Luke Westcott is the founder of AMS Clothing which assists in the development of football in African regions and is the official apparel supplier to several emerging national football teams in Africa.
Where did you get the idea for your business?
AMS Clothing supplies uniforms to the national football (soccer) teams of Africa in exchange for the international distribution rights of their official merchandise.
The idea was formed after years of selling football shirts online. I soon realised that the shirts of the world's more obscure national football teams were highly sought after, however it was very difficult to source these as the most collectible national teams had no official uniform supplier. From that point, I decided to start the AMS brand in 2014 at age 19 and supply these teams myself with attractive, high-quality designs, while supplying the market with their official shirts.
A trip to Africa in early 2014 also inspired the business model. I found that even though the major sportswear brands such as Adidas or Nike were supplying many of the highly-popular national teams in Africa, they were not able to offer their official merchandise to the local domestic markets of each country as few people could afford to pay upwards of $80 for a football shirt. As a result, we created a business model for AMS that involves supplying the domestic markets of Africa with the authentic shirts of their national team at a price that meets market demands.
How did you get your business started?
Even though I had developed a general outline of how the business would operate, the actual start of it literally happened overnight. We had contacted a few national football associations with our proposal in May 2014 and immediately received a reply from the South Sudan Football Association that they would accept our offer. The only issue was that they needed the uniforms to be produced and delivered to South Sudan within 3 weeks, an almost impossible task. We created the company logo and the first AMS designs within one day, and incredibly everything arrived just in time.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your involvement with RMIT Activator so far?
We have been based at the RMIT Activator for about three months now, and it has been hugely rewarding for many different reasons. We are provided with free office space at the Activator, which currently has about 10 other start-up companies operated by members of the RMIT community based there. To have 24/7 access to an office in the CBD is great, and the exchange of ideas with other people operating start-ups has been really beneficial.
What have been the key achievements of the business so far?
To date, we have nine national football teams in our sponsorship portfolio and are currently expanding at the fastest pace since we started about two and a half years ago.
A major highlight was my recent trip to South Sudan in March 2016, where I was invited by their football association to attend a national team match and work on expanding our operations in the country. While I was there, I gained a fascinating insight into how business gets done in one of the world's most challenging markets, and how AMS can ensure successful operations in this market. On the day of the match, FIFA President Gianni Infantino visited the country and I was lucky enough to meet with him to introduce our business model and offer points of collaboration.
Another important achievement has been the gradual expansion of our production to Africa. While we still predominantly produce in China, we have a long-term goal to shift all production to Africa within the next three years. We've just started to produce in Ethiopia and Tanzania, and intend to fulfill the majority of our larger orders through manufacturers in these countries. AMS stands for African Manufacturing Solutions, which pretty much explains the eventual goal of the company.
What are your top three tips for starting a business?
1. Only start a business if you are truly passionate about it. In most cases, it will take a long time for a start-up to become profitable, so you really need a passion in your business to push you to keep working on it while you are not making any money. With AMS, it combines almost everything I am interested in, so I have found it fun to work on even at the times where we were not making any profit.
2. A start-up business needs a huge amount of dedication and hard work to become successful. I am a big fan of Tesla and PayPal founder Elon Musk, who said that he spent about 16 hours a day working on his start-up companies in their early stages. I have adopted this philosophy even if it means that sleep and much of my personal life has been sacrificed. I've found that as I have worked harder and harder on AMS, more and more opportunities have arisen.
3. Don't give up. In the early stages of the business, it can seem like it is too hard to ever succeed, and it is easy to get sucked into the trap of instead choosing a regular nine to five job. It is important to accept that it is always going to be incredibly hard to be successful, and those that are successful had to go through years of challenges before breaking through. Embrace the challenge and think of it as something you will look back on in years to come once you have become successful.