Growing a Business Selling Golf Simulators to $50k/month

The Story of 24/7 Golf

Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

My name is Igor, and I am the founder and owner of 24/7 Golf - an Australian startup in the virtual golf industry. I sell golf simulators for personal and commercial use and am the distributor for SkyTrak Golf in the region (Australia, New Zealand and surrounds).

When I was 6 years old, living back in the former communist USSR, I started my first business! At an isolated school beach camp in Sevastopol Crimea (Ukraine), I figured drinking water will be in high demand - and it was a booming success! Yet upon my return home, my parents were called into the Socialist Party Headquarters, and chastised for "raising such a BOURGEOISIE PIG!!!" and called for a stop to such travesties!

Fast forwarding to blissful life in “Capitalist Australia,” I started up in business again at 15 years of age - developing websites, databases and network engineering. Joining the DOT-COM revolution at 19, with wishlist.com.au, and after barely scraping through (while working full time!) Bachelor of Information Systems (UniMelb), at 20, I moved into Corporate eCommerce Consulting, and then headhunted by the software giant SAP.

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Working for someone did not last long - after 3 years, and working in Singapore, New Zealand, Indonesia and Japan, I started my own SAP consulting firm and from a humble $280,000 in 1st year revenue went to over $4,000,000 annualised after 4 years. But I also burnt out! After a small career break, I went back into consulting and also got addicted to golf.

That led me to investing into a virtual golf centre, then building a brand of unmanned virtual golf centres called 24/7 Golf! Having sold over 1.1m of golf simulators in the first iteration of the business called GolfTec Australia, I partnered with SkyTrak Golf from USA to use at my venues and also to resell. After 18 months of growth in sales I decided to switch to a fully online only e-commerce store … with Shopify! Once I did that, the online store grew and grew and keeps growing!

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Golf is something I only got into 8 or so years ago and have been obsessed with it since! Around that time I invested and operated an indoor virtual golf center in Melbourne, and after 5 years developed a concept similar to 24 hour gyms, but for golf - called 24/7 Golf. Members could sign up and play or practice virtual golf with no staff in an unmanned golf studio.

The business grew a little, and I kept selling golf simulators on the side.

Having partnered with SkyTrak Golf, the sales really took off. I always knew golf simulators would be a hit if the price was right. Originally I was selling them for $30,000 plus, and mostly to commercial ventures (like virtual golf bars) - but they actually didn’t do well at all and most closed down. Retail rents in Australian capital cities are crazy. In our Melbourne location, we were paying $360,000 per annum!

Being known in the industry - or what some people refer to a thought leader - is a huge help in driving leads in - they come to you for advice and from that they are usually happy to proceed with the products I sell vs competitors.

Funnily enough the most profitable part of the business was selling simulators - and in 5 years I sold over 1 million worth of simulators to other indoor centres. Unfortunately most - in fact all of them - went out of business since. The business model just didn’t work.

As the price of simulators started to come down from $50k to $25k then to $5k (my average sale now) it really became apparent that affordability will cannibalise the simulator business anyway so I decided to go into it - all in.

Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.

I did not design the “each product” that I sell - but I did combine them to make up a combination that was really affordable and easy to install for customers. With my old simulators, it was a huge job to install and it was so expensive!

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I combined the best parts from 7 years of sometimes painful and often expensive lessons to form a package - or set of packages - to turn that trend around. To set up my supply side, I just called each company and asked to be a reseller. With SkyTrak I asked to be the exclusive distributor and over months of negotiation … I got what I wanted! What I have learnt is that things must be easy for customers - easy to buy, easy to assemble, easy to manage going forward. Everything I do in my sales process is to try to make it all easy for potential customers.

The hardest thing was spending money on products that sometimes didn’t work out. In hindsight it’s easy to say “why did I spend $1000 on that!?” but as you go through the process it’s important to remember that each one of those “mistakes” is a learning investment. If you had perfect information, you would not be here… so don’t sweat it. Easier said than done when maxing out your credit cards!

Describe the process of launching the online store/business.

At first I created a simple website in Wix. It was pretty bad but did the trick… it was just an online brochure. People would need to call and I would talk to them. Since I was running the main business I did not really invest time or money into the online sales until 2018.

Then I decided to build a Shopify store (having done a few courses and having heard about it) - I found a template I liked, did an RFP on UpWork for people to build it and after a range of quotes from $2,000 to $15,000 I decided to hire a designer and a developer separately. It only took 3 or 4 weeks to go from zero to a full website and it’s pretty much has been the same since!

Although the website enables people to buy everything themselves, since it is a fairly large purchase, many customers want to talk to someone before buying. So the site is both a sales tool and a lead generation for offline closing tool. The key we find is customer experience must be top notch for both channels.

Now the website gets well over 1,000 visitors a month, which is small in comparison of the “internet” but it’s a great number for what I need the site to be at this point in time. If I had 10,000 visitors I would not be able to process everything and deliver a good experience. Growing super fast is not necessarily a great thing… it’s good to have “quiet weeks” to catch your breath and improve things. It’s very hard to work on improving the site or processes when you’re scrambling to fill orders.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Initially I didn’t think many people would go to the site. Organic Google search results started feeding visitors after 2 to 3 months.

