GoRout, a football hardware and software startup, is one of the best kept secrets in Rochester. This two-year-old company developed football’s only on-field wearable technology that allows coaches and players to interact and communicate more efficiently. GoRout launched their beta product to sixty-five football teams, from the high school to professional level. Tomorrow evening, they’ll unveil their newest product at a public launch party right here in Rochester during Global Entrepreneurship Week. And they’ve done it all from a small office space above Grand Rounds Brew Pub.
It takes a lot of pluck to be an entrepreneur, as GoRout’s Founder Mike Rolih well knows. Mike’s story is one of those that is so crazy, it just has to be true.
Mike first moved to Rochester from the Chicago area with his wife six years ago. At the time, he owned a consulting business, which he later sold. Mike had strong ties and connections in baseball; he actually played professional baseball and was a Division One Baseball coach and a professional baseball scout. After moving to Rochester, he started building up a baseball stats platform with a friend that would communicate information instantly to the players on the field. In the end, the platform took much too long to develop and was not really headed in the intended direction.
“But this whole idea of transferring real time information to people on the playing field was something that really kind of struck my eye and something that I really started diving into and I really had no idea how to build it,” Mike explained.
Mike had always been a tinkerer. When the baseball platform didn’t pan out, he started learning to write code to better understand how to create his vision. So he started coding and building small machines at home, which as you can imagine, was not so great for his wife.
“And at this point my wife had had enough. She wanted me out of the house. …And I had nothing to do. So I took a job driving limo, running people back and forth from Mayo to the Minneapolis airport.”
Ironically, limo driving might have been the best gig he ever landed. The entire time he was driving, Mike was also pitching ideas to anyone who would listen and ironing out the finer details in his head.
“You’d be surprised how many people you meet,” he said, which included famous people like Jay Leno. “They’re just normal people. You just strike up a conversation with them.”
One day, the former CEO of Motorola stepped into Mike’s limo and happened to love his idea. After a few trips to and from the airport, Mike asked he if could give this man a call at some point for mentorship. The former CEO agreed. Two months later, Mike tinkered around enough to develop a very rough prototype. He called the man on the phone and the former CEO flew on his personal jet to Rochester in five hours.
“And he wrote me a check for $300,000. That was our seed fund. And from there we kind of hit the ground running.” Mike took the money and bought a ticket to China, where he spent the next ninety days building the initial version of the first GoRout product.
GoRout fills a very specific niche in the sports world. And really no company, anywhere, is doing what they are doing.
A large amount of time, effort, and strategy goes into preparing for a single football practice, at any level of play. Coaches have to actually sit down and draw out plays on cards, which can be upwards of 200-400 cards for the week. At the Division One College Level, this could take five to seven hours. Once on the field, these play cards are kept in a large binder and held up when a play is called. All the players on the field have to be able to see the card to know what play to run, which often involves running back and forth from the field to the sideline, taking away valuable practice time.
“So the attention span, the ability to see a card depending on where you're standing, the inefficiently of actually having to come in the huddle and listen to a coach point out ten other guy’s responsibilities before he even gets to yours, all of these elements add to a significant amount of time lost in between reps,” Mike explained.
GoRout developed products that increase communication between players and coaches during practice and allow more reps to be run. Using GoRout Steel software, coaches can more easily draw and instantly change plays. GoRout Vue is football’s only wearable display technology, allowing players to see plays on a device strapped onto the wrist and know exactly what route they need to run without ever going into the huddle or running to the sideline.
Without GoRout technology, teams may run about one play per minute during practice. But with GoRout, you “just hit a button and send the information out,” keeping all the players on the field, relaying information faster to every single player, and allowing cycling in of more players.
Instead of running maybe 10 reps in 10 minutes, with GoRout teams can run 35 to 50 reps in that same amount of time at a much higher quality.
“There are so many coaches that still try to teach 21st century players with late or early 20th century technology. …Kids today…they’re interactive. They’re individualized. And they’re very tech savvy. And if you’re not using products that can speak to their learning style, which is inevitably going to be visual to some degree, then you’re losing a major component of what you’re trying to achieve.”
Since GoRout’s start in 2014, they’ve had a lot of successes. But they’ve also had a lot of failures.
GoRout fits a very specific vertical in the sports tech field, which no one else was filling, and solves a problem that no one else quite knew how to solve. They really are the only ones operating in their defined space, which has allowed them to experiment, take some risks, and just try some things out. Some of these risks have led to failures, something that the GoRout team doesn’t fear, but actually embraces as a learning opportunity.
“We really believe in failing fast. Fail faster than anybody else. Let’s not be afraid to put something out there, have it not work, and figure out why,” Mike explained.
The initial version of the GoRout product actually never even got off the ground. Last year, they got their alpha version out to fifteen teams around the Midwest, which was largely a success. But they realized they had to make significant changes to their product. Instead of giving up, GoRout accepted it as a learning experience and an opportunity to completely re-engineering both their hardware and software, now with a better understanding of the customer.
GoRout failed fast, and learned fast, in part because every bit of their company was created here. “We design everything in house. Everything […] designed right here in this room. Our software, written and designed right here in Rochester. Right in this room.”
These rapid lessons helped them launch a successful beta product this year to fifty different football teams.
Now it’s time for the next step. GoRout will launch their latest product, live, tomorrow night during Global Entrepreneurship Week at Bleu Duck Kitchen. The event will be a first for Rochester.
“[People] should expect to see something they’ve never expected to see before. They should expect to see a product that people want in a lot of different industries, but it’s never been created. …They should expect to learn about a very small, nimble, innovative company that has their offices above a brew pub, that sells internationally, that none of them have ever heard of.”
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