Published: 12 SEP 2022

Circles, a data-driven golf improvement company, is raising capital and looking for investors who love sport and/or understand software as a service (SaaS) economics, to close the round in early November.

Founded by three coaches from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland’s Institute of Golf (IOG), Circles is built on the unique relationship between coach and player, with a whole lot of performance-driven data added to the mix.

Craig Dixon, Guy Wilson and Ryan Brandeburg are the guys who coached Lydia Ko to her women’s number one status, have former Prime Minister John Key as an advisor, and were appointed the high performance and big data specialists for the China Olympic golf team in 2019. Their platform, also known simply as Circles, is already being used by PGA and LPGA tour players, national teams and major United States colleges. They’re proven winners and part of the rich flavour of the Auckland tech sector. 

Not the original plan 

It was while working with the China Olympic golf team that Circles Co-founder and CEO Craig Dixon and his team developed an early version of the platform, marking a major transition from a service-based company to a scalable online SaaS business. 

The early version was designed to give Olympic athletes and their coaches greater insights into performance and help them optimise training to peak for key events. 

Then the team discovered something interesting. When analytics insights were made available to average players, the results were also notable. Mid-handicap players experience a three-stroke reduction in three months, and tour players see a 19-fold (averaged) return on investment.  

Laptop and phone with Circles SaaS

“Our intention was to pivot from a service business to technology. It was the testing and validation of the results and market demand that led to our launching Circles,” says Craig. 

Productising data capture and analytics  

In 2020, with the support of Callaghan Innovation, Circles productised its proprietary algorithms and unique approach to golf improvement, developing the scalable mass-market solution it offers today.  

The intriguing part of the story is the psychology of the customer in a competitive sporting environment. The founders built the business from their experience as coaches and understanding of players’ needs. That’s a far more intimate and nuanced relationship than most businesses have with customers. It’s also, mutually, a goal-oriented one.  

“As a product, Circles is about finding efficiencies; as a company, this is a philosophy we apply to everything. This includes continuous and rigorous testing, with the single focus being to optimise player performance,” says Craig. 

Circles launched its minimal viable product in July 2021, with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) assistance. It is now selling the live version, initially focusing on high-performance players and coaches. 

Nick Cebalo, Customer Manager at NZTE, says Circles has signed contracts and there’s no better validation than that. He adds that Auckland is one of the best cities in the world to build a SaaS business and NZTE is available to help companies to scale.   

The global golf market 

The numbers in Circles’ pitch deck tell a story of opportunity. The game of golf is growing twice as fast as it did before the pandemic - globally, there are now 120 million golfers and 97,000 golf coaches. Golfers are in the top percentage of income earners. Their average household income is more than US$100,000 in the United States, and more than US$500,000 in China. Golfers have great lifetime value – often playing from childhood up to 80 years of age. In fact, Circles’ youngest user, six-year-old Zac Wolfe, recently became a world champion, winning his class in the US Kids World Championship. 

Circles is focusing on an identified market of 15 million golfers who play on a course and take lessons, estimated to be worth NZ$10.6 billion.  

How it works 

Circles’ vision is to be the global leader in performance insights for golf, providing players with everything they need to think and train like a pro. 

Users simply select their goal and, at the end of each round, input shot information. Circles’ proprietary analytics then identify where the player needs to focus their efforts. Next, the platform automatically provides bespoke training goals that help the player, and their coach, train in the most optimal way. 

“Circles removes subjectivity and cognitive bias from training, and ensures that every minute and every dollar a golfer spends on their game leads to lower scores,” says Craig. 

Circles’ players are seeing results. 

Circles SaaS

“I’m excited to be moving my students to Circles. Working with the best players in the world means I need the best data and analysis to support their high standards . . . I’ve found that with the Circles team,” says Chris Mayson, GOLF Magazine – Top 100 Teachers. 

There’s further endorsement. 

“Circles is the most comprehensive and intuitive statistics and player development programme we have used in my time in college golf,” says Casey Lubahn, Michigan State Head Coach. 

Something new to market 

The company currently has five competitors, but Craig says that while these platforms are also designed for high-performance golfers, Circles has key advantages. 

“We have a superior platform with deeper analytics, higher accuracy, and a host of extra features – such as being able to connect with one of our performance consultants. We are able to provide this because Circles has been developed by elite coaches.” 

Richard Woodhouse, two-time Australian PGA Golf Coach of the Year, was astounded by Circles’ performance: “I’m blown away by what Circles gave me insight into. The possibilities of this software and applicable training ideas are endless.” 

Capital raise 

Circles is already gaining traction around the world, with thousands of players and hundreds of coaches across 32 countries. This is leading to 20 per cent month-on-month revenue growth. Circles is raising capital to develop features that enable it to scale, grow its business faster, and realise its full market potential. 

To capture these 15 million golfers, the team planned five key development milestones, all of which have been either solved or prototyped. With each new feature deployed, Circles is able to attract more coaches, open new markets and engage users in new and entertaining ways.  

“We’ve prioritised a development roadmap that will yield the greatest user benefit and company growth,” says Craig. 

With the continued support of NZTE with go-to-market plans and a strategy, the Circles team is now focusing on the average weekend golfer. 

Having raised over 75 per cent of the US$1.225 million raise, the team is focused on scaling the business to 8000 paid users, and US$5.8 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) over the next 24 months, aiming to reach 134,000 paid users and US$96 million in ARR by the end of 2026.  

Craig says his ideal investor is someone who has a passion for sport, and/or understands SaaS unit economics. 

Having just signed a multi-year contract with the Chinese Ladies Professional Tour (CLPGA) and multiple national and United States college golf, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)teams, this up-and-coming Auckland business is looking at a bright future. 

“We have a highly motivated and qualified team to deliver results, with expertise across high-performance sport, software development, sports analytics and marketing. Circles is a high-growth startup and we’re moving quickly. We are looking for investors who are passionate about this space to join our journey as we scale and grow internationally,” says Craig.  

Find out more

Contact Investment Specialist Wing Lin to find out more about this opportunity.

DISCLAIMER: This article provides general information on potential investment opportunities in Auckland and is not intended to be used as a substitute for financial advice. The views and opinions expressed are those of the relevant author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Tātaki Auckland Unlimited. Tātaki Auckland Unlimited disclaims all liability in connection with any action that may be taken in reliance of this article, and for any error, deficiency, flaw or omission contained in it.