How’s your golf game? Would you like it to be better? There’s an app for that. UberSense announced today that they have raised $1.1 million and released a new version of their app.
UberSense co-founders Krishna Ramchandran and Amit Jardosh met in 2004 in the UC Santa Barbara Computer Science Ph.D program. Career paths took them to opposite coasts after graduation and years later they have taken on a big professional opportunity to collaborate building technology that changes the way people learn sports. The driving force behind their current collaboration started when Krishna started hitting the driving range three years ago.
“I started playing golf. I wanted to play like Tiger Woods. I quickly ran into a pretty serious problem…I really sucked.”
He began building his first app for personal use and Amit helped flush out some features. When they felt they had come up with something useful, they tossed it up on the Apple Store. Without any promotion or advertising, ‘SwingReader’ started climbing the ‘Top Paid Apps’ list. They knew they were on to something. Preliminary research revealed that there are 100 million kids and adults who, like Krishna, aspire to be better athletes. Those people spend $6 billion on sports coaching in the U.S. alone.
“All of these people face the same problems I did. It’s very hard to see what you’re doing wrong and it’s hard to fix what you cannot see. We solved this by combining video and collaboration in a mobile application. It’s like putting a personal coach in the palm of your hand.”
Users record their performance using a mobile device and the app uploads it to the UberSense global community. Then athletes give each other tips. Unlike traditional video, the slow motion playback and replay functions are smooth and don’t skip any frames. The system also provides the option to hire a professional (located anywhere in the world) to analyze your video. UberSense provides the tools for coaches to play back, stop the frame at precise moments, mark the video with drawings, record a voiceover audio, and press “send” to return the commentary back to the student as a new video.
Over time, the proceeds from app sales grew to the point that profits covered their rent. Then their profit increased enough to bring on one or two employees and pay founder salaries with enough zeros that ramen could be cut out of their diet entirely. Going through user videos, they stumbled onto Major League Baseball and Olympic teams using the software for training. Doing well on their own, Amit and Krishna still wanted to be better entrepreneurs just as they badly as they had wanted to become better athletes.
As their users gained a competitive edge by hiring a professional coach, they saw that Techstars could give their business a competitive advantage. They applied and were accepted for a spot in the Boston class for spring of 2012.
As soon as Techstars began, the power of mentorship kicked in, helping them understand the fundamentals and improve the business in concrete ways. There were a few big takeaways:
The first lesson was that a simple product was a better product. Mentors stressed that having a lot of features was not nearly as important as doing a few key things really, really well. Krishna and Amit cut bookmarking and tempo tracking, which were features being used by only 5% of users. With hundreds of thousands of users, 5% is a lot of people and the team got deluged with emails. After three weeks, users upset by the change were still active and the company had eliminated two high maintenance, low yield features.
Mentors Justin Siegel and Will Herman stressed the importance of integrating data collection into their processes. Coming into the program, Krishna says they didn’t understand what users were doing, beyond anecdotal feedback.“User acquisition was a hazy concept until we started building metrics into the development process.”
The information provided by the metrics was an eye opener. The range of activities to which users were applying the technology was broader than anticipated. With more than 20 sporting categories represented, the direction of the company shifted to building an inclusive platform. The data also told the story of how people were discovering UberSense apps through word of mouth and consistently high ratings in the Apple Store. Switching from passive growth to deliberate outreach was the next logical step. They put more focus on creating reputation badges and monetary incentive structures. The biggest lift was seen after upgrading social media sharing features. During the program, the aggregate number of videos uploaded increased by 66%, going from 3 million to 5 million.
When investors got wind of these numbers, the tables turned and many firms pitched for the opportunity to participate in their next funding round. Fred Destin of Atlas Venture talks about how he saw the Techstars coaching pay-off while negotiating his firm’s investment:
“What impresses us about Techstars companies is that they are more than ideas and output. Team, technology, and traction is a part of every one of these companies. UberSense is a great example of that. They keep raising more money but that’s because they have already built businesses that they are, to a certain extent, scaling. Techstars trains companies well on how to qualify investors. UberSense put us through the grinder – making sure we were aligned on strategy, on tactics, that they understood our seed strategy. We actually went through our whole portfolio with them and finally when every box was ticked, Krishna agreed to take our money.”
Looking back on the progress made in just three months, Krishna credits his team’s growth to the supportive environment in which mentors pushed them outside of their comfort zone.
“If an entrepreneur asks me if the Techstars program was worth it, I’m like…‘Are you kidding?’ Techstars cost us 6% of our equity but the value of our company increased many, many times over.” While the company net worth went up, Krishna’s golf handicap is down by 15 strokes.
Next stop: hole in one.