Founder Friday: Bret Blakely & Steve Coulton, OnCore Golf

Whether you’re an avid golfer, stick to the driving range, or just watch the PGA Tour on TV, we all know the importance of keeping the ball on the fairway. After all, if you’re stuck in the rough between a bunch of trees, the chances of you making par, let alone below par, are pretty slim.

OnCore Golf is on a mission to improve everyone’s golf game, from the pros down to the folks hitting up their local course for a business outing. They invented the Caliber golf ball, which has a hollow metal core technology, and most recently the ELIXR, which has perimeter weighting to send the ball farther.

They already have several PGA Tour golfers using their products, and more are expected to make the switch to OnCore next season. But this unprecedented technology is also available to the everyday golfer, and you may have seen their displays in Wegmans stores and the pro shops at local golf courses.

In this week’s Founder Friday, we talk with the founders of OnCore Golf, Bret Blakely and Steve Coulton, about their journey to developing the hollow metal core technology and jumping the hurdles thrown at them by the USGA.

How did your startup, well, start up?

Bret: OnCore Golf started as a result of Steve and I wanting to take charge of our own destiny when the job market tanked. We were friends in NYC and both lost our jobs the same week, so we decided we wanted to try and create something special. Steve worked in finance and I worked for an international advertising agency when they made massive cuts, and we were left wondering what to do next. The engineer who invented the hollow core technology worked for my father, which is how I knew about this crazy invention. The invention was not a “ready for market” product at that point, and was never going to be much more than an idea unless someone brought it to market.

Steve and I spent 6 months and about 4 hours a day at the Small Business Association in lower Manhattan learning about how to start a business, write a business plan, develop the by-laws (all the boring stuff), and then after that 6 months, we pitched the engineer Doug DuFaux and he was ecstatic with our thoughts on how to bring this technology to market. It took a few years from that point to optimize the technology and really get the ball rolling (pun intended), but we needed to make sure if we were going to try and penetrate an otherwise impenetrable industry, we better be bringing something special. In 2011 is when OnCore Golf officially kicked off, and the rest is history in the making.

Steve: We saw an awesome technology in the hollow metal core golf ball that needed a shot of adrenaline, mainly marketing and sales help, and that is how we started in a nutshell. Passion and drive; very long drives!

What do you do? Your startup?

Bret: OnCore Golf is a golf ball technology company with the innovation, attitude, edge, and lifestyle component that is sorely missing in golf. We consider ourselves the anti-establishment, and focus on growing the game through the most innovative and high performance golf balls on the market – while at the same time daring to be different and being an inclusive company that believes in leveraging our differences and diversity which make us all unique. Originality cannot be replicated, and with our golf balls and our branding and marketing, we make sure we are original with it all.

In 2013, the company fought the USGA over the introduction and acceptance of a hollow metal core golf ball – ultimately resulting in the USGA rewriting the Rules of Golf  for only the 2nd time in the past 100 years with respect to allowable golf ball construction. With the highest rifle spin of any ball on the market, that ball – the Caliber – is for golfers who struggle to keep the ball in the fairway. A year later, OnCore developed a proprietary polymer core material which they call SoftCell, and introduced the world’s longest and straightest two piece, low compression, and highly affordable ball.

And earlier this year, the company developed the ELIXR – a tour ball so hot, so fast, that they received a warning letter from their good friends at the USGA about its initial velocity and letting OnCore know that if it were any faster, it would be non-conforming. While the big behemoth golf ball companies brag about their tour balls being “ten years in development” or the result of tens of millions of dollars of research, OnCore has leapfrogged all of them with the ELIXR, which took them only 10 months, not 10 years, to develop. The ELIXR is the fastest, longest, straightest, most forgiving and durable ball ever, and you won’t find anything like it coming out of the competition.

Steve: I am the Head of Sales and manage our 32 sales squad members across the U.S. and multiple distributors abroad. I also drink a lot of iced coffees in the summer. We build amazing golf balls that help golfers of all skill levels have more fun.

When was the ‘aha’ moment for your startup when you realized this could actually work?

Bret: The battle and victory over the USGA was the big aha moment because we had done what the multi-billion dollar goliaths in the industry hadn’t been able to do. It was the first time we felt like we were officially in the golf ball industry. It is the story of David vs. Goliath, yet we use golf balls rather than rocks.

Steve: When Wegmans came knocking on our door asking if they could sell the balls in all 92 stores.

What tools can you not live without and why?

Bret: Passion, persistence, a thick skin, and an ability to step and think creatively outside the box. It has been crucial for us to not make decisions based on what the industry says, but rather what our gut instinct tells us. It has gotten us this far and we have no plans on changing that mentality. If we do, we will blend in with the rest and likely fade into the background.

Steve: My golf clubs! No explanation needed.

What was some important advice you received when starting up and who told it to you?

Bret: My father said to always do things the right way, and that there will be plenty of opportunities to take shortcuts, but the successes won’t be as sweet and will inevitably lead to failure.

Steve: I recently read John Waters’ book, “Make Trouble.” He had a line in the book that went something like this: “Go out in the world and [email protected]$% it up beautifully.” For some odd reason that really resonated.

What is the best part/worst part of your day as a founder?

Bret: The best part is knowing that every single day we are connecting with others and every day is a new opportunity. The worst part is having to deal with the 300 plus emails every morning.

Steve: Best part: Freedom to make my own schedule. Worst part: Wearing every hat can be overwhelming.

Goals for the next year? Three years?

Bret: With the launch of our first tour ball this past March, we have been getting professionals across all the major tours interested in using our ball for the next season. We already have a few that made the switch mid-season, and we will have plenty more coming into next year. I would love to see a major tour win happen in the next year. More importantly, we have really begun to hit that inflection point every company hopes for, so keeping that momentum and accelerating it even more is all we can ask.

In 3 years, I hope to be doing what we are doing today, but on an even bigger scale. We have several game-changing innovations that are planned over the next 3 years that I think we have a real opportunity to not just be a major player in the industry, but to be known as the true innovators from core to cover.

Steve: The goal for the next year is more OnCore-driven events that tie in our growing fan base. For the next three years? Lots of international domination.

Why Buffalo?

Bret: Buffalo is my hometown and has shaped a lot of the mentality and approach we have built into the bloodstream of OnCore. The sense of community that Buffalo is known for is what we are trying to create with our audience. We want everyone to feel that Buffalove, and no better place for us than right here.

Steve: Why not! Cool people who travel and play golf all over the world! Can’t beat the rent either.

How do you do it? What drives you?

Bret: I think the challenge of it all is what is so exciting for me. Everyone said that getting into the golf ball industry is impossible, yet here we are making massive waves and continuously doing the unthinkable. That daily challenge is what drives me. It is also incredibly rewarding to see people respond to OnCore and our different approach with such enthusiasm and excitement because it is our vision; we haven’t taken the “safe” road and it is exactly what people have responded to.

Steve: Being innovators is fun and keeps you always looking forward…the future is very bright for OnCore. Now go tee it up!