Rob Sigmon knows his pitch sounds a little cliché.
“Everybody wants to be the next Uber,” said Sigmon, the founder of Centennial-based startup iRef, which has just raised $200,000. “But we’re kind of designed around that concept of being an Uber for referees.”
Instead of helping pedestrians find drivers, iRef aims to help amateur sports leagues find referees. The company’s app is set to debut in Colorado next month, and in Ohio and Florida this fall.
Sigmon struggled to find referees for years, first for an adult soccer league he started in Denver called MoveDon, and later as the owner and operator of youth sports franchise i9 Sports in Arapahoe County.
The problem got his business brain kicking this spring when he started researching the size of the global amateur sports market while completing an MBA program at the University of Colorado Denver. By Sigmon’s tally, there are 1 billion amateur sports matches every year.
“Our goal is to reach three percent of the global market share by 2020,” Sigmon said. “That would mean that iRef would be a $300 million company.”
First comes the launch in August. Signup for the app will be free. Amateur sports leagues will specify how many referees they need, which certifications those refs need and a pay rate. Referees upload ID information, which iRef uses to check against crime databases and to verify referee certifications.
The app’s algorithm suggests league-to-ref matches and the league hires an official.
Then, on game day, the ref can confirm she’s at the field and upload scoring data onto the app. The league pays iRef, which pockets a 20 percent commission and passes the rest to the official. Leagues then can rate their referee on a five-star scale.
With pay data, iRef plans to make it easier for both leagues and referees to file their taxes.
Early investors include radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt and 3d Lacrosse president and COO Greg Waldbaum, Sigmon said, adding that the startup raised $250,000 this spring and hopes to raise the same amount in the fall.
iRef has four full-time employees, and plans to hire regional sales managers for its second and third launches. In the fall, the startup plans to launch in Ohio as sports like hockey, basketball and volleyball head indoors for the winter. Next up will be Florida, to test iRef in a market where leagues play outdoors year-round.
Come the first quarter of next year, Sigmon wants to hustle across the pond to the United Kingdom.
“I believe that there’s nobody in the market doing what iRef is doing,” said Sigmon. “But just like Uber has Lyft, I know there will be competitors that come into play.”
And, like Uber, Sigmon said iRef has “a positive cash-flow cycle.” In the same way that Uber counts the full cost of each ride as gross revenue and then turns around to pay its drivers, iRef will pocket all of the revenue from a game and then share with referees.
Sigmon is betting iRef can acquire enough early customers by the beginning of next year to break even and attract institutional funding in a 2017 Series A round to expand into more markets.