Fore! Startup Deemples is the innovation golfers need
By Tan Jee Yee June 24, 2019
- Serves as a solution to the problem of finding golf partners and setting up games
- Future plans are to help golf courses solidify payment and help the industry
LIKE most startups, Deemples is the product of one person’s frustration. That person is David Wong (pic, above), and the frustration is with the problem of playing golf.
See, playing golf demands a lot. It demands money (booking golf courses don’t come as cheaply as, say, a futsal court), and it demands time (a game can last four to five hours). Mostly, it needs people – committed people who would be able to make that time and have the money to play.
It’s people that proved to be the challenge for Wong. He plays weekly, and has been doing so since he was 25. With friends falling out of the game, and with him moving to different countries for work, being able to play consistently has become harder than landing an eagle with a putter.
“Golf is very… structured,” he tells Digital News Asia. “Round up too little people and the golf course won’t let you play, and you need to be there at the specific time.” You can’t be matched with anybody randomly, either – golf courses would probably raise eyebrows if you asked.
Wong’s weekly routine included calls to friends to ask if they would be playing. He needed those confirmations early, too – approach the golf courses too late, and they may be booked out by the weekend.
His aggravation at its peak, Wong tried searching for a solution, but found nothing. He was going to have to solve this problem himself.
And thus, Deemples was born.
The hole in one solution
The concept of Deemples is simple enough. It’s an app that allows golfers to find a golf partner to play with. Users can organise games at preferred locations and time slots, and then invite their golfing friends to join in.
It isn’t just to facilitate setting up games with known friends, but also to find other people to play with. Through the app, users can just as easily organise a game at a particular time and place and wait for other Deemples users to express their interest.
It’s inherently like an online multiplayer game server list – you get to see the games that are being organised and you join the one that suits you, or merely create one yourself. Each game lists the amount of players required, the location, time and even the handicap of the players and organisers, so users can pick a game that better suit their skill level.
Players aren’t the only one benefitting from Deemples. Golf courses can organise their own games and tournaments on the app for players to join. Wong, who is Deemple’s founder and CEO, adds that golf coaches can create their own games to provide either free clinics or paid classes on both the courses and driving ranges.
On a wider perspective, Wong hopes that this can benefit the entire game in the long run. The sport is currently standing on uncertain, uneven grounds – some note that it’s in decline, while the recent 2019 Golf Industry Report by the National Golf Foundation in the US offers more modestly optimistic views.
“What are people doing to save it (golf)?” Wong says. He says that golf’s two major challenges are money and people. While he can’t make the game more accessible financially, Wong – with Deemples – can solve the issue with people.
The app seems to have found its stride right off the first swing. Since its 2017 inception, Deemples has a market across five Southeast Asian countries, namely Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines. As of now, it has over 3,000 monthly users and over 10,000 rounds of golf played over two years.
It has also recently closed a fundraising round at US$105,000 (RM405,085), bringing its total funds raised so far to around US$270,000 (RM1.1 million).
The journey there hasn’t exactly been a caddy ride. Deemples was conceptualised over several years, with Wong first drawing up the idea when he was based in Shanghai. He had tried approaching friends in app development, but didn’t get a bite.
“I persisted, because this is a problem I want to solve. I want to be able to play golf the way I want,” he says. “There’s no point in me making all the money in the world if I cannot do the things I love.”
He landed the putt when he sat down with several high school friends who are in software development and pitched his idea. Merely expecting them to point him to the right direction, Wong was surprised that they wanted in.
Eight months later, the app was launched. At this point, Wong was based in Singapore, and had to choose between his job and making Deemples his full-time endeavour. He chose the latter, despite wading into uncertain waters.
“We’re not sure if it will work – after all, we basically built this app for myself,” Wong tells. “We told ourselves that if the app reaches 1,000 downloads in Malaysia and 500 downloads in Singapore, then we have something.”
And they did have something. After three months, the app has gotten 2,500 downloads, and the team started receiving emails thanking them for the platform.
Down the course
Deemple’s modest team consists of Wong and four other people handling development, design, content and marketing.
It’s a learning process for them. Wong says their challenges revolve around deciding which features to build or discard, as well as how to reach out to more players. He does, however, say that the Malaysian ecosystem has allowed him and Deemples to find their footing.
“I like it here. Cost wise, it’s lower, and there are more golf courses here,” he says. “Talent can be brought in from anywhere. Is it best to have everybody from here? Of course. But I think these shouldn’t be a factor for me.
“As for political and economic conditions… if I had cared about that, I wouldn’t even be able to get this started. Those are external things that I can’t control. I just focus on what I can control, and it’s basically stuff that can help me play golf,” he elaborates with a chuckle.
With the recent round of funding, Wong says that they have two main objectives down the line. The first is to solidify their current markets (there are no plans of expansion yet, but it’s certainly in the future, just not so immediate).
Most importantly, Wong says that they need to prove monetisation. The app is currently free to use – Wong notes that this is the plan from the beginning. Their monetisation model, he explains, would be through helping golf clubs accept payment upfront.
“Nobody has done that before, but I think that is a pain point for both the golf clubs and golfers.”
At the moment, golf clubs and courses typically take down bookings. But if the players don’t show up, no payment would be made. Deemples hopes it can help solidify payments for the clubs.
This helps golfers as well. As Deemples facilitates games between strangers, it’s not exactly easy to guarantee everyone’s attendance during game day. Requiring players to pay first can incentivise attendance and add security to the remaining golfers that wish to play.
Wong says that this isn’t the only monetisation model they’re looking at, but it will be the primary one. The rest, he says, will come in time.
The ultimate goal for Deemples, even though Wong doesn’t know how to get there, is to allow players to set up and join games no matter where they are in the world. “I want to be able to go to Brazil and find a game there. Or, on a business trip to the US, set up a game for the weekend.
“I hope it can be used to play with other people in other countries easily. That way we can meet new people, make new connections. Golf is a universal game, and I want to be able to play wherever and whenever I want to.”