Part 1 of 2: Play Away, Stay Away: The Journey So Far

Updated: Jan 24

Do I have enough money?

What will my friends and family think?

Is there even an appetite for this kind of thing?

These are natural questions to ask yourself when you are deciding whether or not to embark on a new business journey. I often think of entrepreneurs as modern-day explorers. Explorers had an idea, a vision but they did not know where they would end up. They were no doubt filled with questions, confusion and uncertainty that would even challenge their being. Yet they had that hunger to discover more, to learn more and discover whole new countries, regions and even continents in the same way that entrepreneurs open new opportunities, markets and even industries.

In business, as with explorers or, in fact, in any journey, the first step is always the hardest.

Shortly after my 27th birthday in October, I took that all-important first step in realising my vision for Play Away, Stay Away. The first few months have been a massive learning curve for me and in this Part 1 of my New Year assessment, I’ll freely share with you what I’ve learnt so far.

As explained in my viral ‘Why I Started It’ video (which I would encourage you to watch if you haven’t already done so - see thumbnail above), the idea for Play Away, Stay Away originated when I’d used a cycling host community called Warm Showers back in 2016. A tiny seed had been planted and has been gradually watered ever since, most notably when the successful #bedforaway fans and ‘Adopt a Lion’ campaigns both happened less than a year later. As with many entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs (perhaps you as you read this?), a combination of personal circumstances (such as my university degree) and doubts such as the questions that opened this article, prevented me from taking that leap.

As I decided to embark on my journey, I was incredibly fortunate to have the support (both financially and personally) of a generous and wise Canadian businessman and mentor, a family contact named Dave Fuller. To continue the explorer metaphor, Dave acts as a lighthouse in the sea to guide me on my journey and will always provide me with sound strategic advice and experience in areas that I lack it. Most importantly, this support was a sign of confidence, not only in me but in the business, that helped me to take that leap of faith.

Admittedly, since starting the journey, there haven’t been as many issues and setbacks as I’d either expected or experienced in my other entrepreneurial endeavours. There are still ups and downs, areas for vast improvements and key learning points but, on the whole, there has been an incredibly positive and supportive reaction to my idea, particularly from rugby supporters.

One of the key early decisions made was to initially build Play Away, Stay Away in rugby (particularly whilst I’m running everything on my own). Not only are the fans more friendly and communal, but the fixtures and geographical distances are both more conducive to the idea. I quickly learnt that rugby fans sort their accommodation for their away trips much earlier than I anticipated, or, at least than I personally would (I am known as last-minute Louis). I then quickly learnt that rugby supporters don’t really like football supporters all that much, certainly not enough to welcome them into their homes just yet. This meant I would effectively have to build two separate sub-communities, one for rugby supporters and one for football fans.

At the moment, the focus is on the rugby side of these, which has also meant I’ve also had to learn much more about the club game in the UK and get to as many games (or rather, nearby pubs) as possible to promote the idea and get fans signed up (maybe that’s you). This seems to be a very fruitful and rewarding method. I would say 80% of those fans I speak to like the concept and agree that it’s needed in rugby, about 70% then sign up and around 50% are willing and happy to host travelling supporters.

As such, the Play Away, Stay Away community now has over 175 members from all countries, most corners and a lot of rugby clubs across the UK and Ireland. That’s more than the aforementioned WarmShowers, Uber and Airbnb had combined at the same stage of their businesses. I’m constantly looking to help more supporters get to more games more often whilst also saving money on extortionate accommodation costs and turning fans into friends.

That’s my mission and I won’t stop until it’s achieved, which is why I’ll be back on the ground in Cardiff this evening, flitting around pubs and doing my ‘quick pitch’ to supporters. Guess it’s a good job I decided to take that first step after all...

(If you’ve enjoyed reading this article, look out for next week’s Part Two, where I’ll discuss my plans and ambitions for the year ahead…)