Puttr making way to market thanks to bootstrapping, crowdfunding

When Matt Allard was met with disappointment over a putting mat ordered online, he didn't look for another, he decided to build his own — Puttr, a gamified training aid

Puttr features a 12-by-2-feet mat that tilts and can track data via Bluetooth.

Putting mats usually suffer from three problems.

One, they’re too rough or the surface is too slow or too small to resemble putting on a real green. Two, they take up too much space and are difficult to store. Three, they’re not much fun.

Matt Allard encountered the latter when he ordered a mat online so he and his 3-year-old son, Faro, who practices hitting balls in the yard most mornings, could embrace putting, too. The mat arrived and so did the disappointment.

“We hit a few putts and we were bored,” Allard said. “I thought, there’s got to be a way to gamify this.”

From this frustration was born Puttr, Allard’s putting mat that rolls up into a classy portable aluminum-sided case with a handle to make it portable. It also has technology inside the box to make it, Allard hopes, like Peloton for putting.

He is based in Los Angeles, has a computer science background. He also was a walk-on who played for George Washington University’s golf team.

His wife Sage was the inspiration for the roll-up box. “She is an interior designer,” he said. “The look she gave me when I had a putting mat laid out on the living-room floor required me to do something else. There was no good way to put it away and either way, it was an eyesore. The goal was to make it portable and look like a piece of furniture. With Puttr, you just roll it up like a yoga mat and put it into the box.”

Puttr is a mat that measures 12 feet long and 2 feet wide, but has a twist — several actually.

The ramp to the hole tilts, so players can practice putts that break right-to-left or left-to-right. The mat has sensors, a camera and connects via Bluetooth to an app so players can compare their stats to friends — or even tour players — and compete against other users in live tournaments the way at-home Peloton bikers do.

Allard has been a Peloton guy for years.

“Mostly because of the stats and the leaderboard and competing with my friends,” he said. “I also follow Rory McIlroy. I get a push alert whenever Rory does a workout and I compete against him.”

Allard resigned from his job at a mobile app company that worked with hotels and casinos, learned CAD (Computer-Aided Design) and eventually created some prototypes, physically building the first ones himself. He found a manufacturer in Shanghai last September to make the final product, a boxed putting mat, which is called Puttr.

It's a brave new world on the Internet. Puttr is up and running, sort of — it won’t be available until April — because of crowdfunding. That’s the innovative way Allard chose to finance his venture.

“I’m really a bootstrapper,” he said. “I did all this myself. The company hasn’t brought in a lot of capital. Crowdfunding made sense. It’s also a litmus test to see whether, as cool as I think Puttr is, will people really buy one? That was yet to be seen until we started the campaign.”

Allard recorded a five-minute video as a sales pitch. It won first place in the Crowdfunded Summit Pitch Competition

Puttr's retail price will be $599, but buyers who commit at IndieGoGo.com get it for a discounted price of $449. Basically, Allard pre-sold Puttr models to customers to pay his production costs for an item that won’t be available until April.

The crowdfunding has been a huge success. At last look, Puttr passed $104,000 in pre-sales, far more than Allard’s goal of $25,000.

“We went way above what I thought we would do,” he said. “So many people said, 'Wow, this is so cool,' but it’s another thing to put down $500.”

The standard business model would’ve required Allard to get a loan and take on a lot of debt or give away company equity to pay for the first round of product. “In China, you’ve got to order 1,000 of anything to get efficiencies of scale,” Allard said.

He read a book on crowdfunding and followed the playbook on how to do it successfully.

“We blew through our goal in the first hour of a 40-day campaign with very little marketing,” he said. “So now I’m on my way to paying for the initial inventory. Our $25,000 goal would pay for the tooling and we raised $65,000 the first day.

Crowdfunding sites are usually frequented by early-adopters, the people who are first to recognize new trends. Two of the big dogs are Kickstarter.com and IndieGoGo.com.

“IndieGoGo has 18 million users who are all early adopters and if you do well, they start promoting you, so it’s free marketing,” Allard said. “IndieGoGo seems to be more tech-focused. Kickstarter is more like board games, music, books and things like that.”

The selling and marketing of a product, Allard learned, is just as challenging as inventing it.

He looked at “about 100” carpet samples from China before settling on a mat with rubber backing that rolls at 11 or 12 on a Stimp-meter. “There’s nothing worse than practicing on slow greens,” he said. “You end up hitting the ball instead of stroking it.”

Inside the box is a microcomputer and wide-angle-lens camera that tracks the ball for the last 3 feet. As soon as the ball reaches the ramp, it registers with the computer, which tracks misses and makes and measures the speed of the putts. With refined practice, a player compiles more accurate data.that can diagnose trends.

Puttr is properly gamified, just as Allard wanted. The games include Cricket, the classic dart game where you have to close out each number; Horse, like in basketball, you call your shot, make a 7-footer left-to-right and your opponent has to make it or earn a letter; and Pop-a-Shot, a player gets 60 seconds to make as many putts as possible with each holed putt earning a point and three extra seconds. More games are in development.

Allard’s own golf highlights include getting a chance to play Cypress Point — “It lived up to all the hype,” he said — and seeing his dad make a hole-in-one during an outing at Manchester Country Club in Bedford, N.H., to win a Mazda Miata.

“That was my first car,” Allard said. “Dad wanted to sell it but mom and I worked on him. He was considered a professional for a year because he won that car.”

The current West Coast shipping gridlock shouldn’t impact Puttr’s arrival next April. Allard and his business partner are having them sent from China to Texas, not Long Beach.

Asked if he considered a product name a little less basic than Puttr, Allard said, “I just find PUTTR to be interesting,” he said. “It describes the club and the person using it.”

The name works. Crowdfunding said so.