Louis Saha had a brilliant football career, but he was far from instant success.
A promising teenager, he first struggled at humble Metz, only scored once on loan at Newcastle United and abandoned a division to sign for Fulham in hopes of starting his career.
Saha proved successful in South West London and four years later, at age 25, he finally struck the big blow and joined Manchester United. He would win the Champions League, several Premier Leagues and play for France in major tournaments.
Saha’s business career has followed a similar pattern since hanging up his boots in 2013.
He started working on AxisStars, a social network to connect sportspeople and athletes with trusted businesses, soon after his retirement.
The idea arose out of Saha’s own frustrations with unscrupulous agents, advisers and middlemen lurking in the sports and entertainment industries.
But the 42-year-old had to be patient in his mission to disrupt a flawed but deeply ingrained system.
“Sometimes people think you are crazy when you start something,” Saha said. City AM
“Then they say ‘there must be companies doing the same.’ In fact it is not.
“There is a lot of egos in this industry and having a solution for everyone is quite a challenge.
“I really had to go against the status quo. People don’t want to change and it needs a big overhaul.
Why Saha decided to create AxisStars
AxisStars uses the slogan “keep sharks at bay” on its website, a nod to Saha’s own experiences.
“I discovered very early on that it was very difficult to trust people,” he says.
“There has been no response from the organizations that should be there for you. Clubs, unions and federations have their own agenda.
Saha changed agents three or four times during his 16-year-old playing career, who also spent spells at Tottenham Hotspur, Everton, Sunderland and Lazio.
He wants AxisStars to empower athletes and artists to make informed decisions about how to manage their careers and their money.
“Whenever there is business, there are people who come and take the opportunity to say bullshit and call themselves the best,” he says.
“That’s the problem. We just want to highlight who does best for customers.
Kate Hamer, Saha Business Partner, says: “Talents are encouraged to focus on their talent and people say they will take care of everything around them.
“But you don’t know what you don’t know, so how can you tell if you’re getting good service? AxisStars fills this gap.
How AxisStars works for talent and businesses
AxisStars has a simple business model.
Talents – which include footballers, rugby players, cricketers and other sportsmen and artists – can register for free.
Companies, meanwhile, pay an annual fee (£ 6,000 is the target figure) to appear on the platform, but are carefully vetted by a panel of industry experts before being included.
They include real estate agents, vehicle suppliers, luxury vacation rentals, and concierge services.
There are also specialist insurers and mobile phone providers, nutritionists, medical assistants, wealth managers and lawyers, as well as career management tools such as training courses and sponsorship opportunities.
Talent can be hard to reach for companies, but AxisStars provides a portal that doesn’t require an agent.
“It’s an umbrella community for the entire industry that encourages everyone to be much more transparent and to conduct business with integrity,” says Hamer.
AxisStars does not take any commission if the business is done through the platform. “We think it’s getting a bit murky and like the agent world,” she adds.
The app was launched in 2019, when Saha and Hamer started recruiting talent and companies they knew. They now have over 400 members and the number is growing.
The talent squad is 65% football and includes well-known names like Andy Cole and Robert Pires, but is mostly made up of active players.
About half of the members are based in the UK, the majority of the rest being in France, while more than a fifth are women.
“People now see the value of investing in integrity”
Saha and Hamer intend to introduce AxisStars to more clubs and players when Covid-19 restrictions allow.
And they have other plans for the platform, including an investment round on Seedrs which they hope will raise £ 550,000.
This money was earmarked for an Android version of the app and to expand their portfolio of experts.
“We especially want the stars themselves to invest,” says Hamer. “Then it’s really going to be a community for stars by stars, and they’ll bring more of their networks as well.”
Profits are far away – they will invest the proceeds in the development of the platform first – but Saha is optimistic for the future.
He is pragmatic about the obstacles they have faced so far, but believes that broader trends are creating more favorable market conditions for the AxisStars concept.
“The word integrity now has more meaning than it did a year ago,” Saha says.
“Before the pandemic, people were ‘commercial, commercial, commercial,’ and now people are looking for a purpose. They can see the value of investing in integrity and a more democratized environment.
Just as Saha the footballer bided his time and got his awards, Saha the businessman is content to do the same.
“It’s quite normal when you disrupt an industry that people doubt and are afraid of it. But I never faced someone saying ‘this [AxisStars] is not good, ”he said.
“It’s more of a natural instinct – ‘How can this work with me?’. Knowledge takes time. Giving confidence takes time. It is frustrating but completely normal.
For more information on AxisStars, follow this link.