Racers use crowdfunding to develop data device

  • By Kurt Batdorf HBJ Editor
  • Monday, May 13, 2013 3:19pm

LYNNWOOD — When we first met the brains behind Autosport Labs in late 2010, racer Brent Picasso was working on the first version of a data-acquisition system, the company’s next product for budget-minded racers.

Autosport Labs, founded by Picasso and his wife, Kelley, had already developed Megajolt Lite Jr., a programmable electronic ignition module that sold to more than 2,500 auto enthusiast customers around the world.

The first iteration of Race Capture proved itself when it transmitted real-time race data to Twitter followers in an 18-hour ChumpCar endurance race at Portland International Raceway in October 2010. It even survived a crash that kept the tweeting Mazda Miata in the pits for a couple of hours of extensive repairs.

Once Autosport Labs proved that Race Capture’s technology worked, the issue became how to fund its development to get it to market.

A few months later, Kelley Picasso said she read a Wired magazine story about the crowdfunding site Kickstarter and spent the rest of 2011 forming and honing Autosport Lab’s fundraising pitch for Race Capture Pro. Brent Picasso kept tweaking the product’s Android-based, open-source software and hardware, along with the piggyback Real Time cellular telemetry unit.

“We felt we had to let Kickstarter backers know that (Race Capture Pro) worked and wasn’t vaporware,” he said.

And relative to other proposals and projects on Kickstarter and competing site Indiegogo, Picasso said Race Capture Pro was much more developed.

The Picassos and business partner Scott Miller kept spreading word of Race Capture Pro to other ChumpCar and 24 Hours of Lemons racers at several West Coast events. The more people they talked to, the more people expressed interest. Race Capture Pro promised more user flexibility at a fraction of the cost of other data-acquisition systems on the market.

Race Capture Pro got publicity from Grass Roots Motorsports magazine. Jay Lamm, organizer of the 24 Hours of Lemons endurance race series in which Autosport Labs competes with a Merkur XR4Ti, gave the company access to his email list, which eventually accounted for 20 percent of Race Capture Pro’s early sales.

Northern California racers and software developers Brian Lalor and Ryan Doherty joined Autosport Labs as principals, along with fellow racer and crowdfunding specialist Fred Schechter.

“We’ve amassed a team of technology experts who are passionate about racing, working as a virtual team from around the country,” Brent Picasso explained.

“We are stunned with how many people Fred knows,” Kelley Picasso said.

“We’re gathering experts where we need help,” Miller said.

“Yeah, it’s not like we’re building toasters,” Brent Picasso said.

With the new team principals and contacts, Picasso explained how he set up a Google keyword search for “Race Capture Pro” and joined whatever online forums returned results in order to introduce Autosport Labs and its products.

“Then you just surf that wave,” Miller said. “When socializing a product, you need that depth of targeting.”

“It’s the viral loop,” Picasso said. “The act of using causes people to share. Plus word of mouth, plus social media.”

With Facebook and Twitter, momentum grew as the Race Capture Pro Kickstarter campaign kickoff neared.

Then, nothing. Kickstarter told the Picassos and Miller that it doesn’t allow funding for automotive products.

“That was disappointing,” Miller said.

But Indiegogo offered no such restriction. Autosport Labs pitched Race Capture Pro with a goal to raise $30,000. They ended up raising $48,675 from 192 backers. Eighty-one backers pledged $279 or $299 for Race Capture Pro units and 50 more paid $429 or $449 to get Race Capture Pro with the Real Time telemetry module.

When the Indiegogo funding hit a plateau, the Picassos and Miller kicked around ideas and came up with a “stretch goal” perk of a programmable shift light.

“We wanted to give our users something instead of giving a bigger cut (of pledges) to Indiegogo,” Kelley Picasso said. “We figured, ‘If we make this much money, we can afford to give this (perk).’ People love little presents. Stretch goals make it more fun.”

The Indiegogo campaign even brought Autosport Labs more work. Brent Picasso said the BMW Car Club of America approached Autosport Labs to become a partner.

“They thought it was a great opportunity to add technology to their endurance racing series,” Miller said.

Autosport Labs has been fulfilling orders since January, with the first 25 Race Capture Pro units shipping in February to early adopters. The Race Time modules started shipping in April. Autosport Labs will start selling units on their website, autosportlabs.com, once all the Indiegogo orders are shipped.

Crowdfunding was a learning experience for Autosport Labs.

“My only piece of advice: You suck at estimating the time and effort” it takes to deliver a product on time, Brent Picasso said. “Just be OK with that.”

Buy it

Autosport Labs will start selling a limited supply of Race Capture Pro units for $399 and the real-telemetry add on module for $129 at 9 a.m. May 21 on their website, autosportlabs.com.

Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102; kbatdorf@heraldnet.com.

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