Featured Business: DB Sports Tours
Name: David Berber
Employees: 3 full time staff and part-time staff to accompany groups (Easter 15-20 people)
Since: 2010 (2011/12 operationally)
From chartered accountant to FIFA player agent may seem like an unusual career move. However, that is the return on investment for David Berber’s time spent coaching a kids’ soccer team while he was working as a chartered accountant. After organising a trip abroad for the team, he noticed a gap in the market and set about filling it.
Established in 2010 and operating since 2012, DB Sports Tours started out with the vision of giving all children, regardless of age or ability, an experience of professional football. David was coaching at a high level and knew that children who get the opportunity to go away on trial are only 1% of the market. DB Sports Tours caters for the other 99% with a package that includes training at professional academies along with games and stadium tours.
Over an action-packed weekend or week, these players get the same experience as Wayne Rooney or Lionel Messi through fitness testing, sports psychology classes, and talks with scouts who explain what it takes to become a professional footballer.
Up until recently, DB Sports Tours catered for the Irish market’s youth teams, but in 2015 they provided for a group from the USA who travelled to Spain. They are looking to expand in that area and plan to market towards college teams and semi-professional clubs.
Launching this year, the Catalan Elite Football is a professional academy in Ireland, which will be wholly unique. It is based on Catalan methodology — adopted by Barcelona Football Club and the Spanish National team that won the World Cup and the European Championship back-to-back. Elite kids will be able to train together there.
Under the FIFA Player agent side of the business, which David hopes to rebrand, trials or matches are arranged for the best young players in Ireland against a Premier League academy side. It’s not just Irish players though. He has signed a Cypriot Under-17 international captain and he represents a boy from Poland who plays for Fulham.
“We’ll definitely have players in the Premier League; I’m looking forward to seeing who is the first,” says David.
Interview with David Berber
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
I was working as a chartered accountant with Ernst & Young. I was playing football and got involved in coaching a kids’ team. I was asked to organise a trip away; the feedback from it was unbelievable and I saw a gap in the market for it and decided I didn’t want to continue with Ernst and Young.
How did you initially fund your business?
I got great support from Dublin City Enterprise Board. They’ve been fantastic with funding and mentors. I had personal savings — I was young so I was able to save money. I’ve had some investments from other people — both financially and with time.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
Yes, absolutely. We started bringing away the best schoolboy clubs and leagues in Ireland. From that, we started to build up relationships with clubs, coaches, parents and we set up a FIFA player agency. I have a FIFA player agent license so we now represent a number of Irish youth players in Premier League clubs. We have a player management business as well. What we do with our players now is we source trials for them with the clubs that we deal with. When they get a contract we negotiate the best terms and conditions for the player. These kids are getting showcased in front of the right people, which is very unique. We organise matches against some of the biggest clubs in the UK — and had a Metropolitan girls team go away to play Espanyol, one of the top teams in the Spanish League.
What have been the highlights to date?
For me, it was an event we ran called the Coca Cola Irish Cup where we brought over Ajax, West Brom and Reading. We also had the Irish National Youth team participate. Getting to the last few in the SFA awards was another highlight. The biggest buzz I get is when I’m negotiating contracts for an Irish schoolboy and that I’m able to make their dreams come true. We can organise trials for players who otherwise never would have got a trial.
What’s the bravest step you’ve made in relation to your business?
The bravest step was giving up my job with Ernst & Young. It was in the middle of the recession. People were saying “Are you mad? You have a good job, why would you want to give it up? You’ve studied for the last five/six years of your life to become an accountant.” That was the bravest step to do it. I moved to England for a couple of months to set up my contacts.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
Without a doubt, the freedom of being my own boss. At the start I was doing everything myself and was tied up working till all hours. Now that I’ve established the business, there’s processes in place and I have staff and it allows me to do other things.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
It’s tough. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices in terms of sports — I used to play football a lot, which I haven’t in a number of years. I don’t go out, but I go away seven or eight times a year. My work is my life. It’s part life, it’s part work. It’s a hobby, it’s a passion.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
I’ve read every biography of every famous entrepreneur. One of my favourite is Alan Sugar, purely because he came from nothing. He was heavily involved with football as well — he owned Tottenham Hotspur. I’m inspired by my hardworking family more than anything, having been brought up around a family with a strong work ethic. My mother raised two kids as a single mother and did extra jobs.
What tools or technologies do you use that benefit your customers or business?
Social media is massive for us. Where we differ to everybody else is the contacts and relationships we have with the clubs. When you can put up a picture of a football team playing in a famous academy it’s a big deal. Our competitors can’t do that. They don’t have those relationships. We’re never going to sell anything from social media but it builds awareness.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
I would 100% say that nobody knows the Irish schoolboy market like I do. I know it inside out, I know every club, I know every level. My competitors don’t understand the market. I’m out watching games every week, I’m on the ground. It’s all about relationships. The amount of contacts I’ve built up, knowing someone who knows someone.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
I tried to set up a venture in Poland for Euro 2012. It went belly up. The biggest challenge was we were too new into the business and we didn’t have the manpower. We put too much trust into our partners. Looking back now I’m glad it didn’t go ahead. At the time it was a lot of money lost, a lot of time lost, a lot of effort lost. It took our eye off the ball in what we were growing. It was an opportunity that was a fantastic idea at the time but didn’t come to fruition.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
One thing that I hate doing now is the finances. What comes to me naturally? I’m very organised. To grow any business, it’s about relationships. I’m really good at making new contacts and building new relationships.
How did you scale/grow your business?
Word of mouth. We have 100% customer retention. Our referrals are through the roof.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
I read a lot in terms of my industry. I am well up to date on any new opportunities and new markets and new legislation that’s coming into FIFA law. I keep up to date with blogs and get constant updates by emails that I’ve registered for. I read a lot. I think reading is very, very important.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
To be recognised for bringing something to schoolboy football in Ireland.
What’s your vision for the future?
To represent a player in the Irish national team, have players in the Premier League and look to build in new markets. I hope, going forward, Ireland will only be 25% of our business.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
If you honestly have a passion for it, you have to be driven. If you have a passion, go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? If you fail, you go again. I think all these people plan for ages. Initially when you start up you are going to make lots of costly mistakes. Obviously you can try and minimise them. Just do it. You’re going to make mistakes, but learn from them. If you can do business here, you can do business anywhere – the Irish customer needs a lot of attention.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
Be brave, take risks, nothing can substitute experience.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
At the beginning it was very hard to delegate work because it’s your business.
Phone: +353 15252921
Interviewed by: Web Content Partners
Please be aware that all of the views expressed in this Blog are purely the personal views of the authors and commentators (including those working for AIB as members of the AIB website team or in any other capacity) and are based on their personal experiences and knowledge at the time of writing.
Some of the links above bring you to external websites. Your use of an external website is subject to the terms of that site.
Allied Irish Banks, p.l.c. is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland. Copyright Allied Irish Banks, p.l.c. 1995.