How a founder with a non-coding background built Coordinates, a native app for tracking race participants in real time, with the help of Crowdbotics.
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Anand: Tell us a little bit about the Coordinates app. What is it and how did you come up with the idea?
Corey: The idea for Coordinates came about during a 24-hour mountain bike race I participated in about a year ago. In this race, each team member did a lap and then handed the baton off to the next team member for 24 hours. Our team was slowly climbing up the leaderboard, but the leaderboard was only updated every hour and a half when you completed a lap.
Most of my teammates, as well as our competitors, were all either wearing a fancy GPS smartwatch or carrying their cell phone with them and recording their GPS coordinates position locally to themselves. And I thought there had to have been a way to broadcast the position of everyone in a race onto a single centralized map. But that solution did not exist. The started me on a six-month journey trying to find that solution and, eventually, I couldn’t. So, I thought, “all right, well, I guess I’m just gonna have to build it myself.”
Anand: Oh, great. What does Coordinates do today and how do people use it?
Corey: Right now, the app is tied to specific races or specific endurance events. It’s kind of geared around human-powered race: a marathon, a running race, a bike race, a triathlon — any of those kinds of things. But, it absolutely could be used for anything.
Currently, a user would install the Coordinates App on their phone and they would broadcast their position onto the map during a race. Then, any spectator anywhere in the world can download the same app and open up the event and see where that one person is as well as everyone else who is broadcasting their position in the race as well.
Anand: That’s great. Certainly a useful thing for racers and race fans. What have the reactions been like so far when you’ve taken this application out to racers? What kind of feedback have you gotten from the first version?
Corey: We had our first kind of beta launch about a week ago, and that was at the same 24-hour mountain bike race where I had this idea. I had a few friends participating in the race, so I signed them up. Then, throughout the race, I just kind of walked around and found people who were using Find My iPhone or some other ad hoc solution to see where their own teammates were, and I invited them to use the app. When I showed them what it could do, they were really excited. It’s the kind of thing where everyone gets it right away. it makes sense and it’s nothing super complicated. Once those first few people started using it, they were pretty excited.
Anand: It’s always a good feeling to get those initial positive reactions.
Corey: Yeah. Definitely.
I did a ton of research, but it’s really just about taking baby steps. I mean, it started out as just a piece of paper with a few rectangles and a few ideas of what could be on the screen.
Anand: What kinds of things did you learn that surprised you? Do you have any feedback that wasn’t what you expected from your target audience? Or did they come up with new ideas that you hadn’t thought about yet?
Corey: A lot of users asked if they could use it outside of an event which I hadn’t thought about initially, but that would kind of be bordering on some solutions that already exist already. But, I think if the demand is there, then we can absolutely make it do that.
Anand: That’s a really interesting idea. That puts you right in the same wheelhouse of some of these bigger players like Strava, Map My Run, and Gaia. It’s cool to be compared to those solutions or at least have them think about you that way.
Corey: Yeah, absolutely. And I definitely see those as competitors. To think that Coordinates could eventually be there is pretty neat.
Anand: Let me ask you a hard question (and this is something we often see MVPers run into): the app concept is very exciting, but how are you planning to monetize an app like this? What’s your business model look like?
Corey: The idea is that it would be free to participants and spectators, but to be included in a race, a race director would need to purchase the service. So, you can’t just go out and add this to any old race. Bu,t that may change if people want to use it on a weekend mountain bike ride or a run with their friends. In that case, it would still be free. But, to use it in a race where you are purchasing an entry fee, this would be rolled up into that entry fee.
Anand: Very cool. So let’s change gears a little bit. I’d love to hear a little bit about the idea process. What you were doing before? What kind of approach did you take from the initial concept, down to first the design, and then to real technology?
Anand: Great. Tell me a little bit about the process of working with Crowdbotics? How long did it take you from design to the first deployment with the app in people’s hands? The first “race day?”
