We sat down with our business Skylab‘s power duo; Chloe Waddington and Jon Hobbs to talk diversity within sports, growth plans and why storytelling is their secret weapon. The pair also explain why they swallowed up Cuhu and Insight Analysis to create a first-of-its-kind offering.
Full Press Release on Business Live
Can you introduce yourselves, who are you and what do you do?
Chloe: I am responsible for the company direction, commercial success, operations, service offering and people. My background is running specialist digital agencies that have created industry firsts across many different sectors. This allows me to provide a wider lens outside of our specialism within Sport. While companies who operate within a niche are every bit the specialist, it can be easy to become habitual and formulaic, which often dilutes the impact. It’s my job to shake the tree and challenge our teams and clients by asking how we do things differently. Where is the benchmark and how do we surpass it?
Jon: I am the General Manager for our specialist division, Skylab: Elite Performance Analysis (EPA). I manage a team of analysts and data scientists who provide vital performance insights for elite sporting organisations. To be involved in the cutting edge of elite sport is my passion and is an absolute privilege.
What is Skylab in a nutshell?
Chloe: Simply, we have the capability to merge elite sports performance solutions with digital capabilities. So often, sporting organisations do not align their athletic success with digital engagement and the thread that connects performance analysis with ‘digital’ is data. By improving athletic performance in the sporting arena and improving engagement off it, we can make a sporting organisation much more successful.
While one division focuses on crafting digital solutions for sporting organisations, our Elite Performance Analysis division assists elite sports by providing leading performance analysis services and allowing players, athletes, coaches and organisations to make better decisions in sport.
How we do it is what sets us apart. We apply our passion, experience and expertise in sport and technology to make a positive difference for clients, athletes and fans alike and we do so with ingenuity.
Why has Skylab merged with Insight & Cuhu?
Chloe: We saw a significant gap in the market. Talking to the industry, the same gripes of clunky software were becoming more and more frequent and outside of that, we knew that bringing the brilliance of both teams together would open new avenues that allow us to truly innovate.
Both Cuhu and Insight bring their specialist strengths which bolster the offerings of Skylab. With Insight Analysis, Skylab will be in the position to revolutionise the ways in which elite sports teams and individuals interact, use and visualise their data.
By merging with Cuhu, Skylab will be able to offer much more complex mobile-app and PWA builds for clients, widening our development capabilities. Our job is to build digital products that enhance people’s lives, help them navigate the world of sport, help them communicate with each other, and solve their problems faster. Having specialist app capabilities allows us to be a little more neutral about the tech we have formally specialised in and focus on how it is best solved for our clients with our new capabilities.
Jon: Formerly Insight Analysis had always outsourced the software development. When the opportunity arose to merge into an incredible digital strategy and software development organisation in sport, it made perfect sense for where we wanted to take the business – hence Skylab: Elite Performance Analysis was born.
What is Skylab’s secret weapon?
Chloe: It’s our ability to tell a story. Whether that is how we apply UX or how we visualise big data. The way we are able to do that gives us a significant advantage in the world of sport.
Often organisations across the sector default to ‘off the shelf’ solutions that are bloated, have low organisational engagement, high bounce rates and little participation.
No one is creating bespoke, crafted software solutions for the elite performance market that match the calibre of a leading digital agency’s output and that’s exactly what the world’s top 5% of professional sports teams require.
Jon and I have brought our specialist teams together to disrupt and innovate. We are trailblazers. Our team consists of the brightest minds, from scientists and developers to creatives and with that, we can apply a first-of-its-kind offering and deliver products that make the seconds, minutes or hours spent using them much better.
And the biggest challenge?
Jon: In the short term, the impact of Covid can’t be downplayed. It’s fantastic that live sport can now continue with stadia full of fans, however, the financial ramifications of an entire season of sport played behind closed doors is truly being felt. The revenue hole caused by covid means clubs will be scrutinising every penny they spend, making the market a lot leaner. As the world opens up again we should see some recovery however it could take a couple of years.
Our biggest, overarching challenge has to be escaping the day to day and focusing on the bigger picture. It’s a challenge constantly being faced by pioneers in technology and sports tech is no different. It takes visionaries on the client-side to be bold and make huge leaps forwards.
Would the businesses not have been more agile existing alone?
Chloe: If you take agile to mean both ways of working internally and our ability to react to a rapidly shifting market environment, bringing the businesses together was the smart approach. The sports market, on the whole, is becoming increasingly saturated, so to maintain our lead on the competition, it makes sense for Skylab, EPA and Cuhu to join forces. This way we are stronger together and occupy a unique position in the market.
Jon: As a division within a bigger organisation, Skylab: EPA still has the autonomy and brand strength to forge our own path and make the most of any opportunities that we feel are strategically correct for the business. We have retained all our services and capabilities from our days as Insight Analysis. Crucially, within Skylab, we now have our own in-house development team so we’ve added to our capabilities, something that no other business like us has in the world.
What’re the big plans for the future?
Chloe: Outside of the mergers I have been working on a new positioning and focus for Skylab’s specialist digital services. This means we have a clear understanding of who we are and where we are going. Without that foundation, it is a gut feel and we are here to shake things up. We are here to achieve big goals, challenge our peers and impact sport as a sector.
Secondly, the business previously focussed heavily on development and whilst quality dev is crucial, our users are human and the quality of code is only one element of delivering excellence. UX and Creative are critical in innovation and helping clients connect with their customers. Digital products should and can be both functional and beautiful. Technology is the vehicle, it’s what you do with it that matters.
Jon: We have some huge opportunities that are only possible for us to pursue due to the newly merged entity. Without going into confidential details, we’re focused on solving the most pressing issues in elite performance analysis in sport. We’re already far down the track with a number of organisations that share our vision of how to change the landscape of sport in the future. It’s a really exciting time.
Chloe, how do you navigate being a woman in a leadership position in the world of sport, an area not known for its diversity?
There are three areas here, sport, tech and leadership. Each of these areas has been traditionally dominated by men and it is a huge, complex topic to discuss. As an individual, I enjoy breaking barriers and have been fortunate to now find myself in a group where inclusivity is high on the agenda. This hasn’t always been the case and there have been conversations and situations that have left scars. It is far too frequent. However, I’ve always been called a trailblazer from a young age, so I use the end goal as the focus, dilute any noise around me and surround myself with like-minded people that make things happen. As an individual and in my job, I have the power to affect change and to create real and complete inclusion, not just something symbolic, so that is what I will do.
Finally, what advice would you give to those looking to gain a better understanding of Sports Performance analysis?
Jon: Follow the right people on Twitter and the right companies on LinkedIn. It’s a great community and people are generally quite open about innovations and current trends. Also, reach out to people directly and ask to speak about what you’re interested in. I’ve found people are happy to chat with anyone with a genuine interest.
Skylab also recently announced a trio of new hires; Raza Khan joins the firm as Marketing Manager, Ciaran Skinner has been named as its new Business Development manager, and Zak Saucede has been appointed to Skylab’s senior management team as Head of Analysis and Data Solutions.