It was only a matter of time before Annika Sorenstam launched a tech startup.
Arguably the greatest women’s golfer in history, Sorenstam was already an active entrepreneur off the course during the latter stage of her illustrious 16-year career. After she retired in 2008, the Sweden-native spent even more time with her business endeavors — a clothing line, a cookbook, a wine collection, multiple golf course design projects, the ANNIKA Foundation, and more.
Sorenstam shared more details about Fundu with GeekWire at Sahalee Country Club in Redmond, Wash. on Wednesday afternoon, shortly after she accepted the Inspire Greatness Award at the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit.
The 45-year-old explained that while traveling on the road as a pro golfer, and even now in her post-LPGA life, it would be tough to find something fun to do when she had a few hours to kill. She’d spend time browsing through websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, trying to decide on an event or activity. But this process took so long that by the time she found something, it was already too late.
Sorenstam wished there was an app that could tell you about an event or activity around your given location — a wine tasting, a bike ride, a museum, an LPGA tournament, etc. — based on your personal interests.
In 2014, she partnered with a small game development studio called SkyReacher near San Diego and became the majority investor behind the project, which has raised just under $400,000 to date. Four months ago, the app launched in Vancouver, B.C., and this week it debuted in its first U.S. city: Seattle.
“There are lots of millennials here and it’s a very active city with a lot to do,” said Sorenstam, who won 93 tournaments. “I thought, why not go here?”
Fundu’s functionality is fairly simple. You build a profile to start, adding information about your specific interests. From there, once you’re in a given city — it could be useful in your hometown, too — the app provides tailored recommendations for activities to do nearby. It also sends alerts for events that you might be interested in, and learns more about you based on your usage with the app over time.
“It’s a recommendation engine, rather than a search engine,” Sorenstam said. “This keeps it quick, fast and easy. I don’t have time to scroll through things I don’t want. I just want it to be precise.”
Sorenstam, who will provide color commentary for NBC’s coverage of the Women’s PGA Championship at Sahalee this weekend, is a bit of a geek herself. She is a self-described “huge app user,” and said some folks call her an “old millennial.”
But the eight-time Player of the Year winner, who works on Fundu daily, isn’t quite versed on software development skills. In golf terms, she said she’s a 36-handicap in the coding department — that means Sorenstam would average around 108 strokes for 18 holes on a good day, which is not exactly a great score for a player who once shot 59.
“I’ve been studying and reading a lot, and I’m learning about how this world works,” she said of developing apps. “It’s been two years, and one thing I learned is that this takes a long time. It’s not like you can switch a button and have it ready to go.”
Sorenstam said there are monetization ideas for Fundu — which plays off the Swedish word “du” — but for now she’s focused on user acquisition.
“We just want to create a great product that people want to use and go from there,” she added.
Sorenstam is clearly a fan of technology, and she noted the increasing level of tech that is changing sports. With golf in particular, she sees mostly positive impacts from new innovations like Trackman or landscaping innovation.
“It’s taking golf to a different level,” she said. “Before, it was more about equipment — balls, shafts, clubs. Now it’s a lot more innovative. It’s fun, and I think it draws some other people to golf. You have to find balance with the traditional part of the game, but if it enhances golf and brings more people to the game, I think it’s fun.”
Sorenstam, who won a record $22 million in prize money as a professional, also noted the many parallels between the business and golf worlds.
“You have to have a vision, a plan, a strategy — you need to have that focus and be relentless,” she said of the similarities. “Of course, with golf, the product is different, the people are different, and your surroundings are different. But in the end, the core is the same.”