Generation start-up: Sports fans aim to kick-start community fitness

Created last year, dibs is a sport booking platform that allows users to find venues and players, book and pay for sporting reservations - all in one place

Rayan Ismail (R) and Nour Soubra, the founders of Dibs. Courtesy UK Lebanon Tech Hub
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If you are a keen amateur sports player, you will most likely be all too aware of the frustration that finding and booking suitable venues for matches or competitions can produce.

It was just such aggravation that spurred Rayan Ismail to launch his start-up, called dibs. Mr Ismail says, aside from the hassle of getting regular teams together, “even when we did have enough players, our usual venue would be unavailable on the day we wanted to play and, with no instant access to other venues around, we ended up not playing and waiting for the following week.”

Here’s where dibs comes in, says Mr Ismail, the co-founder and chief executive. Created last year, dibs is a sport booking platform that allows users to find venues and players, book a preferred time-slot and pay for sporting reservations - all in one place.

"We are frequent football and sports players. We play with friends at least twice a week in several sporting venues that we book," says Mr Ismail, who set up dibs with Nour Soubra, the start-up's chief operating officer.

With support from the UK Lebanon Tech Hub (UKLTH), a joint initiative by the UK government and Banque du Liban, Lebanon’s central bank, dibs is coming together at an opportune moment. He declined to divulge the actual amount dibs has received from UKLTH.

While there is scant data regarding the market for software applications for youth and amateur adult league teams in this region, if the US is taken as an example, the commercial potential is clear. In a US$9 billion US youth sports market, the software for youth and amateur adult league teams, at $1.2bn, represents a small but rapidly growing portion of the total spending on the market, according to a report published last year by US market researcher specialist Wintergreen Research.

“This is a nascent market, there is no end in sight. The software market for youth and amateur adult sports is expected to reach $6.9bn by 2023,” the report’s authors say.

“Sports teams will continue to get more organised and depend on software to provide increased management efficiency.”

And if that holds in the US, it is more than likely to be the case in this region, where governments are increasingly pushing the uptake of physical activity across populations in a bid to boost wellbeing and curtail the rise of “lifestyle diseases” such as diabetes.

It is this wave that Mr Ismail, based in Lebanon, sees as being the one dibs is best suited to ride and the firm is currently fine-tuning its offering to capture the growing market. “Right now, we’re working on developing the technology behind the dibs engine,” he says.

And he is confident dibs will benefit the venues they wish to book as well as helping sports players.

“Our technology will not only be cutting edge to the users/players but also it will be integral and a game changer to the sports venues in this part of the world,” he says, by providing a seamless link between the two parties, from both the booking and payment perspective.

As in the US, very few software vendors are specialists in payments processing here. Credit card processing is an important part of running a team, says the Wintergreen Research report.


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"The teams revolve around shared use of fields, courts or ice. Payments processing provides a way to collect the money easily, providing a base for the team,' Wintergreen says. 
Such a service dibs aims to present as part of its offering.

Moreover, Mr Ismail believes that his team's passion for sports gives him a good insight into what the target market is. "We are avid football fans and players. Our passion for sports fuels our desire to solve the football fans' community problems throughout the Middle East."

However, he and his team do have something of an ace up their sleeve – they are already successful in an associated area. “Dibs is our second venture after we have been part of developing, which is a football fan community start-up that enables people to watch their favourite teams live in action,” Mr Ismail says.

Launched six years ago, fly-foot, whose tagline is “Pick your game & Pack your bag”, offers sports fans travel packages via its website. It is, according to the firm, the Middle East’s leading football trips provider and covers eight cities including the major European football hotspots Barcelona, Madrid and London, offering full and semi packages. A full package includes round-trip flights, accommodation in a central location, stadium seats and airport pick-up, while the semi package covers seats and accommodation only.

“Multitudes” of fans, from the casual to the most hard-core fanatic, have travelled with fly-foot from their homes across the region to wherever their favourite club was playing, and the firm says its focus is on providing punters with an authentic insight into the cities they visit and the home teams they go to see.

“Through this journey we have learned that the game does not end at the field’s lines or at the stadium gates. The city and the local people are an integral part of the experience,” fly-foot says.

Back in Lebanon, Mr Ismail is convinced dibs will tackle some very real issues for fans and amateur players alike in the region.

“People constantly come forward to us and share with us the problems that they face to be sports fans in this part of the world,” he says.

“Whether it is access to stadiums, or booking a game, or buying fans' gadgets, or following their teams' results and news, they are all problems we are constantly working to solve and to improve the solution we already have.

“Our vision is to develop and uplift the sports industry in the Middle East while solving the problems facing the community."

And he hopes in time to emulate the success of fly-foot with dibs.

“We are currently starting with Lebanon and we will be soon expanding to other countries like Jordan, UAE and Cairo,” he says.

The start-up will face competition, especially in the UAE, where the likes of Dubai-based Sports eTech, which describes itself as “your one-stop platform to make sports part of your everyday life”, offer similar services and are already well established.

With over 100 partner venues and events to choose from and over 10,000 active users to connect with, Sports eTech claims to be the largest sports platform in the Middle East.

But Mr Ismail is unfazed. “We are aiming to be operational in 10 countries by 2020,” he says.

“We are now focused on our market penetration strategy that will eventually set the pace of our plans for the upcoming years."

Mr Ismail is adamant that the passion he and his staff have for helping people realise their sporting ambitions, whatever level they may be, will drive them to success.

“Today, more than ever before, we feel we are more committed to our community,” he says.

"The desire to meet our vision and our great passion for sports is what makes us get out of bed every morning.”

Company profile:

  1. Name of company: dibs
  1. Founders: Rayan Ismail (CEO), Nour Theodore Soubra (COO)
  1. Investment stage: MVP (minimum viable product)