Hardware startups are notoriously risky. Increased costs and manufacturing hurdles make most investors and the majority of entrepreneurs shy away from producing physical products. Anyone who knows much about the golf hardware and accessory industry can attest that it’s equally as competitive and fraught with stories of failure.
That successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur Vijay Nadkarni elected to create a product at the intersection of these two minefields is exceptionally bold. That he managed to raise a $3.1 million Series A round and attract the endorsement of Masters champion Craig Stadler and NCAA legend Ray Leach is a minor miracle.
In September, Nadkarni’s company Mobiplex released its first ever product, the SwingTIP bluetooth-enabled, 3-D motion sensor and corresponding iOS and Android apps. The sensor clips to the shaft of any golf club to capture and analyze 900 data points per swing including speed, tempo, and path. The app then renders a 3D animated video of the swing and delivers corresponding swing tips and instructional videos.
It’s fair to say I know more about the golf industry than your average tech journalist. I competed at the collegiate level and have been around the business my entire life. Along the way, I’ve been to several PGA Merchandise shows, a once-per-year product bonanza that rivals CES in scale and spectacle.
Beyond the big brand name equipment and equipment manufacturers in attendance, each year thousands of hopeful new vendors eagerly hawk their unknown products on industry types from across the world. The overwhelming majority of these products and companies will never be seen or heard from again after the show, and could never dream of accessing $3 million dollars to build out the manufacturing, marketing, and distribution channels necessary to properly compete in this crowded space.
It’s not that golfers don’t appreciate technology or that solutions already exist to solve every problem. Rather, the opposite is true in both cases. That notwithstanding, great technology isn’t enough, as even the best products have an enormous uphill climb to build awareness and traction.
Perhaps more than any other industry, golfers make purchasing decisions based on endorsements by the icons of the sport. This is not as simple as slapping the face of a respected athlete on product packaging and a few commercials. Consumers want to know that the best players and instructors use the products themselves and have found success as a result. This fact makes the SwingTIP’s associations with Stadler and Leach as important as its new pile of cash.
The best thing about the golf industry is that it’s both affluent and viral. Golfers are extremely passionate about their sport and typically believe that they can spend their way to better scores, whether it be through buying the newest equipment or latest training aids. Once one member of a regular foursome or country club gets a new toy, it’s extremely common for others around them to follow suit.
This is good news, because there’s no freemium model for SwingTIP. The hardware costs $129 to purchase, after which the app is free. The alternative, is taking traditional private lessons from a golf instructor, which can cost hundreds of dollars per hour and often lack technology tools entirely.
While the SwingTIP app is an all you can eat smorgasbord currently, it’s reasonable to assume that premium analysis and instruction features will become paid services eventually, although the company has not yet indicated as much. The profile data collected within this affluent crowd presents some interesting opportunities as well, should the company decide to venture down that path.
Mobiplex’s Series A financing was raised from 33 unnamed individual investors, which the company describes as primarily CEOs and principal owners of businesses, only two of which could be considered “friends and family.” The round, which was raised on a rolling basis, was structured as a convertible note, and all notes have since converted into preferred shares in the company, according to its CEO.
Staying relevant in the rapidly changing golf industry is equally as challenging as building initial awareness. Understanding this fact, the current SwingTIP product and single-sport focus are only the beginning of what Mobiplex has planned. Nadkarni hints at a pipeline full of interactive and social learning features under development that he hopes to apply across the broad spectrum of wireless sports performance technology.
SwingTIP has leveraged its slick product design and star power into distribution through bricks-and-mortar mass retailer Golf Galaxy, and online retailers like Amazon, PlayBetterGolf.com, and SmartHome.com. With physical and virtual shelf space in high-trafficked destinations, and trusted endorsers singing its praises, the product is likely to get at least a second glance from consumers looking for that miracle cure. This is already more than can be said for most startups in the consumer electronics and golf hardware sectors.
[Image source, Tuckerpedia]