When Roger Federer won his eighth Wimbledon trophy in the middle of July, he named his trophy Arthur after the 1908 Wimbledon winner Arthur Gore. Next year, whoever wins the coveted title might just name the trophy Qlipp.
Qlipp is the brainchild of Singaporean and former A*STAR computer engineer Dr Donny Soh. It’s a clip-on tennis wearable that improves your game by recording data such as stroke type, swing speed and ball spin. From there, you can discover the flaws in your game and take steps to rectify it.
The device has gained a massive fanbase in the tennis states of America, and is used by many aspiring professionals as well as weekend players. We speak to Dr Soh about Qlipp and how he managed to grow the device’s popularity across numerous oceans despite having only six people in the start-up and being based in Singapore.
What gave you the idea for Qlipp?
I have always been fascinated by technology and I was then working in *ASTAR on a project in sensors / virtual reality. I was taking tennis classes then and constantly frustrated with not being able to hit well. It was then that the this idea of having a performance sensor on my tennis racquet came.
What was the hardest obstacle you faced when producing or marketing Qlipp? How did you overcome it?
I think there are too many to count! But one of the key challenges was getting the brand out. The concept of brand building is still very new to me.
I continue to spend a lot of time reaching out to our target market segments and distributors, and keeping up with the ever changing landscape in the online world. Working with Google has expanded my understanding of digital marketing, learning from the success of other companies. You’ll learn there’s always another company that has encountered a similar challenge. We just have to try it out, see what provides the best results, iterate and repeat.
For instance, we initially used Google display advertising to drive traffic to our site but our targeting was done incorrectly on our first attempt and it took us a bit of fine-tuning to discover a target segment that responded well. Later, we realized that users might find it hard to understand our product from display ads and YouTube’s video advertising turned out to be much better in driving traffic to the website.
Over time, we found that doing display ads with video advertising works best if you time it with a local event or press release and sales conversions from Google remarketing can be achieved once you’ve laid the groundwork.
Where do you want Qlipp to head to in the next five years?
We are currently working on two aspects. Firstly, the team is building on the current product line to increase usage of Qlipp in the market. Secondly, we are also developing our next product line in sports / healthcare wearables and we are extremely excited about rolling this out.
How did your experience in A*STAR give you the lessons you needed to produce Qlipp?
A*STAR helped to build strong technical skills that were essential in producing QLIPP. However, the best technical product doesn’t always win. We’ve come to realize that other aspects like marketing, commercial and management skills play a big role in boosting the business.
Do you agree that the Singapore environment isn’t conducive for entrepreneurship?
On the contrary, I think Singapore has one of the best ecosystems for individuals who are looking to become entrepreneurs. With supportive government initiatives and a community open to ideas, starting your own firm is much easier.
The downside? Singapore has a small domestic market. This forces companies to think outside the box and break out of their comfort zones to reach a wider audience.
What advice do you have for other local entrepreneurs?
One of the key lessons I’ve learnt in the early days is focus, and specifically focusing on:
a. Finding the right market.
b. Planning the right product to cater to the right market
c. Building the right team to create the best product and address any problems in the market.
This is often an iterative process and teams would have to go through this process repeatedly.