It’s the biggest Berlin startup you’ve never heard of – and as Germany gears up for the European Championships this summer along with the rest of the football-mad continent, motain is set to become an even bigger success story.
That’s because it not only produces one of Europe’s most popular football apps, but it is also behind the only official application for Euro 2012. Silicon Allee went along to the company’s swish Mitte office to talk about hitting the back of the digital net.
Sat across the table are co-founder and managing director Lucas von Cranach and Jonathan Lavigne, responsible for product and development at motain. Football being football, there are commiserations both for the Frenchman Jonathan – his team Marseille lost the night before – and Lucas, whose favourite club Cologne are enduring a terrible season and whose best player is set to leave in the summer for a certain team Silicon Allee is rather fond of.
But that’s what makes football such an attractive market – so many people spend so much time and energy on it. As for motain, the company was founded in Bochum in 2008 before making the move to Berlin in November 2010. Its original app was a Java-based scores service, but was horrible to distribute with so many versions for different phones.
A Unique Opportunity
The launch of the first iPhone, however, provided a unique opportunity – iLiga was one of the first apps available for the device in Germany and quickly proved a big hit.
Since then it has been growing in Germany and has become the number one football app, the number one sports app and one of the top apps overall.
The company’s core product, iLiga – known as THE Football App in non-German speaking parts of Europe – provides comprehensive coverage of the world’s biggest leagues, including the Premier League in England, Germany’s Bundesliga, the Italian Serie A and La Liga in Spain. It also covers cup competitions, international matches and leagues in the US and Japan.
Content includes fixtures, results, live scores and coverage, tables, news and videos. The second part of motain’s portfolio includes apps for individual clubs – including Borussia Dortmund, who recently claimed their second Bundesliga title on the trot – and sports, such as handball and basketball.
The third part, meanwhile, is the most exciting for the startup’s management team. Their Euro 2012 app is the only one officially sanctioned by UEFA, the game’s governing body in Europe, and there are high hopes that the quadrennial tournament will drive growth in the other apps. It won’t be a leap into the unknown, however, for a company that was also responsible for the apps for the 2010 World Cup, the 2011 Women’s World Cup and the 2012 African Cup of Nations.
So what has made this small startup so successful when pitched against the big boys of the mainstream footballing media? Jonathan said it was all about having the right focus for mobile: “There was no one really good international football app covering all football for the fans; not only the scores but the news, the videos and everything. And that’s what iLiga is doing.”
Users, they say, are not as concerned with brand image as people may think, and an app which has been designed purely with usability in mind tends to win out. Lucas said: “If you ask somebody to look on their phone at which apps they have, I would say it’s 30 percent brand apps and 70 percent applications which are not brands but deliver the right content in the right way. That’s actually the reason why people love our product, and we have a very high engagement with the users. We have huge usage because people easily understand our intuitive product, and that’s something where you don’t need marketing. It’s word of mouth. People say, ‘look I have this great app,’ their friends then download it and people stay with us.”
Huge amounts of official content is aggregated and pushed out to the app. There is also a TV app in development which will be more focused on video. Jonathan added: “It’s not just take your content and bring it out, it’s look at what content you can get and prepare it for the right target audience and the right target device.”
The attention to detail needed to localise content makes curation complex, but motain has developed a smart system that removes the need for anyone at the company to touch anything. Despite this, the motain team only includes around a dozen people in the office with another eight or ten engineers based elsewhere in Germany. But the company is expanding rapidly – it has passed a million active users and is now actively looking to grow that number outside of Germany.
Creating Millions of Downloads
And the main focus now is on Euro 2012, with the official app – sponsored by Carlsberg – being the biggest project of the year for motain. As the only official UEFA-endorsed app for the European Championships, it’s the only one which can, for example, use the keyword Euro 2012 in iTunes, a massive benefit.
Jonathan said: “By actually keeping ownership of this app, it is promoting The Football App. It’s going to create millions of downloads across Europe, we’re pretty sure of that, because we have all the languages, we have all the official content and we’re going to have special features, as well as just the name, which is going to make it very hard for the competition.”
All motain apps are free, with the business model currently incorporating advertising and sponsorship, with future plans for in-app payment for things like exclusive content and services. Lucas added: “It’s a two way approach and whilst admitting that the mobile advertising market, as everybody knows, is not that big, we have still managed to get six-figure budgets for concepts with big brands like Seat or Commerzbank, as well as Carlsberg which is paying us to be the sponsor of the app.”
So where do football apps go from here? Lucas believes that by getting in early, motain has a vital step on the rest of the football media: “The reason why we say were strong is because we have the feeling that we’re one and a half years ahead of the conventional publishers in this field. If you go into a sports application, I would guess 30-40 percent of the UI is somehow a copy of what we did, in terms of how it presents matchdays; aligning for sure, within the Apple UI guidelines, but this is definitely an area where we are strong.”
Lucas and Jonathan remained tight-lipped about future plans – though they did let slip that they are planning something along the lines of a football community, a one-stop-shop for football fans around the world.
But no matter who emerges triumphant in Kiev on July 1, motain will consider itself a Euro 2012 winner.