Calgary Herald Startup of the Week – TLink
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Wearable gadgets are all the rage these days and if you’re a golfer, you’ve probably come across GPS golf watches. These watches gained popularity as they make it convenient to simply look at your wrist to navigate the course and determine how far away you are from the green. However, the ones currently on the market are either too big and heavy, cost a lot of money or are not customizable.
This week we talked to Derek Rucki, Founder and CEO of TLink, a small, lightweight Bluetooth device that pairs with a GPS app on your smartphone to provide the same front, middle and back of the green yardages as the watch. Golfers have to simply connect their TLink to their phone via Bluetooth, open up the GPS app, select the course that they are playing and put their phone away for the round. Pressing the button on the device once displays the updated yardage information as well as the hole and par, and holding down the button switches to the next hole. Plus you have the option of wearing TLink on your wrist via interchangeable straps to suit your style or you can attach it anywhere else on your body.
For golfers who already use GPS golf apps on their phones, TLink will help solve the problem of battery life because you can now keep your phone screen off and don’t have to worry about unlocking the phone for a yardage every single shot.
Here’s more from our conversation with Derek, who’s also a former top-10 junior golfer in Canada.
How did you come up with the idea for your startup? Was there an “ah-ha” moment?
I’ve been a highly competitive golfer since a very young age and have travelled all over the world playing events, which has enabled me to recognize trends in the market much easier than your average golfer. I am also a bit of a tech nut and was able to see the trend of wearable tech expanding at a rapid pace. I was excited when the GPS watches hit the market; however, when I actually took a swing with one of the watches, it would cut into my wrist slightly at the top of my swing which is enough to throw off your concentration. For this reason many golfers do not play with watches on. This led to the thought of making something that could provide the same convenience but without the discomfort. We took feedback from several golfers on the early prototypes to finalize the product.
Are there any key individuals outside of your organization that have been of great help to your startup?
Where do I start? The entire ENTR program at Mount Royal University is absolutely outstanding and has allowed me to work on TLink throughout the majority of my classes with the guidance of some fantastic professors. The program is all about making something real happen. One professor that stands out is Ray DePaul, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Ray has introduced us to all the right people to turn this idea into something real. A big connection he helped us establish is with Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Calgary which is group of extremely successful entrepreneurs. This led to a connection with Gene Vollendorf of Wolverine Management who has been mentoring us and getting us to closely look at the financial side of the business.
Andrew Browne from Startup Calgary has also been huge help from the beginning. I got to know Andrew at Startup Calgary’s Weekly Hack Nights. I just had an idea at the time and was looking for a technical cofounder, and Andrew introduced me to several developers. I also attended another Startup Calgary event called Startup Grind where the Head of Global Sales at Groupon, Rajen Ruparell was giving a talk. After his talk I was able to hook him on TLink with a quick pitch and I now have frequent mentorship calls with him. Rajen’s a marketing genius!
What advice would you like to share with other entrepreneurs just starting out?
I’ve learned so much in the last five months throughout all of this, but there are a few things that stand out to me as a student entrepreneur:
1. Be passionate. It is so much easier to pursue something in an area that you are passionate about than something you really don’t have much interest in. Having that passion for what you are working on is what will get you through those inevitable setbacks that come with startups.
2. Get the right partner. I spent almost two months finding someone who could handle the programming and tech side of things to make sure it was the right fit. I met a ton of people who said “I can do this no problem it is really simple stuff”, but had absolutely no passion or vision for what this could become. Then Stefan and I met because we had both won grants from MRU to pursue our ventures. He immediately saw the vision for TLink and we dove in together. We have since accomplished so much and have become great friends in the process.
3. Play the student card! I have made my way into some amazing doors by just mentioning I am a student working on this venture. You will be surprised by how much people are willing to help students out and want to see these young startups thrive so why not work that angle as much as possible.
What made you choose to go down the path of entrepreneurship?
I’ve pretty much been that entrepreneurial kid growing up. Before starting TLink, I was trading the stock market, running an eBay business, and doing arbitrage with fiverr services. While I made money doing all of this, they all lacked something that I am now learning is so important if you are going to be an entrepreneur – passion. Being able to wake up every day and know that you are working on something that you truly care about is the best feeling in the world. It has been a ton of work and I have had to make some sacrifices along the way like not really having much of a social life anymore. I have two quotes on the wall above my desk that sums this up fairly well:
“If you don’t build your dream, someone else will hire you to help build theirs” – Tony Gaskins
“Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t so you can spend the rest of your life like most people cant.”
What are your thoughts on our startup ecosystem?
Alberta is a very entrepreneurial place in general. I think this gets clouded a little by the oil and gas industry, but the help I have received from organizations like Startup Calgary and Innovate Calgary has been amazing.
What do you and your startup need help with?
We will be looking to raise some capital within the next two months for the initial production costs and we would love to talk with anyone who has overseas manufacturing and distribution experience. Please contact me through our website www.golftlink.com.