Can playing a round of golf at your new favorite course actually be good for the environment? Ryan Cooper says his smartphone app can make the connection between the most avid duffer and a course with its eye on sustainable water use. A course that’s got a more natural, drier landscape could use incentive rewards through this app to lure new golfers to play there, and as a result encourage other courses to follow that ecologically-friendly lead.
That’s one of the serendipitous benefits of a product designed and developed partly with proceeds funded by an SBA Express loan.
Companies connect with golfers coming off a great round
Launched in 2012, by Ryan Cooper, a former manager of a couple of golf courses and an avid player himself, GolfStatus helps players track, archive and share their scores and achievements, discover new courses and keep tabs on their friends. At the same time, businesses which want to reach golfers can hit them with instant rewards for sporting goods, fitness centers and other services at the end of each round.
“If you get a hole in one, that’s a very proud moment, you’re pumped about it, those endorphins are running, and if you get a note from business congratulating you on that, you’re more likely to take them up on their offer,” said Cooper, whose day job is as an attorney in Lincoln. “If you’re playing and making progress, a business can reach out and say ‘come on by and we’ll give you a free trial or half off.’”
The app already has been used by nationally-known apparel, electronic and soft drink brands, but “while we love providing rewards from these big names, we also want to get local businesses involved,” Cooper added.
Golfers also can use GolfStatus to post individual scores through the United States Golf Association’s Golf Handicap and Information Network right on the course, connecting them with both more than 2.1 million others across the country, and with the rest of their local morning foursome.
And the company has gotten some attention for its potential for growth: GolfStatus recently was listed by the editorial board of tech-trendy blog Silicon Prairie as one of the Nebraska start-ups to follow on Twitter.
Turning a passion for golf into a marketing idea with SBA financing
Cooper’s idea came out of frustrated day dreams during breaks from law classes in Nebraska. Since he couldn’t play the sport as much as he wanted, “I started thinking about how to improve the game, and more specifically, about ways to help golfers capture, archive, and share meaningful moments in their golf careers,” he said. “For me, GolfStatus is a great fit because it is a combination of three of my interests: golf, technology, and marketing.”
But to unite those three interests into a product required a team of designers and software developers to create an easy-to-use and eye-catching app and a database to connect businesses with potential golfer customers. And to get a team of them together to do that job required access to capital, which Cooper got, thanks to an SBA Express guarantee loan approval in April 2011 from U.S. Bank in Lincoln.
“The SBA is one of many options that you can use,” Cooper explained. “I think if a small business owner looking to launch doesn’t explore all their options, they may take out personal loans, use credit cards at higher interest rates, or give up more equity than they want.”
Cooper used the proceeds to further software development used to run GolfStatus. “I think the SBA is interested in furthering businesses that will stick around for a while.”
Using the app to build loyalty with environmentally-conscious courses
For golf courses struggling as a result of severe drought conditions across the state last year, getting golfers to spend money on a round or two was tough.
“You can’t control the weather,” Cooper said. “Before going to law school and founding of this company, I primarily worked on golf courses in Colorado where water is scarce. I actually went to law school with the intention of practicing water law. Our use of water and when it’s appropriate to use it on golf courses is one of the issues we’re going to face as time goes on.”
This is where GolfStatus can use its rewards connections to help get buy-in and loyalty from customers who would forgo a round on a lush, green, overwatered fairway in favor of a more naturally gardened course.
“If you give a pat on the back to your customers and give them good deals when they do well, they’re more likely to play your course when dealing with the ups and downs of what Mother Nature throws at you,” he explained. “Golfers can play wherever they want, and courses run razor thin margins. Having customers who think of your course first, not because your course is in great shape, but because of that relationship you’ve built with them is the idea behind what we’re trying to do with GolfStatus.”
Possibilities for future growth
Cooper also pointed out that in the process of developing the technology for the smartphone app he’s been able to see potential applications connecting “these moments of accomplishment and building that relationship. There are lots of ways to do that and some of the technology we built could be used in other apps out there.”
Naturally, Cooper already would have an eye on future expansion for his new tech firm. He spent his formative years in Austin, Texas, about the time Michael Dell started his computer hardware company.
“There was a real entrepreneurial vibe there, and seeing how it changed everything, I think that sort of inspired me,” he admitted. “It’s really great when you can start a business and provide a livelihood for people, and that has been a driving force for me ever since.
“Nothing about creating a successful business is easy, so you need to stick it out. It takes a lot of hard work, and you learn a lot about yourself along the way. The tests come when you feel like you’ve done everything you could and you couldn’t possibly do any more. Those are the times when you have to dig deeper and grow as a person to help your business grow.”