Celebrating 25 Years of FinishLynx—A History of Lynx System Developers

Lynx System Developers—A Startup Story

By: Matt Bradley

Usain Bolt 9.72 World Record FinishLynx

Usain Bolt poses in front of Lynx equipment after running 9.72 at the 2008 Reebok Grand Prix.

March 24, 2017 – Lynx System Developers was officially incorporated on March 24, 1992 and today marks the company’s 25th anniversary. In 1992, the company’s flagship product—the FinishLynx timing system—became the first photo-finish camera to produce digital race results for track and field. 25 years later, FinishLynx is the most popular photo-finish results system in the world, with thousands of customers across 6 continents and 135 countries.

But long before Lynx System Developers became a world leader in fully automatic sports timing, it was a small startup company from Massachusetts looking to capitalize on a simple idea—that race results should be captured digitally. As a way to celebrate the company’s 25th birthday, we’ll be looking back at the early days, including the people, circumstances, and technology that helped it succeed.

The Old Way of Timing

For years, world-class events like the Olympics used film-based cameras to capture photo-finishes. These cameras were more accurate than hand-timing, but were notoriously expensive and cumbersome to operate. They could only record a short amount of time (mere seconds) before the film would run out, oftentimes before all the competitors even crossed the finish line. The sports timing industry survived for decades with film-based cameras, until a better solution came along.

The Founder

Doug D 1998 Tour de France Timing Team

Doug (left) and members of the 1998 Tour de France timing team, including Philippe Collet from Matsport.

Lynx was incorporated in 1992, but the story begins much earlier than that. Lynx founder Doug DeAngelis grew up in the small town of Orrington, Maine. As a student at nearby Brewer High School, he was a four-year member of the school’s track and cross country teams. After graduation, he attended the University of Maine to pursue a BS in Electrical Engineering. As a UMaine undergrad, Doug spent four more years running on the school’s Division I track program. He was a middle distance athlete and served as captain of the cross country team his senior year.

After graduating in 1988, Doug made his way to Boston where he rented a 1-room apartment and took an engineering job with Honeywell-Bull. There, he worked on influential projects like building a “transputer-based supercomputer,” running the company’s proprietary OS, and configuring internet access throughout the office. This early exposure to software development and networking proved to be an important step in Doug’s development as an engineer and entrepreneur.

Doug especially liked the job because it paid for grad school classes. So at night he attended classes at MIT as a “special student,” which meant he earned credits but still had no guarantee of full admission. He continued taking classes and hoped to eventually be accepted into the program—which he later was. At the same time, Doug also ran competitively for a local track club and attended meets around the Boston area. It was around that time when he first encountered Accutrack, the film-based photo-finish system that had been the industry standard for decades.

The AccuTrack Photo-Finish System

It was the summer of 1990 and the 24-year old engineer was at a local track meet planning to run. But before he could, he was asked by an official to help sort out their Accutrack timing system. Doug was told, “We have some people who need to qualify for nationals. You are an engineer, so you can figure it out.” And he did. After a lot of tinkering, Doug was able to capture several qualifying times on the Accutrack’s time-stamped Polaroid film. He also quickly discovered the system’s limitations, noting, “It had a short piece of film, and when it ran out, you got no more times.” Doug described his first experience with Accutrack in a 1997 interview with SportsTravel Magazine:

“There were 14 guys that went under 14 minutes, and they were all looking for a qualifying time. But I only got the top five guys on film, and being a distance runner, I thought that was really sad.”

Despite its limitations, Accutrack was the most popular photo-finish camera in the country at that time—used by professional sporting events and Division I track programs for over a decade. NCAA track coaches Pat Henry (LSU/Texas A&M) and Craig Poole (BYU) both mentioned that their programs used Accutrack for years before investing in FinishLynx. Coach Poole also noted that BYU had an Accutrack system before he even joined the program in 1980. The system was a fixture in Division I track & field and ousting it would be no easy task.

