General Manager of North America
Interview with Matt Ward
THE CHOU STORY —
Art Chou is the GM–North America for Rapsodo – a sports analytics company that uses computer vision and machine learning to help athletes maximize their performance. He has been in the sports technology industry for over thirty years with companies like Titleist, Golf Digest, Rawlings, Pixl Golf, and Stadia Ventures. Art holds degrees in engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University and helped launch the Rawlings Sport Business Management program at Maryville University (St. Louis), where he now teaches classes in Sports Entrepreneurship.
THE RAPSODO STORY —
Rapsodo’s founder, Batuhan Okur, is an engineer with senior management experience in the electronics industry. Batu is an avid golfer, but at the driving range, would have trouble tracking where his shots were going. The only devices available to help him solve his problem were extremely expensive. So, in true engineering fashion, he began applying his technical experience to develop a cost-effective monitor that accurately tracked his shots; in 2014, the SkyTrak golf launch monitor was introduced.
Batu successfully launched the SkyTrak launch monitor and began to look for other applications for his ball tracking technology, leading him to develop technology to monitor pitched and batted baseballs. The result was an institutional-grade device that combines radar and computer vision (camera) technology to accurately measure velocity, spin, spin axis, spin efficiency, and break for pitched/batted balls. In true Rapsodo fashion, these monitors are a fraction of the price of competing technologies. The first monitors were shipped in 2017 and by spring training 2019 all 30 MLB teams were using Rapsodo tech to help their pitchers with their “pitch design”.
While Rapsodo baseball usage spreads to over 75% of all NCAA D1 programs, Batu continued to iterate on the radar/camera combination, this time utilizing the rapidly improving capabilities of the cameras in our cellphones. Batu is a golfer, not a baseball player, so he applied this new tech towards a device that tracks golf ball flight as accurately as the most expensive devices on the market. The down the line camera/phone location has the added benefit of including the player’s swing; the use of the mobile device has the added benefit of GPS location and satellite imaging. In August 2019, the Rapsodo Mobile Launch Monitor was introduced.
What was the genesis for Rapsodo?
Rapsodo’s founder, Batuhan Okur, is an engineer with senior management experience in the electronics industry. An avid golfer, Batu was having trouble tracking where his shots were going at the driving range. In 2011, he began applying his engineering experience to develop a cost-effective monitor that accurately tracked his shots; in 2014 the SkyTrak golf launch monitor was created. Since then Rapsodo has been using our computer vision technology to track millions of golf shots in addition to pitched and batted baseballs for all 30 MLB teams.
How does it distinguish itself versus your competitors?
Rapsodo’s intellectual property allows us to track balls in flight extremely accurately using relatively inexpensive hardware, creating the optimum combination of data accuracy and affordability. In addition, Rapsodo’s iPad and mobile phone user interfaces are recognized for the ability to transfer the right amount of data in an easy-to-understand format.
Rapsodo’s Mobile Launch Monitor (MLM) is the only device to use the power of your mobile device’s camera to immediately provide your swing with the corresponding shot tracer and shot data.
Who is Rapsodo’s customer?
Rapsodo’s customer is any golfer who benefits from seeing the full cause and effect of swing, shot trace, and shot data. This includes average golfers who want to practice more effectively, competitive golfers looking to track and fine tune their game, and teaching pros who want an easy way to provide remote lessons.
Suggested retail for the product is what?
From a branding / marketing perspective what is the rough percentages for your efforts via green grass shops, brick and mortar outlets and online sales?
65% online, 25% green grass and 10% brick and mortar.
Can there ever be a situation where too much information leads to paralysis by analysis?
Absolutely! We firmly believe that data for data’s sake is worse than no data at all; it leads to confusion and turns people away from the effective use of data. Data must be easily understood; and actionable. A good program explains what the data means and tells the player what to do with it.
Data collection is clearly a tool for golfers to consider– but is there then a disconnect in terms of how that information is analyzed to use it more effectively and improve one’s overall performance?
Sports are experiencing a data revolution, primarily due to new technology making high end data acquisition techniques relatively affordable. The data itself is becoming ubiquitous; the next major advances focus on making this data easily actionable.
This is why Rapsodo’s MLM tracks data like club gapping — how far you hit each club — and GPS shot tracking — so you can tell where every shot lands. This is also the genesis for the new Combine and Coach Connect features. Combine will allow all golfers to assess the current state of their game and identify strengths and weaknesses. If you want to work on your weaknesses, Coach Connect allows you to get remote lessons from any pro in the world including tips and drills. MLM helps you apply the data to improve your game.
How do you see Rapsodo evolving in the near term?
Rapsodo will continue to iterate on the MLM technology; continuing to provide even more useful data in a cost-effective, portable package. We will also focus on helping golfers use this data to improve; Coach Connect in particular will be a focal point for our tech and attention.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
Devote more resources and energy towards non-18 hole facilities that encourage walking. Less time, more accessibility, more exercise.
Biggest challenges facing Rapsodo — short and long term — is what?
As a relatively new brand/company in the golf industry we need to work to earn the customer’s trust in our equipment, technology, and service.
Long term, as a tech company we need to be uncompromisingly fast in our ability to introduce new tech. We will only be as good as our ability to sense where the next 3-5 years are going — then execute accordingly.