By Clint Vojdinoski, Editor at Bullpen Media
Shot Scope’s chief executive officer David Hunter built his company off the back of wanting to solve a frustrating problem golfers have.
He wanted to improve his handicap on the course and to solve the problem of sharpening his game that didn’t solely rely on playing rounds and practicing on the driving range.
The genesis of his idea dates back to 2010 and his first solution involved collating data manually.
Eight years later and the Scottish golf technology company is eyeing off expansion into the United States with a comprehensive kit of technology that wants to help golfers improve their game.
It’s a wearable device that automatically collects data, collates it and gives golfers an understanding of how each shot in every round was played. It tracks a golfers performance and provides live distances on the golf course, using a global positioning system (GPS).
On completion of a round, data is uploaded to their website or mobile app where statistics, analytics and maps detailing every shot are displayed.
The Shot Scope V1 hit the market in 2016 but it was the launch of the V2 at the end of 2017 which accelerated the company’s growth.
We began our conversation by looking at how Hunter built the idea. “I’ve got a unique background. I worked as an electronics design engineer for six years where I designed for medical, military, oil and gas, consumer products – big brands all the way down to startups. I had a diverse skill set when it came to technology.
“I wasn’t happy with my 16 handicap, and I did the most simplest of things and tried to engineer my game. Where a lot of people were spending a lot of time on the range trying to hit the ball better, I looked at the game and thought it’s not about hitting the ball better but it’s about managing your way around the golf course. In order to manage your way around the course you have to understand what you’re doing. Knowing how far you’re hitting your shots, where you’re missing your approach shots, or if you know the real percentages of missing your fairways.
“I was gathering all of this information on spreadsheets, bits of paper, backs of scorecards and compiling it all, looking at the data and effectively in 18 months I took my handicap from 16 to five by doing this but that wasn’t when I really had the idea.
“When you’re collecting 50 to 70 rounds a year manually it’s really painful and I thought there must have been a better way of doing it, but those bits of paper sat in my book of ideas for about two years.”
In his own words, Hunter said a “bizarre thing” happened to him and he made a decision to make a shift in his career.
“I went back to Edinburgh University to retrain as a high school teacher in design technology. I had been in my engineering job for seven years and I couldn’t see where it was going and there were no opportunities at the company I was at so I decided to change.”
Hunter said he was enjoying university, loved the classroom and teaching kids, but another realisation quickly occurred to him that helped lay the groundwork for pursuing Shot Scope.
“There were opportunities for funding and competitions for startup businesses. It wasn’t like that when I was first at university back in 2005. I started to get really involved in it, going to events on evenings and weekends and I started winning prizes for another idea I had but quickly realised Scot Scope was the idea to push forward. In the year I was retraining as a teacher I won about 75,000 pounds in awards.”
This was through 2012 and 2013 and by the end of 2013 he officially founded Shot Scope.
In 2014, Hunter won the Innovate UK Sport Digital Innovation Contest and he said that was the massive change that gave him the opportunity to go and work on Shot Scope full-time.
Building the Product
“One thing my design background taught me was that if the market doesn’t want it then don’t build it! And don’t build for yourself, build so somebody will buy it,” Hunter said.
Through 2014 he progressed the idea from sketches with pen and paper to building and testing a working prototype. He had gone through six different revisions of the product through the year.
“Over the next 12 months I refined it yet by the end of the year I knew I needed help as I was doing it alone, so I started to build the team. I got Lewis Allison (chief technology officer), and he was the one that took the technology to the next level while I started to run the commercial side of the business. We also brought on Gavin Dear (chief commercial officer) and he used to be a Walker Cup player and was on the European Tour, he made a big difference to our golfing mindset. Those guys joined in January 2015, we had a quarter million pounds of funding in grants at that stage and then we proceeded to raise our first round of investment and go for it. That was the starting point of the product.”
When asked what he knew about the market at the time, Hunter said that he was speaking to golfers and trying to understand if other golfers shared the same frustrations as him with the lack of statistical analysis available to golfers.
