Jean de Villiers: Athlete to entrepreneur

15 December 2020

Written by Nompu Siziba, moneyweb.co.za

Tech startup myFanPark brings fans and celebrities closer together through digital interaction, and it currently has a presence in 11 countries.

NOMPU SIZIBA: South African tech startup company myFanPark has recently merged forces with a Silicon Valley-based celebrity engagement platform called Starsona. myFanPark was set up to help connect celebrities with their fans, and the concept has been growing with it already having expanded its presence in other countries like Nigeria, India, Germany and now the United States.

So what’s it all really about, and how impactful has it been? I’m joined on the line by Jean de Villiers, one of the founders of myFanPark. Thanks very much, Jean, for joining us. Now, what’s myFanPark’s value proposition and purpose?

JEAN DE VILLIERS: Well, I think the purpose, first of all, is to bring fans and celebrities a little closer together with digital interactions where, on the one side, I suppose, celebrities can monetise what they’re already doing. And from a fan point of view it’s just to delight and inspire, and really share positiveness in a world where there’s so much negativity going on. If you can get a little bit closer to that person that inspires you and provides hope, hopefully by doing that we can we can put some smiles on people’s faces.

NOMPU SIZIBA: That’s a very nice idea. So who conceived the idea, or is it not necessarily a new one?

JEAN DE VILLIERS: It is not necessarily a new one. We are four co-founders. One of the co-founders, a guy by the name of Wouter Lombard, was on his way to Portugal. Before he left, he told his barber in Cape Town that he was going there and his barber said, “Well, the best barber in the world is there in Portugal. Please would you go to him and just get a photo with him?” So he arrived in Portugal, went to this barber, and then that barber said, “No problem, man, but let’s do one better – let’s do a video”. They made a video and Wouter sent it to his barber, who was absolutely ecstatic and said it was the best day of his life.

Wouter went to our other two co-founders, and one who was working with them at the time, Joy Des Fontan, and her husband Dylan, and said, “Is there an idea here?” And they said, absolutely. Dylan is a good friend of mine, so he got me involved as well.

And, lo and behold, we found that there is a mega company called Cameo based in America that’s doing the same and is very successful. But we said we are South Africans, we are going to take them on and see what we can do. That was about 18 months ago.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Excellent. So what are the various different ways that celebrities engage with their fans, and what sort of growth have you seen on your platform since you started 18 months ago?

JEAN DE VILLIERS: We’ve seen considerable growth. I don’t have the exact numbers with me now, but I think quite a big step in terms of our company in the right direction is a merger that we did that was concluded two weeks ago with a Silicon Valley-based company called Starsona. I’ve already spoken about Cameo and the success that Dave had. Starsona  was basically the second-biggest company in America that did the same. Starsona approached us, our CEO, Joy Des Fountain, and asked her who we are, because we’d opened our India market, and asked if there was an opportunity for us to work together.

After about three months of quite intense talking, and seeing what their value proposition was versus ours, we got to the conclusion that a merger was the best way to go.

Now, funnily, we are sitting in a situation where in October last year we had about 80 talented people on our platform. We’ve got over 2 400 on our platform currently. Revenue has gone up, and I suppose the brand equity that we’ve built, being able to launch in so many other countries, has really helped the business.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Yes. So, from a monetary point of view, how does it work? Do fans pay a monthly subscription or what? Do you get anything from the celebrity side, because obviously you create a safe platform for them to engage with their fans?

JEAN DE VILLIERS: Yes. I think the important thing to remember is that we want to keep the privacy of the celebrities. So we’ve got a platform that they can work through for the fans to get closer to the celebrities, but it’s not sharing any personal information or details regarding emails and telephone numbers and so forth.

Each celebrity decides what his or her fee will be. And then there’s a product range that we have. We started with personalised videos, but we always knew that we would grow into so much more than just personalised videos. And we’ve grown into a business where we can really offer anything that you can deliver digitally, whether that is direct messages or live Zoom calls.

We’ve got a thing called “fun stuff”, and you can really just build whatever you want there, whether it is coaching someone on how to click, or batting, or whether it is – a chef showing a specific recipe and you giving back to your mom as a Christmas gift a recipe specifically for her, or whatever that might be. The celebrity determines his own fee on all of those products, and then the business itself just takes a percentage of that fee that gets paid.

NOMPU SIZIBA: I know we’re very obsessed with doing things in a digital manner, but what if a fan wants to actually meet their celebrity in person? Can that happen?

JEAN DE VILLIERS: Yes, I think we can facilitate that as well. But it’s all down to the talent and what he or she wants to do. Some people are more comfortable doing more stuff, and some just want to stick to one kind of thing. So we have the commercial option as well, where brands can also come on board.

And then, with the fun stuff there might just be an opportunity to create other experiences as well. We do have teams that we are signing on now as well. So, being able to have on the platform the ability to be the kid that runs out first for your team’s big match, or having a behind-the-scenes experience of a locker room with a team, or stuff like that. So it really is just connecting the fan with those people that they admire most. And then a lot of the time it is just getting to a point that that the talent is comfortable with, and that fans are willing to pay for as well.

NOMPU SIZIBA: So if I’m a fan and I want to get on the platform, what’s involved?

JEAN DE VILLIERS: It’s very easy. It’s still web-based, our platform. Just go to myfanpark.com and you can scroll through all the talent that we have on the platform, what their offering is, and you basically click through and just go through the process of booking. Some are in more demand than others, as you can expect, and some might only say, okay, well I’m doing, let’s call it, personalised videos., I’m only doing seven personalised videos this month.

So it’s important to get in quickly or constantly until you get that person that you really want, trying to fit your pocket as well at this time of the year.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Now you obviously have mentioned that you have a presence in India. What sort of celebrities are people in India interested in? Are they mainly sports people?

JEAN DE VILLIERS: Yes. Obviously, as you might know, cricket is massive in India So cricket is definitely a big one. We’ve got some of the Bollywood stars on there as well. That entertainment space is really big. We’ve seen a big demand for comedians. As you can imagine, they’re quite comfortable when they are looking into a camera and being a bit creative and doing something. So that’s been really good, and is just providing a laugh or providing some joy to others. That’s been quite a constant thread as well.

You know, we’ve got former Beverly Hills 90210 stars on the platform now as well, and after the merger some NBA stars. So really there is a vast range that we have on the platform, and also now a presence in 11 countries.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Wow. I was going to ask you about that merger between yourselves and Starsona, and what it meant for you as a company. Obviously it gives you more reach in terms of the celebrities that you have on the platform.

JEAN DE VILLIERS: Yes. That on the one side. But also we are a people’s business in that we are creating interactions between people. But it’s very tech-strong as well. I suppose the one side that we’ve been good with as myFanPark has been the ability to really build the brand and get into difficult markets.

But with Starsona now, they’ve got extremely strong tech and that has really put us in a position where our value proposition is a really strong one. And that, along with the connection that they have, along with the reset they had in America, again puts us in a position where the growth that we’ve seen has really been one that we are very proud of in a short space of time, and hopefully we can just continue with that going into the new year.

NOMPU SIZIBA: That was Jean de Villiers, one of the founders of myFanPark