First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Nikolay Tashev: I`d have to say we are doing quite well! We have been following the mask and hygiene measures and have so far been able to avoid getting infected by the virus. Similarly to everyone, my family and my jobs have been affected by the lockdowns. We had to spend a few months without work – in my particular case, the stoppage of football competitions left me little to do.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Ubitrack.
Nikolay Tashev: My friend Roman and I were part of a team developing a mobile app for the visually impaired, which used computer vision technologies to assist visually impaired people in their everyday life. We abandoned the project as it relied heavily on the smartphone`s hardware, which was not powerful enough at the time, and a mistake by the app could have severe consequences for the user.
Two years ago, we identified a market opportunity in the sports industry – raw performance data is scarce, low-quality, and quite expensive. We then decided to start a new venture whose mission was to deliver full, high-accuracy, and comprehensive data to the market. Using computer vision algorithms, we were able to automate the data extraction process, making the extracted data affordable.
How does Ubitrack innovate?
Nikolay Tashev: Presently, data acquisition in sports is still done predominantly manually. Because of that, one can rarely get full tracking and eventing data (and those who can are usually the richest clubs in the world), and when they do, the data is of low-accuracy and fragmented. I used to work as an analyst at a company that only rated how dangerous the attacks of both teams are during a live match, and I know firsthand how subjective those rates can be. We decided that by using computer vision and machine learning, we can automate the data extraction process so that:
- We can provide tracking and eventing data. Essentially being a one-stop-shop for performance data
- The data is objective and comparable no matter where our technology is implemented
- We can easily guarantee data on time
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Nikolay Tashev: Presently, we are concentrated on football (soccer), and hopefully, next year, we will start entering other sports. When football competitions were stopped, it was a tough time for us. Communication was stopped for months; the economic impact on the clubs and leagues affected our sales pipeline and roadmap.
As a start-up, we had a certain run-way which we had to extend as much as possible given the uncertain times ahead, so we decided to streamline our operations:
- We concentrated on optimizing our system. At the end of the summer, we launched our second iteration of the system, which achieved significant optimizations over the first one.
- We postponed growing our team.
- We concentrated our customer development and sales activities locally to Bulgaria and the Balkan region.
- We started partnering with companies across Europe that could use our data to penetrate the local markets. Given that we were all affected by the lockdown measures, everyone was hungry for work. We took advantage of those partnerships to make our data easy to integrate into their software, and we strongly believe that will pay off in the future. We have partners who can ingest our data in less than 5 minutes.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Nikolay Tashev: We had very ambitious targets for 2020, and we had to completely redesign our strategy and offering. After a few months of testing new approaches and models, I can confidently say that if your company`s underlying mission is solid, in tough situations with a lot of input from the customers, one can easily pivot and find a way to deliver value to the market and survive. It truly was a test for us, and given that as most start-ups, we pivoted a few times over the years, the lockdown period proved that we are working in the right direction.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Nikolay Tashev: I have found for myself that a workout regimen is a lifesaver. I like video games to let off some steam and spent quite a lot of time cooking.
I also found out that if the lockdown results in very little work, one can start helping other companies or ventures, just to keep occupied and hopefully to learn some new skills.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Nikolay Tashev: I believe our competitors are facing the same challenges we are. Fortunately for us, our competitive advantages are even more appealing now, so our plan to stay in the game is to double down on those advantages. So far, it has served us well.
Your final thoughts?
Nikolay Tashev: Persistence, creativity, and action (lots and lots of action) can help you find your place in the market and overcome many tough challenges.
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