“In that time, before I refined the product, I was already speaking to my market and had 800 questionnaires answered, I was talking to people and that validated the idea. That gave me the confidence and it showed, even at that early stage, we were talking to the market.
“What we’ve done since 2015 is to have management focus on talking to the market. We regularly speak to the market, go to events and see our users. Internally we have a team that is 50 per cent tech and 50 per cent golf.”
Much of the company’s employees are all golfers. They have a team who play and really enjoy golf, have refined their game, have single figure handicaps and competed globally. This filters into a shared challenge of delivering a product built by golfers for golfers.
“The best way to describe it is they just get it. Yes, they’re elite golfers but they’re golfers who have worked to be elite at some point. They can imagine what someone who has a 20 handicap has gone through.
“By 2016 when we launched our V1 we had 50,000 rounds of golf in our system and we could see the average handicap, and there is a definitive line, if you’re five handicap and upwards your decision making is a lot worse than a five handicap and below. We get people who have a handicap of around 20 asking us if it’s too complex and we say, ‘listen, we can save you loads of stroke.’ The person who is scratch, we can save them some strokes and give you a wee bit more information. But the guy who is a 20 handicap, ‘get this on your wrist, we can really help you.’
“It’s as simple as this, if you use this for five to 10 rounds, I want to get people into the mindset where you can’t play without it – ‘I can’t go out there without recording my data or not be informed how far I hit the ball.’ It is now second nature.”
How does the Product work?
The way Shot Scope works is that you put small tags into the ends of your clubs, there’s no batteries in those tags and they come pre-programmed with the club they go into.
“There’s 20 in a set, you get your driver, three wood, any club, screw the tags in, takes five minutes to set up, charge up our wearable, play your round, press one button on your phone, one button on your wristband and it uploads your round. That in itself is critical, making it easy for an older demographic that isn’t used to technology. Make it so simple that anybody can use it. It’s even got to be so easy when a prospective user picks it up at a shop and uses it.
“We own our own course mapping data, we’ve mapped 35,000 out of 42,000 courses worldwide and we’ve mapped them metre by metre. We’ve mapped everything, fairways, greens, bunkers and because we have our own in-house course mapping team we can make changes to a course in 48 hours.”
There is an obsessive mindset and behaviour of golfers which does lend itself to statistical tracking of their rounds.
“Data collection for golfers up until now has been difficult and it’s only been golf geeks and the most analytics driven of people who had been doing it, which says a lot about me!
“Golf lends itself to data, it’s a perfect for it and it’s relevant to you and your capabilities. It’s also one of those games that you can play effectively at 10 all the way through to your 70’s or older. Your data may change and you may have to adjust the way you play but you can still play and that’s pretty cool as a sport.
“The scary thing about golfers is that in the last 30 years the average handicap hasn’t changed. You’re talking about people with better clubs, golf balls going much further than they have before, people are stronger, the courses are much more maintained and manicured than they used to be. But amateur golfers as a whole make poor decisions on the course based on inadequate data. You could be talking about anyone, it could be a CEO of one of the most powerful corporations in the world who makes dozens of critical decisions every single day, yet when they step onto a golf course they just make bad decisions. It’s not that they hit the ball badly, the vast majority of golfers on the driving range hit the ball beautifully, it’s down to course management.
“The reason why golfers don’t do it is that there wasn’t a system in the market that makes it easy or intuitive. The only way they were able to do it until now was pushing buttons on an app but that’s not great for social interaction on the golf course.”
Hunter said there is much bigger benefits of bypassing your phone to record every bit of data. On some courses phones wouldn’t even be allowed.
“A phone is an inconvenience. You should be enjoying your game, talking to your buddies and having a laugh.”
Even for the amateurs or weekend hackers, connections have been made between data collection, analysis and improved performance.
“It’s funny a lot of products in the market has helped us. Fitbit, for example, has been fabulous for us. There is an age demographic that loves using it and if they use something like that for their health, would they use something like that for their hobbies?”
