Keith Blakely is a serial entrepreneur who started his first company in 1981 at 24 years of age. He has spent his career leading the development and commercial launch of new technologies and products in areas as diverse as nuclear energy, nanotechnology, fuel cells, water purification, microelectronics, medical devices, software, and, more recently, golf balls. Blakely has spent the past six years as a venture investor and advisor to over twenty start-up companies and taken an active management role in several, including OnCore Golf.
THE BLAKELY STORY
My story is probably the furthest thing one could imagine for the Chairman and CEO of a company in the golf industry. First, I am a terrible golfer – despite the fact that I am a good athlete and was a very competitive gymnast in high school. I never have had the time to properly learn the game and practice it.
Second, my hobbies and leisure interests revolve around music, reading, theatre, and art. I’ve always been a bit of a “nerd” and loved science and mathematics from elementary school on through college.
My journey into golf started in 1976 when I started my first job as a researcher on a nuclear ceramics project at a Fortune 500 company. By 1981, I had decided to start my own advanced materials company – a venture that began with one other employee and twenty years later was a 350 person advanced technology company producing innovative products for GM, Motorola, Mitsubishi, Westinghouse, Exxon, and others and backed by one of the world’s largest venture capital companies. It was acquired by a $35 billion company in 2001 and I retired for six days.
The next gig was running a nanotechnology company that I started in 2002 and which ultimately hired an engineer who had patented the concept of a hollow metal core golf ball but had never built one. I decided to invest in that concept and after years of effort and millions of dollars, the concept became a reality and today is called the Caliber golf ball by OnCore.
That “success” demonstrated what taking an out-of-the box approach to ball design might do for performance and while we had to fight the USGA to permit the concept to be deemed “conforming”, it fueled the passion for advancing golf ball performance and golf experiences by merging advance material concepts with new technologies — like embedded electronics and GPS — to make golf more enjoyable for everyone.
You wake up in the morning – what’s the driving passion?
Helping aspiring entrepreneurs achieve success by active involvement and engagement with them, their customers, and their partners. I love helping to take great ideas and make them real products that impact our daily lives in a positive way.
What was the genesis for the OnCore golf balls?
The genesis for the OnCore balls was the result of three engineers pondering their lousy day at golf, determining that perimeter weighting the balls would cause them to go straighter, and designing a ball with a hollow core to do just that. The lead inventor worked for me and I was intrigued enough to finance the concept!
What distinguishes the product from your competition?
OnCore produces golf balls that deliver “best-in-class” performance for golfers of all skill levels. The integration of advanced materials technology and expertise with an out of the box approach to golf ball architecture and construction is unmatched.
Where can consumers purchase the product?
Online, in select pro shops, and specialty retailers.
Suggested retail price for a dozen balls is what?
OnCore balls range from an MSRP of $20 – 40 per dozen and at each price point, are intended to be the very best performing ball in their category – Price, Performance, or Premium.
How do you plan to market the product given the highly competitive golf ball landscape — especially from such heavyweights as Titleist, Callaway, and TaylorMade?
By constantly offering better and more innovative products and experiences.
Is having tour player usage of the product essential for brand validation?
Not essential but there is no question that the awareness of a brand and its validation is enhanced by PGA Tour use.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
Bifurcating the equipment rules for professionals and amateurs so that innovations could easily and quickly be integrated into the everyday golfer’s bag without creating performance levels that make current courses too easy for the pros.
The major golf organizations — USGA, R&A, PGA of America, PGA TOUR, LPGA — are all seeking ways to attract new players to the game. This is especially so for Millennials, women and minorities. If you were counseling them — what would you recommend.
I’d tell them to embrace the non-competitive aspect of golf and encourage things that make golf fun. For example, using smartphone apps to better understand and play a course, read a green, and locate a lost golf ball!
Best advice you ever received – what was it and who from?
My wife told me to “trust your own judgement; it’s the only way that you’ll grow from your mistakes and truly appreciate your successes.”
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