Updated January 30 at 7:30pm
technology

Five Questions With: Rob Barnes and Eddie Ross

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Eddie Ross founded TennisHub, and Rob Barnes is the company’s marketing director. Both are avid tennis players.

TennisHub provides an online platform for tennis facilities to manage court reservations and connect players with classes and game partners. The company was founded in the Providence-based incubator BetaSpring and recently won the 2013 R.I. Business Plan Competition special technology award.

Ross and Barnes spoke to Providence Business News in an email interview about their scheduling platform and plans to help facilitate the social side of sports.

PBN: What do you think stood out about TennisHub in the Business Plan Competition?

BARNES and ROSS: A few things. Firstly, we’re applying a ubiquitous e-commerce idea to a vastly underserved market. Everyone is comfortable with buying products or booking hotel or airfare online, and we’re applying that to a new industry. In doing so, we help to solve a problem facing both businesses and their users, making it a pretty attractive proposition for all those involved.

Next, our progress to date was a differentiating factor. Some of the other competitors had brilliant ideas, but at that stage in the competition our purpose was not only already validated, but we had a product that was successfully up and running.

Compared to some other competitors, apart from our initial development costs, TennisHub requires relatively little to be scaled up. It’s a very efficient business and doesn’t require many of the financial and logistical concerns that come with managing inventory or consulting services.

PBN: How did you identify the need for a service like this?

BARNES and ROSS: As frequent players, it all began with us growing frustrated by the needless barriers in the way of booking a court or signing up for a program. As mentioned before, we’re used to buying all sorts of products and services online and tennis was a natural extension of this behavior.

The other solutions out there are antiquated by comparison, both from the perspective of a player and of the business trying to run a facility or schedule. Coupling this basic functionality with other tools that would help a club is how it all began to take shape.

PBN: Could you see other industries or sports using TennisHub's scheduling platform?

BARNES and ROSS: Absolutely. The core technology can be used to handle any sort of facility booking or reservation management. In time we want to pivot to other sports, but for the time being focused purely on tennis.

PBN: How big is the social component of TennisHub's system?

BARNES and ROSS: It’s absolutely essential. By nature, the tennis industry is hugely reliant on word of mouth. When players participate in a clinic and enjoy it, they tell their friends. Ultimately, a tennis club’s most powerful sales channel is through its players - they make the best salespeople. We’re capturing that same behavior and expanding upon it by leveraging the power of social media. Players can share a playing opportunity – be it a clinic, lesson or tournament - via email or social media and invite their friends with a direct link to sign up.

This is a great way to take advantage of the sport’s social component, but we’re continuing to develop our matchmaking algorithm that will pair players with partners or programs they never knew existed. Historically, clubs have a hard time sharing the ways a player can get on court and a better platform to market these opportunities is an example of a tool that’s especially valuable to a club in helping to drive revenue.

PBN: How do you see technology like this changing sports and sports facilities in the next 10 years?

BARNES and ROSS: Our immediate mission is to increase participation in tennis. We want to improve the symmetry of information flowing between businesses and people to highlight opportunities to play tennis, whether with friends or participating in a program, event or league. Next, we want to make it easy for people to book, pay and, most importantly, share their playing opportunities with friends.

In time, we want to take these same principles and apply them to sports like golf, running and cycling. Activities like arranging a foursome and participating in a 5K have an inherent social element. We feel strongly that the framework we’re developing in tennis can be applied across sports and will drive increased participation more broadly.

We want to make it easy for players to do more of the things they enjoy with the people that care about. It's a simple goal.

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