October 25, 2014
This weekend, Las Vegas plays host to the 2014 GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling at the SouthPoint Hotel & Casino. And for one Las Vegas startup, this event is marked with a wildly celebratory announcement as well.
Rolltech Bowling was created when Rich Belsky and his league team felt frustrated with the lack of ability to tap into the data stream that they saw broadcast overhead on the scoring screens. The goal of quantified self does not exist merely in counting one’s steps, sleeping pattern, or calories consumed. Athletes of every persuasion wish to track, measure, and compare their results. Belsky and his fellow players, which included Joe Hulbert who is now the company’s head of sales, wanted to capture their ball throws in a better way.
Bowlers Love Data Too
Bowlers who like to track their own progress also like to know what kind of stats the pros are getting. When a major competition occurs, they can get information after the fact for any qualifying rounds, but Rolltech users this weekend will find that they are able to get live, frame-by-frame scoring updates. This brings a level of connection to the sport itself, to the PBA and its professionals, and to fans. According to a press release from the PBA:
Under the new agreement, Rolltech will provide exclusive live frame-by-frame scoring to Xtra Frame subscribers during qualifying rounds of all four animal pattern championship events. In order to access the exclusive feature, Xtra Frame subscribers must log in during qualifying rounds to receive a special “password of the day” which will be used (along with the user’s email address) as a link to the live scoring page on Rolltech’s website.
Partnerships can sometimes create a significant boost to innovation and reach for a startup. “A partnership means that there are very important people who have a vested interest in your success,” Belsky wisely explained.
Rolltech is “All In” on Las Vegas
Rolltech is starting to stack up their startup wins like trophies. Just last month, Rolltech took home an award in On Deck’s sports & technology pitch competition in New York City. Announcing this partnership with PBA was huge, Belsky said, but he believes that he will soon be making more announcements that are “just as big – or bigger.”
These wins come during a time that the Downtown Las Vegas tech scene has taken some hits. Despite the thriving community and its founders who are actively building their startups in the area, the national tech press has taken liberties in describing the growing pains present in #VegasTech. The story of how Rolltech built upon their idea and has arrived at its current position is a fun tale of serendipity and collision.
A Dreamer with an Idea Visits Hacker Haven
In December 2010, Belsky mapped his tracking idea on paper and asked other bowlers for input on what was most important to them. He and Hulbert called this idea Rolltech and began spreading this exciting project news around. A professional poker player, who was the friend of a friend, asked for a meeting and became their first investor with an initial $50,000. A small seed round from friends, family, and other poker players followed, so Belsky knew it was time to find more input from the tech community.
He began traveling from his home in the Las Vegas community of Summerlin to the Downtown neighborhood where tech enthusiasts had recently begun gathering. The weekly meetups were called Vegas Jelly, and the early meetings were alive with the energy that came off of Las Vegas’ first Startup Weekend and first funded company, Rumgr. Even though Rumgr had received funding from Tony Hsieh’s newly-formed fund, the idea of a Downtown Project or a Zappos move to the area was either unplanned or unknown to the rest of the techies who were regularly meeting.
As Belsky participated in these meetups, which included early tech transplant TicketCake, he learned to hone his presentation by watching others. He met George Diab, who would later become his lead architect. He met Rick Duggan of Zappos and formed a mentor relationship with him. Duggan would later become Rolltech’s CTO. Once Belsky got his home bowling center, Red Rock Lanes, to go live with Rolltech, Duggan helped to guide Belsky to more conversations, and as a Zappos employee, Duggan would begin talking it up to Hsieh.
Serendipity Smiles Sweetly
Downtown Las Vegas boasts a lot of serendipity and collisions, but Belsky got his collision while having coffee with a friend at a cafe in Henderson. He looked up to see that Hsieh and two men had come in, so he approached the group and introduced himself. He did not realize it at the time, but the group included fund partners Fred Mossler and Arun Rajan. And even though Rolltech was not actively fundraising at the time, it was exciting when Mossler mentioned that he had heard about Rolltech’s bowling app. The brief conversation that followed was nothing more than an introduction and a sharing of excitement about the burgeoning tech scene, but Belsky says he couldn’t help offering a sarcastic retort to Hsieh, thanking him for eating up all the available Ogden apartment leases. Since visiting downtown on a weekly basis for the previous few months, he and wife Morgan had considered a move.
Within three months, the Belskys were living at the Ogden and Rolltech decided to look into investment from VegasTechFund. Over the next two years, Belsky and the Rolltech team would continue to build the product, build upon their early relationship with national bowling center operator Brunswick, and work with bowling centers across the country to integrate with the app.
The methodology used in building the product was mostly fleshed out before its launch. “I am my demographic,” Belsky says. “I iterated this idea so many times before building it. We bowlers wanted to track our lifetime performance. We wanted the ‘quantified self’. And bowlers love wagering against each other during league play anyway, so putting challenges into the app was really important to me.”
Bowling enthusiasts can check out the practice, qualifying, and championship rounds for the professional bowlers competing in this weekend’s event with their Xtra Frame account. Anyone can use the Rolltech app itself to watch their friends bowl in centers across the country or track their own progress in casual or league bowling. The redesigned app was just released on iOS, and the Android update is anticipated in three weeks. Rolltech projects that they will be live in 50 centers across 20 states by January. You can check out current center locations here.
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