Saswat Panda (MBA ’22) shares the story of LiveLike, a company creating technology to make live sports streaming more social and immersive.
Tell us more about your background and what inspired you to be an entrepreneur.
I have always loved building things. I attended Cornell to be an aerospace engineer, but quickly fell in love with software and game development, spending most of my time bringing student teams together to make several video games. That led me to a career at Microsoft, working on the Xbox One and on games like the Forza Motorsport series. A few years in, however, I started to feel the itch of wanting to build software from scratch again. I also felt that, while my job was fun, I was not challenged enough and was not learning at the pace I wanted. In 2014, I quit Microsoft to build something. I was not sure what it was going to be, but several months later, I met my cofounders, and we started LiveLike.
What is the problem that you are trying to solve?
We started LiveLike to make live sports streaming more social, interactive, and engaging. Although technology has progressed by leaps and bounds, we are still watching live sports the same way we did 50 years ago, just on smaller and more portable screens. The viewer experience is unidirectional—you do not get to interact with content, and you do not get to be a part of it. You are simply a spectator. However, the younger generation of sports fans has grown up consuming content on social channels like Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat, and they expect to be able to participate in the content they are viewing. By sticking to traditional models of content consumption and engagement, broadcasters are being left behind and losing ground to Facebook (Instagram), Google (YouTube), Amazon (Twitch), and the other tech giants. Our goal is to empower live broadcasters, like Fox and ESPN, to create social, interactive, and engaging experiences within their own websites, apps, and services.
What is your solution?
We provide broadcasters with an easy-to-integrate plug-in or software development kit (SDK) that they can add to their video streaming apps and websites. By adding the plug-in to an app, a live sports broadcaster can, for example, add chat experiences, interactive trivia, predictions games, and the ability to earn points and redeem the points for rewards. The real value addition, though, is being able to do all of that right next to the viewer’s video and providing a seamless experience between the content a user views and the way they respond to it. It is essential to ensure that content “consumption” is not just a one-way street but that fans feel like they are participating in some way.
What was the inspiration behind your company/idea?
We first started LiveLike in 2015 looking to use Virtual Reality (VR) tech to make sports more social and interactive. My co-founders and I all grew up watching different sports with our friends and families. For me, it was cricket. For others, it was soccer. But once we moved to the US, there was no real opportunity to enjoy that content with the people that made it special. In 2015, VR was just starting to take off, and we felt it was the perfect opportunity to make the sports watching experience much more social and immersive. What if you could be with your friends and family but feel like you are sitting courtside at the stadium?
While we managed to do well and became the preferred VR partner for the Superbowl, FIFA World Cup, and other top international events, the consumer market for VR had a much slower uptake than we expected. However, the process taught us what broadcasters cared about and what their biggest pain points were. We also got a deep understanding of the industry and learned that the problems we were trying to solve with emerging technologies still existed with existing platforms like mobile and web. That led to the plug-in product described above.
Who is the team behind your startup?
We started off in 2015 as five founders, each of us bringing something unique and complementary to the table: Operations (Andre Lorenceau, our CEO), Business Development (Miheer Walavalkar), Design (Jeremie Lasnier), Video Production (Fabrice Lorenceau) and Engineering (myself). We were in different parts of the world but were introduced to each other through mutual friends, and we all decided to move to San Francisco, and later New York, to start the company.
How did you get started?
I quit Microsoft in 2014 to dive head-first into doing a startup. The new wave of VR was just starting to emerge, and I spent a lot of time prototyping ideas in VR. In early 2015, I was introduced to Andre and his brother Fabrice, who were looking to work on VR video with a specific focus on live sports. I spent a month prototyping ideas with them, but what really sold me was our first client meeting in the Liverpool Football Club. A short meeting with their marketing team turned into an office-wide event where the entire office began lining up to try our prototype. That is when I knew we had to do this. Andre, Jeremie and I moved to San Francisco to start the company, while Fabrice and Miheer stayed remote and focused on international business development and video production. Later that year, we moved to New York City to attend Techstars NYC, and we decided to stick around after the program. A year later, in 2016, we got our first contract with Fox Sports.
After five and a half years at LiveLike, it was finally time for me to leave this summer and attend HBS. My co-founders are still keeping the company going strong, which to some extent has also been propelled by the move to digital caused by Covid-19. I plan to spend the next two years at HBS exploring other business opportunities and ways in which software can be used to solve problems in other industries, and hopefully I will start another company soon.
Saswat Panda (MBA ’22) came to HBS after spending over five years building the product and engineering teams at LiveLike, a tech startup he co-founded. He grew up in Mumbai and studied Computer Science at Cornell, after which he spent a few years making and playing Xbox games at Microsoft. In his spare time, you can catch him playing music, eating everything and driving through backcountry roads.