Accutrack was first patented in 1972 and its design was relatively simple. The camera captured images through a small vertical slit aimed directly at the finish line. It used a spring motor system to pull the 3x5” Polaroid film across the lens at a constant rate of speed to create a sequential image of athletes crossing the finish line. The system included an internal clock for accuracy to 1/100th of a second and had a clever system to overlay time-stamps on the final developed photo.

Accutrack photo-finish

Old Accutrack Photo-Finish System

Old Accutrack photo-finish capture

Accutrack Polaroid photo-finish capture

Accutrack polaroid with photo-eye breaks

Accutrack polaroid with photo-eye breaks

Finding A Better Way To Time Meets

Doug timed meets with Accutrack for several months and was constantly plagued by the system’s shortcomings. The Polaroid film was expensive and had to be reloaded after every race. Oftentimes, the film jammed, starts were inconsistent, or images would come out poorly. And because Doug was declared the de facto photo-finish expert, everyone blamed him for these issues. He knew there had to be a better solution for timing meets—one that that didn’t make him look so incompetent. So he searched for a way to reproduce the slit-scan camera with digital images instead of film. He sketched out a proof-of-concept and the early idea for FinishLynx was born. Here’s a look at the actual notebook idea from 1990:

FinishLynx original notebook startup idea

Doug’s original idea for a “Digital Accutrack”

Part 2- original FinishLynx notebook startup idea

Part 2 – FinishLynx notebook idea

From “FinishLink” to FinishLynx

Old Lynx Logo 1991

The original FinishLynx logo from 1991

During this time, Doug continued to work at Honeywell-Bull and take part-time courses at MIT. He focused largely on engineering, but saw potential in a business class called New Enterprises. New Enterprises was—and still is—a popular class at MIT’s Sloan School dedicated to creating business plans for startup companies. New Enterprises alumni have gone on to found companies like Hubspot, A123 Systems, PillPack, and Ministry of Supply.

Doug first tried to join the class in the fall of 1990, but part-time students had the lowest priority and he couldn’t get an exception. He tried again the following semester with a different professor named Eric von Hippel. After some begging and many assurances that he had a great startup idea, Doug convinced von Hippel to let him join. It was in this course that Doug’s notebook idea for a “Digital Accutrack” began to really take shape. He partnered with classmates Kate Farrington (another runner from Maine) and Rob Alexander to help build a business plan from the ground up. In fact, it was Kate who suggested they change the name from “FinishLink” to the now trademarked FinishLynx.

FinishLynx trademark plaque

Trademark plaque.

The group project was such a success that their professor—the same one Doug begged for a spot in class—encouraged them to pursue the idea further. The team members went their separate ways after the semester, but Doug continued tinkering. He used his network at MIT to help transform FinishLynx from a class project to a viable product.

Doug eventually crossed paths with Kirk Sigel, an MIT undergrad with a knack for coding and Mike Ciholas, a grad student from the MIT robotics lab who was familiar with digital line-scan sensors. These three didn’t know it at the time, but they would eventually turn FinishLynx into a successful business. To this day, Kirk and Mike are still intimately involved in the company’s product development and Doug continues to serve as the company’s President and Chief Technology Officer.

The three struck a deal and got to work. Doug built the firmware, Kirk wrote the interface, and Mike designed the hardware. It was the summer of 1991 and the team worked for months on a prototype, hoping to debut it at the Track & Field National Championships in February of 1992. Doug was confident they would have a prototype up and running by then.

Pitching FinishLynx to the Running Elite

ReacTime Dennis Mitchell

Doug explains ReacTime to Olympic gold medalist Dennis Mitchell at the 1998 USATF Convention.

