Brandon Rohde lives the life little boys fantasize about. He gets paid for being immersed in racing: race cars, motorcycles, remote control cars and go-carts, even drones. His grown-up company has him following races, traveling to tracks around the world, and enhancing products that make timing, scoring and broadcasting races more effective so fans can follow their favorite racers up close and from a distance.
Rohde launched LiveTime with his friend, Cory Kroll, three years ago and has been going full speed ever since. Now the racing industry’s largest distributor of scoring hardware, LiveTime operates with seven fulltime employees, including an accountant, two journalists, a customer relationship manager, a broadcast assistant, and two part-time camera guys. But it’s the company’s proprietary technology solutions that make its scalable potential almost limitless.
What is LiveTime?
We do timing and scoring for everything motorsports – from remote control cars and drones, like the helicopters you may see on TV, to dirt oval racing at the 141 Speedway (in Maribel), to Road America – and everything in between. We write all of the software programs that track scoring, programs that track lap times, and statistics (average lap, running position, qualifying order, etc.).
What does LiveTime do, exactly?
We’re the largest distributor in the world for all of the scoring hardware, so every car has a little transponder about the size of a cell phone. The race track has a wire that’s buried under the finish line, and every time the car crosses over it, we know which car it is, based on the transponder. That’s the first side of the business.
The second side is LiveRaceMedia, which is the scoring results and is more for consumers to watch. On any given week, we’ll have 300 to 400 tracks that are running races where you can log in and see who’s racing. Tracks can broadcast live video and automate video switching, so you can have eight different cameras around the track and it will automatically switch to whatever camera is on the leader. Tracks can broadcast live timing, scoring and results, so fans and grandma back home can watch their family and friends race.
How did you get into this?
I grew up in Sturgeon Bay racing motocross, which is dirt bikes off road. I broke a bunch of bones, so I raced remote control (RC) cars whenever I had a broken leg and couldn’t ride my motorcycle. That’s kind of how I got into the two forms of racing. Then over the years I raced RC cars professionally and worked in that industry for a while. They were really, really behind the times technology-wise.
I went to school for software engineering at Milwaukee School of Engineering (2001) and then business at St. Norbert College (2004). I started writing plug-ins for existing systems so we could get scoring online, then got into the video.
But we were operating at the mercy of the other systems out there. I reached out to my old babysitter’s son, Cory Kroll. He’s a very good software engineer. He came on board as my partner. That’s when we started our own software instead of writing plug-ins for other systems.
Who uses your software?
Our focus hasn’t been to go after Nascar, or Indycar or those series – they all have their in-house proprietary solutions. We’re going after the 5,000 local tracks around the country. Around Green Bay, there’s one at the Luxemburg Speedway – they have a dirt oval, so they race every Friday night. They’ll get 100 cars there racing. There’s the 141 Speedway in Maribel and about 30 dirt oval tracks in Wisconsin and a couple road-course tracks.
We focus on the amateur level of racing, mom-and-pop tracks, and try to give them more technology than using chintzy DOS-based software that’s been unchanged for 30 years.
Who are your consumers?
One would be tracks and racers. The tracks buy the scoring hardware from us, and the racers buy or rent the transponders.
Second, the general public, via LiveRace Media. We stream video, syndicate through Facebook, YouTube, Twitch – any of the media channels we can so tracks can use social media to attract more spectators and generate more publicity. Videos start getting shared, and people are like ‘Hey check this out,’ especially if it’s at the hobby level, something they’ve never seen before, like RC cars or drones, where people can get into racing for $300. We’re providing a platform for these tracks to really promote themselves to the mass public.
Where has LiveTime taken you?
Tracks can do their own video broadcasting with a couple cameras. We also have a full video production team. So for major events, like RC Car World Championships or Go-Kart World Championships, etc., tracks hire us to come out and broadcast the event.
We’ll do all the streaming online, and we’ve even syndicated to ESPN3 for some events, so we have a media team for that. We’ve been to Asia three times, Australia, Europe, Argentina, Brazil – every continent but Antarctica, wherever the events take place.
What makes LiveTime’s system unique?
There are a lot of tracks out there, but previously there was only one system for timing and scoring, and it was all based on old technology from 1999. There was no competition and nothing driving them forward. It didn’t have online results, it was very limited on data, not user friendly, and was difficult to use.
We designed a system from the ground up with all the latest technology. Everything is automated. It syncs up to the cloud, so data is backed up. Results are online instantaneously, so you can be watching in the grandstands on your mobile app and see the lap time 10 feet after the car crosses the finish line. That kind of stuff just didn’t exist before.
We’ve got full on-screen graphics, like you’d see with Nascar. You can see lap times, what the running motor is, how far behind a car is from the leader, what their series points total is, all kinds of fun stuff. We can bring that to a local level so local tracks can have a very tech-friendly system to serve the modern generation.
And on the video broadcasting side?
We’ve got tools so if a track sets up a couple cameras, they can get an entire system for under $500. It’s very cost effective. These are big tracks, so $500 isn’t a huge investment for them.
They can have multiple cameras following all the turns, and our system will work with each camera to tell it where to go so you can follow the race leaders around the track without having anybody manning the system. Just set up and walk away, and you can look like you’ve got a full broadcast team out there.
What challenges does LiveTime face?
We’re in a very price-sensitive market. We’re marketing to mom-and-pop shops and amateur racers, so our margins are pretty slim. We’re operating on volume versus high markup on our software end products. We’ve kind of taken over the market share in every industry we’ve jumped into so far, so the volume has been there.
Social media helps and hurts us at the same time. Three years ago, before Facebook Live and YouTube Live were big, we could charge a subscription or pay-per-view. But now these places make it easy to stream live video free, so we can’t charge a subscription anymore. We’ve had to shift over to more advertising-based revenue, which is more work because you need somebody dedicated to calling sponsors and selling advertising full time to offset the cost of giving video away.
The market is changing and we’re adapting as best we can. I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job so far, but it’s definitely fast changing.
How do you prepare for future threats?
Constant R&D. Everybody here is into racing and knows the industry as far as racers and what they want to see as a track promoter, so we try to meet those needs before somebody else does. We certainly have competition, but we’ve done well at handling that and are making sure we set the trends. In any industry, people copy whatever business models are working, but it’s really about being the first to refine it so we’re not trying to play catch up. The minute you try to follow what others are doing, you’re behind the game. We’re trying to set the market versus following it.