Football fans would remember James Begley from his playing days with St Kilda and Adelaide, but now he’s made a successful transition into the world of business.
As the founder and CEO of PickStar, the newest partner of the AFLPA, Begley is looking to help players to bridge the gap between their on-field and off-field pursuits.
“PickStar is a platform that connects anyone with sports stars for any type of commercial opportunity. What we’ve built is basically a two-sided marketplace which uses technology to broker the best available talent for a client’s brief and budget,” Begley told AFLPlayers.com.au.
While his vision for the business is clear now, that wasn’t always the case. Like many athletes, Begley didn’t have a plan in place for when his football career ended.
He did, however, make sure to lay the foundations of a post-retirement career while still in the AFL system.
“I had no tertiary education, but I made a decision at the age of 22 to build my network and build my connections rather than study while I was playing,” he said.
After a year of travelling after his retirement, he readied himself for the transition to life after football. To get that journey started, he says he had to make the switch official in his own mind.
“I got back from my trip and put on a shirt and tie, and went and had a meeting with myself in a café in Adelaide to try and work out what the next chapter looked like,” he said.
“I wanted to have some symbolism and say that one chapter is now finished, and I’m hell-bent on not getting sucked in and doing a job that I’m not passionate about.”
And while Begley lacked a degree or a definite career path to chase, he did have a number of passions that he was determined to follow.
“I just wrote down the areas of life that I’m passionate about, and then I rang anyone that I knew or had built a relationship with who might in some way be connected with those three areas, and that was the starting point,” he said.
Fast forward seven years, and Begley had found his niche in the outside world. He spent five years running Fremantle’s leadership training programs and then founded Tract Group, which ran corporate workshops.
It was during this time that he reached out to some of Fremantle’s players for help with a program in Perth. Their response showed him that there was a gap in the sporting marketplace, and one that he could help to fill.
“I texted five guys and said, ‘I’ve got $250 to spend on this day to do this type of stuff. Who would be interested?’ Of the five guys, two texted back yes and three said maybe,” Begley said.
“I knew that there was a disconnect between the demand from corporates who wanted to get hold of sporting talent, and a deep desire for talent to do more. Really, that was the kernel of the idea.”
With his big idea slowly forming, Begley eventually took it to Dockers legend Matthew Pavlich, his childhood teammate, Fremantle colleague and the now co-founder and director of PickStar.
“I’ve known Pav since I was about 15 or 16 when we played some junior state football together here in Adelaide, and I had really consolidated my relationship with him in a working sense at Fremantle when he was captain,” Begley said.
“I went and had a coffee with Pav and gave him the idea, and went through what I thought the possibilities were. That was the beginning of his interest, and we didn’t form the business together straight away, but over time we both worked on the idea.”
Since then, PickStar has expanded rapidly and continues to grow. More than 700 athletes and sports personalities have partnered with the organisation, from a wide range of backgrounds and sports.
That variety in clientele presents some challenges, as Begley says each athlete may have different goals they want to achieve with the company’s help.
“The reasoning might vary. Some athletes we find really do need the money — we deal with Olympic athletes that just don’t earn much money, and therefore any opportunity is of value,” he said.
“From an AFL standpoint, I think it’s quite often the ability to do things in areas that they are passionate about on their terms.”
Most importantly, the company is aiming to give athletes more opportunities to discover and follow their passions outside of football.
Begley had to find those opportunities largely on his own, and he wants to give today’s players more of a helping hand.
“My career has been built by just doing things and meeting people and being a bit adventurous during my playing time, and I think there are not many tools out there that allow athletes to facilitate that,” he said.
“Managers do a great job, but for the talent that is super proactive, this is simply another mechanism for them to use.”
To find out more about PickStar, view their website.