Ahead of the National Championships, Doug reached out to a USATF official and software developer named Bob Podkaminer to help organize a live demo. Bob had a lot of pull in the track community. Not only was he a member of the national rules committee, but his Clerk of the Course software was one of the first computer-based meet management programs. It blazed the trail for modern-day software like Hy-Tek and MeetPro. Bob proved to be an important ally and the demo he organized gave Doug rare access to influencers in the sport. There was only one problem. Despite the months of progress, the team still couldn’t see any images from the camera prototype. Doug recalled a major product milestone that happened just days before the scheduled demo:

“Two days before the event [we] finally saw image. It was of Kirk’s girlfriend walking through the dining room. She was upside-down and it lost about every other picture of her, but it was a breakthrough. 9 hours before the system was actually to be shown in New York, it was demo-able. So the only computer actually owned by Lynx (and a rather innocent looking box) were loaded into the back of the car.”

On demo day, Doug showed off the prototype and delivered his pitch to several influential members from the running community. Unfortunately, many of those people didn’t see the technology’s potential at the time. But Tom Jennings—a well-connected agent and track coach—absolutely loved the system. Tom was a former runner from Cal State Long Beach who went on to start the Pacific Coast Club, arguably the first professional track club in the nation. When Doug met him in 1992, Tom was also coaching in Hanover, New Hampshire at one of the best high school programs in the country. As a long-time coach and agent, Tom knew everyone in the sport, including event organizers, athletes, and broadcast TV contacts from NBC & ABC. This new FinishLynx system offered Tom a chance to eradicate film-based timers like Omega and Accutrack with faster, cheaper, and more reliable technology. Plus, he knew that the real-time digital results images would be a radical new tool for announcing and televising live events like the Millrose Games. Tom shared his thoughts from that original demo:

“The meet was at Madison Square Garden. Doug was holed up in a room at a hotel across the street. He usually slept in his car in those days. So it was quite an investment. Anyway, Howard Schmertz was the meet director of the Millrose Games. So him and Walt Murphy from NBC saw me in the hallway and said, ‘You’ve got to see this.’ The minute I saw it, and the description of how quickly it produced results, I knew right then that it replaced Omega. And Omega had the accounts of those major meets in 1992. At that time, indoor track was big—Madison Square Garden, Boston Garden, places like that. It was a different ballgame. I knew immediately the television ramifications. So within a day, I knew I was going to be out of the agent business and into the timing business. I actually joked with Schmertz from the Millrose Games, ‘Just wait. [FinishLynx] will be timing your meet next year.’ Just sort of a joke, and it actually came to pass.”

It was clear to Tom (and Doug) that this was the start of something big.

Officially in Business

On March 24, 1992, Lynx System Developers officially transitioned from a sole proprietorship into an “S Corp” and they were off to the races. Soon after, Tom gave Doug a $1500 deposit and became the company’s first customer. Tom and his son Roger proved to be the kind of early-adopters and evangelists that helped Doug propel FinishLynx into the meet timing mainstream.

The First FinishLynx Prototype

The first FinishLynx prototype used a black & white CCD sensor from a fax machine to capture digital images. The images were then transferred via a coax cable, compressed and processed by a small external box, and then sent over an SCSI connection to a DOS-based PC for evaluation. The camera captured 500 8-bit pixel lines at 800 times per second (generating about 400KB/sec).  The early system was very crude and certainly had its quirks. But it worked. The FinishLynx camera was largely limited by the specs of the computer attached to it. In 1992, PCs were still in their relative infancy. They were expensive and lacked the processor, RAM, and hard drive space necessary to handle a constant stream of high-quality race images. As a frame of reference, Doug’s PC at the time had 4 MB of RAM and a 20 MB hard drive. It was a far cry from the gigabyte speeds and terabyte capacities we have today. Plus, because early laptops weren’t powerful enough to handle FinishLynx, Doug had to lug a desktop computer (and monitor) back and forth to events. Regardless, the system’s digital results images were an unequivocal improvement over film-based systems. So with the help of Bob Podkaminer and Tom and Roger Jennings, Doug hustled around the country demoing FinishLynx at any meet that would have him (and even some that wouldn’t).

FinishLynx 1.0 software screenshot

Early screenshot of the FinishLynx software from 1992. Version 1.0 ran on the DOS operating system. The software was developed by Kirk Sigel using C++

First Lynx photo-finish camera prototype

The first FinishLynx camera camera prototype sitting in the “Lynx Museum.” The cardboard helped prevent short circuits and the sides were removed to prevent overheating.

