Entrepreneur needs to prove golf gizmo works

February 18, 2010

Tom Cannon has created an intriguing golf gadget, but if he wants to find a market for his product, the former NASA rocket scientist needs some hard data to prove BonusYards can help golfers add more distance to their drives, said experts.

The Maryland, Virginia entrepreneur hit on the idea after reading a story that detailed how a 45-degree angle – between the club and the ground – is the optimum angle for golfers to address the ball before teeing off (read original story here). The article suggested practicing in front of a square box, but Cannon thought there had to be a better solution. He went into his basement workshop and attached a carpenter’s level to a golf club that indicated when he was standing at the proper angle to the ball. The problem was the level was too big and heavy and it didn’t stay on the club.

Cannon eventually found a manufacturer in China and built a level that was small and light enough that he could fashion to a club, without it adversely affecting his swing. The plastic device resembles a child’s toy ring, with a flat coin-sized head that encases a bubble level that clips onto the top of the club, or grip, and includes markings to show when the club is properly aligned at a 45-degree angle.

THE PITCH

Cannon said he is targeting the 15 million “hardcore” U.S. golfers, who play a minimum of eight competitive rounds each year. “I’ve put it in the hands of several golfers and gotten positive results from all of them. Everybody loves it,” he said.

Cannon admitted that after all the trial and error that went into building BonusYards, his toughest challenge is simply to convince people that it works and to try it out.

“We don’t have a budget to pay for a high-profile golfer to endorse the product, but we believe once they start using it and know what it does, then we think we’ll build sales that way,” said Cannon, who has planned an initial production run of 2,000 units and intends to follow up with a larger run of 100,000 units, which he estimated would cost $200,000. He said while he and his partner can swing the cost, he would prefer to get some investors onboard. “One of our worst case nightmares would be to stimulate the market, have orders in hand and then be months away before being able to fulfill those orders.”

TAKING IT TO THE EXPERTS

Lawrence Gelburd, a serial entrepreneur who lectures at Wharton’s Small Business Development Center, felt “very positive” about Cannon’s golf device, but would like to see some in-depth statistical analysis to prove that it works.

Gelburd, who holds a degree in electrical engineering, suggested Cannon compile data on how BonusYards specifically helps improves a golfer’s accuracy and length off the tee. “The journey of a successful business plan is a journey from I think that, to the data shows that,” he said, noting Cannon could do the testing on all clubs and then create his own index, similar to the Case-Shiller Index for real estate prices. “So that it’s not about an opinion or that it looks cool, it’s actually data driven.”

Gelburd said this is a classic case of what he referred to as the “inside-out” principle, where an entrepreneur comes up with an idea and develops a product before defining a market for it. “The first thing he needs to do is to figure out total markets and the target markets that he wants to hit first,” Gelburd said, noting that Cannon won’t be able to hit all of the markets he mentioned in his pitch video at the same time. “Once he’s decided on the markets, then he can talk about exclusivity, spokespeople, joint ventures and strategic alliances with manufacturers and distributors.”

Gelburd advised Cannon to take some time to develop a strong statistical argument for his product’s efficacy, before spending large sums of money to make a device golfers may ultimately not want to buy. He said during that time Cannon should also attend golf conferences to scout the competition and make some connections with potential distributors and investors.

Tim Berry, founder of Palo Alto Software and an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Oregon, is a former golfer who said he wishes he had thought of this technology and thinks it could find a market with golfers struggling to improve their games, but added only “if it actually works.”

To that end, Berry would like to see some validation of BonusYards in the form of testimonials from golf experts. “I’d love to see letters from pros. Without them, there’s a lot of risk,” said Berry, who would also like to have the gadget officially sanctioned. “What if the PGA or some other ruling body decides that adding a level to the grip isn’t legitimate, even if Tom says it is? Then where are we?”

Berry said Cannon has the “wrong attitude” about seeking  investment and added he should avoid investors if possible.

“In my mind, you seek investors because the idea requires more money than you have. Tom isn’t saying that. He says he can do it, but he’d like investors,” said Berry, adding Cannon should only bring in investors after he has validated that BonusYards is legal and that it works. “Then if you want to go big and fast, go seriously for investors not just for the money to build the initial inventory, but also for the money to get into channels, and do infomercials, and so on. And if you want to go it alone, do that, and own it all yourself. Don’t go halfway.”

Derek Ingram, a former top amateur golfer and sought after instructor, also found Cannon’s swing aid “interesting,” but doubted it would add any distance to a golfer’s drive.

“The independent research would prove that it does not work,” noted Ingram, who is also the head coach of the Canadian women’s amateur golf team and provides regular golf tips on his blog. “Because the device only measures the angle at address, it has little to do with what happens during the swing.”

Ingram said if Cannon could provide some “real time” data on how his device specifically helps upon impact, then it could “cause some excitement.”

“It’s simple enough and with a good video they may make some money,” said Ingram, “but (it’s) unlikely that PGA pros are going to say it’s a quality product.”

What do you think? Will Cannon’s golf gadget fly? Post your comments below:

2 comments

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[...] You can read more on the device, and watch a short video of the device’s inventor explaining the concepts on the Reuters blog. [...]

What he needs to do is go to a golf center that has one of those mechanical golf swingers – the same devices that are used to test golf ball distance.

Scientifically prove to the consumer that a club that is set at a 45 degree angle is the optimal address. Have an outside agency attach the device at various angles with a driver, 2 iron, 5 iron, 7 iron and record the statistics. Then, find out what are the optimal angles for each club based on standard golf club lengths.

That will tell the inventor what angles is optimal and that his device will help the average golfer. Also, not only do golf clubs vary by length, but also the height of the golfer from shoulder to hands, to ground. So if anything this 45 degree angle philosophy is much too general – it depends on various parameters.

Also, just because a golfer addresses the ball at 45 degrees doesnt mean he will keep it on plane throughout the entire swing to add extra distance.

All in all I think its just another crazy idea to suck in golfers with deep pockets.

Posted by kkobashi | Report as abusive

This is the lastest of many devices, my own experiences have been with a group that did motion capture and another that used a laser mounted on a practice club.

Neither of those things made a difference past the typical change that comes with anything that increasing your interest for a bit, and there is no reason to believe that this approach would be anything difference.

Posted by jstaf | Report as abusive