Getting the ball rolling

In the Spring 2019 issue of the Great British Entrepreneurs Magazine, Stephen White met with Joseph Clarke, the founder of Spartacus Bubble Soccer. Joseph launched his business through the Princes’ Trust enterprise programme.

Joseph Clarke is the manager of Spartacus Bubble Soccer, a Liverpool-based company whose hilarious take on the beautiful game is taking the nation by storm.

Part football, part human dodgems, bubble soccer has to be seen to be believed. Think regular five-a-side soccer, but with each participant wearing bubble armour – “giant bubble suits that give special powers, letting you safely bump your opponents a few hundred feet through the air,” explains the website blurb.

Scoring a goal becomes a secondary concern as players turn into human wrecking balls, sending opponents rolling and bouncing across the terrain as they compete for possession. Uniting the British demands of footy and carnage, and the game is as fun as it is mesmerising.

Turbulent early years

Joe’s business might sell organised chaos on the pitch, but bubble soccer has brought stability to his life beyond the lines of play.

Low concentration and motivation at school meant he didn’t turn up to sit some of his GCSE exams. Things subsequently went from bad to worse when a string of unfulfilling jobs led Joe to mix with the wrong crowd and fall into trouble with the police. “I wasn’t the person I wanted to be,” he reflects.

Back then, he would have been forgiven for not predicting a life on the entrepreneurial straight and narrow. His school, now closed down, never gave “any hint” that the vocation was an option. However, Joe was not devoid of acumen.

“In the play-ground, I sold all kinds – not just usual sweets or confectionary either. I remember I was selling South Park toys at one point. I have always been selling something or thinking of some business idea, but never actually went for it or took it seriously until much later on in my life,” he reflects.

“Not many kids growing up from where I’m from get exposed to business, so they lack the guidance or support needed to get one off the ground,” he explains.

Joe’s strictly extracurricular education in enterprise was also helped by his passion for reading; he thrived off business biographies which opened his eyes to “how [entrepreneurs] turned a simple idea into a hugely successful commercial success.”

“The stories of their struggles and challenges, how they overcame them and how they never gave up was very inspiring. Hard work and persistence always came out on top, and that’s something I’ve taken into my business,” he says.

A new life

While watching bubble soccer for the first time on TV’s The Only Way Is Essex, the man from Netherton, Liverpool saw through the fun to perceive a more serious calling – the chance to become his own boss.

A quick net-search led him to The Prince’s Trust website where he read how many young people had been helped out of similarly disadvantaged situations and into a life in business. Joe took his idea of renting out zorb balls onto The Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme, along with the determination to make a business work.

“The Trust gave me loads of pointers, made sure I did my market research, and helped me write a business plan complete with a list of potential customers and costings. Based on that, they gave me money to start up my zorb football business, Spartacus Bubble Soccer,” he says.

Thriving in this new environment, Joe connected with proactive mindsets that had been missing from his life. People believed in him, and this gave him the power to escape the vicious circle his life had become.

“They surround you with positive individuals who genuinely want to help. The support network is unique to anywhere else as the people who guide you have had successful careers and businesses themselves.

“But for me, it was never about the money. It was about getting help to move away from my negative lifestyle – and that’s what The Prince’s Trust did,” he adds.

Two years down the line, Spartacus Bubble Soccer is fulfilling its remit to “create special memories through exciting shared experiences.” The firm’s offering has expanded to include combat archery, football darts and glow ball – Joe’s own creation – and expansion into the Manchester market beckons.

The Prince’s Trust saw Joe’s potential and gave him the tools he needed to turn his dream into a reality.

“The trust helped Joe develop the initial idea that he had into a workable proposition with full costings and assisted with funding in order for him to start his business,” says Mathew Holt, Head of Enterprise Programme for North of England.

“The biggest challenge which faced Joe was that he had an idea of what he would like to do but very little practical knowledge of how to actually do it. The Trust helped him to do market research and develop a strategy to evidence that his idea was viable and then to follow this strategy through to sales,” he adds.

A fresh outlook

In 2017, Joe’s remarkable achievements were recognised when he won the North-West regional Prince’s Trust Enterprise award. “I got to go to Manchester for the ceremony with my mum and dad, which was a proud moment for all of us,” he remembers.

Acknowledging young people who have overcome barriers and achieved success in creating a sustainable business, a community or social enterprise, the award topped off years of hard work, during which time Joe went through character-building highs and lows.

“[The business] gave me a passion and focus that I’ve never experienced before. I honestly don’t feel like I work anymore. I actually get grumpy if I don’t work now. There are definitely really tough days and hard times, but you deal with those and carry on. Being the boss, success or failure were down to me. I struggled for a long time to fully let go of my old life and behaviours, but I persisted and never gave up. Before I knew it, I was running a successful business and was on a different path.”

“My confidence has grown massively, and I’ve met so many interesting and talented people along the way who have gone out of their way to help me.”

Advice to budding entrepreneurs

Understandably, Joe’s experiences have made him a strong advocate for youngsters being more exposed to enterprise as a career choice.

“A business GSCE is a no-brainer for me, it should definitely be more widely offered in schools,” he says, citing the “purpose and focus” that business mentoring can bring. He is equally clear-sighted on the benefits awaiting those willing to roll up their sleeves.

“Start today – there is no right moment. I waited twelve years before the ‘time was right’. If you commit to it 100%, it will be the best thing you ever do, I guarantee that.

“Persistence is probably the most important thing. You don’t have to start strong-minded and confident – those [virtues] will come in time, but you need to really want it. At the start, I wanted to give up many times because I had no money and was getting nowhere fast. But I never gave in and now it’s finally starting to pay off; I love what I do.”

Future goals

Critical of the current trends that see ‘an experience’ amounting to little more than rented warehouse full of inflatable obstacles, Joe now has his sights set on driving value and revolutionising the events business.

His latest creation, The Romans, is a Roman-themed outdoor activity park where up to 16 teams will compete to win the ‘Emperor’s Games’, with the final battle being staged in a purpose-built colosseum. Joe hopes it will become the “biggest and most fun attraction in Liverpool.”

“I will then move to other big cities in the UK, Ireland and other popular holiday destinations around Europe,” he adds.

With such Bubble Soccer already an established success, few would doubt Joe’s ability to build his very own events empire.

You can take a look at the full, digital version of the spring issue of the Great British Entrepreneurs Magazine here.