Stanford Invitational and Beyond

The first major event demo was at the Stanford Invitational in California. It was a pivotal moment for the young startup because it was Doug’s first chance to compare FinishLynx with Accutrack head-to-head. While Accutrack was still the meet’s official timing system, FinishLynx ran as a backup and all the times matched up nicely. There were even several races where the Accutrack failed and FinishLynx was used for the official results. It was a trial by fire and the Lynx system performed beautifully.

This strategy of performing live (often unsanctioned) demos at major meets helped FinishLynx spread quickly across the track and field world. For months, demos were held at meets across the country in places like California, Arizona, New Jersey, and Louisiana. They included the Louisiana High School Championships, Division III NCAA Championships, and the nationally televised Division I NCAA Championships in Austin, TX. Along the way, FinishLynx gained the attention of many new people, including potential customers, partners, investors, and competitors. It became clear to everybody that Doug (and the FinishLynx system he was peddling) had something truly unique.

5L100 - FinishLynx "Silver Bullet" Camera

The first SCSI 5L100 “Silver Bullet.” Aptly named by early customer Ken Jakalski.

Press Box at the 1996 DII NCAA Championships.

Press Box at the 1996 NCAA DII Championships. Courtesy of Flash Results.

Silver Bullets setup at a 1996 Dartmouth College outdoor meet.

Silver Bullets at a 1996 Dartmouth College outdoor meet.

Hitting Some Major Milestones

1992 proved to be a blockbuster year for the young startup. Lynx went from having a half-broken camera prototype in February to making its fifth sale in December. And in between those months were some major milestones for both Doug and the company. That summer (during the nationwide demo tour), Doug took a leave of absence from his cushy job at Honeywell-Bull. A few months later he got approval from his MIT advisor to pause his graduate research and pursue FinishLynx full-time. Doug sensed the company’s one-man bootstrap approach wouldn’t be sustainable, so he began positioning Lynx for its next phase of growth.

In November 1992, Doug signed the lease for a windowless office building in Woburn, MA. He also signed a manufacturing deal with Whitman Products, a family-owned PCB assembly house down the road. This finally allowed Doug to stop building systems in his bedroom. That same month, Lynx also hired its first full-time employee, Kate Farrington. Kate was an original member of the MIT group project and a perfect fit to handle the company’s marketing, invoices, and customer relations. Around this time, Doug, Kirk, and Mike also prepared their first federal patent on the FinishLynx system. Despite all these new expenses during its first year, the company still turned a profit.

Old Lynx brochure circa 1994.

Old FinishLynx brochure circa 1994.

Old Lynx brochure part2 1994

Old FinishLynx brochure Page 2.

Picking up Momentum – The First Customers

Flash Results 2016 USATF Olympic Trials

Flash Results at the 2016 USATF Olympic Trials

By the end of 1992, Lynx System Developers had picked up its first 5 customers. And by July of the following year, the company had sold 25 Lynx systems. Below is a look at the first 20 FinishLynx sales and the people behind them: 

