When Anderson Reggio, a principal race officer, is running a regatta for 400 Optimist sailors, he says his biggest concern is “getting 400 kids off the dock, and then getting 400 smiling kids back at the end of the day.” His focus on safety keeps him up at night.
Reggio notes that the logistics at huge youth events are staggering, and most of the time there are large groups of Opti-Moms with clipboards, making checklists as sailors leave shore and return at the end of the day. The problem is the lists have to be cross-checked manually, and there is no emergency information linked to each clipboard.
Now there’s a better way. What Steve Jobs did for personal computing, past Olympian Graham Biehl and co-founder Chris Jones are doing for regatta management. Their creation, Regatta Toolbox, is a suite of software that simplifies registering for regattas, posting scores, communicating with participants, and keeping tabs on little Tommy.
It all started as a blue-sky concept Biehl pulled together when he was studying for his master’s degree in convergent media at Western Sydney University, in Australia. He was working on creating a way for competitors to scan in and out, which was still in the idea phase when he put his 29er up for sale.
The skiff sold, but Biehl wasn’t home for the arrival of the buyer, so his then-girlfriend, now-wife, sorted out the details. She spied a pile of wristbands and wires in the back of the buyer’s Land Rover.
The new owner of the 29er, Chris Jones, was working on a simple way for kids to scan onto the water and then back ashore. When Biehl’s girlfriend told him about the wristbands, he couldn’t sleep. He called Jones the next day, and the two became business partners.
“This whole thing was conceptualized in Australia because of the safety culture,” says Biehl. “The U.S. tends to sail a bit more inland. We don’t have as wild weather. Every youth event in Australia, standard practice, there has to be some sort of check-in and check-out procedure for all of the kids for insurance reasons and for contact information.”
The two partners set out to make regatta management simpler. One of their goals from the start was to make sure everything they built was 100 percent cellphone-compatible. Today, Regatta Toolbox looks and works the same on your phone as it does on your laptop, desktop computer or tablet. The product launched in Australia and enjoyed success at Sail Sydney, with 300 competitors, and at Sail Melbourne with 500 boats.
Using a scanner similar to what you might see in a grocery store, competitors scan their wristbands on the way out and when they come ashore. “Every time we have a new user for a new event, the organizers say they have never seen kids so eager to check in at the end of the day,” says Biehl. As Biehl and Jones sought to improve their product, they brought on another partner with some serious expertise. Brendan Kopp is a graduate of Harvard, a former sailing team co-captain and All-American. He also writes code.
Kopp’s goal was to make Regatta Toolbox intuitive. He doesn’t compare it to spreadsheet software; an Instagram-and-Amazon hybrid is more like it. “People are excited to move away from Excel spreadsheets,” says Kopp. “My biggest dream for this platform is to let people spend more time on the water and less time at a desk.”
When asked if it would be possible to organize and run a regatta using Regatta Toolbox while locked inside a closet with nothing but a cellphone, Kopp chuckles. “Someone would have to give me the order of the finishers,” he says. “But I could set up a regatta here in San Francisco and it could run in Australia tomorrow.”