True inspiration can come any time, anywhere. Sometimes the innovation is purely accidental, like vulcanized rubber, the microwave oven or Viagra. Other times, as with Batu Okur and the Rapsodo MLM launch monitor, the innovation is purpose-driven to solve a specific problem.
The Rapsodo Mobile Launch Monitor (MLM for short) was Best Outdoor Launch Monitor in 2019. And as we prepare for the 2020 Personal Launch Monitor Buyer’s Guide, we’d like to give you a deep dive into last year’s top performers. Last week, we looked at the Sky Caddie SkyTrak, and this week it’s the Rapsodo MLM.
And, as we’ll learn, you won’t need Ancestry.com to find their shared DNA. So, without further ado and with apologies to Messrs Mercury and May, let’s get this Rapsodo Rhapsody on the road.
The Rapsodo MLM: Is This The Real Life?
According to Merriam-Webster, a rhapsody can be “an effusively rapturous or extravagant discourse or musical composition of irregular form with an improvisatory character.”
And according to company founder Batu Okur, Rapsodo means ….
“It’s a funny story,” Okur says. “When I was in college, the internet was just starting and I bought up a bunch of random domain names. I sold some over the years and made a lot of money but I kept a few in case I ever wanted my own business. So, when I started the company, I showed my list to one of my investors and asked, ‘Which one do you like?’ He chose Rapsodo.”
Okur’s background is both a mixed bag and a perfect storm. Born in Turkey into a family of entrepreneurs, Okur holds an engineering degree and an MBA and was VP of marketing for a semiconductor company. Ten years ago, all of it came crashing together on a driving range.
“I have an eye condition. I can’t recognize things in 3D,” he says. “When I hit a golf ball, it’s impossible for me to see where it’s going. I was trying to get better and I said, ‘Screw this, let me buy a device.’”
Okur looked at TrackMan and GC2 but choked on the price.
“It was ridiculous. There’s nothing here that should cost that much. That’s how the idea started – it was an inability to see.”
That translated to a business idea which ultimately translated into Rapsodo.
“You see the business need,” says Okur. “Then the engineering mindset says, ‘Hey, you could probably build this for a few hundred dollars.’ Then you put two and two together and you have a business.”
Little High, Little Low
Rapsodo may very well be the largest launch monitor company in the world. That’s in no small part to Rapsodo’s first successful product: SkyTrak.
Yes, that SkyTrak.
“It’s the first product I ever designed,” says Okur. “We ran out of money and those guys [Sky Golf] showed up and we licensed the distribution rights. They write their own software but we own the I.P. [intellectual property]. If you open the unit up, everything inside says Rapsodo.”
By 2019, however, Rapsodo was ready to launch its own branded product, the MLM. It’s an outdoor-only product (for now) so it doesn’t overlap with SkyTrak. But for $500, it gives you a crazy amount of data.
“If you look at everything we do, there’s always a component of doing things as efficiently as possible,” says Rapsodo General Manager Art Chou. “You want accuracy but you also want efficiency so the components don’t cost very much.”
The Rapsodo MLM launch monitor uses the relatively inexpensive camera in your phone along with its own relatively inexpensive radar to do its job. The two work together so, as soon as you hit the ball, both the radar and the camera are tracking it. From that, you get distance, ball speed, clubhead speed, smash factor, launch angle and launch direction. The camera also provides a shot tracer function and the phone’s GPS gives you a shot map. That way, you not only have a video of every swing but you can see where each shot landed on the range.
By comparison, SkyTrak is completely optical. It’s taking a side view of the first few feet of ball flight and then extrapolating the rest from there. The Rapsodo MLM launch monitor claims overall accuracy is within 2.5 percent of TrackMan but at 2.5 percent of the price.
Will You Do The Fandango?
Henry Ford once said if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said “faster horses.” For his part, Okur loves talking to customers but is perceptive enough to see the bigger picture.
“If customers say they want faster horses, what they really want is to go from one place to another much faster,” he says. “You have to ask what exactly the problem is they want solved.”
Golfers know they want tools to help them get better but they may not be able to visualize it or conceptualize it.
“We work with tech experts and average golfers who love the game and want to improve. We listen to both and try to combine the two and offer it in a way that would be easy to use and understand.”
What that means is, yeah, data is cool but to get better, a golfer has to use that data effectively.