  1. Tom & Roger Jennings – Pacific Coast Club (4/21/1992)
    Tom and Roger went on to start Flash Results, a high-end race timing company that functioned as the official service provider of Lynx System Developers for many years. Today, Flash Results is one of the world’s most prolific and trusted service providers, timing elite-level events like the Olympic Trials, USATF Championships, Pan American Games, and countless NCAA meets. They now own 21 FinishLynx cameras, dozens of displays, and other products like ReacTime and ResulTV. They also still provide Lynx branding and signage at major events, which makes Doug very happy.
  2. Brian Springer – Springco Athletics (9/28/1992)
    Brian Springer founded Springco Athletics in 1982 as a specialty manufacturer of track and field equipment. Before making the switch to using (and reselling) FinishLynx, Brian was a major Accutrack timer for running and cycling events across the west coast. He also had experience with the Omega Hawkeye system, an early FinishLynx competitor. Springco thrived for years and eventually merged with Venue Sports in 2003 to form VS Athletics. VS Athletics is now one of the largest track equipment providers in the US and continues to resell Lynx systems to this day.
  3. University of Arizona (9/28/1992)
    The University of Arizona track program was the company’s first NCAA customer, a very big deal at the time. In those days, FinishLynx was championed by a young assistant coach named Fred Harvey. Coach Harvey eventually became the program’s head coach in 2002 and has led the Wildcats to 10+ consecutive finishes in the Top 25.The program owns multiple EtherLynx and IdentiLynx cameras and still uses the technology today. 
  4. Ken Platt – Platt Systems (9/28/1992)
    Since becoming customer #4 in 1992, Ken Platt has carved out a strong timing niche across New England. Ken’s timing service, Platt Systems (Plattsys), times up to 150 races per year and shows no sign of slowing down. Ken has been a constant early adopter in the industry. He was not only one of the first FinishLynx timers, but also one of the first to use RFID chip timing back in 1996. Ken is also an avid runner and has completed an astounding 43 marathons, including 10 finishes under 2:40. Ken added, “Lynx photo-finish systems have completely revolutionized the timing of sporting events around the globe. We are proud to have been one of the first investors.” 
  5. Olympic Regional Development Authority of Lake Placid (12/17/1992)
    The ORDA in Lake Placid was the first customer outside of track and field. The organization was originally created by New York State in 1981 to manage and utilize the facilities leftover from the 1980 Winter Olympics. They acquired a system to time indoor speed skating events and Phil Baumbach noted the ORDA chose Lynx because it was “New technology to solve an old problem.” The sale kicked off what would become a very strong relationship between Lynx and the skating world. In 1995, Lynx partnered with the International Skating Union and timed the Speed Skating World Championships for many years.
  6. Ottawa Lions Timing Team FinishLynx Setup

    Multi-camera finish line setup. Courtesy of the Ottawa Lions Timing Team

    Ottawa Lions Track Club (1/19/93)
    The Ottawa Lions Track Club is a timing service and not-for-profit athletics club in Ottawa Canada that is affiliated with the University of Ottawa and Carleton University. It is the largest club in Canada, with 1500 athletes and 40+ coaches. The Lions now host 20+ meets per year and provide timing service for 60+ additional meets across the region. Lynx timing provides a key source of revenue for the club and the program continues to produce a high-quality group of athletes, coaches, and timers. One former Lions timer, Hugues Lacroix, currently works for Lynx as a timing and event contractor. Hugues creates new tech support resources (like videos and QSGs) and travels the globe timing events like World Wingsuit League in China.
  7. Louisiana State University (2/16/93)
    Louisiana State University is an NCAA athletics heavyweight and its track and field program is one of the most successful in Division I history. In 1992, the program was led by a young coach named Pat Henry. After an on-site product demo by Doug, Coach Henry discarded the school’s Accutrack system and made an early investment in FinishLynx. LSU now owns several cameras (including a Vision, Fusion, and PRO) and uses Lynx at all its SEC meets. When Coach Henry left LSU for Texas A&M in 2004, he ensured the Aggies invested in their own high-end FinishLynx system and the facility serves as an important site for beta testing new product innovations.
  8. Brigham Young University (2/17/93)
    BYU was a long-time Accutrack customer and hosted collegiate and high school meets for years. In 1993, legendary BYU track coach Craig Poole purchased FinishLynx to help improve the quality and efficiency of their meets. Coach Poole said, “FinishLynx worked with us to make the system a perfect fit. They were accessible when we needed them and were willing to do anything to upgrade and add to the system to make our operation successful.” Poole is now retired, but BYU still owns and operates several Lynx cameras. The track program is now managed by Doug Padilla, a former Olympic runner, assistant coach, and friend of Lynx. Doug Padilla also founded a company called Runnercard that provides online race registration services to local events. 
  9. Odessa Junior College (2/26/93)
    While Odessa College has the privilege of being the ninth customer, the program was eventually hit by budget cuts and no longer hosts its own track meets. Odessa appears to be the only organization on this list that doesn’t still actively use the system.
  10. Daktronics (3/16/93)
    Daktronics is the world’s largest manufacturer of displays and scoreboards. Back in the ‘90s, when most display companies were building digit boards, Daktronics was creating “full matrix” video boards. That meant a single video board could handle data and graphics for any sport or application. This presented a huge opportunity for FinishLynx to add value by sending customized race data to the displays. So the two companies began a strong symbiotic relationship and Daktronics helped install FinishLynx systems at major venues and events around the world. This sale in March 1993 was the first third-party resale for Lynx and the beginning of a 24-year relationship with the scoreboard titan.
  11. Jack Moran – RaceBerry JaM (3/17/93)
    Jack Moran is a timer and software developer from Minnesota who has been servicing road races and track meets since 1980. His scoring software, Apple Raceberry JaM, has been used at thousands of events and was an early Hy-Tek competitor. Jack still times about 75 races per year and his ARJ software integrates nicely with FinishLynx to time, score, and publish results. When asked how he originally found Lynx, Jack said, “I subscribed to the triple cast of the [1992] Barcelona Olympics. Once in a while they would show images of the finish. I was scoring track meets timed by Accutrack and thought ‘I’ve got to get one of those.’ I mentioned this to Bill Thornton, the St. Olaf track coach, and he told me about FinishLynx and said he’d give up his priority so I could start using it.”
  12. Indiana State University (3/22/93)
    Indiana State was an early Clerk of the Course software user and champion of FinishLynx + CotC integration at NCAA meets. 
  13. Tulane University (3/22/93)
    The track & field program is a major rival of LSU. 
  14. In-field FinishLynx cameras at the Penn Relays