Moving beyond data as a performance tool, Scot Scope has allowed user’s to have fun with their data.
In September Shot Scope launched a medals and achievements feature to build experiences and games out of its data.
“It’s basically a first step in being a Strava for golf. You get medals for assorted achievements like long drives or a series of birdies. You get points and those points go into leaderboards and you can compete with your friends.
“In the next six months we’re bringing out the ability to overlap your rounds with your friends, so you can compare stats.
“It’s creating an experience and what we’re trying to do is yes we are the best performance tracking system in the market but we look at ourselves as the best wearable in golf, but we want you to spend more time looking at our data off the course than you do on it.”
Investment, Expansion & Heading to the US
In total, Shot Scope has also raised over eight million pounds in funding through awards, grants and investment whilst holding no debt.
Recently they were awarded 500,000 pounds from Scottish Enterprise Smart R&D and in addition have just closed a three million pound investment round.
“The investment will be used to help us scale right across the board: marketing, entering the USA, manufacturing and we’ll be growing the team.
“We’ve sold 12,000 units of the V2 which is a fantastic achievement, but now we’re thinking how we get to 40,000 units. That’s the growth plans we’ve got and a big part of that is going to the USA where the market is so big but it comes with its own challenges. It’s a market with 30 million golfers and four million inside our target market that’s spread around the country.”
In the last 12 months, Shot Scope’s have been sold to 47 countries and to every single state in the US. Hunter added 190,000 rounds have been recorded in 52 different countries.
“The biggest market in the world is the US, then you’re looking at UK, Japan, Australia and Germany closely follow. The US is about 10 to 12 times the opportunity than the UK and the UK is about double the opportunity than Australia.
“Shot Scope is the only wearable that can cross over to any market in golf. There’s the performance tracking market and then the other market is the GPS on the wrist and that’s heavily dominated by the likes of Garmin. That’s a big market. We’ve got the only product that does both, so we can take both those markets and combine them.
“We give you the opportunity to understand your game while Garmin gives you yardages. That’s powerful but we can give you the info and insights to empower you to improve your game.”
In amongst that, Shot Scope’s challenge with international expansion is that different regions, even continents play and engage with golf differently.
“Regardless how they play it isn’t that different but the culture around it, the way they interact with products and purchase products is completely different.
“When it comes to Asia, it’s a huge market but completely different market as well. Japan is one of our biggest opportunities and China is one we’re trying to figure out. The crazy stat I think is 52 per cent of Chinese golfers have never been on a golf course but have only been to a driving range.
“I suspect we don’t know the Asian market. We don’t know the buying culture or the marketing culture. We may make mistakes in respecting their cultures. Our focus is scaling in the UK and Europe, the US market is so big you can’t ignore that and Australia is an opportunity that landed on our doorstep. I think we should deal with those markets first, and then think about how we tackle the Asian market right.”
The View of Scotland
The Scottish startup ecosystem has been galvanised by Skyscanner and Fan Duel hitting billion-dollar valuations.
It appears that there is a strong undercurrent of ideas coming out of Scotland and Hunter was excited about his home city Edinburgh.
“It’s absolutely phenomenal. I’ve been around the world and telling people the amount of Scottish Enterprise grant funding, the support funding we’ve had and people have said it’s amazing.
“You have Skyscanner and Fan Duel. One of the founders of Fan Duel is actually on our board (Rob Jones) and that’s a perfect example of a company who had pains at the start, went through the phase that we’re in now, then had the massive acceleration and superstardom as a startup.
“I feel Scottish startups can go further than other startups in the UK because of the infrastructure that’s been put in place. That creates your superstars like Skyscanner and Fan Duel and those guys don’t view themselves as that. They’re guys who put processes, funding and a team in place that went and did something amazing.
“These guys may have been a big success story but they’ll ask if they can help do the same with you. That culture is now embedded. As these guys move on from those companies, they help other companies try and become successful. That support is powerful and unique in any country, I am grateful that it’s on my doorstep right here in Scotland!”