On the morning of December 12, 2017, the employees of Vice Golf’s founders and CEOs Ingo Düllmann and Rainer Stöckl stand on their new Munich office’s roof deck with a large cake. This day marks the five-year anniversary of the Munich golf ball startup that was the world’s first company to sell golf balls via direct distribution to golfers around the world – at considerably lower prices and with a dynamism and attention to detail that had never been seen before in golf.
In our interview, Ingo and Rainer tell us about the entrepreneurial spirit, the accolades and the setbacks, traveling far from home, and their daily drive to make Vice Golf bigger and better known.
Let’s look back to December 12, 2012 – how exciting was it to found Vice Sporting Goods GmbH and what expectations, hopes, and worries did you have?
Ingo: When founding a startup, people tend to be totally euphoric, full of zest for action, and just want to make the world a better place … it was the same for us, too: We were really set on doing something completely different compared to all the other golf brands that were around at the time and launch a TOP product at a TOP price. Of course, like people tend to be at moments like this, we were also occasionally plagued by doubt. But we were lucky to have the full support of our friends and family, who believed in our vision and also – and this is probably at least as important – completely supported our decision to give up our well-paying jobs in order to dedicate ourselves to something we were passionate about!
What were the first moments where you realized that you had hit the nail on the head with Vice Golf in terms of what golfers have long been waiting for?
Rainer: There were certainly various moments … but I especially like to remember the moment we made our first few sales after being featured in an article on neogolf.de (a website that doesn’t really exist anymore). This feeling of being rewarded and appreciated for all your efforts was a very special moment, even though sales were very low back then and we were still packing and sending out every order ourselves. In any event, we couldn’t have been prouder, and we saw lots of success ahead!
“Unfortunately, there’s no universal recipe for the given success of a start-up.” (Rainer Stoeckl, co-founder of Vice Golf)
Progress tends to be accompanied by setbacks – which situations in particular had you gritting your teeth?
Ingo: There were lots of them [laughs] – but every company has setbacks, and these are an even bigger part of the experience than the successes. For us, it’s important to recognize a setback and to learn from it, because you really shouldn’t make the same mistake twice. Instead, you should come out of the situation stronger and better.
What’s your recipe for success? What way of thinking helps you set yourselves apart and be different, while at the same time standing for top quality?
Rainer: Unfortunately, there’s no universal recipe for it … but we see each day as a new opportunity to improve ourselves, to make our products better, and to convince even more golfers to use our products. And we also keep “torturing” our R&D team with new demands and new ideas we have in mind…
Speaking of R&D – you produce your balls in Taiwan – how often do you travel to Asia to see for yourself what the production process is like?
Rainer: We’re regularly on site of course; usually 3-4 times a year – we make sure that everything is running smoothly at the factory to produce the quality we’re looking for, but we also meet with other business partners who manufacture other Vice accessories for us. Unfortunately, that leaves little time for the culture itself; on our first trip to Taiwan, we had to go to a night market to buy suits, because our luggage had gotten stuck in Bangkok – we made the huge mistake of buying size M suits still wrapped in plastic, hoping for the best. After unwrapping them, there was this unbearable smell, and the suits were completely wrinkled. The next day, we were sure everything was going to go terribly wrong – but fortunately, our business partners just laughed about it and then took us out to the market again.
What’s your motivation, your passion, that gets you out of bed every morning to go work for your “baby” again?
Ingo: As the founder of your own company, you naturally bear a lot responsibility, but we also very much enjoy it. It offers plenty of room for self-fulfillment compared to a job as a company employee. And of course we’re absolutely driven to be the best! It’s pretty cool to put your own ideas into practice and see them be well received received by golfers around the world.
The direct sales concept is becoming more and more popular in the golf industry. As the “first movers”, what sets you apart from the rest?
Rainer: I think that direct sales is a crucial factor for success, but the whole thing won’t work if you don’t meet the customers’ high quality standards. So quality is an extremely important unique selling point for us; for example, hardly any other ball manufacturer works with the extremely complex cast urethane procedure that we use for our premium models Vice PRO, PRO SOFT, & PRO PLUS. We also try to set new standards with our designs and our close attention to detail, and to offer golfers a brand they can associate themselves with, one they can “live”.
You are known for your striking design and your own sense of style – what was your coolest photo shoot so far?
Rainer: At the beginning of the year, we spent a week in Miami and organized an editorial shoot with the theme “Miami Vice” – it was really cool, strolling through the streets of South Beach in a suit and T-shirt with sunglasses while a photographer snapped shots in front of palm trees and neon lights – but it also just hit the nail on the head – the combination of style, zest for life, and premium quality! Another quirky thing we did on this trip was that, in an attempt to prove the durability of our balls in a crazy and eye-catching way, we were allowed to place our Vice golf ball between the teeth of an alligator on an alligator farm in the Everglades – that really got my heart pounding! And when one of the gators snapped at the camera, I thought these were going to be our final shots…
“As the founder of your own company, you naturally bear a lot responsibility, but we also very much enjoy it.” (Ingo Düllmann, founder of Vice Golf)
How often do you get to play golf yourselves, and who would you like to play a round with?
Ingo: When time permits, we like to play 9 holes early in the morning with our team, here in the area surrounding Munich. I’m a total basketball fan, so I’d love to play a round with Michael Jordan – a basketball legend and golf enthusiast in one person is crazy a thing, especially after I saw him at the pro-am in St. Andrews last year.
Where did you celebrate Vice Golf’s 5th birthday?
Rainer: Since we recently moved into a new office, of course we celebrated on the roof deck with our team!