BEND IT LIKE ZOVA

Written on the 3 March 2011

BEND IT LIKE ZOVA

For decades the Brazilian football greats have used rhythm to perfect their skills, but now through the growth of digital music technology a Brisbane duo is streaming the idea to the masses. With a product that combines music and structured training exercises, Zova is in negotiations with Warner Music and EMI. Co-founder Niall McCarthy tells Brisbane Business News about his world-first product and plans for a post-World Cup bang.

NIALL McCarthy remembers the moment vividly.

At 21, after coaching a junior training session he went to the office and heard hip hop artist Dizzee Rascal on the radio. Instinctively, he began to juggle a soccer ball to the high intensity beats before a business idea ‘literally came out of the air’.

“I coach kids between nine and 11 years old and they’ve got iPods they’re listening to before they train, so how can we take that off-field experience and put that on the field, merging the two together in an enjoyable format?” he says.

“Zova adds immense value to a normal training session, because it increases kids’ touches on the ball and it increases focus because they’ve got a task at hand and they’ve got to be able to accomplish that.

“Because it’s to music they’ve got to be able to perform to the rhythm, which gives them goals that might not necessarily have been set by the kids.”

To create the product, McCarthy collaborated with music producer James Tonkin.

Just 18 months on, with the additional support of three private investors, the pair is currently in talks with agents to sign an international signature player.

“We’re expecting commercialisation post-World Cup from August through to the end of the year, which is very much when we’ll have our big push and I feel as though we’ll get a fair amount of traction,” he says.

“For example, if a certain player performs well in the World Cup, does a certain exercise that we have either replicated or made, kids are going to want to go out and be like that football player.”

Zova’s current showcase product has Queensland Roar midfielder Isaka Cernak in videos demonstrating exercises to Brazilian-style samba music, but for McCarthy the beauty is in its opportunity for a diverse range of players and musicians to collaborate.

“We’ve deliberately designed it so we didn’t just have the football exercises, but the music to the beat, released to freestyle tracks that are essentially just pop tunes,” he says.

“The best thing about Zova is that because it’s a rhythm bed we can use house music to world music to samba, so it won’t be pigeonholed in one style of music.

“We see it as a global product, so in Japan we’d have a Japanese player with a Japanese musician.”

He says the product also presents opportunities for musicians and players to find fan bases where they might not have previously.

“If you have footballer X and musician Y combining to do a Zova release, then not only does the product have the quality but the two stars coming together towards the table is going to bring a lot more value, bringing their fan bases together.”

It’s still early days for Zova, but the gamble is only tied to private equity thus far, as the company begins its first round of investment.

McCarthy remains cautious of potential competitors, but maintains that Zova holds IP over its icons and sequences, that have been executed with a highly sophisticated level of expertise.

“We are the world’s first, no one’s done it before, and secondly, someone would have to have to change it by 25 to 30 per cent to be different,” he says.

“Almost certainly someone’s going to try and emulate it, probably very soon, once they get drift of it. I’m also all for it, I want competition whereby the industry grows, and there’s enough space for four Zovas in the market.

“The development process is extremely difficult though, it’s not like you could simply pick up a football and pick up a drum.”

While the business model has a global focus, McCarthy’s goal at the core is to improve the skills of Australian footballers. But the company is aiming to get partners in countries like England or Brazil on board before the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) publicly endorses the product.

“I personally want to grow the game in this country, regardless whether it’s Zova or not – it’s my country, I’m passionate about football so why not?”

While it’s an entrepreneurship that is taking on the world from grassroots football in Brisbane, the 23-year-old is modest about his own business nous.

“A good entrepreneur is someone who is able to innovate, either ideas or products or services, yet they are able to prove themselves at the same time,” he says.

“Even now I question whether I’m an entrepreneur yet – I’ve got entrepreneurial talent or skill, but whether I’m a fully-fledged official entrepreneur will be when the commercial viability of the product comes about.”

Success remains to be seen, but with solid fundamentals in place, Zova could be a future example of Generation Y Not?


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