Hassan Rajwani HERO

Referee Spotlight: Hassan Rajwani

REFSIX founder talks to us about his business journey, passion for refereeing and more…

In this month’s Referee Spotlight, in association with REFSIX, we spoke to the man behind REFSIX himself, Hassan Rajwani. 

“We go beyond just the app, ultimately we're trying to help referees, we're trying to help them understand maybe what they've seen in the Premier League by talking about incidents and how we think a referee has got to that decision. So yes, we want you to go and download our app and use it, but also we're trying to help educate and inspire.” 

It's been an incredible journey for Hassan, who after taking one of the biggest risks in his life, has a successful refereeing business in front of him. 

Hassan’s passion for football in general has always been there for the Brighton-born man, and he talks to us candidly about his younger years and the transition to refereeing.

“I don’t come from a massive footballing family; I was the first to really take it seriously and want to play the game. I ended up playing for a club called Steyning Strikers, but I wasn’t any good in truth!

“I always played through school and at college where I ended up playing for Haywards Heath Under-18s but I was the backup goalie and never played! 

“I then went to Loughborough University which was a complete step up in terms of sport, I don’t even think I could get in the fifth team there! 

“Coaching was something I gave a go, but I couldn’t really commit to it so I just sort of fell into refereeing. It meant I could stay involved in sport but actually as well I could have control over my calendar and work it around my life. It also meant, while I was at Uni, I had some money.

“At first I was just casually refereeing 5-a-side games at Uni, just for pocket money and I really enjoyed it so much that it influenced me to do a course in Sussex in 2009.”

Luckily for Hassan, he was to be mentored by some of Sussex’s most recognisable faces in refereeing: “I believe I had Keith Brisley, Dave Jackson and Tim Lawrence and it was one of the first early practical courses. It was pretty cool because we had a good mixture of people, different age groups and there was one guy who had done it before but was doing it again, so I really wanted to compete with him!

“One of the big drivers for me was from when I played Sunday League in Sussex, I thought I used to get the rough end of the stick when it came to refereeing decisions. 

“It used to really infuriate me some of the decisions that would be made so I thought well I’m going to do it myself and try and be better than that!

“What I didn’t realise was how much personal reward you get from it from being in charge of a game and physically managing it. It was learning that if the referee had a good game it makes the overall game a lot better and I really found that out in the first few months.”

Competitiveness is something that runs through Hassan’s veins and is probably what fuelled his business prowess. But in his early days refereeing, it meant promotion was what he sought after.

“I wanted to go for promotion straight away. I remember my first game, a team had nine players and the other had fifteen! I didn’t have to give a foul for like 35 minutes because and I was there thinking ‘wow this is easy!’

“I got my 7 to 6 promotion pretty quickly then I went for 6 to 5 and failed because of administration! A definite kick in the teeth but a valuable lesson learned.

“I got there in the end and at some point I’d like to go from 5 to 4 if I can but I need to get my fitness up first. I like the idea of progression; I like the idea of something riding on a certain game.

“There’s obviously referees that are happy to stay at the same level, but I like to be working towards something. When you get observed, it’s a great chance to get feedback on what you’re doing but the teams tend to do that anyway!

“I took a year out because of work commitments and I think I’d just failed my promotion at the time. I remember my first game back and I didn’t realise how much I would miss it!

“I got that second promotion upon my return and that was important because I need that element of competitiveness. When I go and referee game after game, I really want that feeling of it meaning something.

“That being said, I’ve just started refereeing again after not doing much during COVID and the bug is firmly there! I think you can always fall in and out of certain things and breaks can be good before reigniting the flame again.”

Hassan Rajwani Action Shot
"I like the idea of progression; I like the idea of something riding on a certain game."

Any aspiring referee in Sussex is lucky to have a lot of inspiring people to look up to, and for Hassan that was no different. 

“I always had this memory of when I was a kid, watching the Premier League and seeing Gary Willard, Worthing, on TV, and always remember thinking, 'wow, there's a premier league referee from Worthing'. 

“I thought that it was so cool to see someone from Worthing in the Premier League. I just didn't put two and two together. That always stuck in my mind. 

“I met him a few years later and he's one of the greatest guys! Him and also, Martin Boddenham, are two guys in Sussex, you could sit there for days and days just talking about football and refereeing, and you wouldn't get bored. 

“As I came through, I think what I did, through Worthing RA (Referees Association), was start to meet other people, because when you when you start on your own, it can be lonely. You go out and referee and you're not part of a team or a squad, you don't know anyone. 

“Worthing RA really helped. There were people like Keith Brisley, Derek Mansfield and then there was three other guys, a similar age to me, Jack Tracy, who I don't think is referring anymore, Mike Ryan and Jamie wells.

“They were all very different characters, but we started to keep in touch and as you go up the ladder, you start to go out as a team of three, and you start to build relationships with other referees, which is great.

“Mike Ryan, in particular, is someone that has gone on to be one of the highest in Sussex at the moment. He progressed, and it's great to still have the relationship because he will still ask me for feedback on stuff even though I'm a Level 5! But we've just built a trusting relationship and vice versa.”

So how does Level 5 referee, Hassan Rajwani, end up with a business helping referees all over the globe? For that, we go back to his time at University. 

