Can sports help people explore Dubai?

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I wrote two years ago about how daily deals websites are fading in Lebanon, inspired by my previous job at GoNabit, the first group buying website in the Middle East.

Back then, the trend of buying discounted offers online was just starting to kick off in the region and everyone - service providers and buyers - wanted to take part.

After the concept proved itself, competition paved the way for websites like Makhsoom, ScoopCity, Cobone and many others to open in the Arab region. The goal behind the daily deals concept was to give exposure to service providers and bring them new first time customers that they might later convert to regular customers. However, customers’ loyalty was always questioned as online buyers often chase deals and discounts rather than the experience itself.

Two entrepreneurs hope to resolve the customer loyalty problem.

After working at Microsoft France for five years as a product manager then as a marketing manager, French-Lebanese Jad Berri moved to Microsoft Dubai in 2012.  He left the corporate life soon thereafter. “I needed a break to think about what I want to do,” he told us. When he first came to Dubai, it was really hard for him to explore new things in the emirate. Everyone goes to Burj Khalifa, he said, but there are many other activities people can do to explore Dubai to the fullest, especially that “in Dubai, you have a great weather for 7 months.” And so GamePlaySport was born.

Above, right: cofounder Jad Berri

Enjoying Dubai to the fullest

GamePlaySport, which launched in beta nearly two years ago, aims to help people discover new outdoor and sports activities in Dubai, but to also make them come back regularly to the service providers.  “We don’t want to offer discounts - they create issues,” Berri said, while referring to a frustrating experience he had after he bought a discounted deal from one of the local daily deals websites. “We aggregate what’s happening in Dubai,” he further explained.

Berri initiated the project with his cofounder Ghazwan Hamdan, who previously cofounded Restronaut.com, a social dining platform that connects people to a variety of restaurants. Hamdan joined Berri as Creative Director.  

The GamePlaySport platform gives users a variety of activities to choose from: yoga and fitness classes, wakeboarding and wakesurfing sessions, fishing, boxing, ballet dancing and others. When they want to redeem an offer, they can call the merchant directly without having to reserve or interact on the platform. Users can also check what new activities are happening in the next hour.  

At the moment, Berri is unable to track how many users are actually redeeming the offers after checking them on the platform, but he hints at implementing a new such feature soon.

Left to right: cofounders Ghazwan Hamdan and Jad Berri

Where’s the money?

The platform isn’t making money yet. It’s free for customers to check and for service providers to list their activities and get promoted. Berri and Hamdan are still in the process of gathering feedback from the clubs they approached and from beta users.  “We needed a validation on our idea,” Berri said. “The feedback was very positive and we received valid comments. One of them was that the website wasn’t super friendly on mobile, so we made sure to have the website work on all screens.”

Having bootstrapped from the beginning, GamePlaySport is working from Silicon Oasis Founders’ co-working space and recently received seed investment from the Dubai-owned incubator. “GamePlaySport is making life simpler, healthier and more enjoyable for Dubai residents. We believe smart solutions like this are the future and we want to support them and be their long term partner,” says the Incubation Director Hans Christensen. Though he declined to disclose the amount of the investment, Berri revealed the startup’s future plans.

“We’re launching a new subscription model to give users access to more gyms and unlock more activities.” They will be splitting the cost with the service provider.

To illustrate how the subscription model will be beneficial for gyms and clubs, Berri gave the example of Bounce, an indoor trampoline playground. “Everybody goes there, they try it once and probably go back a year after.” With the new model, customers can pay a specific amount per month and visit the place regularly, he adds.

The cofounder also hinted at the possibility of developing mobile applications on different operating systems. With more than 362 clubs on board, more than 55 sports and 1,218 activities featured, the future of GamePlaySport looks promising. However, if they want to convince more clubs to join, they need to come up with a process to track how many customers the platform is bringing to these clubs. They also need to spend more on marketing to boost their traffic. “Traffic is growing but is still low as we haven’t done any marketing activity yet," Berri noted.

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