Extreme sports tech startup Live Heats surfs up with star-studded board

Extreme sports tech startup Live Heats surfs up with star-studded board

For the first time in its six-year existence while riding the wave of global demand, Sydney-headquartered live scoring and competition management platform Live Heats has raised external funding with backing from Greg Healy, global president of Billabong and Quiksilver parent company Boardriders, Investible chairman Trevor Folsom, Black Rock Australasia head Andrew Landman, and 86 400 founding CEO Robert Bell.

If there were a competition for the world's coolest job, Live Heats co-founder Chris Friend would have a good chance of making it through to the knock-out stages. 

"One of the perks of the job is when there's a roll-out or someone wants to check out the system, because of the location these events are run in I’m usually pretty happy to put my hand up," says Friend, whose company's all-in-one platform for various sports competitions is taking the world by storm with 150,000 monthly active users.

"We got to spend two weeks in Colorado with the US Snowboard and Freeski Association for their nationals, just shadowing them, rolling it out, and did a trip to Verbier in Switzerland for another pilot this year," he adds.

A former surf pro who co-founded the business in Bondi with Fernando Freire in 2016, Friend has been based in New York for the past 10 months so he can be closer to the action of the largest markets for Live Heats' specialties in surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, skiing, wake boarding, surf life saving and more.

Brooklyn is not exactly the first place that comes to mind for a keen surfer, but having a founder move to the United States was an important step for the group that had been bootstrapped since its inception.

"We were always operating, building product and bringing on customers and hadn’t engaged with the startup ecosystem to get funding," Friend tells Business News Australia.

"It just wasn’t in our radar until we got to a point where we could have continued growing it on revenue, but we realised there are a lot of things we could do with a bit of capital.

"We decided to put some feelers out to see if we could bring on some advisors who would also put some money in and put together that round of $500,000."

That round has since materialised, attracting a range of individual investors, among whom some of the largest backers will also serve on the Live Heats advisory board - Investible chairman Trevor Folsom, Black Rock Australasia head Andrew Landman, 86 400 founding CEO Robert Bell, and Greg Healy, global president of Billabong and Quiksilver parent company Boardriders. 

"We’re just so happy to have such esteemed business leaders now in our team; it's just amazing to have this brains trust of people that are also so passionate about sports and are keen to see our business succeed, but also to see us help push those sports forward," Friend says.

"It's all individuals. The other ones that have come on our board are $20,000 to 50,000 each - smaller investors that are just passive; businesspeople, individuals that have links to the sports we work in, whether their kids use the system or they themselves use it."

The origins of Live Heats were at Bondi Boardriders club, where the founders-to-be struck up a conversation about how club-level surfing events were mostly run with pen and paper. Brazilian software engineer Freire wanted the insights from Friend, who had retired from a pro rider career with Volcom and was working as a management consultant at the time, about how events were run on the world stage.

"I explained that there were some more systems that had been around for many years but required a very sophisticated set-up event site and weren't accessible through grassroots level comps, and that’s where the idea for LiveHeats came from," Friend says.

"He said why don’t we build a mobile version of that so we can offer it to everyone around the world who has a smartphone or a tablet."

The business started as an after-work project for the two entrepreneurs until it reached the point where they could both quit their day jobs to come on full-time.

Friend says the Live Heats platform streamlines athlete registrations and automates building heat draws, including rules around seeding and how athletes progress. The technology also captures live scoring, averages results, selects the top two runs or rides or waves in each heat, and presents that data live online in a way that can be embedded on websites or broadcasts.

"It started in surfing, but we realised that this problem existed in snow sports, skateboarding, BMX, wakeboarding, the other sort of traditional X Games-style action sports, and from there started doing surf life saving about a year-and-a-half ago, which is our most recent new sport," Friend says.

"On the other side you've got the athletes and spectators who use the system to find events, check what time they're competing, see their live scores, see their results, see who they're up against, and the next round, and then at the end of the comp see their overall ranking.

"As we evolve the platform and start moving up-market and doing more bigger events, we’ve had events running on Kayo and Fox Sports, Channel Nine, platforms like that. We provide the data in API form and we work with graphics providers in a number of sports that present the information in the feeds."

With a team of seven, the company now services 1,300 organisations, with a 50-50 split in revenue between grassroots-level clubs with anywhere from five to 15 events a year and a couple of hundred athletes, and enterprise-level customers with a growing list that includes Worldskate, US Ski & Snowboard, Snowboard Germany, Surfing Australia, Surfing South Africa, Rip Curl and many more.

"We have them all over the world from all the Aussie ones to boardrider clubs in the States on both coasts, and help all the clubs in Asia that are popping up," he says.

"Three or four years ago we started getting more interest from the enterprise-level customers. There's Surf Life Saving Australia who we just announced our national deal with, and they just came in and partnered with us to do an enterprise deal to roll the system out nationally at all levels from those surf clubs up to your branches, state bodies and the national body.

"It’s evolved as we started getting a bit of word of mouth in the grassroots community - those more premium customers started noticing us, and it’s evolved to be a 50-50 split."

The co-founder isn't able to reveal company revenue, joking the bootstrapped nature of the startup to date has been "enough to pay for seven measly salaries", but he is optimistic about the opportunities for continued growth with the latest financial injection. And despite being based in the urban jungle of New York, he still finds time to hit the surf.

"I’ve been surfing quite a lot; we power the Eastern Surfing Association, which is the world’s biggest member association for surfing - they have districts up and down the coast on the east coast from like Maine down to Florida," he says.

"They use Live Heats funnily enough, so I've entered some events here in New York and surfed in them which is cool, and gone to Florida and competed down there," he adds.

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