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Plei App Co-founder on Starting Up in Flooded Market


Sebastian Duque of Plei, based in Miami, FL. A co-founder, product mastermind, and entrepreneur to the core tells the story of Plei app, a soccer on demand application that handles the entire process of searching, making reservations, and paying for fields to play soccer. The Plei app allows users to invite players, set up teams, and chat with friends. Plei System, which is a web-based side of the app, is designed for managing soccer fields.

Business opportunities may arise even in the most flooded markets, but you can easily withdraw a worthy startup idea out of fear that everything has been settled down before you. Look at amateur sport: soccer players organize their activities on social media communities as well as manage the process of renting fields just fine, so why bother coming up with something new? Well, some investigations can reveal many gaps in processes that seem to be smoothly organized. The chance is worth taking even if the result turns out to be a different story.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

When we first started the Plei company in 2016-2017, my idea was mostly the app for players, not really anything for soccer fields. But as soon as we started talking with both parties, players and field owners, we realized that all of them needed a solution. We found out that the soccer field operators needed a lot of people and effort for managing their work because they were using a lot of pen and paper systems that were not actually making it. Once I got it, I saw how we could build the business around this idea. 

And then we proceeded with implementing it. It’s later that we understood that we tried to build everything first instead of focusing on the customer and what they needed.  When we came out with the app in 2017 on mobile, it had so many features – the menu book, a few messages, notifications, friends, and nobody downloaded the app. And I was like, “Oh my God, what’s going on?” Are we the root of the problem?

So we took out all of those features and left the one called Games that allowed players to see games and to join one. And that’s it. We made it very simple instead of trying to make it complex. This gave us over 20,000 users – in contrast to 0 downloads with the first strategy. 

Overall, the growth was exponential – we were getting bigger step by step. However, there were throwbacks as well.  We experienced one during the lockdown when we had to shut down for 8 months, which was quite hard. Luckily, everything is back to normal, and we are hosting hundreds and hundreds of games every month. And now that we have the people, the players on the app, and friends notifications.

I already know from experience that it’s very important to build an MVP, something that people need instead of something super elaborate with many features. 

The Power of Team Play

Just having an app on the App Store makes me happy. That was my goal, my dream back in university. So for me, that was very cool, and anything after was a bonus. And now I’m super happy because people actually use the app, they love it and leave many reviews.

The other great thing is that sometimes I’ll go out and people will see me and they say, “Hey, you’re from Plei.” The thing is, Plei is not me alone – it’s the whole team behind it.

In total, there are 12 of us on the team. We have four engineers from sports app development company Anadea, and then it’s me and my co-founder, which is my brother. There are also customer service representatives, a couple of marketers, and designers. I wouldn’t be able to do it all by myself, but I’m quite forward-facing and can talk to clients. And if there’s a need to give a talk, I usually handle it. My brother, the co-founder, is more introverted, and he’s the smartest person I’ve ever met. So yes, it’s definitely a team effort.

How to tell a good team from not that good is the question. For me, it was difficult because before Anadea I partnered with another company based in Miami. That’s because when I first started, I didn’t want it overseas, I wanted everything here in Miami to be very involved in the project, to be there every day. When it didn’t work out with the first company, I did a lot of research, and finally, I found Anadea. 

Advice for Beginners

There are so many things I’d advise, but the most important one is to try to do everything you can yourself. Doing a startup is risky, right? As most startups fail. So what are the things that you can do to make it less risky before you invest one dollar? My first piece of advice is to do everything that you can for free from just straight hustle, everything from market research to creating the summary of your business plan.

A lot of people think that if you have money, it’s going to solve your problems. But it’s not. I think you can do so many things without money to prove your concept will work. And then you can present that to either potential investors or people that can help you take it to the next level. 

Here’s an example. When I started Plei, I had visions of what the application needed to look like but I didn’t know how to design. So I just taught myself design because I thought that it was easier than learning to program. I designed the entire application, and this was all before investing one dollar. 

Then I could sit here and think, “Oh, I have a great idea.” But maybe the market doesn’t think so. That’s why my second piece of advice is talk to potential customers – not your friends and family because they are always going to like it. You have to talk to people that don’t really care about you and find out if they like your idea. 

And then the third most important thing that I’ve learned with Plei is to have a lot of patience. Surely, we want all the success in the world right away, we want to earn millions of dollars now. But it doesn’t work this way. It takes time and a lot of hard work. You need to understand that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And even when you are generating money, I think it’s better to reinvest that money into the company than pay yourself. In my 12 member team, everybody gets paid except me. I’d rather keep it this way so that the business can keep going. I think it’s very important to have a patient and long-term mindset.

In a nutshell, every chance is worth taking. Keep in mind that not everything is under your control. You will probably be surprised with what you get in the end, but it will be your journey and your unique experience, and it’s totally worth it.