The company has evolved from a smartwatch app for football referees into a SaaS management system that complements their smartwatch and smartphone app. While maintaining a strong focus on servicing football referees RefLIVE’s solutions have now been relied upon in other sports.
It’s been a story of growth but to lean more we let Simon take the floor here.
How’s the company been progressing since we last spoke? What’s the big milestone?
Simon Murphy: “We’ve probably grown by almost double since the last time we spoke.
“What we’ve found is that there’s a real problem for a number of sports as they try to manage the turnover of referees and umpires, which is really quite staggeringly high. That can be pretty closely linked to the abuse they can receive from players, and the pressures from coaches and parents. Then it’s also the difficulty in trying to identify talent and manage this development pipeline of really talented referees and umpires who want to progress through the ranks to get to an elite level like players do.
“So we’ve actually been able to build a B2B SaaS solution, a referee management system, and it takes basic data analytics points from our smartphone and smartwatch app. From there, we provide a really clean user interface for the referee or umpire manager to highlight problems their officials need to work on.”
In terms of downloads and user base, what kind of growth in numbers?
SM: “Downloads are around 50,000, and we’re releasing a redesign of the whole app because it’s been pretty similar since we launched it in 2016, a well overdue facelift.
“Then we’ve got a real focus on our SaaS solution, our referee management system. We’ve had a really great start to the year where we’ve managed to sign most of the soccer leagues in Australia, Football New Zealand and our first couple of leagues in the US. So we’ve really started to ramp up our sales efforts and identify our core customer and provide a great product so far.
“This interruption is not ideally timed for us, or for anyone, but we’ll continually position ourselves to deliver value and keep growing our customer base.”
Given that we’re all dealing with the coronavirus pandemic has that given RefLIVE a chance to internally look at the business and give yourself the time to innovate?
SM: “It definitely has. Once any kind of SaaS company gets started it’s imperative to make sure that your customers are properly onboarded, getting supported and their experiences are being optimised. On top of that, you have to find time to improve it, upgrade the product especially at an early stage where you’ve got limited resources, that’s one of the biggest challenges.
“We can see that this idle time is a real opportunity to focus on getting as many updates and upgrades completed as we can.
“It’s likely that it’ll be several months before clients and customers won’t be able to significantly use the product, so for us, that’s a real opportunity to update.”
Obviously plans, everyone’s plans for 2020 have changed. How has it affected you?
SM: “Honestly, it’s too early to tell. We’ve had some conversations with some prospects that we’re working with in the near future but no-one has yet pulled the pin and said ‘now is not the right time.’
“If anything, we’ve had a bit of an increase in leads recently and that might just because people have a bit more idle time because there’s no competitions happening anywhere. We are really mindful that things could really dry up at any minute and again it presents another opportunity to provide a stronger value proposition for your product.
“Everyone wants their product to be a must have solution and this is a real opportunity to prove that’s what it is regardless of what the funding cycle is like. Sports need our solutions and once they’ve started using it they become dependent on it.
“Our primary goal is to help grow sports and to improve the environment of matches as much as we can. That means being flexible, where possible to get more referees using our platform or to get more leagues on board in the short term.”
Once we’re all back out playing matches no matter the level, it’s going to be an issue where, especially at the grassroots level, there might be less money to spend on products.
SM: “There’s a high chance that will be the case. Spending in general, anywhere in the world is going to contract.
“In general most industries are really going to feel the pinch. When you’re a startup, you’ve just got to be really scrappy and resourceful as it is. And like I mentioned earlier it does provide an opportunity to be a little more innovative, not just necessarily the products, but your business model and the way you position it and how you can help your customers.”
Tell me about the data that referees generate.
SM: “It’s about giving leagues really accurate information about what their referees need, how they can improve, the retention rate of referees and better monitor the environment of matches.
“I think when you talk about having a referee specific product, there are set things that are only relevant to the officials. What we want to do is provide a quantitative rating system for the behaviour of players, coaches, and supporters for every game.
“From there we can build a really powerful analytics data set to help the leagues monitor behaviour, which thankfully most of the time is pretty good, but we’ve all been in a game where things have gotten out of hand and it becomes a really ugly environment really quickly. So providing some key metrics for not just referee managers but league executives to get an understanding of what the culture is like at their games, also give them a chance to analyse what they need to do to make any changes and track the progress of any new implementations.”
There’s been an evolution from a smartwatch app to a SaaS platform and you’re providing a data service. It’s been a strong evolution over the three years.
SM: “It’s a combination of things. If you spend a lot of time with your customers and focussing on a problem you’re going to learn a lot more about it. I think for us it’s trying to understand what problems that leagues are trying to solve that we feel like we can help which is collecting data from referees.
“We can definitely test new ideas and new features but until you get them in front of the customer you don’t really know how they’re going to be received. We’ve taken a lot of feedback and try to integrate as much as we can without convoluting the platform or changing too much too often.
“Overall I’m excited with how quickly we’ve been able to grow our customer base with a lot of leagues in Australia, and then overseas, then going into other sports outside of football, which has been our primary focus.”
Have you been able to service sports outside of football, essentially enter new markets in other sports?
SM: “You need to have big ambitions to be able to provide a service to a diverse community of users.
“At the same time, that initial product phase, focus is incredibly important. We had the domain expertise and our primary network was football, that was an obvious place to start for us but the plan was always to keep a broad perspective of how this could be used in other sports. By being a part of a sportstech community, we were able to keep learning that this was something that was needed in other sports.
“That was a real credit to the research and development we did trying to get market fit, hypothesising if this works for football referee managers there’s a really good chance that a similar system of officiating specific data analytics and solutions would be replicable in other sports.
“We’ve started doing some work directly with the AFL, so AFL Northern Territory whose competition runs in the summer. This year we’ve engaged AFL Victoria and AFL New South Wales to work with their umpiring academies.
“We’re really grateful that Australia seems to have a pretty collaborative approach from a range of sports with which you have different officiating managers. It’s been helpful to leverage that network. It’s like anything, if you’re building a good product and providing value, people are going to tell other people about it and that’s helped us get a lot of referrals and grow a lot quicker.”