GolfRz hopes to engage, reward golfers

One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort – check back all week for more and find the series here.

GolfRZ cofounders talk to a reporter (not pictured).

GolfRZ cofounders Dustin Hemesath, left, and Ryan Knutson, right. (Photo by Ben Kaplan / We Create Here)

The co-founders of Des Moines-based GolfRz both had a lifelong passion for golf – but took a roundabout way to get into the industry.

Dustin Hemesath started his tenure at Iowa State University studying landscape architecture, with a plan to design golf courses. But he changed majors and spent eight years in sales before he founded his startup, then called Golf Challenges, in 2012.

Ryan Knutson, who joined the business in 2014, played golf competitively from childhood through college. He started pursuing his PGA certification, but changed direction after feeling doubts.

“The more I worked in a golf course, the less I actually liked playing,” Knutson said.

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Technology provided both with a way to get back into the industry. GolfRz creates custom apps for golf courses, allowing them to communicate with golfers and offer services like booking tee times or ordering food from the course.

The business has been through a few pivots since Hemesath founded it.

The original idea, Golf Challenges, would give users points every time they played on an Iowa course. By the end of the season, whoever had the most points would win a grand prize of a free year of golf.

However, users wouldn’t return to the app if they didn’t think they had a chance of being the most active golfer in the state. So, by January 2014, the idea had pivoted into a rewards system for all golfers to earn points by tracking their games. This version had more traction, but the revenue model was murky.

So, Hemesath pivoted again, adding Knutson to the team and changing the name to GolfRz last fall, when both took the “leap of faith” to leave their jobs and work on the startup full-time.

In the current model, golf courses would pay an upfront fee to launch their app in both the App Store and Google Play, and then a monthly service fee for the menu of features that GolfRz offers, like the ability to send push notifications to local golfers.

“The rewards system is still part of what we do, it’s in every app that we launch,” Hemesath said. “It’s still at the core of what we do, is providing rewards to golfers, but it’s dedicated inside of a specific app for each course that we launch.”

Two courses will be launching their apps soon, and the co-founders said 25 more have signed up to be in the next group of releases. They hope to have 50 to 75 apps live by the time they graduate from the Iowa Startup Accelerator on August 5.

Although the business has already evolved several times and has a product ready to launch, the co-founders still believe they can learn a lot from the ISA’s 95 days of intense programming.

They plan to focus on refining their sales model, raising private investment dollars and adding tech skills to the team, by hiring either technologists or a strong project manager for the outsourced tech team they’ve used so far.

“It’s a good stage,” Knutson said. “We do have a lot figured out, but the next steps we take will define our business.”

One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort – find the rest here.