How I got my name out there though was through a large Facebook group about golf in Australia (35,000 members) and the biggest golf simulator forum on the internet. I just started posting answers to questions and asking questions myself. It took about a year but then my name was known for “golf simulator” stuff. More and more would reach out to me. Then, when people started buying from me - I’d ask them to post on the forum saying they bought from me and to share their experience - hoping it was a good one! And they did… and then “word of keyboard” spread and spread. It took well over a year to really build a name. Then I started sponsoring events run by the Facebook group and now I am well known on it and get a lot of leads from there.

Learn from other people’s mistakes as much as you can. Seek out people who have been down the path you’re going and take them out to lunch and ask to share. They don’t need to be your “mentors” or “mastermind groups” … just need to listen to their stories.

However, 2 months ago I also started Google AdWords and Facebook Ads - and the visitors and sales have really picked up.

Being known in the industry - or what some people refer to a thought leader - is a huge help in driving leads in - they come to you for advice and from that they are usually happy to proceed with the products I sell vs competitors. I never really set out to be a “thought leader” and I don’t have a personal brand… until it happened naturally.

I’ve used forums since the days of dial up internet and BBS (bulletin board systems) and would talk to people online. This is really how you become known. Just by being vocal with useful information - not self promoting fluff. When you know what you’re talking about you can share your knowledge and people will appreciate it. For example I often refer to my competition in my posts about my own products and suggest people try out things because I am confident they will come back to me. And if they don’t… it’s not a big deal. When people see that I am so frank about the products in the market and my confidence in my product line inspires confidence in others… and then they become customers. I’ve never had to return a single simulator - so I have a bit of a track record here to give me confidence. It’s important to note on self reflection that I have always had the confidence - I did not wait for it to come to me.

One of the biggest conversion tools - one that has made me tens of thousands of dollars - is Raven Call Back button. I really want to give them a huge shout out!!! Conversion from that little button is something like 90% … it allows customers to request a call back and we are on it right away. Sometimes a sale is made minutes worth $5,000 or more just from that awesome little button! For high cost items I think it is a must have.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

The business has grown 50% month on month this year and I hope to keep it going that way! I am launching an event hire part of the business where people will be able to book a golf simulator for their party or corporate event and hoping to expand that to 22 cities/regions around Australia. It will be a great way for people to have fun but also try SkyTrak and may be buy one after that.

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I am also currently spending only $1,000 per month on AdWords, and I want to double that now that I can see results. I am trying to do Drop Shipping only, but as volume increases it’s getting harder to manage all suppliers to orchestrate all delivers. I may need to consolidate in one warehouse and then fulfill.

In addition, I have started partnering with other affiliates to sell SkyTraks (and fulfill events) to grow faster and give me more time to focus working on the business. I also have a great offshore team that manages things for me which I will need to expand to cater for growth.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I have made SO many mistakes. The key is to understand that the key is to minimize the risk and impact of mistakes, not to try to avoid them like the plague. You simply cannot. What I have learnt is that it’s important to understand the downside and make decisions that do not expose you financially in a big way. I didn’t do that at the beginning and it cost me hundreds of thousands… probably millions along the way. I think I am better at managing risk now and at decision making.

The most interesting thing is that my two most successful ventures I kinda … fell into them. 24/7 Golf being one of them. What helps is loving what I do so that working insane hours is not work… it’s fun!

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

For my shop itself I use:

For overall work I use:

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

So many… I read business biographies all the time. I find that the best lessons in business are in the stories of people who have “done it” - but some of the absolute best lessons are in business biographies of FAILED businesses. For example BooHoo.com was a major disaster that went through $500m or so of VC money. Great book if you can find it.

I am a big fan of Tim Ferris 4 hour series. And some classics like Think and Grow Rich. Another great book that is hard to find but brilliant read is No Cash, No Fear - I think many entrepreneurs will be able to relate to that book (even the title)!

In terms of skills I cannot recommend enough learning how to sell in the “real world” - I think it is the most important skill for any career, in a job or in business. I have devoured hundreds of books on sales. If you learn how to sell offline, you will be able to sell better online I think!

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Learn from other people’s mistakes as much as you can. Seek out people who have been down the path you’re going and take them out to lunch and ask to share. They don’t need to be your “mentors” or “mastermind groups” … just need to listen to their stories.

Make your own mistakes, pay for them, move on. If you want to avoid mistakes, work for a simple company and get a simple salary. Kill your ambition.

Read a lot, watch documentaries, feed your brain with ideas and inspiration. Interesting people have interesting stories, seek them out and enjoy them. Find a way to enjoy life no matter where you are in it - sometimes that will be really bloody hard - just get to the next day and then the next until it’s easier. Too many books talk about the good times and underplay how hard it can be. Many entrepreneurs go through depression, anxiety, lots of fear - but they find a way to deal with it - your skin will grow thicker as the years go by - I am certainly grateful mine has grown thicker.

Find a happy place. I have two… my family who I love more than anything I could have imagined, and golf. When I play golf, I escape from the world for 4 hours - find a happy place (hobby, movies, books … keep it legal! :-) ) and you will find it easier to work harder than you ever thought was possible.

Use nootropics!

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Looking to expand events business into USA after Australia, starting with Texas.

Where can we go to learn more?

24/7 Golf
https://www.youtube.com/247Golf

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