Paul Stratta ’85 (right), CEO and co-founder of iPlayMe2, prepares for a tennis match with another player in Belgium he met through the app.
by Tina Eshleman, University Advancement
March 3, 2022
The following story originally appeared on the W&M Alumni magazine website. – Ed.
If you can schedule races using an app, why not tennis matches? That was the idea behind the creation of a platform launched in 2017 by Paul Stratta ’85 and his then-teenage daughter, Manuka, with the help of tennis-loving William & Mary alumni Ann Searle. Horowitz ’85 and Robert Weissman ’86.
The idea for the iPlayMe2 was born out of Stratta’s frustration with trying to find tennis partners and set up games. The app allows players to schedule singles or doubles matches with similarly skilled opponents, based on their availability and location of choice. They can also save scores and share leaderboards. By early January, 6,000 people in 28 countries were using iPlayMe2, with most gamers concentrated in the United States, Belgium, France and Germany.
“I lived in Brussels and worked in London,” says Stratta, a sporting goods executive who took the Eurostar high-speed train back and forth in the early 2010s. in two worlds. I found it impossible to manage my tennis business. I said that there had to be a simple solution, but I didn’t know that there was nothing really useful.
It got him thinking: how hard could it be to create his own solution? After casually pondering the concept for a few years, Stratta started thinking about it seriously in 2015, while he was between jobs.
“I had broken my leg playing tennis – it can happen if you step on a ball and your ankles buckle – and I was counting the days until I could get back on the courts,” he says. . “It was the kind of downtime we all need sometimes to pause and smell the roses, and I started to flesh that idea out in my head.”
He brought in longtime W&M friends Horowitz and Weissman as advisers, as well as other friends and business associates. Originally from New York, Stratta is based in Belgium and divides his time between Brussels and New York; Horowitz and Weissman both live just outside of New York.
All three were involved in athletics as students at William & Mary. Horowitz was a member of the women’s swim team and Chi Omega sorority, and she is now a YMCA swim coach. Stratta and Weissman played intramural sports and were members of Pi Kappa Alpha. Weissman also participated in the W&M Swim Club.
“The vision that Ann and Rob really understood when we started talking was that planning your tennis should be as easy as calling an Uber or ordering a pizza online,” says Stratta, owner of a bachelor’s degree in business administration. from William & Mary and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. “It should be just a tap, a swipe and a click.”
The trio of alumni realized that other people felt the same way about wanting to play and play their favorite sport easier and more often, and they believed it could be done using technology.
“We started imagining what it could be, and we set about trying to build it,” says Stratta.
Horowitz, who majored in French and minored in sociology at William & Mary, had 18 years of experience at advertising agencies in New York and Paris.
“I’m a writer, but I also write all sorts of other stuff, so Paul involved me in marketing and writing,” says Horowitz, who is also the author of the mid-level fantasy novel ‘Trident’. , who was named one of the quarter-finalists of the 2021 edition BookLife Weekly Publishers Prize Fiction Contest. She is fluent in French, which helped the startup establish itself internationally.
“The French love their tennis,” says Stratta. “In the south of France you can play away all year round, so we wanted to make sure we had excellent writing in French as well.”
Like Stratta, Weissman has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from William & Mary, but his career has been in banking and investments. In addition to his role as Trade Advisor for iPlayMe2, he is Head of Foreign Exchange for Chicago-based RCM Alternatives, a company that connects investors to commodity-based alternative investments through mutual funds, account managed and privately funded. He is also the father of Avery Weissman ’22, a senior marketing student at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business at William & Mary.
“Rob’s involvement is more on the business side,” Stratta says. “He also plays tennis and is quite passionate about it. He belongs to a club on Long Island and he plays paddle and platform tennis, other racquet sports that I didn’t really know about.
Manuka Stratta, also an avid tennis player, brought a young person’s perspective to the startup, her father says. “She was part of a generation that grew up with a smartphone in their hands.”
Developing an app that allows people to exercise proved more difficult than Stratta expected, an experience he likened to buying a car without knowing how to drive.
“Most of these types of IT applications and solutions are started by people who are already in the technical field,” he says. “It’s easier to get started if you can program something yourself. I didn’t have the knowledge to know if what we were building was built sustainably. »
On the other hand, someone with technical expertise might not understand how to build a user-friendly business.
“Since graduating, I’ve worked primarily in the sporting goods industry,” Stratta says. “I understand the business of selling and marketing sports products.”
Technical challenges aside, Stratta struggled to maintain a team with limited resources to pay people while getting iPlayMe2 off the ground.
“And then we added COVID-19 as well,” adds Horowitz.
“In a way, it froze us up,” Stratta says. “We were locked down all over the world for three or four months in the spring of 2020.”
There was a ray of hope, however: the pandemic had people looking for activities that could be done outdoors or at a distance from others.
“Tennis all over the world has exploded in the last 18 months – you can talk to any club in pretty much any country I have contact with and they’ll be on board,” says Stratta. “More people are working from home, so they can play in the morning or at lunchtime.”
Stratta estimates that within five years, millions of people could be using the app for a variety of sports.
“It’s racquet sports for now,” says Stratta, “but the technology is designed to adapt to any sport we want to incorporate.”
Although the app is free for individual players, clubs pay a fee to use the service to run tournaments and clinics. As an incentive, clubs receive credits when they sign up. Players earn credits – or “bullets” – by inviting friends and acquaintances to try iPlayMe2. They can then use these balls to book lessons and tournaments and upgrade to higher membership levels.
As the app adds new players and clubs, the startup is focused on raising additional capital to fuel growth and expand its team, which currently includes a dozen contractors in various countries who help navigate the tennis environment at each location.
“That’s the catch every startup has — it’s expensive to grow, but if you don’t grow, you sink to the bottom of the ocean,” Stratta says. “You make a better, bigger boat by sailing, but to do that sustainably, you have to build a proper sailboat.”
Stratta’s determination, persistence and can-do attitude have been crucial to the app’s success so far, Horowitz says.
“From the perspective of someone working on the product with and for Paul, he was 100% on this journey and no one ever doubted his passion or that he was going to see it through,” she says. “It’s a great feeling when you walk into something like this. He’ll often end an email report with ‘forward and upward’. That’s how he lives his life and that’s how that he leads the team.
Stratta has also solved the problem of scheduling time on the courts for itself.
“I’ve played with over 100 ‘new to me’ people in the last 15 months, all through the app,” he says, “which is a really good way to make friends and knowledge.”
Editor’s Note: Paul Stratta says he’d love to hear from other Tribe tennis players, “whether they’re good or still trying to be.” He can be contacted at [email protected].