In an office park above a swanky pet store in Grapevine, Texas you’ll find the empty offices of CTRL Technologies. The desks are deserted, the 3D printers are still, and the space is eerily quiet without the constant, background hum of electronics. Taking up a large footprint in the office is a fully-operational golf simulation bay. Normally it’s teeming with activity, a place where CTRL product developers go to instantly test hardware and software updates to ensure the product is free of bugs. Now it sits blank and lifeless. CTRL, like many businesses around the world, has closed its office doors to ensure the health and safety of its staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. But just because the lights aren’t on doesn’t mean the work stops.
CTRL is 2 weeks away from officially launching its product via a highly anticipated IndieGoGo crowdsource campaign. Time is not a luxury they can afford as the team prepares for a milestone that has been 3 years in the making. The founder of CTRL, Ian Cash ’17, is a contemplative leader with a seemingly unflappable positivity. “I never thought it would be this much work” he says with a chuckle. “When you’re trying to do all of this development, and run a business, and you have 7 people to your name. That’s a lot of stuff to keep up with.”
CTRL is poised to be a major breakthrough is sports technology. Their flagship product is a first-of-its-kind bio kinetic sleeve that comfortably fits on a golfer’s arm. In 30 strokes or less the sleeve learns a player’s unique swing and then provides a hyper personalized coaching experience through the use of data science and AI. CTRL’s technology allows players to practice their game as if they were being trained by a professional coach, for a fraction of the cost. Making the game of golf more accessible to players alienated by a sport traditionally seen as cost-prohibitive. “We’re here to grow the game of golf,” said Cash.
But, what is it about the game of golf that has intoxicated Cash to the point of starting a sports technology company? According to him, it’s all about the thrill of the perfect swing. “It may not have happened to you yet but it will. You’re going to get that one perfect swing. That one swing that’s so good that you didn’t even realize you made contact. It’ll feel like butter it’s so smooth. When you can do that it’s one of the most amazing [feelings] on the planet.” Cash emphasized that every player should be seen as a unique individual, decrying the outdated practices of one-size-fits-all training programs that are common even among professional athletes and trainers. “There’s no cookie-cutter mold for humans,” said Cash. A player’s swing is as unique as their fingerprint and when you train with hyper-personalization in mind that perfect swing goes from rare anomaly to a normal part of the playing experience. “That’s why we’re so focused on consistency. We want you to have that feeling every single time. That’s 100% the reason I do this.”
The sensors in CTRL’s sleeve quickly evaluate the club face, club path, and tempo of a player’s swing in order to provide real-time insights and training recommendations. All of this consumer data could easily be sold in order to boost profit margins. However, Cash says that will never be an option for the company. “We’re never going to sell any of [your data]. From day 1 that has been important to us.” CTRL is committed to radical transparency with customers and uses strict privacy practices in order to protect consumer data. “It comes from the whole team. We really don’t like it when people use our data without our knowledge,” said Cash, “Facebook taught everyone that’s not the way it should go.”
Cash also fervently believes that CTRL should be a self-reliant company in terms of developing its technology. Many startups will outsource product development to third-party companies, but Cash said that at CTRL “we chose to do it all.” From hardware to data science and even app development, CTRL has a team of 7 employees so that all development is completely in-house. “I’m really happy we chose to do that and I think it sets us apart from our competition.” Cash has big plans for CTRL and hopes that one day the company can bring radical transparency and hyper-personalization to a number of other sports. “Golf is our first step. But as we’ve been building we’ve been focused on human motion. Down the line, we’d like to move elsewhere whether that’s volleyball, cricket, swimming, or physical therapy.”
Cash says that being the CEO of a startup is overwhelming, yet incredibly satisfying. “Every single day you get to learn and do a lot more than you ever thought you would.” Cash is an avid learner, absorbing and synthesizing every book, podcast, and webinar he can get his hands on. “That was a core thing when we built our team. Are you focused on learning? Because there’s no chance that we’re working on a problem that you’ve seen before.”
Cash has used his passion for learning to develop a fail-fast company culture built on a foundation of pre-forgiveness. “We know we’re all going to make mistakes. There’s no way around that.” said Cash, “the fastest way for us to learn and grow is to go out there and not be afraid to make mistakes. That’s core value #1 that really inspires everyone. For us, it’s never a scolding. We made a bad call, how can we improve and move forward? You don’t find a lot of places out there that encourage that.”
It’s surprising to find such a young leader who empowers his employees to take ownership of the company’s success. Even some seasoned entrepreneurs struggle to relinquish control, clinging to their titles with white-knuckled enthusiasm. But Cash repeatedly acknowledges that without his team there would be no company. “There’s no room for selfishness when everyone is making sacrifices for the common good. Everyone has really made sacrifices to be here and even more sacrifices to make sure no one left. My team has to feel like they can make choices and if they make the wrong one it’s okay.”
Cash’s passion for hyper-personalization is evident in the way he leads the company. One of the biggest lessons he’s learned as CEO is that everyone needs to be treated as an individual. “You need to find what makes someone tick. You need to understand why they do what they do and what’s on their mind. You need to truly understand them as a person. Learning your team and making sure you take the time to do so, it’ll make you so much more effective in the workplace.”
Don’t let Cash’s encouraging demeanor fool you. His journey as an entrepreneur hasn’t been all sprinkles and smooth sailing. CTRL has experienced many setbacks, pivoted more times than Cash can count, and is set to launch publicly during a global pandemic that has crushed the United States economy. But Cash won’t let these difficulties cloud his vision. “You get hit left and right and it feels like it never stops. But you don’t quit. You keep going and you’re going to get through.” A fitting message from an entrepreneur whose company is taking on industry titans such as Nike, Callaway, and Garmin. When all is said and done Cash is pursuing his dream in an industry that he loves and he tries to keep that in mind when things get difficult. “We’re working in golf. It’s the most fun you could have!”
From his leadership style as CEO to CTRL’s hyper-personalized technology, Ian Cash ’17 has built a company devoted to the individual. “We all have unique stories. This is going to sound cliché, but it’s really what I believe. Everyone is an individual with different backgrounds and thoughts and I think that should be celebrated. I think there is value in, quite literally, every person out there.” Cash is building a company that puts people before profits. A natural occurrence when a CEO wears an Aggie ring.
EDITOR’S NOTE: CTRL, formerly Alba Golf, was a client of the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship’s Business Incubator and was a prize winner at Aggie Pitch 2018. If you’re interested in supporting this Aggie startup you can follow them on Instagram or share the CTRL IndieGoGo campaign with the golf lover in your life.
About the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship
Since its inception in 1999, the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship has served as the hub of entrepreneurship for Texas A&M University. Offering more than 30 enterprising programs each year, the center engages student and non-student entrepreneurs in a variety of opportunities to enhance their entrepreneurial skills. From business plan competitions to entrepreneurship certificates to the Reynolds and Reynolds Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, the center’s programs are touted as transformative and inspiring.