Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Interview with Roni Eshel, goFlow
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Are you looking for what the actual surf conditions are at your favorite break, and if it's crowded or not, or if you ought to come check it out? Right now, you might rely on your friendsóor maybe get an inkling of an idea from forecastsóbut there's no way to know unless you get some real time information. Los Angeles-based goFlow is hoping to make that inforamtion as easy as checking out an app, tapping into a crowdsourced network of outdoor sports enthusiasts. Roni Eshel, the founder of goFlow, is a former Israeli pro surfer, who is now in Los Angeles; she told us a bit more about the startup and her journey from pro surfing to the startup world.
What is goFlow all about?
Roni Eshel: It's a market network for outdoor sports, a social network for connecting like minded people, sharing conditions and moments in real time, and helping to find the best spots for your favorite sports, like surfing, paddleboard, kite surfing, and so on. We recently launched booking experiences and services in L.A. And all of Southern California, so that people have the ability to share their experience around those spots, and people with those skills can earn money by sharing those experiences, so you can learn surfing, kite surfing, and other sports from locals.
How did you go from pro surfing in Israel, to starting a company here in L.A.?
Roni Eshel: I grew up surfing competitively, and traveling the world. However, every summer, of every year since I was fifteen, I'd go to San Diego and spend a few months with family there. After I turned 20, I lived there and competed in California, so I'm very connected to the surf scene here in Southern California. After I went to the university in Israel, I came up with the idea for goFlow. Because I was a surfer, and because the smart phone came into everyone's life. We now have technology in everyone's hands has real time geolocation, where it's easy to connect, share photos and videos. At the time, Waze had just come out in Israel, providing crowd sourcing for sharing traffic reports, and for making life easier on the road. I thought, why not use this same kind of technology to solve our problems with surfers. Why not use this technology to solve the problem for surfers, so you can spent more time doing what you love, and less time searching? With that idea in mind, I started this in Israel, and came here to Los Angeles and Southern California to talk to people in the surfing industry. After I arrived here in L.A., I saw that there was a combination of technology and the surfing industry in Venice. I got some really, really great feedback from people in the surfing industry, and we started to get a great core of users starting to use it, and we've continued to improve the product on the go, from our users and from community feedback. We realized that not only do surfers have a need for real time conditions, and to connect with like minded people, other sports did, too. We raised our seed round, and basically built goFlow not only for surfing, but for skateboarding, paddleboarding, snow skiing, diving, cycling, paddleboarding, and sailing.
What's the advantage of your app over forecast sites?
Roni Eshel: Especially in outdoor sports activities, real time information is the most important thing to have. It's really, really hard to rely on forecasts, especially for locations where a forecast is not really relevant. There's a lot to do with the tide, wind, direction, and location. Sometimes the wind will go up or down, or the swell won't have the right iming or direction, and the forecast cannot predict things correctly. There's nothing better for that than a community where you can share photos with your friends, where you can always be in the loop for surf, kite surfing, or snow conditions. There's nothing better than an eyewitness report for your sport. Plus, obviously, those communities are very passionate, and very close and tight, so being able to build a platform of like minded people can be very powerful.
So where is the startup now?
Roni Eshel: We are building out the social network now. Once we entered into the outdoor sports industry, we found that the whole industry is fragmented, and that there is not an easy way to manage your active lifestyle. Managing that active lifestyle is a full time job, whether that's traveling, buying or selling your gear, and figuring out what gear to buy. We decided to build goFlow from social networking into a market network, a one stop shop to your active network. That's why we launched a booking experience here, which connects you with local experts with the skills to help you have the best experience surfing, paddleboarding, or skateboarding. We have launched in LA first, and soon will be in all of California.
Has it helped to have come from Israel, and the startup culture there?
Roni Eshel: There's a startup culture in Israel for sure. I guess if you are an Israeli, it's in your DNA, being and entrepreneur. I think it definitely helps. There's a great startup cultre in Israel, just as there is here in L.A. I think that being an entrepreneur in Israel and also here, you share lots of things in common. It's very easy to work from here, and I go back often to Israel, and we still work with Israel on the product side. I think that if you are in the startup world, there is actually a global community, which shares a lot of the same difficulties and same problems, because startups are not easy. It's good to have a supportive community in both places.
So what's next for you?
Roni Eshel: We want to launch the booking experiences by the end of the year in locations around the world, starting with Brazil. At the end of the summer, we want to have goFlow in Brazil, and will also be expanding the booking experience.