Gabe Coyne has always had a passion for bringing new ideas to life. For him, the best ones are those that address personal pain points.
Back in 2019, during a round of golf at a municipal course in Chicago, Coyne and his buddies experienced the pain point that sparked the idea for the startup Stix.
“We were all rocking 20-year-old gear,” Coyne told Insider.
He said that while he and his friends could afford new golf clubs, they couldn’t justify dropping thousands of dollars on professional-level equipment to play the sport recreationally. They were also frustrated by the tech jargon and confusing fitting requirements that went into buying a new golf set.
“What I want is somebody to make it easy for me, like, ‘Look, here’s something that’s beautiful, performs well — just buy it,'” Coyne said.
However, Coyne and his cofounders didn’t want to create another starter set for beginners. They wanted Stix to operate in the “middle” — between starter sets and pro-level clubs — as a golfer’s first or long overdue upgrade.
The founders saw that there were other industries that had brands that were successful in creating high-quality products at affordable prices. These were the likes of Harry’s for shaving, Allbirds for shoes, and Casper for mattresses. They positioned Stix similarly in the golf industry — one that’s notorious for high costs as a barrier to enter the sport.
“The point is to disrupt what is historically an elitist exclusive culture and make it available to everyone,” Coyne said.
A 14-club set of Stix retails at $999 on its website, and a set of nine clubs costs $699. While there are golf sets by known brands that operate within this price range, professional-level sets can cost more than $3,000, with drivers alone costing more than a full Stix set.
Former professional golfer turned YouTuber Rick Shiels said in a video that there are secondhand golf sets that provide superior performance at a cheaper cost, but called Stix “the best pound-for-pound golf clubs you can buy that are brand new.”
Beyond affordability, Coyne also said Stix accommodates all player types, regardless of age or gender.
“If [a woman] went shopping for golf clubs, it’s usually a condescending situation,” Coyne said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, you’re a lady? There’s one box in the back of the store for you, and it’s pink.'”
Stix sets are the same for all players, differing only in the shaft flex and length of the clubs which golfers can alter depending on what works best for them. They also have descriptions on the site to make it simple to understand how to make a purchase.
The startup closed in May a $10 million Series A funding round with investments from Verance Capital, 2.0 Ventures, and Spacestation Investments. Coyne said his team raised about $4 million prior to this latest funding round, from family members of the cofounders, his venture firm Prota Ventures, and a few angel investors, among others.
Coyne said he spent about six months pitching more than 50 investors and found that many of them were more interested in “consumer enablement” — or the tech that drives brands — than consumer products. He said eventually found the “right fit,” but in the future, he plans to be more targeted when choosing investors to pitch his idea.
Here’s the 14-slide pitch deck that Stix used to raise $10 million in Series A funding in 2022:
The startup describes its clubs, which are shown in the picture, as “quality & style at a fair price.”
Coyne has a background in software development and cofounded a fan-rewards startup called Influence Mobile.
In 2018, he started working with a venture studio called Prota Ventures and partnered with the company to develop Stix.
Stix started in 2019 as an idea for the “Harry’s razor equivalent for golf clubs,” as the deck said.
Coyne said the company went through a successful validation phase, hearing that consumers loved the design and price. But when they opened presales in early 2020, “basically nobody bought,” Coyne said.
Then, Covid lockdowns ensued.
Stix relaunched on September 1, 2020 after golf courses reopened over the summer. The company invested more into social media and PR during the lead up to the launch and aimed to sell 100 sets by December. It sold out in two weeks.
The table on the left shows data on US golf club and ball shipments as of June 2021. Sales were up 77% year-to-date versus 2020. While this could’ve been skewed due to COVID’s impact in Q2 2020, the data also showed that shipments were up 35% year-to-date compared to 2019.
The table on the right shows year-on-year golf participation in the US. There were 36.9 million golf participants in 2020, 2.7 million more than in 2019 and nearly 7 million more than in 2014.
The data is from the National Golf Foundation.
Stix included data to show that new golfers are 31% women and 29% non-Caucasian. It also showed that 38% of golf merchandise is bought online, which is Stix’s strongest selling platform right now. And it showed that the largest golfer base is between the ages of 18-34.
The data is from the National Golf Foundation.
The graph on the left shows a spike in the growth rate of golf equipment in 2021. It shows that industry is estimated to be worth over $10.5 billion in 2021 and forecasted to rise to $12.7 billion by 2026.
The table on the right shows that this market is split 50-50 between the US and international markets. Stix also highlighted that 40% of the US market is golf clubs while another 20% is golf balls.
The data is from marketresearch.com
Stix positioned itself as the golf equivalent of brands in other industries like Warby Parker, Harry’s, Allbirds, Casper, and State Bicycle Co.
The slide headline reads:
But golf remains an exclusive culture of overpriced, overhyped and over designed retail products.
The slide also shows that Stix golf clubs were awarded with a Reddot Design award.
Stix is targeting the diversifying audience of golf. The company’s audience is younger and comprised of a large chunk of women and people of color.
Coyne said that Stix isn’t targeting professional golfers, and is instead focused on “unconventional” golfers. This is clear in the way Stix approaches its influencer marketing, focusing on musicians or athletes who enjoy golf as a hobby like former Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson and NBA All-Star Trae Young.
“I’d rather be on the cover of Rolling Stone than the cover of Golf Digest,” Coyne said.
In addition to the Stix website, the clubs can be purchased in stores like Scheels and the PGA Superstore, online at Target, and at golf simulators like Topgolf.
Coyne said that the company plans to launch the brand at more live events and simulators to attract those “unconventional” golfers.
Coyne’s team includes some of his Stix cofounders, like operations VP Collin Duff, head of product Kyle Buzzard, and e-commerce director Mike Tolfson (who is not featured in the slide).
The tagline reads:
Welcome to the inclusive club.
This tagline is still evolving but underscores the brand’s image, according to Coyne.
“It’s real easy to feel on the outside of golf,” Coyne said. “The new brand purpose is [that] we believe that golf enriches lives and we exist to democratize golf. We want to make golf welcoming and accessible to as many people as we can.”