It seems you were destined to be an entrepreneur. Tell us a little bit about your background and how NGA Soccer came to be.
I grew up in Europe, and I guess you could say I’m a real entrepreneur because I never went to university. I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 19 years old, and had success in the sports industry in Europe, as well. In 2000-2001, my business got hit hard from the currency change to the euro and I went from being secure to being bankrupt in 2005. I had multiple retail stores—all soccer-specific stores—and then I was forced to move to Canada, with absolutely nothing. I worked in whatever I could find. I got into construction, working for someone for two years, and started my own company until I was able to branch back into my passion, which was the soccer industry.
By 2007, I had started my own construction company, and by 2012, I was able to start the NGA Soccer brand. How I started NGA was also crazy, because I was going to be a distributor for another big brand in Canada, but I got played by them and lost 30 thousand dollars. So I was in a position where I had to choose to go back to construction or move towards my passion, and I said, “I’ll try it on my own, doing what I love,” and started the brand. Within four years, I was doing both until I was able to transition completely out of the construction industry and full-blown into my passion in 2016.
What is NGA Soccer?
When it started in 2012-13, it focused on goalkeeper gloves, 100%. Then about three years ago, I started launching different products, such as soccer balls and goalkeeper accessories, and introducing other products slowly. The goal is always to be a niche market, so that is the goalkeepers supply. I launched cleats this year, though they’re not specific goalkeepers. We have distributors in Portugal, France, Spain, the U.K., Netherlands, Brazil, Colombia, Luxemburg, and Greece. We also have one in South Korea for the Asian market, and in Canada and the U.S., which will be by a state basis.
Has soccer always been your passion?
Yes. I grew up in a country where soccer is a religion, in Portugal. Everyone grows up wanting to be a professional soccer player. I always had that extra passion for it because I would spend all my time playing, 24/7. I lived and breathed soccer, so the first chance I got, I opened my first soccer retail store. My first venture was a café, and then within eight months, I opened my first soccer-specific shop at age 20. I paid off my loan in another eight months and was doing really well. I had three altogether before it ended.
You are also a soccer coach, correct?
I am. I became a professional coach, which wasn’t planned initially but always a dream in the back of my mind. In 2012-13, there wasn’t Instagram and social media to advertise your company. I started offering my coaching free to local people. It was an opportunity for people to get to know me, and my brand. I started wearing the goalkeeper gloves—what NGA focuses on—and telling people it was my brand, and, eventually, people started buying and wearing them. I initially got into coaching to market my brand, but I guess I’m really good at coaching, so people started to want to pay me for coaching and training. Word got out, and I started training professionals in the off-season. Then I got a call from the Ottawa Fury, the professional team in my city, to coach, and I accepted. That’s when I achieved another dream of being a professional.
You have a unique approach to designing your products in that you’re committed to delivering high quality at a price that’s affordable for everyone. Can you tell us about this?
I focus more on the customers and lower prices. Anyone can make a good product these days, but the key is to have a good product for a good price. I know a ton of professionals worldwide, between coaches and players, both male and female, who wear and endorse my products. Big brands are focused on what professionals want, whereas I focus on what my clients want. For example, for the parents who have to buy six pairs of gloves a year, if their kids play seriously, my product has high durability. I invest a lot of time into R&D to add features to my products to make them durable with the highest quality possible for the price I want to sell them for—not the opposite, not, “I want all these features, whatever the price is.” I have a price I want to sell for, so what are the best features we can incorporate for this price? I have to make sure the final price is accessible for anyone.
What are your goals for the future of NGA Soccer?
My goal is to have distributors in every single country. We do well in markets like Brazil, Canada (my home) and Portugal. In the U.S., it is more difficult because big brands have huge influence. I want to go into Africa and other large countries, and, of course, focus on the client and having a great product for a low price.
Another of your companies is Inside League Group. Can you tell us a little bit about this?
It is not an agency, which a lot of people think. I did it specifically after starting my brand. I know a lot of people, especially soccer players, who don’t make tons of money yearly. The Inside League is a company dedicated to helping the average athlete. I have lawyers, financial professionals, chartered accountants—all to help the athletes prepare for after retirement, help them start their own business and even mentor them through their journey of life.
Founder/President — NGA Soccer
Download the Top 100 Canadian Professionals magazine and check out Carlos' feature on page 8.