“At Loughborough, in 2009, I studied Computer Science, I was very into technology. I remember doing the course and thinking it's strange that with the iPhone's coming out at the time, why are we still writing things down on a piece of paper?

“I had this idea then that, maybe a referee could use their phone to record things that happen in the game, rather than using a piece of paper and pen and I did that for my dissertation. 

“It was called iREF at the time, the Interactive Referees Electronic Friend, that was the acronym that I made up  because everything seemed to have an 'i' in front of it! 

“I got a good mark, and kind of left it there as an idea. I went and worked locally for American Express, big sponsors of Brighton & Hove Albion, ended up doing some work on the websites and mobile apps at American Express, and basically got bored of being in finance.

“Then, the Apple Watch came out and I thought, come to think of it, referees aren't going to run round with a phone, but they would run around with a watch. 

“So, I started thinking this could work. Me and a friend of mine began to build the app for the smartwatch, while I was still working at Amex. Then it got to a point where actually, we'll put a video together and we'll run out. 

“We went to Worthing FC with Mike Ryan, Jamie wells, and shot a video with Worthing college and created a trailer for what this app could look like. We put it on online, we put it on Facebook and basically lots of people started to show interest. We built the app, and we had about 50 people beta it. That's when I wondered if this could become full time.” 

REFSIX Demo Video
The REFSIX app in action
Here's a quick demo of the REFSIX app. We take you through the pre-match, in-match and post-match uses of REFSIX on the Apple Watch.

In full Dragon’s Den style, Hassan pitched the idea to a group of investors who gave him some money to go and fully build the app; just without being on TV! After a few hundred referees using it in the first year, to a couple of thousand, to a point now where tens of thousands of referees are using REFSIX.

Working in a good job, and position, at American Express, it was a big risk for Hassan to take, one he won’t be regretting in a hurry.

“It was a massive risk! I was getting paid a very good salary at a very young age (at American Express), and I was going up the ladder pretty quickly. It was a huge risk. 

“But I also looked at my age thinking of it as an opportunity. I had no mortgage, I had no kids so I thought this was the right time in my life to go and take a risk. If I was 10 years older, maybe it would have been too big a risk to take. 

“A risk as well though from the refereeing standpoint. People were sceptical of the app, people were saying it's gimmicky. Then the first year, we had a few hundred referees use it.

“That's still quite small, maybe it is a gimmick, but then as we added new features, and we started spreading the word a bit more, it became bigger. All of a sudden, now it's not really a case of referees aren't going to use this because I can say, 'well, we're doing 6000 matches a week.' 

“But, of course, it was huge risk. Every time things happen for the better, whether an idea works out or not, we can say it was a risk worth taking.” 

Marketing is a crucial part of the early stages of a business, but Hassan was about to realise their strategy would be slightly different. 

“We started with a lot of social media posts. What we found was actually the best people to market our app wasn't us! It was the referees using it. 

“We'd find a Saturday evening was the best time, we'd see the most people download our app. We're pretty confident that's because a referee has been out with a team of three and seen one of the guys or girls using REFSIX.

“So actually, what we've realised, is if we continue to build a great tool for referees, the referees will do our job for us in terms of marketing, because they'll tell their colleague, their friends, etc. 

“That's basically how we've been doing everything. We have an Instagram account where we're putting news about refereeing, we do a podcast where we talk about refereeing content.”

Hassan Rajwani Dutch Use
REFSIX is used in over 90 countries across the world.

REFSIX is now being used on over 90 countries across the world, but even so, there are many that might still be sceptical of new technology. But what does Hassan say to those people?

“One of my biggest surprises is, there's an assumption that this is only for young people. What I know and what people will know about referees is, if you've done it for a long time you love it, it's your biggest hobby. 

“Therefore, what our app does is for the people who are more experienced, it gives them something for the first time that enables them to track their best hobby. 

“Just like a runner would use Strava to keep track of their runs, referees can use graphics to keep track of their games. We're seeing a lot more experienced referees than we thought because it was just something that they realised they could track their biggest hobby. 

“Look at Facebook, as well. Facebook at the moment, has a much higher percentage of older people now because they're realising how easier it is to connect with their family etc.”

So, what does the future now hold for Hassan and REFSIX? It must have been a tough business to run during a pandemic that has been hard on football in general. We were keen to find out how they can combat things like that, if at all.

“What we realised during the pandemic, is our app is great on a match-day. But if there's no match-days, and if there's no match-days for a long time, we're not adding much to referees. 

“So, what our big focus is going forward is how we help support referees better during non-match-days. What I mean by that is fitness. How do we help referees understand their fitness sessions? How do we help with development? Is there anything that we can do in terms of education for referees?

“The most important piece we're looking at, and it's probably the reason why referees are referees, is community. So, at the moment, the app is very much you tracking yourself. Going forward, we want to be able to share with your friends, enable you as a referee, to follow your mates and see what games they've got and see how they're performing.

“I don't want to call it a social network, but more of a community and social experience, whereby you can see your mates and stay in touch with them, specifically around refereeing.”

It’s been fascinating to find out more about the man behind REFSIX and the journey he has been on. Hassan came up with a basic concept, studying at Uni, that he has turned into a successful business and full-time job. The future of grassroots refereeing is here.

For more information about refereeing in Sussex please contact:

T: 01903 768573
E: Referees@SussexFA.com 

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