    Lynx cameras at the 2013 Penn Relays

    Penn Relays (4/13/93)
    One of the premier US track & field events. The meet still serves as a testing ground for new Lynx technology today.
  15. Daktronics (4/15/93) Another resale. 
  16. Oregon Track Club (4/19/93)
    Elite track club in Eugene, Oregon – “Tracktown USA.” 
  17. HS Sports (4/21/93)
    HS Sports was the company’s first European customer and serves as the current (and long-time) UK reseller. Lynx originally connected with the British company through Daktronics. HS Sports also provided a key introduction to Seiko.
  18. Brown University (5/7/93)
    The company’s first Ivy League customer.
  19. University of Maine (5/7/93)
    Doug’s Alma Mater. Go Black Bears!
  20. Fédération Québécoise d’Athlétisme (5/17/93)
    Athletics governing body in Quebec, Canada

Editor’s Note: The early invoices are a bit tricky to track down, so there may be some discrepancies with dates. There also are some notable Lynx influencers absent from the list, like Fred Patton of Phoenix Sports Technology and Philippe Collet from Matsport. According to Doug, there were many people who received quotes or demoed the system, but didn’t actually buy their own until later. But it’s important to note that people like Fred and Philippe were—and still are—an essential part of the company’s growth.


Two Important Themes

As part of this piece, we had the pleasure of speaking with many early users to learn more about the earliest days of FinishLynx. We heard some fascinating stories about Doug, early product demos, and the state of the race timing industry in the early 1990s. This post cannot possibly do justice to all the quotes and anecdotes we gathered in the process. But there are a couple key themes that suggest why Lynx was able to achieve its early success, and then translate that success into a sustainable and profitable business. First is that Lynx took advantage of the PC revolution and truly disrupted the film-based race timing industry. The second is that Doug was obsessed with the product and the customers, constantly working to deliver more value.

1. Disrupting the Photo-Finish Industry

Doug and Rick Berryman at the 2000 Olympic Trials.

Doug and Rick Berryman (Lancer Timing) running ReacTime at the 2000 Olympic Trials.

