Elance Blog

Track Coach Reinvents the Stopwatch

With the spirit of the Summer Olympics in Beijing fresh on our minds, we thought it would be appropriate to spotlight Matt Shields, a high school teacher, dedicated track and field coach, and Elance employer who brought his vision for a track and field tool to life with the help of an elancer.

Matt began teaching and coaching track and field in 1998, and as much as he enjoyed coaching over the years, he was often frustrated by how difficult it was to record, compile and report track meet times for his athletes.

“Timing a track meet can get pretty complicated when you have to record the lap times of all your athletes,” said Matt.

“With a traditional stopwatch, if I have four students running the 1600m event on a track, and a mile consists of 4 laps, I have to hit the lap button 16 times total to get all of the split times. More often than not, I am using four or five stopwatches frantically trying to gather all the data.”

But recording the times was just the beginning. You see, at the end of each meet, Matt spent hours entering, compiling and reporting the time data into the track team website. The amount of time he spent organizing instead of coaching or teaching led him to invent another solution.

Even though he didn’t have a formal programming background, Matt developed a stopwatch application that he could download to his PDA and take to track meets. “This stopwatch creates buttons for each athlete and stores data by name, making timing much easier. It also uploads the data to a website with a push of a button,” Matt explains.

Soon after Matt created this application, he started using it at track meets. “I was using my new PDA stopwatch at a track meet when another coach stopped me and asked me about the device. I explained how it worked and he offered to buy it right then and there,” remembers Matt. “So I decided to go into business.”

In 2002, Matt founded his company, LAPZERO, and began selling PDAs online with his stopwatch application pre-installed. “I only sold about 100 PDAs -- and I was still teaching and coaching while trying to install, pack and ship each order myself,” Matt said.

With slow sales, the overall PDA market on a decline in favor of more robust smartphones, and the upcoming launch of the Apple iPhone App store, Matt abandoned his homegrown PDA software product and hired elancer Nick Dalton (username: 360Mind) to create a new version of his software specifically for the iPhone.

"The iPhone solved all the problems I had with the PDA - it had a large screen, great graphics, a standardized platform, unlimited data transfer and easily distributed applications," Matt explained. "With the help of an elancer, I was able to successfully create the LAPZERO application for the iPhone - and soon it could be helping coaches everywhere."

The new iPhone application has all the functions of the original PDA application and will soon be available in the Apple App Store. Check out a working preview of the application.


This is very cool. I'm sure my old track coaches would have loved this tool. I'm training for the NYC Marathon right now and will think about whether this would be useful (or at least fun to have).

Congrats on your and 360Mind's successes.

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