MO.com is made possible by our friends at:
Guidant Financial: The leader in alternative startup, franchise and small business financing
Verge Pipe Media represents the third venture Don Crow has been a key player in founding. He was an early adopter of Social Networks like Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook, and is quick to try out new platforms. Don considers himself fortunate to have cut his marketing teeth at AOL and learned from some of the best marketing minds in the business.
Verge Pipe Media is a Social + Local + Mobile inbound marketing and mobile app development agency. They connect organizations with individuals and groups by way of social media, mobile devices and word-of-mouth marketing.
VPM’s first proprietary app is Golf Joust. Don’s vision for Golf Joust is to create an offering, “as essential to the game as the putter, only more reliable and a helluva lot more fun.”
MO: Can you talk a bit about how you dreamed up Verge Pipe Media one night after reading one too many Dr. Seuss books to your kids?
Don: I don’t recall meeting anyone who hasn’t read, or been read, a Dr. Seuss book at some point in their lifetime. They’re fun to read aloud. They’re colorful, funny, whimsical and most of all – memorable. You can remember specific lines and share them.
All of that thought led to the beginning stages of branding Verge Pipe Media and giving us a purpose. Create digital stories for brands and non-profits that are colorful, fun, memorable – and yes, easy to share socially. We help companies of many different sizes determine their digital story and then we optimize the way to share those stories on social networks, word-of-mouth and guerrilla marketing campaigns and even assist in more traditional marketing models.
But – my passion, our passion at Verge Pipe Media is to be that story teller that makes a brand memorable and fun to share the way people consume media today.
MO: What inspired you to create “Golf Joust” and how does it work?
Don: Golf Joust has been in the works since the late 1990s. I needed technology to catch up to the full vision for the “network” I believe golfers will rally around. We’re in version 1.0 now and to use a school analogy, we’re in Kindergarten. In my mind Golf Joust is at the Graduate School level. Versions 1.3 – 2.0 will go a long way towards getting us out of High School. The next couple of updates will be minor, but as we add users we are using their feedback to drive everything from design to service and even product offerings in the app. Everyone on the team gets visibly excited working on the redesigns. It’s just really cool and very intuitive for golfers on the course.
Like a lot of things entrepreneurs do, Golf Joust was born out of frustration and a desire to make something better. A group of friends and I were frustrated over the online Fantasy Golf offerings – and we still are – and so Golf Joust was initially tested as an online Fantasy Golf offering back in 2003 – 2005. We had more demand than I had time and technical expertise to accommodate, but I knew then there was a market for what I had in mind.
Golf Joust as an app began in January 2011. It almost never made it past wire frames and early design because my wife was diagnosed with Stage III Cancer in mid March 2011. She felt strongly that I should keep going and not take this setback as a sign to stop work. Her encouragement kept me going and our Alpha version was ready by late Summer. We pushed ahead slowly, pivoting along the way, and released our open Beta in the App Store and Google Play in April 2012.
MO: What did you learn as an Army Captain that you’ve been able to apply to running a business? What skills have been most transferrable?
Don: More than I can list here! I recently blogged about leadership in an article titled, “Get off the X.” Many of the folks who read it commented on how deeply personal the story was. Essentially, getting off the X is about getting out of the kill zone – in combat or in business – you’ve got to keep moving. Siting still when everything around you has turned dangerous will result in almost certain death.
The Army was, and I’m sure still is, the ultimate training ground for junior leaders. Some of the lessons learned there I try and instill in the Golf Joust & VPM team are:
• Lead by example always. Don’t expect others to do what you aren’t willing to do yourself.
• Don’t expect what you don’t inspect.
• Bad news doesn’t get better with time.
• And finally, “Don’t do nothing. Make a decision!”
MO: What’s your marketing strategy for establishing Golf Joust, “as essential to the game as the putter, only more reliable and a helluva lot more fun?”
Don: Simply put, build Golf Joust on user feedback and grow it by word of mouth because we’ve got an app golfers fall in love with. I’m a firm believer in the best marketing strategies start with a great product or service that people can’t get enough of. That’s exactly what these early versions are out to accomplish – there are thousands of paid scorekeeping and stat-tracking apps out there on the web and for smartphones – Golf Joust number one has to give folks a reliable, free alternative.
Next, we’ll start adding the gamification pieces where golfers are incentivized to not only play more, but share what they’re doing and get rewarded. Then, we’ll begin opening up a world of possibilities for golfers who are using the app to compete globally, earn great deals and use Golf Joust for more than just game play.
Golfers are a superstitious lot. We’ll hang on to an old putter because we’ve learned how to make it work, or trying a new one doesn’t yield the desired result. We’re also always looking for an edge, whether it’s in golf balls, equipment, food and beverage, fitness, or easy, reliable ways to know what parts of our game need the most improvement.
Golf Joust will continue to evolve based on how our users respond to the features we add and we’re always looking for ways to simplify the user interface. It’s a tall task to get golfers to replace paper scorecards and pencils, but if we can give them a way that takes no more time than the “old” way AND shows them where they need the most help in their game, that’s a start. As they get more comfortable with the stat tracking, they’ll explore more features and begin to realize Golf Joust really can be the most essential tool to help them choose where to play, score their round once there, and connect with the best deals on more golf and merchandise after they play.
Once we start adding the social network though, that’s when the real fun begins. Our testing has shown golfers in the 18-30 age range love the app and where it is going. Similarly, men over the age of 30 are interested, but wary of the social networking features. Once they understand how ours will be built – they fall in love with it. Their number one concern is privacy of a different sort: how do I use Golf Joust and all the features without my boss or wife knowing I’m on the golf course?
The short answer is, “we’ve thought of that.”
MO: As a self-confessed “social media junkie”, what social media tools are you most dependent on?
Don: Personally, I love Twitter and LinkedIn. I can’t imagine any one serious about business these days not having a LinkedIn profile fully developed and active. I’m growing to love Instagr.am, and I was one of the first non-students on Facebook (I had a good friend on the inside who alerted me to the ‘open date’). As a Gen X’er, I’m a rarity, or at least in my peer group because the way I utilize Social Media is more like the Millennials in our office. It’s the first source of news for me every morning, even before I read the print AND digital version of the Wall Street Journal. Social Media is how I find out about new places locally and research places when I travel. Interestingly, the friends my age gather around and stare at my smartphone when I perform these feats like I had just shown them the secret to starting a fire.
At Verge Pipe Media though, we have to advise clients on how to tell their digital story across many platforms. We’ve experimented with several of the management tools out there, and Crowdbooster and Hootsuite are a couple of the better ones available. I’m also pretty excited about what I see with Sprout Social. However, we customize solutions for each client, and they all have truly unique needs based on their customers.
MO: Can you talk about the development of a “social network” within Golf Joust? What features are you most excited about?
Don: We’re not copying what others have done first of all. Many of our users over the age of 30 aren’t on Facebook or Twitter, and if they are, they’re not actively sharing. The “social” Golf Joust will allow golfers to interact online and through the app much the same way they do with their buddies on the course.
For example, I have a foursome of buddies spread out all over the county and we get together annually to play. I have another foursome of buddies locally who play once per week, and another foursome locally that will travel up to a couple of hours to play. Golf Joust will allow me to share info and “trash talk” by foursomes. We also know how important it is to bring outside news in, and our users will be able to follow the golf courses, equipment manufacturers, pro players and others without having to create a lot of extra steps. We call this our, “Gallery” feature and if you think about the galleries that follow pros on the PGA or LPGA tour, you’ll get the concept.
The features I’m most excited about are unfortunately classified as Top Secret for now. You’ll just have to download the free app and start playing!