The Malta Independent 20 March 2018, Tuesday

FIRST: Technology - Starting off with a POANG!

First Magazine Saturday, 2 December 2017, 09:00 Last update: about 5 months ago

Fuelled by ambition and belief in their novel idea, three young Maltese entrepreneurs quit their full-time jobs to focus on a novel venture: creating a fantasy football app. Now only three months old, POANG has made a head-start on the download charts. First magazine talks to Steve Zammit Briffa, Luca Amato and Patrick Camilleri, the team behind the start-up. Words by Alex Demarco. Photography by Joanna Demarco.

The month of August is an exciting time for football fans. It marks the return of Europe's major football leagues and, depending on who you support, instils hope and optimism amongst supporters. Taking on a role similar to that of an expectant father, fans get ready to back their favourite team through another nine months of ups and downs. 

In the days leading up to the big kick-off, perhaps because of the inability to contain their excitement, many fans turn to fantasy football in order to assemble their own team and earn points depending on those players' real-life performances, or eagerly await the popular football manager game to put their perceived knowledge of the beautiful game to the test. 

Last August, whilst most were playing with these apps, three Maltese friends, Steve, Luca and Patrick, were working on launching one.

POANG allows users to build their own team by selecting players from Europe's major leagues (England, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Portugal and the Netherlands), whilst also having a hands-on approach by being able to improve the team's stadium, finance and scouting departments. 

"It's basically this hybrid thing, the joining of these two elements which, prior to the app, didn't really exist," said co-founder Steve Zammit Briffa, elaborating on what sets POANG apart from other fantasy football apps. "So, you have the fantasy sports element which is based on real life, choose players who exist in real life, etc., but then we also included a lot of elements from this simulation management model, so essentially it became a role-playing game, but one based on real life." 

POANG - which means 'point' or 'score' in Swedish - has proved to be a major hit in Malta as well as overseas and, at the time of writing, has been downloaded more than 26,000 times. It has taken Steve, Luca and Patrick nearly two years of non-stop hard work, together with plenty of sacrifices (and coffee) along the way, to get to this point and, with a number of plans in the pipeline, this is just the start of their adventure. 


One of the ideas Steve had

It all kicked off back in 2015, when Steve bumped into Luca one night and told him about this idea he had, which originally was simply to create a fantasy sports app consisting of multiple leagues."I met Luca at a wedding and POANG was one of the few ideas I had had that week," Steve explained when I met him at the company's offices in Marsa. When Luca reacted with enthusiasm and support, the two decided to work on it.

"I always need someone to action an idea, it always helps to have someone to approve of it and keep dragging it", said Steve. "So when I told Luca about this idea, and he was actually excited by it, his reaction validated my idea and we ran with it." The two then got Patrick on board, to be the IT mind within the project.

The pair encountered their first stumbling block a couple of months into their work, when Steve discovered that his idea already existed. Rather than downing tools, however, he and Luca decided to reinvent their product and added aspects of the popular football manager franchise which, as Steve puts it, "makes fantasy football a bit less boring."

With POANG's framework in place, work on the app began gathering pace, with the trio meeting on a daily basis after work until the early hours of the morning. Then last year, with the 2016 European Championships (EURO) just around the corner, they decided to put their concept to the test and see what kind of feedback they got from their users. 

Gaining support, leaving comfort

The response was overwhelmingly positive and that summer proved to be a turning point for the POANG team, who by then knew that their app stood a very good chance of being successful. "We had been meeting and designing the game on paper and decided to use the EURO as a way to validate the concept and see if people were receptive to the idea," Luca explained.

"So what we did, what Patrick did, was create a very basic website that was based on the EURO but with these very basic concepts - represented in a very basic manner - of what we wanted to do and we created" Having got the approval they sought, planning moved on to what would be required in order to develop their app - and the simple answer was that they needed investors. 

So, as Luca explained, the next few months were spent getting in touch with as many contacts as possible, asking whether they would be interested in investing in POANG. Essentially, what the three co-founders were asking was whether anyone was willing to invest in their idea, rather than the final product, as is normal procedure. 

In the end, Hili Ventures expressed a keen interest in what POANG was looking to create and following a "long and tiring eight-month process", decided to grant the start-up the funding that was needed to get their project off the ground. Earlier this year, with Hili Ventures giving them the financial backing they needed, Steve, Luca and Patrick each took the bold step of giving up their full-time jobs in order to focus all their energy on POANG and ensure that it became the successful app that they had long envisaged.

Steve, who had previously organised parties and events, is a qualified lawyer, as is Luca, whilst Patrick was an IT manager, but despite acknowledging that leaving their professions was somewhat risky, the three of them were determined to turn their dream into a reality. "The truth is that, yes, in the case of Patrick and me, we gave up a stable income and stable jobs and took pay cuts to do this," Luca said. "Getting investment obviously helped, but the truth is that, just like in any business, there's no guaranteed income, which is why you need to be really passionate about what you're doing. Essentially, life is too short to do things you don't want to do. While it is a risk, that's the evaluation that one should make. How passionate are you? If you are passionate enough and you're lucky enough to be in a position to do it, then you should do it."


Continuing with a POANG!

Despite the early success that POANG has had, the trio are in no way ready to rest on their laurels and work to improve the app is already in the pipeline. For starters, users can expect the game to soon be available as a web version, whilst it will also be accessible via Facebook's games section. There is also a treat in store for local football lovers, with plans to release a game specifically for the BOV Premier League and First Division teams by the end of this year. 

In the long run, however, Steve makes it clear that they don't want to be known just for their fantasy football app and they have a number of ideas on which they would like to work in the future. "Hili invested in us as an app development company, not only in fantasy football," Steve explained. "We have a lot of ideas - which we think they're good - and we see ourselves creating, not just other apps, but anything tech or internet related, mainly. We have some cool stuff coming out relatively soon, hopefully."


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