Not too long ago, it was unheard of for an unproven team to raise private capital for a hardware startup. But a combination of factors, including the success of Kickstarter combined with an overall Apple-led renewal in appreciation for industrial design, have made it a far less radical concept today. Nonetheless, when I first covered the product launch of sports performance company Mobiplex, I called launching the hardware startup an “exceptionally bold” idea, and its $3.1 million Seed financing a “minor miracle.”
Today, founder and CEO Vijay Nadkarni is back to proving its doubters wrong with $1.3 million in additional financing.
Mobiplex’s first product, which launched in September, is SwingTIP, a bluetooth-enabled, 3-D motion sensor and corresponding mobile app (iOS and Android) aimed at mapping the swings of golfers. As I described previously:
The sensor clips to the shaft of any golf club to capture and analyze 900 data points per swing including speed, tempo, and path. The app then renders a 3D animated video of the swing and delivers corresponding swing tips and instructional videos…
The hardware costs $129 to purchase, after which the app is free. The alternative, is taking traditional private lessons from a golf instructor, which can cost hundreds of dollars per hour and often lack technology tools entirely.
The company has been coy about its sales progress, saying only, “Mobiplex continues to bring on new retail partners and there will more to announce in coming months. We’ve met all of our sales objectives for the first quarter and have had great feedback from their customers.” So yeah, pretty much nothing concrete to go on.
Perhaps explaining its fundraising success, none of Mobilex’s financing has come from traditional VC firms or professional angel investors. Rather, the company has raised all of its $4.4 million to date from 50 private investors, whom it describes as “current or retired CEOs or principal owners of companies.” In other words, fellow successful entrepreneurs who saw an idea they believe in and who hope to make a buck while helping one of their own.
The company would only name two of its backers. The first, no slouch at all, is former National Semiconductor Chairman and CEO and current Cisco board member Brian Halla. The second, a member of the Mobiplex board of directors and an MD, is Dr. Sandeep Sherlekar. Mobiplex has raised its financing to date as a single rolling round, which was initially structured as a convertible note, with all notes having since been converted into preferred shares in the company.
Although the obstacles are many, SwingTIP does have one major advantage. The company secured the endorsements of Craig Stadler and NCAA legend Ray Leach. These recognized icons of the game certainly lend an air of credibility to the nascent product. As a result, the company has distribution through brick and mortar Golf Galaxy stores, and through online retailers including Amazon, PlayBetterGolf.com, and SmartHome.com targeting the US and Canada. Longer term, the company plans to expand beyond SwingTIP and its singular focus on golf to deliver a broad catalog of interactive wireless sports performance technologies.
As a lifelong golfer and an avid observer of the industry, trust me when I tell you that golf hardware is as competitive and unforgiving as any vertical. Like other consumer electronics, SwingTIP faces all the expenses and challenges associated with product development, manufacturing, fulfillment, and offline sales and marketing. $4.4 million may seem like a lot of money, and it’s surely more than many lesser competitors will raise, but by no means does it guarantee success. Golf is dominated by enormous companies the likes of Adidas (owner of Taylormade), Acushnet (owner of Titleist and Footjoy), and Nike.
To make noise among these well-capitalized titans, Mobiplex will need not only to create a standout product, but display some savvy marketing wizardry. If it succeeds at both, the company will have defied more odds that most venture backed startups