We talked to Robert Rizea of RacketPal about gamifying digital sports and community experience during the pandemic.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Robert Rizea: We are all well. Thank you for asking.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded RacketPal.
Robert Rizea: I studied my undergrad in the US, majoring in international business and marketing. My whole life, I was attracted and interested in marketing and selling stuff (whatever stuff I could put my hands on when I was young). Then I was accepted into the Master program of LSBF in London, where I studied Digital Marketing Management. I also started working during that time (2016), and that’s how I got more involved in the digital side of marketing, from paid acquisition to SEO, paid media, performance marketing, etc. So my whole life until now, I’ve been focusing on the commercial side of businesses.
I am an ex-pro tennis player, so this is how the idea of RacketPal came about. I was trying to find people to play against in London and found it very difficult to find someone. I’ve then met my current co-founder Bogdan who was playing squash and realized that we both have the same issue. And that’s how we thought about creating RacketPal, a mobile app that helps people of all levels find local racket sports partners (Tennis, badminton, table tennis, squash, and padel).
How does RacketPal innovate?
Robert Rizea: Our company has brought something new to the game, an algorithm that has not been used before for sports tech companies. And this is how it all started in terms of innovation and gamification. We establish someone’s skill level not based on their own subjective opinion of themselves but based on a few questions that they ask and on match results.
We are also implementing the whole idea of gamifying digital sports and community experience through features such as rankings, leagues, broadcast options, etc. We are a b2c app; ultimately, we care that our users like and use our product. The more engaged they are with our app, the happier they are. Everything tech-related and product-related that we have worked on and launched until now came from user feedback and interviews. We are 1000% user-focused.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Robert Rizea: Of course, during the lockdown, no one was playing sports anymore, so we didn’t have much activity during 45-60 days. Yet after that, incredibly, everyone was eager to go outside and be active. As tennis is a natural sport where social distance is being kept between the players, it was one of the first sports allowed by the government, and everyone turned to it – even people that were into other sports. And what was the platform that already had 10k members, and you could easily find a local partner on your level? RacketPal. So activity post-lockdown and user registrations have skyrocketed, which was something completely unexpected.
We assume that the same thing will happen after the second lockdown.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Robert Rizea: Yes, as a startup founder, I think there are a lot of difficult choices to be made on a daily basis. One lesson that I’ve learned is that you cannot control everything no matter how hard you try; you just have to let go of 95% of the things you want to do and focus on the 5% of things that bring the company the most results/value (however one defines that). It’s all about prioritization.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Robert Rizea: To be really honest with you, I love it. It keeps me going, I love this startup, and I work with so much joy that I don’t really feel stress as a burden but as a blessing. I am just fortunate to be able to get up in the morning and work for myself and my own idea and solve a real issue for the community. There’s no better feeling than that on a daily basis. Do something you love, and you’ll never feel like you’re working in your life.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
We have a very talented and devoted team of developers and designers, testers, and marketing people, and I believe when there are passionate and talented minds working together, the chances of success increase dramatically. We would not have reached this point in time without them.
Your final thoughts?
Robert Rizea: Not really many. Just something I have been asked multiple times by founders of earlier stage startups than ourselves “How did you get to this point/How did you know that you will reach this point.” Short answer: we didn’t. RacketPal started out as a passion, and it became a business afterward. But we tried, and we worked hard at it. If we don’t succeed, we are happy. We’ve done everything we could do. And we had fun, we learned a lot, and the chances of success for the next venture have doubled. Have a bit of faith. No decision is a crazy decision.