Everyone we spoke with made it clear that even the earliest FinishLynx system was a signficant improvement over film-based photo-finish cameras. Ottawa Lions head coach Andy McInnis first saw FinishLynx at the Dartmouth Relays in New Hampshire while it was being operated by Doug and Roger Jennings. Andy used an old film-based timer for years and saw FinishLynx as a way to streamline his service business. Andy noted:

“Having gone through decades of Omega wet film with many minutes before the times were known—and the Accutrack Polaroids running out of time-space and/or cutting off key body parts—I jumped on this opportunity to bring [FinishLynx] back to Ottawa. It was amazing. We had to have it. And the potential seemed limitless to bring the sport out of the Dark Age and dark room.”

Anyone with experience on the old Accutrack or Omega film systems saw how innovative FinishLynx was at the time. Brian Springer from Springco, who worked closely with the founder of Accutrack, was interested in FinishLynx immediately. He recalled, “It was an advance in technology. It was great. You could get the results. You could print them out. You could read them right there in front of you. You could do it all.” Brian eventually switched from Accutrack and became a key promoter of FinishLynx on the west coast, timing premier races like the Sunkist Invitational in Los Angeles.

Doug and Dave Jilk (the developer of CyberScoreboard) at the MIT track.

Doug and Dave Jilk (developer of CyberScoreboard) at MIT.

As is the case with most successful startups, there also seems to be a certain combination of timing and luck that contributed to the rise of Lynx System Developers. Doug’s running background, his chance encounter with Accutrack in Boston, his network engineering projects at Honeywell-Bull, and his serendipitous connections with Kirk and Mike at MIT all led to the development of FinishLynx. The state of the technology and networking ecosystem was also hospitable for the young company. In the early 1990s, personal computers were finally becoming powerful enough (and ubiquitous enough) to support a viable computer-based race results system. FinishLynx relied on commodity hardware and interfaces that were made possible by the rise of PCs and user-friendly operating systems like Windows. This allowed FinishLynx to be affordable and accessible enough to reach a critical mass of early users. But timing alone isn’t enough. It also requires a tremendous amount of work to turn a school project into a profitable and enduring business. 

2. Commitment to Products and People

The idea of a founder obsessing over their product makes sense. But the notion of someone leaving their job to drive around the country and perform product demos strikes most people as crazy. This kind of quixotic commitment to the products and people is an essential part of the Lynx story. All the demos, trade shows, meetings, hiccups, and customer feedback were necessary for the company to evolve. Not just because they made the product better, but because they helped Doug nurture the relationships he would need to build a strong business.

Doug consistently worked with customers to implement new features and product ideas. He traveled to events to help troubleshoot and learn the intricacies of sports like road cycling and rowing. He worked with Kirk and Mike to develop better hardware to meet the needs of new applications like horse racing and motorsports. And early adopters rewarded this dedication by becoming product testers and evangelists for the brand. For instance, Roger Jennings from Flash Results would often suggest new software features based on his experience timing meets in Hanover. After Lynx made the updates, Roger would then drive two hours (each way) to physically pick-up a copy of the new software. That kind of system makes no sense until you realize they were solving the problems together. Lynx System Developers was carried on the shoulders of early users like Roger who shared Doug’s obsession with the technology.

Frying a Computer at LSU

Coach Pat Henry LSU

Coach Pat Henry. Courtesy of The Advocate.

Another early user Doug really connected with was a track coach from Louisiana State University named Pat Henry. Today, Pat Henry is a Hall of Fame coach at Texas A&M with 35 NCAA National Championships (including 27 at LSU). But at the time, he was a young coach willing to take a chance on Doug’s new technology. Coach Henry shared a story about his first time meeting Doug. He was hosting a meet at LSU using Accutrack and Doug approached him to demo FinishLynx. Coach Henry said:

“This guy walks up to me saying ‘I’ve got this camera I’d like to try.’ He takes out this little cylinder and says ‘I think we can get a picture.’ So we had the Accutrack system set up and he was putting his camera right along with it. I think we shot the gun once at a test in the morning and he burned up a computer. So we were walking towards my office and Doug said, ‘Can I look at your computer? I think I can get a piece off of it and make my computer work.’ It was the secretary’s computer and it was Saturday morning, so I told him it was fine. I went into my office and came back out and saw this guy had taken the computer apart. There were pieces on the ground and on top of the desk. And I thought, what in the heck have I done? Doug said, ‘It’s OK, I’ll get it back together.’”

