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We sold our home to build a social network

Technology 03 May 2017
We sold our home to build a social network

'We sold our home to build a social network' By Zoe Kleinman Technology reporter, BBC News

Image copyright Meffu Graphics
Image caption Perry, Mollie, Sam and Lisa Hughes are determined to succeed in the social media market.

The Hughes family in Manchester have quit their jobs and put everything they own into building a social network aimed solely at sports fans. But can they take on the giants?

"We see ourselves sitting at the top table with the big boys," says father Perry Hughes confidently.

"We don't think we're taking on the competition."

It might sound optimistic to put your family business in the same league as the multi-billion dollar social networks but the Hughes family certainly have the passion to give it a go.

Their big idea is GameDay Xtra, which has the bold ambition of hosting a page for every single sports team and player in the world – with even the humblest of leagues able to share their own news.

Son Sam, 21, has suspended his university studies and works through the night on the project. Daughter Mollie, 18, handles the social media side.

GameDay is purely for sports fans, the family say.

Image copyright GameDay Xtra
Image caption The family hope to include all sports.

Members get live news feeds of sporting events, form their own groups and networks, follow games play-by-play, and in future will also be able to play bespoke interactive games themselves within the site.

"Super fans" will also be able to run the team or player pages of their choice if the real deal doesn't snap up their own page themselves.

The family say it currently has a few thousand members and will open for broader membership in August this year.

"We saw an opening in the market," says Sam, who is also an eSports video game player.

"It's good to work with family. We're all hard working, committed to the project."

Perry Hughes admits the family "panicked" when Facebook launched its Sports Stadium for sports fans in January 2016 but these days he does not consider them to be GameDay's rivals.

In fact two Facebook execs have joined the closed trial, he claims.

"When we saw what they did [with Stadium] we laughed," he says.

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There are five planned "phases" for the platform, and the family are secretive about what those will be.

Phase two will be only unleashed once they have one million members because the licensing is going to be expensive, Mr Hughes says.

"Phase three will be: 'what have they built!'" he teases.

Image copyright Gameday Xtra
Image caption The website is still being tested.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, financing the idea has proved to be the biggest challenge.

"We went to a lot of investors. They said the scale of the project was too big," said Mr Hughes.

"We sold the house, the cars, everything. We ran out of money twice.

"We all gave up our jobs and committed totally to this. At times it's been lonely.

"When you put all your money into one project you are keeping an eye on everything."

They have now secured significant funding from a Russian backer, whom they decline to identify.

The family are also coy about how they plan to make money from GameDay but hint that it will be similar to Facebook and Instagram's business model.

"We will be carrying some ads – but we don't want to end up with loads of videos and so on," said Mr Hughes.

"This is not about 'build it, sell it and move on'. We think we are going to change the way media is done."

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Facebook's Sports Stadium also targets sports fans.

Emma Sinclair MBE, tech entrepreneur and investor, said she admired their ambition but was "unconvinced" that the platform could live up to the family's expectations.

"Sports fans are already likely using one or more of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and SnapChat. That's in addition to text, Whatsapp, email. And they will no doubt have their favourite sports hubs too relating to teams they support and commentators they follow," she said.

"There's a lot of competition and noise out there and for a start-up on a small budget, competing with giants and established players for attention is an expensive and ambitious job.

"As an angel investor and with the little information I have to hand, I am currently unconvinced that this site has the capacity to disrupt the market and come out on top as a key hub for sports fans as things stand.

"This being a site in beta however, I hope they prove me wrong and I wish them luck."

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