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Tech

Andre Lorenceau

CEO & Founder, LiveLike

Before 27-year-old Andre Lorenceau founded LiveLike, a virtual reality platform for live sports, he spent a year in Seoul, South Korea.

“It was pretty lonely,” remembers the French-born entrepreneur. “I’d just graduated from the University of Texas and was used to having people around. Honestly, I missed watching football with friends.”

Like so many expats, Lorenceau concocted a mix of Skype, text message and GChat to stay connected during games—even watching in the middle of the night. But it wasn’t the same.

“Watching sports alone is really depressing. Say there was a fourth quarter touchdown: I’d immediately look around, searching for someone to high five before I’d remember no one was there. It simply doesn’t have the same impact.”

Lorenceau started to think: What if VR could be used to not only broadcast sports, in a style similar to Next VR, but also simulate the feeling of companionship? 

Enter LiveLike, a digital version of the private suites found in stadiums around the world. Users are dropped into a “room” with friends, then given access to other capabilities (like tapping to switch cameras at your own volition and controlling replay).

Their first broadcast with Fox Sports, Ohio State vs Oklahoma, drew 37,000 viewers in September. Now they have immediate plans to expand into more leagues and more sports. We caught up with Lorenceau and his cofounder, Miheer Walavalkar, at their WeWork space in New York’s Financial District to learn more about the two-year-old startup.

Live sports in virtual reality.

So, what is LiveLike?
“LiveLike is really two things. One, we have a headset experience that works with Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard to fully immerse you in a game. Two, we have an entry level product, which is more like Facebook 360, for those who don’t own headsets. It’s still interactive, though, and lets you tap to switch cameras, tap to replay and access statistics right on your screen. Both are free to download; all you need is a cable subscription to start streaming.” – Walavalkar

As a small company, why release two tech products?
“We wanted to get LiveLike into the hands of as many viewers as possible; the last thing any startup should do is build an expensive product for very few people. There’s also the question of whether every person will really wear a headset throughout a one, two, three hour game… Creating two versions of the product will enable us to scale while we wait for the price, comfort and technology of VR to improve.” – Walavalkar

The gist.

Both are free to download; all you need is a cable subscription to start streaming.”

Ok, so you had an idea for two products. What did you do next?
“I’m not a technical person, so, the first thing I had to find was an engineer to build a prototype. I posted on Reddit—which might sound kind of crazy—and one engineer responded. We’d never met, but we had a prototype two or three hours later. Now let me tell you: That prototype was nasty. It used a lot of random, unrelated GoPro footage in an effort to show what I had in my mind. But I kept reminding myself about Oculus, which first presented as two screens duct-taped together and then sold to Facebook for $2B. You can’t wait for perfection—you just have to start.” – Lorenceau

And then?
“Since I’m French, the first thing we did was take the prototype to a broadcaster in Paris. We knew we didn’t have enough money to license live sports rights, which are ridiculously expensive. I honestly think the high cost of these rights is probably why there’s been so little innovation in this area. So, the goal with LiveLike was always to partner with broadcasters as opposed to licensing ourselves. We want to white label our technology as a plug-and-play solution for broadcasters like Fox. All they have to do is add one lens to their cameras; it’s a frictionless approach.” – Lorenceau

Did the French broadcaster say yes?
“No. [Laughs] Pretty much ever broadcaster we’ve met sees the potential of LiveLike, but that doesn’t mean they always said yes. A real turning point was when we were accepted to [mentor-based accelerator] Techstars. Someone at Techstars Austin had a connection with Fox Sports, and before we knew it we were presenting to [president] Eric Shanks. We broadcast our first game with them this year, and then recently covered the Big Ten football championship.” – Walavalkar

Next steps.

The high cost of sports media rights is probably why there's been so little innovation in this area.”

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting LiveLike?
“Don’t let your ego get in the way. When you first launch a company, you’re doing everything: design, communication, finance. But then you’re company grows—we’re at 35 employees now—and you get the point where your impact on the company is dissolved. And that’s ok. It’s very dangerous for an entrepreneur not to know how to ‘hand off.'” – Lorenceau

What’s the one thing you’ll never be hands off about?
“Making sure people talk to each other. Say, for example, an engineer builds a new product. It’s my job to make sure they’re communicating that to the rest of the team, so that non-technical people understand the new tools at their fingertips. We have offices in New York, Paris and India, so, it’s especially important for us. But in a global economy, and where so many people work remotely, communication is a simple thing that shouldn’t be overlooked.”

Scaling the biz.

It's very dangerous for an entrepreneur not to know how to 'hand off.'”

With a constantly expanding roster of games, sports and broadcast partners, LiveLike hopes to blanket the vertical in the coming years. It’s no wonder TechCrunch awarded them the 1st and Future Prize. Follow LiveLike on Facebook to stay up to date on their expansion.

In conclusion.

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