Alumni Corner: Wyatt Gustafson
What sparked your interest in computer science?
Throughout my entire life, I've really enjoyed solving problems. When I took an introductory course to computer science, it gave me a newfound appreciation for the power of coding. Upon that appreciation, I realized that it could be a great tool for solving problems. That's when I decided to dive head first into the computer science degree. Once I did, my interests never turned back.
How did you know you wanted to pursue an entrepreneurial career with computer science? What was the experience like starting your own company?
Like solving problems in computer science, entrepreneurship has always been at the forefront of my interest. Being an entrepreneur allows me to build, which I have always enjoyed doing, especially building solutions to solve problems. Starting Refr Sports with my cofounder Huck Sorock has been fun. It's a bit of a roller coaster - there's ups and downs, moments of excitement and fear. But there's the reward of knowing that it was accomplished. At the end of the day, the experience of starting a company and a career has been an incredible learning experience. Every day, a new task is thrown at me and the only way to stay afloat is to figure out how to conquer it. That has forced me to learn a lot about a lot of different areas. Oftentimes, dealing with subjects you wouldn't have otherwise.
Tell us about your company, Refr Sports.
Refr Sports wants to bring modern efficiencies and simplicities that technology provides to the sports referee industry. Refr Sports deals with all sports. Our software is to help manage and schedule referees. It also provides a tool for referees to manage their game schedules and allow more freedom of when and where they work. It also ensures referees are paid for their work instantly. The software is very versatile between all sports. If you need referees and want software to manage, schedule, and pay them through a platform, then Refr Sports can work.
What's your favorite thing about your job?
I love meeting people. There's a lot of things getting thrown our way that we don't know how to do. I studied computer science. I don't know anything about accounting. So when we need to deal with accounting, we need to reach out to someone that has expertise in that area. We get to meet and learn from a lot of people. We get to pick their brains and get advice from them and learn from the experiences that they've had in their careers.
What impact does your company have on the public/clients?
Our goals are to bring simplicity and efficiency to the lives of our users. We want to give time back to our users when they're managing their respective tasks in the referee industry. We're hoping that this helps alleviate the headaches We're also striving to bring new referees into the industry and retain current referees. A big problem is that the referee industry is made up of a lot of older individuals. It's not appealing to the younger population and when new referees do sign up and work, they're not staying. The retention rates are about 50% after one year of acting as a referee. We're hoping that by bringing in more modern technologies, like mobile capabilities, that it will be more appealing to the younger generation. You simply download an app, sign up, and start earning.
What are the next steps for your company?
There's three big things we're focusing on right now - focusing on web platform development, raising money, and further strengthening our connections with our users and potential users. The mobile app is great for referees. They can manage their tasks from their phone, they can opt to be paid instantly from their phone, and when they go to game sites, they can keep track of their calendar and schedules. For the people posting the games and managing the referees, they’re often scheduling thousands of games per year. A little app on their phone isn't great for managing, so we're building out a web platform which will hopefully provide efficient tools for them when it comes to finding, scheduling, and paying referees. We're going to need to raise capital to pay for these projects which is something we are always doing.
What is your advice for computer science students?
A big piece of advice that, admittingly, I didn't receive when I was a student and didn't always listen to, is to be vulnerable and ask for help when you need it. A lot of times during my degree I felt like I was up against a wall, or as if I was climbing up a mountain that seemingly never ended. Projects were hard, time consuming, and frustrating. You're surrounded by people that want to help you and want to see you succeed. The only way they can help you is if you ask for guidance. When you need help, ask for help, it will work wonders.
Anything you would like to add?
If you want to start something, do it. I spoke at a sports management class at the University of Minnesota not long ago. A student said to me, “I want to start a company, but I don't know how to do accounting.” I responded, “I have no idea how to do accounting either.” If you're trying to learn everything before you start something, you're never going to start it. You're never going to get to the point where you know everything you need to. So just jump into the pit of fire and figure it out as you go.