kick that off and say, right, I could do this.” (7:13 – 7:26)
  • “Again, alluding to the team thing, someone’s going to have the idea and then it actually takes a couple of people to thrash that out. And everybody’s a bit different: problem solvers, problem creators, people that create those ideas; that’s what makes it a beautiful experience as well.” (8:45 – 9:07)
  • “The more you share, the more doors you open, the more conversations you have, the more people you’re connected to. And then you start to connect through a mutual mission or vision perhaps, of what you want to achieve. And all of a sudden, other doors open.” (11:16 – 11:29)
  • “I have experience in small sales to massive global enterprise sales. So, I have a good appreciation of the different sales cycles and what it takes, and how to go and do that. And I think that was really helpful in understanding and structuring the sales strategy, the value proposition, the management of understanding when revenue hit the business, the criticality of having a CRM, for example, and other such systems to help you through that process.” (23:04 – 23:39) 
  • “When I started to look around, I could see that 30 years later, despite the fact that sport is a $1.3 trillion industry, all the different components within it, that hasn’t changed an iota. You’ve still got people, selling houses and asking family members to try and get to sports tournaments and events. And it’s just not good enough in this day and age. And ultimately, I saw the problem, a problem to be solved. It was a significantly sized market. You’re looking at a $1.3 trillion industry with arguably 100 billion athletes at different stages of their careers trying to make or have the intention of making a career out of sports. You’ve got 8000 sports around the world. You’ve got four and a half billion sports fans. To me, that’s a significant size market to go to and solve a problem.” (35:12 – 36:08)
  • “The realization was that obviously, athletes have a very unique position in society. And you’ll excuse the pun, they are our real-life heroes. They really do represent the epitome of human potential. We put these people on pedestals because of what they were able to achieve, that we can’t. And I think that realization around the value that they hold and the disconnect between that value and their ability to earn money to ultimately reach their potential, but also maximize their potential because you have obviously a whole lot of people that are on that path, that struggle. (36:10 – 36:50) 
  • “The reality is that it doesn’t matter where you sit on the spectrum of athlete, there is potential to go and maximize that potential from an earning perspective and a consistent earning perspective. So, we looked at a few different options around how to solve this.” (37:14 – 37:27) 
  • “Technology is amazing, but you need to use it to actually solve something. You don’t sell your business as a technology company.” (40:13 – 40:22)
Social Media Clips (Time Stamps)
  • Setting up the ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ ecosystem (1:51 – 5:12)
  • The Start-Up Allure (5:13 – 7:38)
  • Working With the Right People at the Right Time (9:08 – 12:33)
  • The Sales Process (15:21 – 19:09)
  • How to Build Traction (20:51 – 22:47)
  • We Made a Sale in 10 minutes (22:48 – 25:00)
  • Value Communication in the Team (31:21 – 33:05)
  • How came to be? (33:17 – 39:32) 

Stuart Thornton | LinkedIn | LinkedIn | Website

Aerion Technologies | Website

DevReady Podcast | YouTube
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