When Arccos Golf CEO Sal Syed chose the Yale University School of Management for business school, it wasn’t just because Yale had a strong B-school pedigree. Syed readily admits, “I picked Yale partly for the golf course,” referring to the historic links available to students. There, the self-proclaimed “golf addict” co-founded Arccos with two grad school friends. Since then, he’s teamed up with Callaway and currently has a promotional partnership with COBRA Golf. Last year, half a million rounds were played with the Arccos system, which includes club sensors and a GPS tracking app. Serendipity sat down with Syed to talk about taking the brand from its launch in 2014 to success in just a few years—and his plans to dominate the golf world in the near future.
How did Arccos come about?
I’ve always been passionate about golf. It has to be something more than financial reward that drives you. One of my angel investors said that the thing about startups is the highs are higher and the lows are lower and what will see you through is passion. My friends, cofounders and people around me came up with this concept of cracking golfers’ stats through technology. It was in the early movement of internetted things. Golf is a game of analysis. What’s the wind doing? Where should I land the ball? When you’re playing, it’s hard to be objective. You’re in the fog of war. You want to be in the moment to execute the shot. Golfers need this data and it’s hard to collect but PGA pros are doing it. How can you bring this to everyday golfers?
You partnered with Callaway very early on. How did this happen?
We organized a summit at [the renowned Oregon golf course] Bandon Dunes in May of 2012. I invited Callaway, who was working on sensor technology. Six to eight months later all of us came to the understanding that it was better for Callaway to focus on golf clubs and balls, and license the technology to us.
How did you raise your initial funding?
We raised $5 million in funding from Karen Pritzker and Michael Vlock of the Pritzker/Vlock family office through Launch Capital. Since then we’ve raised an additional $10 million and added Connecticut Innovations to our list of investors. The first round of funding for us was lucky because we were already past the proof of concept phase which is where a lot of startups struggle. For us, the first round was about polishing the technology and making it production ready. There was a lot of interest from investors.
Why was 2014 the perfect time to launch this product?
Nest and Fitbit were coming out at the same time, too. Golf is a $100 billion industry, from tee times to equipment, and there’s a belief that in three years everyone is going to be tracking everything. Sensors are becoming smaller and automated and literally everything is going to be tracked.
After the initial funding, how did the product become successful so quickly?
The cool thing about a connected device is that we know how people are interacting with the app, from where they’re playing to how many people are looking at their round. We can see how we can do better. We do weekly calls with our customers and proactively reach out to people. We know when the app has an issue [on the course] before the customer does and we’ll reach out. We’re here to sell them an experience, not a product, and give them a better understanding of their golf game.
You’re involved in the community; for instance, you gave the keynote address at the Stamford Startup Weekend this year. Why did you choose to base your business in Stamford?
I like to be where I’m not surrounded by concrete. I’m a golfer and I like golf courses. The people who work at Arccos also want to be close to golf courses. There is a lot of talent around here. Stamford has a lot of cool stuff happening—it’s a young town. There is easy access to New York City and you get more space. A lot of people take the train from Norwalk and New York City. In general, I think startups have a lot of problems with retention, but in Stamford, it’s not Silicon Valley yet—there’s more loyalty. We have 25 employees and all the key people on engineering and tech have stayed since the beginning. If you’re creating something cool, you’ll have loyalty.
You recently expanded to create a driver sensor, which joins the 14-sensor original product, for the rest of a club set. What other plans do you have for this year? And in the future?
In addition to the driver, we also just launched our app on the Android platform. We’re planning to go international. And in the next five years, our plan is for every golf club in stores to have Arccos technology in it.