PlayerData, a wearable tech company founded by two recent graduates of one of School of Informatics' joint degrees, has showcased its first product to thousands attending the Homeless World Cup in Mexico.
Homeless World Cup partner
Roy Hotrabhvanon and Hayden Ball, who both graduated from the University in 2016, have just returned from beta testing PlayerData EDGE at the Homeless World Cup in Mexico. As the tournament’s official Sports Performance Partner, their wearable tech start-up, PlayerData, provided real-time player performance metrics over the week.
Co-founded by Mel Young MBE (pictured above with Roy, left, and Hayden, right), who started the Big Issue in Scotland and holds an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh, the Homeless World Cup Foundation empowers people around the globe to transform their lives and end homelessness through football.
Despite facing difficulties at points in their lives, the players representing their countries at the 16th Homeless World Cup tournament were full of drive and determination – qualities held by Roy and Hayden too in taking their product to this global stage. However, it was a spot of boredom three years ago that saw the formation of their company.
Kitchen table HQ
As two of only 14 students on their Computer Science & Electronics programme, Roy and Hayden often revised together at Roy’s kitchen table. Inevitably conversation occasionally strayed away from University work and, during a particularly low revision point, they started to talk about sensors. Ball’s aim was to track his heart rate, whereas Hotrabhvanon wanted to improve his archery performance. They decided to combine their projects and PlayerData was born.
“That’s where the business started and was based at for the first two years - my kitchen table,” says Roy, Chief Executive Officer, PlayerData.
Finding the edge
The kitchen has since been upgraded to an office in Waverley Gate, right in the centre of Edinburgh, where neighbouring tenants include tech titans Amazon and Microsoft. “Hopefully we’ll take out this entire building one day,” Roy laughs.
In developing both their product and the business model, Hayden and Roy have consulted sports coaches and drawn on their own sporting backgrounds - Roy picked up archery at university during Freshers’ Week in 2012 and went on to represent his native Thailand at the World Archery Championships in 2015.
While other wearable tracking technology does exist, high subscription costs put it out of reach for many. The pair noticed a gap in the market and aim to fill it. Roy explains: “We’ve developed a model that allows the software to be used by less experienced coaches – so it’s much more user friendly. It’s a pay-as-you-go subscription, so everyone from pub kickabout level to grassroots to amateurs can afford it.”
PlayerData EDGE is the company’s first product. It is currently in beta-testing and has won some early adopters. Consisting of a small removable control module, it provides data on biometrics and performance. PlayerData took 150 such units to Mexico, which measured how far a player travelled in the match, players’ agility (calculated from acceleration data, which indicates how quickly an athlete or team could change direction), average speed and peak speed.
Roy and Hayden have taken advantage of a range of services and schemes to accelerate their company development. With their early-stage business idea, they approached LAUNCH.ed, the free service offering help and support to student entrepreneurs, which is part of Edinburgh Innovations, the University’s commercialisation service. A LAUNCH.ed business advisor provided the pair with useful contacts, which had a ripple effect in helping them to network further and gain wider support.
PlayerData also received financial support from the service: “LAUNCH.ed also gave us a grant for just under £1,000. We bought a 3D printer which meant we could do prototyping in-house a lot quicker.”
This 3D printer also generated income for PlayerData, as they rented out spare capacity for odd jobs, putting the profit back into product development. In doing so, Roy estimates that the value of the initial grant quadrupled over time. And the printer is still working to this day.
The company also benefitted from early-stage support from the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Scottish Enterprise.
Drawing from experience
Roy admits that the constant research and development 'slog' can be tiring, but maintains that you just need the drive to get through it: “You’re working on 100 different little pieces and you don’t see the full product until you put it all together. So it looks like you’re doing nothing for six months and then suddenly you have something.”
Seeing months of work come together is undoubtedly a welcome milestone. But Roy’s personal highlight has been gaining the backing of high-profile investors, including former Tesco Chief Executive Sir Terry Leahy and Mike Welch, founder of Blackcircles.com, who is the company’s Chairman. Their business experience has been invaluable to PlayerData.
“You have former corporate lawyers, former CEOs of global corporations. Someone who was actually in our position – Mike [Welch] – who started a company from nothing and then exited – bringing all that wealth around one table to draw from, learn from, and apply to your own business,” says Roy.
Having taken advantage of insights from more experienced individuals, as well as peers, in growing their business, Roy is also in a position to share PlayerData’s experiences with others just starting their entrepreneurial journey.
He recently delivered a masterclass to physics students at the King’s Buildings campus on the invitation of the School of Physics & Astronomy’s Royal Society Entrepreneur in Residence. And the day after arriving back from Mexico, he gave a talk to the student Electronics and Electrical Engineering Society.
Do it yourself
So, what is Roy’s advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Speak to support services
“[Students should] talk to LAUNCH.ed, talk to the Scottish Institute for Enterprise. Very simple. Definitely do that.”
LAUNCH.ed also supports University of Edinburgh graduates for two years after graduation.
Look it up
“It’s not as hard as it looks. You can do a lot yourself. Google it. If you want to do anything, just look it up. You don’t have to be an expert to do some of it. A lot of people fall into the trap of thinking they need an expert in this and that. But what you end up doing is outsourcing everything and you don’t understand what these people are doing for you. It means that when it comes to it, you have less information to run your business. You want to try at least to do some of it yourself. I’m not advocating for you to write your own legal documents, but you can do the basics.”
Don’t seek approval elsewhere
“When you’re starting a company, you can’t be driven by other people’s approval. It’s a lesson that a lot of people don’t learn. Because at the end of the day, you’re the only one who will drive your business. You have to get up in the morning and really want it. Otherwise it’s not for you.”
*This article was published in Edit Magazine Supplements*