“That’s why we’re launching Coach Connect as part of the MLM app,” says Chou. “It’s a way for you to send MLM videos back and forth with your pro. The pro can see your shot data, they see the swings. They can mark up the video, do voice-overs, type in notes and send it back to you with a drill. And then they can see the results of the drill.”
Mike Malaska, the 2011 PGA of America Instructor of the Year, was an early MLM adopter.
“He has guys who spend thousands to work with him for a couple of days and then they fly home,” says Chou. “Then maybe nine months later, they’d come back and he’d have no idea what they’ve been working on. He got it right away.”
Thunderbolt and Lightning
Before MLM (and after SkyTrak), Rapsodo made its bones on the baseball diamond. All 30 Major League Baseball teams use Rapsodo’s pitching and hitting products as do nearly all NCAA Division 1 baseball programs. And it was baseball that helped Okur find Rapsodo’s corporate ethos.
“Before the baseball product, there was no grand plan or a grand vision. But we started to see the 16-year-old kid using our device and a whole new world opens up for him. He changes his grip and he gets better.”
Rapsodo’s hitting and pitching products provide high-speed video along with spin, velocity and other metrics. And, as with golf, the value lies in tying the cause to the effect.
“If you’re a pitcher and want more break on your curve ball, it could be a difficult trial and error process,” says Chou. “Now with our baseball unit, you throw the pitch and in about five seconds you get a high-speed video of the ball leaving the pitcher’s hand. We can tell you exactly where his fingers are, the rotational axis of the ball, how many RPMs.”
That improvement, from the majors all the way down to your high school’s JV team, focused the company on its true purpose. The point isn’t to make a toy. It’s to make a tool to help you get better.
“I don’t look at Rapsodo as a company making launch monitors,” says Okur. “Rapsodo makes tools that help you reach your full potential. If you’re a golfer, we can give you a tool to help you get better. If you’re a baseball player and want to get drafted or get a college scholarship or just make the team, we can give you tools to help you reach your full potential.
“I think that’s why we exist.”
MLM, Figaro Magnifico
How much further can the Rapsodo MLM launch monitor go? According to Chou and Okur, a bunch.
“It’s definitely going to get less expensive,” says Chou. “You’re going to get more power out of simpler equipment and we’re working on the biomechanics side. That goes back to the cause and effect thing.”
For most golfers, the thing we crave is consistency. We know what our best swings produce, so we don’t need to improve those, per se. We just need to be able to repeat those swings more often.
“In the very near future, we’ll be able to tell your basic issues in transition or your shoulder angle at the top or your wrist cock is different or you started with your hip here, those sorts of things,” says Chou. “We’ll be able to pinpoint – almost like a red light, green light – the basic issues each of us have between our good shots and bad shots and be able to show them on video.”
In the short term, there are some basic upgrades coming to the Rapsodo MLM. Any day now, you’ll see an app upgrade that makes the MLM net-capable so it won’t just be an outdoor driving range unit.
“It gives you everything but shot tracer,” says Chou. “You’re only seeing about six to eight feet of ball flight so the shot trace isn’t really doable.”
And, as mentioned, Rapsodo hopes the MLM will be Android compatible by the end of the year. In fact, the MLM app has been updated at least 12 times in the year it’s been out.
“One of our main strengths is speed,” says Chou. “We make decisions quickly and we’re fast to market. So at least once a month, we have something new.”
Look Up To The Skies…
Complacency is a company-killer. Just ask Polaroid.
The key to avoiding complacency is to constantly ask one simple question: What business am I in? The baseball experience showed Okur his business goes well beyond just designing electronics and delivering data.
“It started out selling electric boxes but it evolved. I’m glad it evolved,” he says. “And I get real pleasure when one of our customers says, ‘Hey, man, thanks to MLM I was able to shave two strokes off my handicap.’
“At that point, we have achieved. I want to make money; don’t get me wrong. But at the end of the day, when I hear that, I really do feel proud and feel like we exist for something great and beautiful.”
Yeah, it’s corny, but even a seasoned cynic can identify sincerity and passion when he sees them.
“We have 17 different nationalities in our company,” he says. “You talk to every single one of them and they get it. They all get it. They’ll say, ‘I’m building something that will help somebody else get better.’
“That’s a really powerful message. It helps me grow the business. It helps me push the agenda. And it makes me very proud.”
For more information, visit Rapsodo.com
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