Corey: I had spent a few months fleshing out the experience design. From there, that’s when I contacted Crowdbotics. It was mid-January when I started with Crowdbotics. And that following race was only about five weeks later. So, it was extremely quick from giving you guys an idea of having a finished app that people could use.
Anand: That’s great! That’s, of course, the core of the Crowdbotics model: building things very quickly, especially for folks who are like you who are technically savvy but maybe not software engineers by training. It sounds like you were able to get something out the door pretty fast. What technology was the app built with and are there any special features you like a lot?
Corey: The app is built with React Native, which gave us the base functionality for both Android and iOS. There are some cool features like we have some geofencing stuff where a user rides across the start/finish line and it automatically toggles a lap timer. It’s just neat to kind of see all that information about multiple people on one screen because, with other solutions, these features are available for individuals with products like Strava Beacon and Garmin LiveTrack but not for multiple users. Seeing multiple racers on a single map is pretty cool.
Anand: That is very cool. And it’s certainly something that takes advantage of some of the leading capabilities of the phone right now. I know you had actually considered some other solutions too. You were thinking at one point about doing a hardware device and at another point, you were looking at doing a progressive web app. Can you tell me why you decided not to do the hardware? Also, what are your thoughts are on PWAs?
Corey: We had looked at doing the progressive web app, but quickly realized that on iOS you don’t have access to geolocation, so you don’t have access to GPS. That was a pretty quick nonstarter. The hardware is still very much a possibility, but it would have required a lot more capital to get that going upfront, as opposed to just a cell phone app you can get going pretty quickly. I do see hardware as a very unique, distinguishing feature of my company later on so we’re still working on that. Eventually, the goal is to replace RFID tracking or RFID timing with a small cellular GPS tracker on every participant.
Anand: That’s a very cool idea and I think that will certainly boost accuracy in ways that might be important to certain kinds of racers. I know you’ve got some new features coming up. Anything in particular that’s on your roadmap that you’re excited about?
Corey: For the first test, we only had about 25 people out of 1800 participating, which is a pretty, pretty, pretty small group. Eventually, we to get *everyone* in a race tracked. With that, you can get a true live leaderboard. Picture a Formula One race or even like Mario Kart where you have each person kind of trading places up the leaderboard. I’m pretty excited about that. It’ll make the experience for a spectator that much more interactive.
This could eventually be on the Tour de France or the Kona Ironman world champion. I’ve got big aspirations for this. We’re eventually going to tie it into heart rate monitors and speed sensors on bikes so that you can overlay that data onto live video feeds.
Anand: What advice would you give to people who are thinking about launching an application? A lot of people spend a lot of time in the idea phase and they don’t necessarily get to the launch phase or to take something to market or enter in sales conversations. What would you give as general advice to folks who are looking at application ideas like this?
It was mid-January when I started with Crowdbotics. And that following race was only about five weeks later. So, it was extremely quick from giving you guys an idea to having a finished app that people could use.
Corey: That’s interesting because I’m definitely an idea guy. Tons of ideas. It took finally kind of getting stuck with one and having everyone around me tell me, “I’d be surprised if that isn’t a thing already.” After I heard that about 12 times, I was like, “okay, I need to act on this.” And it was as simple as just reaching out to a few people. I spoke with the race director of the event where I had this idea and he seemed pretty interested. I did a ton of research, but it’s really just about taking baby steps. I mean, it started out as just a piece of paper with a few rectangles and a few ideas of what could be on the screen. I think the biggest thing is to just try and to just go forward until it doesn’t work.
Anand: I think good entrepreneurs will figure out ways around those challenges as well.
Anand: Any comments you want to share about what it’s been like working with the Crowdbotics team or engineers on this side?
Corey: Sure! It’s been better than I could’ve expected. We’re having daily stand-ups every morning and I’m in constant contact with the actual software engineer doing the work. He has been extremely responsive to feedback, suggestions, and changes. It’s a very collaborative process. Crowdbotics is helping me resolve and evolve my solution.