App Startup Golfler Scores Early Birdies With Funding, Awards

A Detroit-based startup’s golfing app, released in August, is already scoring major accolades: Google named it the second-best sports app for 2015, and the company beat out more than 200 exhibitors to win the top buyers’ choice award at a PGA conference two weeks after it launched.

Golfler co-founder Jason Pearsall says his company’s app solves a problem for both its users (golfers) and its customers (golf courses)—how can golfers deep into playing an 18-hole round order food and beverages if they don’t want to interrupt play and head to the clubhouse?

“Seventy-five percent of golf courses in the United States are losing money on food and beverage operations,” Pearsall says. “On average, they lose $57,000 each year. Golfler makes the kitchen accessible to golfers on the course and helps courses make their food and beverage operations profitable.”

Most golf courses have cart attendants serving players as they hit the links. But it’s an inefficient operation, Pearsall says. “These courses can be very large. It would be like if a pizza delivery driver went into a big neighborhood and started going door to door and asking if anyone wants pizza.”

Users of Golfler’s app can pull up a food and drink menu, place an order, and send up a GPS-enabled beacon that allows a delivery person to find them out on the course.

Golfler also offers users a rangefinder to measure the ball’s distance from the pin, the ability to keep score, weather updates, and a two-way messaging system to communicate with the pro shop when the course is experiencing a bottleneck. The app uses beacon devices located at tee boxes and the holes, crowdsourcing, algorithms, and geo-coordinates to calculate the pace of play and notify other golfers on the course where to expect a backup. Usually, Pearsall says, if the bottleneck is creating enough of an annoyance to other players, course managers will use the data to ask the slowpokes to kindly let the others play through. “It helps the courses give better customer service,” he adds.

Golfler, a free app, makes its money every time a user places a food or beverage order; it gets 99 cents each from the user and the golf course. The company was established in March, and the pace of its growth and recognition has been fairly swift. Three weeks after the app hit the market, Google invited the company to pitch at a competition for sports apps, where Golfler came in second place.

“It’s nice to transition away from cold calls and to have resorts coming to us,” Pearsall says.

Pearsall, who is a graduate of Wayne State University’s law school, says the seven-person Golfler team is atypical for a tech startup because all of them have corporate or government experience. After bootstrapping and angel investments, Golfler raised enough money to build the app. Late last month, the company closed on an investment from New York-based venture capital firm Solidea. The size of the investment was undisclosed. Golfler plans to raise a Series A round in the spring, Pearsall says.

The app already has about 20 Detroit-area golf courses signed up, and is working toward meeting its goal of growing by 60 courses per year, Pearsall says. “We have more courses than we’re able to onboard at the moment.”

Pearsall is a serial entrepreneur, having already created and sold a computer repair company before he started law school in 2010. His dad managed two golf courses while he was growing up—he’s now a sales executive for Golfler—and Pearsall says that’s how he came to be a passionate fan of the game. While serving as a legal consultant for an “Uber for food service” startup, he learned about the finer points of food delivery technology and began to see parallels with the golf industry. That company eventually morphed into Golfler.

“Actually, I saw what they were building would work better on a golf course,” he recalls. “The infrastructure was there, so we pivoted to golf.” In the future, Pearsall hopes to integrate tee time reservation capabilities into the app, at which point, he says, Golfler will have every feature currently available on separate golf apps all in one place. With about 15,500 golf courses in the U.S., he believes it’s a potentially lucrative market.

“We weren’t expecting the response to be as positive as it has been,” he says. “We want to perfect the app before adding big, new features.”

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