«But, I’m also a surfer, or possibly, I’m more of a surfer than a software engineer, so it was really cool to find something where I managed to combine the two things.» Fernando Freire about the creation of the competition management and live scoring software «LiveHeats».
Bingin: 5:30pm, the sun is about to set, it’s low tide and I can see barrels — one perfect barrel after another. Not a bad view for a home and office, I think. My friend, Fernando, must have gotten something right. Fernando is the co-founder and CTO of «LiveHeats», a software which has made life easier for many competitors, judges and competition organizers, including the Swiss Surfing Association and Wavegarden. It’s the product of a surfing entrepreneur, and an excellent reason to kill some Bintangs and have a chat.
Fernando, what is «LiveHeats»?
It’s a live scoring and event managing platform for action sports including surfing, skiing, snowboarding and skateboarding. We used to call it «boardsports», but we don’t necessarily want to do boards only, there’s BMX and other sports that we can do, too, so we changed it to action sports. Basically, it’s all about running the competition while it’s happening and providing the live scores for the public, but it’s also providing a platform for organizers, so they can manage everything before, after and during the competition, such as athlete registration, rankings etc.
How did «LiveHeats» begin?
In 2016 I met Chris in the surf at Bondi Beach, Sydney, and we became friends and started to go on weekend missions and surfing together. He invited me to join Bondi Boardriders. I had never been in a surf competition before so I signed up and went for the first competition of the year and then I watched it and was mesmerized about how crazy the whole thing was. There was somebody there from 7am till 7pm nonstop sorting out the judges’ sheets, the tabulations, where athletes go, what time somebody is surfing, who made it through the heat, who’s on what heat… Just going crazy doing everything manually and on paper.
So I lost my heat and asked the event director for my results. She went through the sheets and I saw that one judge had gotten four waves of mine and the other one only two… So I realized that, having to take care of everything throughout the day, errors happen, which is normal — not that I wouldn’t have lost the heat otherwise. So I watched them throughout the competition to see how they were doing it. The next day I saw Chris in the water and said: «Hey, do you think they would be interested if I made some software to solve that problem?» So we got together that same week and brainstormed some ideas. The week after we met Vicky who’s the event director of Boardriders and I asked her what she needed. About two weeks later we had a roughly working prototype that we tested with some groms during a fake competition and then we trailed it during a contest with Bondi Boardriders.
How did that go?
It was super rough, it went off my laptop, I needed to be there to make sure that everything is going well and fix any issue that could have occurred during the day, but it worked and they were really stoked. So we took what we could learn from that day and made some improvements for the next month.
What happened next?
Before we got to the third competition in Bondi, we heard that there was someone close by that was interested in our work. We went down to Sandon point and run it there. Halfway through the competition, they had to cancel it because of a shark, so the results of that event never got live. But we got to surf Sandon point with no one out! Everyone went home and we surfed it once the shark was gone — haha. Anyways, the same day we met another person that was interested and got to run it during their next event. It just kind of started growing from there, fast forward three years and we are now in over 20 countries with around 300 organizations using the LiveHeats system.
Including the Swiss Surfing Association and Wavegarden!
Were there any other softwares that allowed to do anything like that before?
There are. There was a software that did that before us, and since we started, there have been others that have come along as well. It’s quite interesting because, for us, having competitors has never really been a stressful thing. It’s just life, right? You do something, there’s going to be people who do it, too, so instead of stressing about what they’re doing, what clients they’re getting etc. our focus has always been on making our users happy the best we can, rather than chasing our competitors. We’ve had clients that tell us: «Hey we’re going to try the software of your competitors.» And we say: «Cool, try everything out, let us know what you think and make sure you’re happy.» And, if we loose a client to a competitor, it’s always a way for us to learn something new and know what can be improved.
Tell me more about your business partner. Who is he and what’s his role?
Chris Friend is co-founder and CEO of LiveHeats. He’s an ex pro surfer, so he’s quite well known in the surfing community, not just in Australia but, you know, worldwide. So at the start it was the perfect combo because he knew surfing competition in and out and he had all the contacts, and I knew technology and how to build software etc. So I guess the reason why we managed to grow and be successful was because of this combination.
But we were lacking a major skill set which was design. So a year a go we brought Eliska Davis into the team. She’s an experienced designer and visual designer and she has been instrumental to take us to the next level. Ever since she started working with us, we had amazing feedback from our clients and customers about how our software has evolved especially in terms of usability and intuitiveness.
What’s your goal and vision?
My personal goal is to run a proper, sustainable business that continues to foster the culture we have created, which is being able to work remotely from wherever you want and really caring about our customers and their needs. Our vision is to power as many clients as we can, not just surfing, but also snowboarding, skiing, wakeboarding and all the other sports we can also provide a solution for.
Anything else you would like to share or get out there?
The way we’ve grown and built the software is by talking and listening to our users, so if anyone who’s reading this is a user and has any ideas or feedback or anything they would like to tell us, please feel free to contact us and talk about it because this is what drives us to improve.
Any advice you want to share with fellow entrepreneurs?
Build the simplest thing possible that solves one problem, get it out there as quickly as you can and then improve it by learning.
Yes! It’s never going to be perfect and if you try to get it perfect before having actual users, you’re probably going to get it wrong.