As pickleball soared in popularity during the summer of 2020, Blake Renaud and her family found themselves just as enthralled by the sport. Her husband, Alex, learned the rules of the game from his business partner and shared them with Blake and their then three children. The sport almost instantly became a family tradition.
After being a stay-at-home mom for a couple years, Blake was preparing to re-enter the workforce when this national phenomenon was introduced into her life. This and their discovery of the Cedar Valley’s seemingly endless pickleball community sparked a fun idea that quickly blossomed into a full-time career.
The duo had already been casually considering creating an app that connected people looking for pick-up basketball games, which Alex often searched for during the family’s travels. In entering the pickleball space, they discovered various hurdles, such as finding courts and other players, learning the rules and finding tips for improving their skills. They set forth on a mission to fill those gaps and created the ultimate pickleball resource that is PicklePlay.
“We quickly fell in love with it. It’s a really fun sport that brings people of all different backgrounds together,” Blake said. “So, we thought, ‘hey, let’s build something that’s a good resource and it can be this fun side thing.’ Well, it’s my full-time job now.”
A Hobby Turned Career
While they still weren’t confident in the need for a pickleball app, Blake set out to survey players locally and nationally about what they thought was missing from the sport. When finding, organizing and scheduling games rose to the top of the answer pool, she put her business management skills to work, formed a plan and set off to find a development team.
Then, Blake, Alex and several other interested members invested what they could, a designer friend created the logo and main framework and the rest was outsourced to local companies. After nearly a year of planning and building, PicklePlay finally launched in July 2020 as a website and free app on Android and iOS.
It gained almost instant success in the community. After users soared to 10,000, Blake and the developers had to rebuild the app to accommodate such a large userbase. They relaunched the new and improved version in February 2022 and have since watched the downloads spike to today’s 65,000 users, which includes pickleball enthusiasts from Canada, the UK, Spain and Portugal.
“We knew the sport was growing and we didn’t want to have a hurdle for those who are curious, so it was really important to us that the app was free,” Blake said. “Now we’re a leader in the industry. There’s more coming into the space, but no one’s doing what we’re doing.”
Since its launch, PicklePlay has received national attention from entities like The New York Times and was the recipient of Grow Cedar Valley’s 2023 Cedar Valley Innovation Award. The app continues to offer a wide array of services via the website and app. Users can discover over 25,000 courts, add courts that are missing from the platform, find court details and connect with nearby players.
Groups can also use the app to manage group play, post a schedule, track attendance, communicate on their own feed as well as host events and collect payments. All users receive newsletters, and paid users can access tutorial videos made by professionals. And that’s not including Blake’s collection of ideas for future additions.
As the app continues to progress, so does Blake and her family’s involvement in the pickleball community. The duo continues to play in groups throughout Waterloo and Cedar Falls, and the now family of six often centers their travels around the sport. As Alex and their oldest son compete in amateur tournaments, Blake mans the PicklePlay booth, attracting more interest as they pursue their goal of 100,000 users.
Pickleball has since taken the family around the country, and they’ve attended tournaments in New York City, Chicago and California.
“Since we started getting into it and developing the app, we had the kids and wanted to do it as a family,” Blake said. “So, when we’re traveling to events, we take them with us and have them experience a new city or location through pickleball, and we’ve created a lot of wonderful memories in that way".