Coach Henry added more about his first impressions of Doug:

“I actually thought there was something wrong with him. I knew he was from MIT. So of course I had faith in the fact that he knew what he was doing. But I’m a track coach and when I saw stuff like that, I start thinking, Oh my gosh, what have I gotten involved with here?”

Despite the rocky start, Doug used the borrowed part to successfully fix his computer before the meet. With the computer up and running, he was able to show off the system and flawlessly capture results. He also made a powerful first impression on Coach Henry. LSU purchased a system shortly after, becoming customer #7 in February 1993. According to Henry, the two have also maintained a strong working relationship over the years. He said:

“From day one, Doug has always been a trustworthy guy, a person that backed his product. If you had an issue, Doug would even come down to see what he could do to fix it. And on top of that, I’ve just had a good relationship with Doug off the track…I’ve always felt like he was a friend.”

This story illustrates perfectly that rare dedication to both the product and the people who use it. And that passion has paid dividends for years in the form of strong sales and stronger relationships. Even 25 years later, there are a number of early customers that are off limits to the Lynx sales team. Doug still insists on managing the relationships himself. Undoubtedly, it’s a way to stay on top of the industry and gather ideas for new products and opportunities. But more importantly, it’s a chance to stay connected with the early adopters who helped build Lynx System Developers into what it is today.

Final Thoughts

1994 Ad for the first color FinishLynx

1994 ad for the first color camera. Includes DOS and Mac software.

According to Doug, the original goal of FinishLynx was to create “not just a replacement for film-based photo-finish, but also a comprehensive software package that would make the operations of running an athletic event a much simpler and faster thing.” Over the past 25 years, Lynx has continued building products to achieve that goal. While EtherLynx cameras remain the core competency, products like ResulTV, ReacTime, NetExchange, IdentiLynx, LaserLynx, and FieldLynx have all been added to address new needs and pain-points in the market.

Lynx photo-finish cameras have also developed immensely over the years. The first-generation 800 fps Silver Bullet has long been replaced by a new generation of Ethernet-based Vision cameras that are more powerful and user-friendly than ever. The Vision PRO is the most advanced timing camera ever released, with capture speeds up to 20,000 fps and features like EasyAlign, LuxBoost, Electronic Filter Control, Internal Battery Backup, On-Board Level, and more.

Lynx System Developers also remains committed to open architecture design by incorporating Ethernet, Serial, and USB-connected devices to help timers build customizable results networks. That also means collaborating with outside manufacturers to ensure integration with a vast number of third-party devices like scoreboards, wind gauges, start systems, chip systems, and race scoring programs.

Today, there are thousands of active FinishLynx users across 6 continents and 135 countries. There are also 50+ partners and hundreds of service providers who help promote Lynx at races around the world. They use Lynx software in 15 different languages and hail from dozens of sports (from running to falcon racing). This global network means it is easier than ever to connect with timers for advice or service. It also means Lynx must work harder than ever to deliver the resources, support, and products necessary to thrive in an increasingly competitive marketplace. But we are committed to doing just that.

Thank you to all the early adopters who helped put FinishLynx on the map so many years ago. And thank you to everyone who joined the Lynx family along the way. It is because of you that a little startup from Massachusetts was able become a strong, profitable, and meaningful business. Here’s to another 25 years.

Lynx System Developers Mission Statement:

          • To bring the technologies currently available at the highest levels of sport to a wider market.
          • To overcome the problems often associated with these technologies—low reliability and high cost—via elegant product development.
          • To distinguish our products as they mature by assuring superior value and constantly utilizing customer input.

 

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