Skillest – A Lesson On How To Build A Startup When Your First Quote Comes Back at $250k

Please introduce yourself (any co-founders) and your startup?

My name is Baden Schaff, my Co-Founder is Alan Gao and our start up is Skillest.

At its core Skillest is a platform that allows coaches to analyse video footage of an athlete and give detailed feedback on technical improvements required. More broadly, we are empowering coaches to take their business online and making elite coaching available at the click of a button.

I am a PGA Golf instructor and I have long been frustrated with the limitations of my business. I am restricted to teaching students in my localised geographic area, I can only teach in daylight hours and I’m only busy if the weather permits.

I have also found that social media has failed coaches as they give huge amounts of instructional content away for little to no return, and building interactive websites is expensive.

Similarly there are many limitations from the student’s point of view. They are restricted to coaches who live nearby, if there is one at all. They are often time poor and cant always attend a face-to-face session. A 1-hour session with a PGA can be upward of $130 and therefore cost prohibitive, especially if you want ongoing tuition. We also want to end the “self diagnosis’ epidemic.

Far too often students resort to YouTube for guidance, unfortunately they have no idea if the instructions are relevant to them or if they are executing them correctly.

Skillest resolves all of these problems. We allow coaches to create profiles that can be viewed by students from across the globe and with a couple of clicks can be uploading footage of themselves to their chosen coach.

How did you go from idea, to MVP and launch?

With all of my frustrations bubbling away inside I became excited when I began teaching Alan. I soon discovered that he was a programmer who loved his golf. He too had frustration at his lack of coaching options and because he lived in Australia no access to the best coaches in the US and Europe.

We set out to build our MVP. We spoke to a number of App development companies about building the platform but we were soon demoralised when we were given our first quotes. Being a Golf Pro with no experience in the area, I had no idea how expensive this process would be.

After being told it would cost a minimum of $250,000 to build what we needed I thought our vision would never be realised. This number frightened one of our original co-founders so much that he immediately dropped out of the project. I thought it was over even before it had started. Fortunately Alan had other ideas, “I will build it” he told me and it was from that moment that a relentless iteration process begun.

With years in the golf industry I knew what Skillest needed to do and with Alan’s experience he knew how to build it. For about 12 months Alan would stay up to 4 in the morning coding the latest version of the app, he would upload a build to TestFight and I would spend the next day trying to break it at work.

I would give him a report on what needed to be fixed and what other features were required, he would stay up til 4am, upload a new build and the whole process would start again. I also had many of my fellow coaches using Skillest and their feedback was invaluable to the process of building our MVP.

Once we had a really stable product we decided to launch at the 2017 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando Florida. We want Skillest to be a global authority on instruction and we knew that the US would be a huge market. We already had some momentum going into the launch with the support of a few social media influencers, but the reaction we had was amazing.

It quickly became apparent that we had found a gap in the market and we had over 150 coach sign ups in 3 days.

There was a groundswell on social media, specifically instagram, and we were watching it happen in real time on our phones.

Since our launch in January we have connected students and coaches across the world and Skillest is being used all over Europe, The US, the Middle East and Asia. We have made elite coaching available to anyone around the world and we are growing businesses of coaches globally.

What challenges did you face during this period and how did you overcome them?

There are just so many challenges that you face during the early stages. For us, money was always a big problem as we did not raise any capital before we started. As I previously mentioned we initial sourced quotes from app developers and Alan was going to oversee the build.

Our initial quote for the design of the app, no code, was $30,000 and subsequently lead to us losing a co-founder as he could not commit such a large sum. Alan however decided to build the majority of the platform and we outsourced some of the more complex components.

This actually played into our hands as it allowed us to gradually build the platform with an intensive iteration process. If we had payed upfront to a developer for the design and build we would have little room to move.

Skillest evolved everyday for 12 months. I would use it all day at work, find the bugs, request new features, get feedback from fellow pros and Alan would iterate. This flexibility meant that Skillest was constantly improving and we could use our money sparingly and only when it was required.

So it was our lack of money that actually encouraged a versatile and rapid iteration process. A blessing in disguise no doubt.

During this journey to build and launch your startup what is one thing you look back on with a sense of achievement?

I’m incredibly proud of the way Alan and I have worked together and communicated through the whole process. Alan was born in Shenzhen and I was born in Melbourne and despite our cultural differences we have kept an open line of communication at all times. Our vision has been incredibly closely aligned and we have confronted all of our challenges in measured and considered ways.

Beyond that, I’m incredibly proud that 2 guys based in Melbourne have created a product that is being used across the globe. We are realising our dream of breaking down geographical barriers and enabling coaches to take their businesses online. We are also having an influence on the language and the attitudes towards learning golf online.

Coaches from across the globe are now offering “online- lessons” as a part of their business. With our influence there is a behavioural change occurring and we believe that we are only at the beginning of the revolution. In the future we imagine that every coach will offer a component of online learning and that some students will never have an “in-person” lesson, all of their learning will be done through Skillest. Our job is to accelerate that move to online learning.

We are also very proud of the value that Skillest adds to our users. From a coaching perspective we are already growing incomes and opening up their markets. We have examples of coaches who are adding 10’s of thousands to their yearly income and this will only continue to grow. This is revenue that they would otherwise not have made.

Offer us one insight, tip, marketing strategy or growth hack that has worked really well for you and your startup?

Fundamentally we are a marketplace and consequently faced the chicken and the egg conundrum. How do we attract coaches without students and how do we attract students with out coaches.

We attacked this problem in 2 different ways.

Firstly we made Skillest into a tool that coaches would use everyday with their current students for “in person” lessons. We knew that if we made a teaching platform that coaches added their current students to it would slowly grow our user base. We also knew that if we added value to coaches day to day then they would stay constantly engaged with Skillest.

We then used social media for a piggyback. As I have previously said social media has failed coaches to this point. They upload huge amounts of content to YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter in the hope that someone will come for a lesson.

For coaches that have huge social follwings, Skillest is a game changer. Our platform allows coaches to instantly analyse their followers. We have taken their market size and expanded it from those that live near by to the entire planet.

How is your startup going and what do you aim to achieve in the next 3, 6, 12 months?

After launching in January we have started to gain some momentum and are up around 450 coaching profiles and closing in on 10,000 users. We are currently raising our first round of capital almost 2 years into the project. It’s fair to say that we have been a “lean startup” to this point.

We are about to release the web-based version of Skillest which will make the platform easily accessible even if you don’t have the app. We also want to have the android version completed with the next 6 months.

We are slowly assembling an army of coaches from across the globe. They are all generally willing to create instructional content and they want to contribute this to our platform. This puts us in an incredibly strong position within the world of instruction. We believe that by the end of 2018 we can have a million downloads of Skillest and we will become THE best platform for coaches to teach online and for students to have an informed decision on who teaches them.

Skillest also wants to tell the story of golf coaching. We believe that the average golf student is incredibly confused by the many and varied coaching styles and philosophies. We see it as our responsibility to help students make an informed decision by providing them with a platform that separates and clarifies these philosphies. Thus becoming THE authority on coaching globally within 2 years.

By the end of 2018 we will potentially looking into other sports and skills as we see huge potential in Cricket, Swimming, Tennis and many more.


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