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Revving up for a hearty party
IN a downstairs office in Swindon, men are hunched over computers and phones, plotting to bring the heart of New York to a standstill.
If they have their way, there will come a moment next year when Times Square is sealed off.
Fortunately for international relations, it’ll be done with the full co-operation of the city. Also, it’s for nothing more sinister than the start of a four-day rolling party ending in Miami.
Welcome to the world of Modball Rally, a ‘local boy made good’ story in which a Blunsdon-born student of French ancestry parlays a used Playstation into an international business.
From Europe to Australia and on both US coasts, clients drive all day and party all night in five-star venues without having to break the bank. Founder Jon Bourgerie said: “It’s only loosely a rally. You have stops like a rally but there’s no timing and no racing or prizes for whoever gets there first.
“It’s all based on everybody having fun – that was the whole point of the idea. It was, ‘How can we have the most fun possible with cars and travel?’ The road trips came out of that.
“The greatest thing, I think, about Modball is the variety of people. We get everybody from 18-year-olds with credit cards to 60-year-old billionaires who are just the most extravagant people you’ll meet.
“Then they all party together and become friends.”
There are too many happy memories to count. People have turned up in supercars and hearses, a fire engine and a 60ft limo complete with Jacuzzi.
There were the Dutch billionaires in the Rolls Royce who invited everybody back to their home cinema. When somebody asked how much the cinema cost, they were told: “Er, two Rolls Royces.”
Routes and schedules are carefully chosen so nobody drives while tired or with a hangover. The nearest the rally has come to trouble was inadvertently falling foul of an obscure German rule about convoys and being escorted to the Belgian border.
Ask Jon why he’d opened an office in Victoria Road to go with the one in Shoreditch and the answer is instant: “I love Swindon. I genuinely love Swindon. People say, ‘Why have you come back’ and it’s because I love it here.”
Jon, 33, grew up at the top of Blunsdon Hill. His late father ran Mr B’s Steakhouse in Old Town, and Jon is the fourth of six siblings. His first appearance in the Adver was in 1991 when the 10-year-old Jon won an open under-15s snooker tournament.
“I cried that year on New Year’s Eve,” he recalled with a laugh. “I’d had such a good year that I thought I’d never beat it.”
GCSEs at Greendown School were followed by Swindon College courses in law, business and accounting and a stint selling suits at the outlet village. Then came London and a degree in marketing and advertising. Catching the surfing bug from a friend, he spent summers in Hawaii and travelled the world after his degree.
A return to Britain brought an account management job in advertising and a bout of poverty while he mulled over a business idea: what if the fun of party rally trips could be brought within the price range of just about everybody?
“Gumball is only for super-rich people,” he said. “It costs £40,000 to do it for a week. Modball is the same sort of thing but for everybody. Everybody can do it – you don’t have to be a millionaire. It’s £1,200 compared to £40,000.”
It was during his penniless post-travelling days that Jon decided the time had come to put his idea into action.
“I’d maxed out my credit cards and my overdraft,” he said. “I was eating Weetabix every day to pay off my debts and I was trying to sell off my PS2 with 20 games.
“There was a guy called Julio from Colombia who was doing web development who wanted it for his five-year-old son.
“I said, ‘You can have it but just build me a website.’ I gave him all the games and he built Modball. Two months later it was sold out. It was January of 2007 and that was it.”
Then initial rally in Europe was so successful that America and Australia followed. Jon’s small team includes old school friend Steve Saunders, who liaises with local government in Modball locations across the globe.
“They let two Swindon boys close Sydney,” said Jon, grinning in wonderment, “and we’re going to pull off the same trick in Times Square.”
For more information about Modball, visit modball.com
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