To the casual observer, the worlds of professional football and tech startups might appear to have little in common. Yet for Eric Dier, who plays for both England’s national team and the Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur, there’s a surprising amount of synergy between the two. In his new role as a tech entrepreneur, the grit and willingness to take on difficult situations that he’s picked up playing as a centre back professionally come in handy.
‘Diving into something completely new obviously had a lot of challenges. In some ways, entering the startup world reminded me of being a 15- or 16-year-old footballer again,’ Dier says. ‘The way I approach things, my work ethic, my attitude, all of those things are the same in everything I do.’
Dier’s new project is Spotlas, a platform that combines the crowdsourced reviews of TripAdvisor or Yelp with the community-building elements of a social media platform. The idea was born through personal experience: when Zoe Connick, an old friend of Dier’s, found out about a restaurant through a friend’s recommendation while still at university, Connick loved the place immediately. She wondered what other hidden gems might be lurking in her own backyard – and why there wasn’t a better way to find out about them.
Connick teamed up with Dier and his brother, Patrick, to create an app that would allow users to follow their friends and family members and then see the places they recommended in the cities in which they lived and visited.
‘Our aim is to digitise that word-of-mouth experience,’ Dier says. ‘This is all about people you know, people you trust, people who you align yourself with in terms of taste. It’s about getting a local’s perspective while travelling, as well as finding great places right in the city where you live.’
Setting goals and scoring big
Launching an app isn’t easy under the best of circumstances, but creating a travel platform during a global pandemic is especially daunting. Dier, however, is not one to shy away from a challenge. While COVID-19 understandably set back the company’s timeline, he believes the delay allowed the Spotlas team to refine their product and make it stronger. ‘It’s about being open-minded and approaching new problems in the right way,’ he says.
I think it’s important to have a sense of everyone’s well-being, which is really difficult when everyone is working from home.Eric Dier, professional footballer and Spotlas founder
Dier has always believed in setting high goals and doing whatever is necessary to achieve them. While becoming a professional athlete might seem like an unattainable dream to the average teenager, he committed to his training and trusted that it would pay off. With Spotlas, Dier and his colleagues are determined to take their idea as far as it can go.
‘We want to be a huge social platform,’ Dier says. ‘We want to be the one-stop shop for when you want to book a restaurant, book a hotel, travel somewhere, book a yoga class. We want to offer the whole experience.’
His hope is that by creating a more personal travel platform, he can encourage people all over the world to step outside of their comfort zones. While it’s easy to gravitate towards familiar spots, doing so eliminates the chance of discovering something new. Especially as the world continues to reopen and travel restrictions relax, Dier hopes that Spotlas inspires everyone to explore.
‘I think lots of people end up going back to the same places,’ he says. ‘Hopefully, with recommendations from people you know and trust, there will be less of that fear of going into the unknown.’
Cultivating the right mindset through workspace
In order to build a new social platform from the ground up, the Spotlas team knew it would be critical to find the right environment. They needed a dedicated space that would allow them to meet with prospective investors and partners as well as foster creativity among the team. They settled on WeWork Marylebone, a bright and stylish contemporary space in northwest London.
‘I find that having a physical office space makes a huge difference,’ Dier says. ‘I find it much easier to distinguish between work and anything else. Yesterday, I went to WeWork for a meeting and that put me in the right mindset.’
Unlike his colleagues, who are in the WeWork office daily, Dier has to balance his time at Spotlas with his football training and match schedule. Still, he enjoys going in for meetings and working sessions with the rest of the team. Often he can be found in the communal kitchen, he says, brewing multiple cups of tea to stay energised. ‘It’s essential,’ he says, admitting he’s ‘a green tea guy.’
Since Spotlas was one of the first companies to go back to the coworking space in the wake of a lockdown, the team’s early days in the office were on the quiet side. Dier has noticed a palpable shift in recent weeks, however, as more and more remote workers and startups return. Much of WeWork’s collaborative energy is coming back. ‘I was there yesterday and I really felt like there was a buzz about the place,’ Dier says.
Like any startup, he and his colleagues take advantage of various digital tools, but there’s no substitute for being able to read the room. Having a physical space in WeWork has also been beneficial for everyone’s mental health. ‘We’ve all become used to Zoom, but face-to-face interaction is so different,’ Dier says.
‘I think it’s important to have a sense of everyone’s well-being, which is really difficult when everyone is working from home,’ he says. ‘Anyone can pretend to be in a good place for an hour-long Zoom call, but if you’re sharing a physical space, you have a much better sense of how your colleagues are doing, which I think is a factor that often gets overlooked.’
As Spotlas gears up to launch a new and improved version of the platform as well as their Android and web applications, Dier is making sure to look after his team members and keep his eye on the ball.
Diana Hubbell has spent more than a decade covering design, art, travel and culture for publications including The Washington Post, The Guardian, Eater, Condé Nast Traveler, The Independent, VICE, Travel + Leisure, Architectural Digest, Atlas Obscura and WIRED, among others.