UNB engineering grad Matthew Vance sees collecting golf balls as a grown man’s Easter egg hunt. Matt and his father, Kevin, built a unique machine that can haul in 70 balls a minute from a water hazard and sell what he likes to call “experienced balls” to Maritime businesses.
Matthew, now president and CEO of Fredericton-based Castaway Golf Technologies, incorporated the business in 2014. They developed an innovative solution that is more efficient and effective than existing practices for golf ball retrieval. By removing the balls from the ponds that they are polluting, they can provide golfers with a top quality ball at a 50 per cent discount.
Last year, Castaway Golf Technologies beat out 62 teams to capture a top place win and $287,250 in the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation’s 2015 Breakthru – a competition that uncovers new champions of innovation across the province of New Brunswick and gives them a chance to turn dreams into reality.
Matthew, a proud Maritimer, left home after school to pursue a great opportunity outside the Maritimes but came back to his homeland to pursue his passion. And he’s happy to be back, where he says the support has been unreal.
I started our entertaining chat by asking Matthew to tell me a little bit about Castaway Golf and where the idea came from.
A: The idea of retrieving golf balls came from my childhood passion for golf and sports. To help pay for my golf memberships I started collecting and selling used golf balls. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I started making quite a bit of money too.
Then we decided we were going to try to attack the golf balls that were in the ponds – there are many more of them in the pond than in the woods. I was a little bit timid about the idea.
So I sat down with my father, now a co-founder of the company, and we tinkered around in the garage until we had our initial prototype to retrieve golf balls from the pond.
Q: What was it that helped you take this concept from an idea to seeing a business opportunity?
A: I would say that the University of New Brunswick Technology, Management, and Entrepreneurship (TME) program, very specifically Dr. (Dhirendra) Shukla, were very inspirational at the early stages of the company.
Q: Up until then, had you thought of this as a business?
A: No. We were really challenged on potential markets. Turns out, there was a far higher acceptance rate than we’d ever anticipated.
Q: Really! Tell me a little bit about the growth from launching the idea to being a viable business.
A: Absolutely. So this past summer was our first year of operations as a company. Going into the summer, we had one customer locally. At the end of the season, we were in over 1,400 stores across North America. That was a real wow for us. It does show the potential growth of it.
Q: So what are you learning about the market?
A: The size, I guess. The size continues to grow and amaze us. We’re learning that there’s definitely a lot of export potential. It’s a lot of fun.
[Tweet “We’re learning that there’s definitely a lot of export potential. – Matthew Vance”]
Q: What’s been the most challenging part of the business for you?
A: I would say trying to find people that are just as passionate and quirky about golf balls as I am.
Q: What’s most challenging about this business?
A: One of the biggest challenges this summer, I guess, was trying to keep up with the growth – putting the bits and pieces together to make sure we’re able to sustain that growth.
Q: It’s great to tap into this big marketplace and that’s not an uncommon challenge – how do you keep up?
A: We really learned the importance of strategic relationships and partnerships. We’ve created relationships with organizations within the golf industry that are going to help us grow – which will help them grow as well.
[Tweet “We learned the importance of strategic relationships and partnerships. – Matthew Vance”]
We realized that it’s much easier and far more efficient to sit down and create strategic relationships. It’s about working smarter, not harder.
Q: What do you look for in a strategic partner?
A: An organization that has strong ties to the golf industry. These relationships will allow us to grow quicker and sustain that growth. These partnerships have really helped us grow quickly.
Q: How did you find these strategic partnerships?
A: Everything seems to happen for a reason. The partnerships came to us when we questioned what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. And how are we going to find people that have the same core values as us to work with? That’s a big thing for us, that the core values match.
[Tweet “That’s a big thing for us, that the core values match. – Matthew Vance”]
Q: What are your core values?
A: We’re passionate about golf. We’re passionate ab out youth, underprivileged youth sports, growing the game, growing the sport and what it’s meant to us as individuals, not just as a company. When we set those core values, the people that have those similar core values seem to come towards us.
Q: What was your initial plan to promote the business?
A: If you had of asked us a year ago what our plan was, how to get every golf course throughout Canada, we would have said, “We’re going to pick up the phone and we’re going to call every single one of them, create 1,300 relationships.”
Q: What’s it like being in business with your dad?
A: It’s great. After 25 years of living with Dad, I know more about him than ever now. He still continues to be amazing. I love working with him, man. When Kevin and I have a phone call about business, we keep it strictly business. We hang up the phone. I’ll call him right back and say,“Hey, Dad, how’s it going?” Being able to draw that line has been great.
Q: How would you finish the following sentence,“A leader’s job is …?”
A: A leader’s job is to inspire. Inspire, motivate. You ask tough questions. Working hard is the easiest answer to that. Being that support, being that backing, letting everybody know it’s a team. It’s not a me. It’s not an I. It’s a team. We have a clarity of vision and focus.
Q: Is there anything that surprised you about owning and running your own business?
A: How many freaking golf balls are in a pond! I finally got my answer to what it’s like down in that murky pond. And my motivation to create something to save me – or anyone – from diving back in that pond was higher than ever.
Q: Were you surprised by what you projected and what’s actually in the ponds?
A: Absolutely. It’s so much smarter to use the technology than to scuba dive in ponds.
[Tweet “It’s so much smarter to use the technology than to scuba dive in ponds.- Matthew Vance”]
Q: Does the golf course itself benefit from what you pull out of the pond?
A: Absolutely. It’s untapped revenue.
Q: Do you ever get reactions from the golfers on the course when you pull out so many golf balls from the ponds?
A: Oh yeah, I swear we must hear it 50 times a day,“Those are probably all mine,” our response being, “Oh, you must be Mr. Callaway or Mr. Titleist or Mr. Top Flite.” They get a kick out of that.
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