In an earlier life, Michael Bonneau played a pioneering role in the field of interventional cardiology.
Now, he wants to be a revolutionary in the premium putter market.
Preaching an unorthodox gospel of positioning a putter’s mass above the equator of the ball for a truer roll, the founder of Aserta Putters epitomizes the entrepreneurs who are drawn to this game.
Creative. Determined. And perhaps a bit crazy.
“Breaking into the golf business is a great way to make a large fortune small,” jokes Bonneau, 52, who has invested a tidy sum of his own money – nearly $4 million and counting – since the launch of Aserta in 2003.
But it is a fervent belief in his product and a growing grass-roots following that has Bonneau thinking that Aserta can be the long shot that becomes a household brand.
The company generated some buzz a year ago with the Eclipse model (top photo), which featured Aserta’s patented Inverted Mass Technology design. Then it acquired putter maker Photon Golf (for its laser surface technology, which prevents golf balls from skidding on a putter face) and hired as a consultant Richard Parente, the craftsman who co-founded Callaway and played a key role in developing the company’s early products. Parente has wasted no time inventing Aserta’s newest offering: a mallet-style putter dubbed the Monster.
Major retailers, including Edwin Watts Golf Shops, have Aserta on their radar screens and are tracking it closely.
“We’ve had some availability problems, but that happens sometimes with a new company and new products,” says Kerry Kabase, director of sales at Edwin Watts. “I don’t think they anticipated the awesome demand. But they’ve got a handle on that now, and we’ve done pretty darn well with them.”
Bonneau, his confidence growing, says: “We want to take market share, and I see that happening very rapidly over the next two years.”
It’s a bold statement for a golf newcomer, but understandable considering Bonneau’s past success.
His work in the medical field is impressive: Bonneau invented a device that became the model for the modern-day coronary stent used in balloon angioplasty.
A former executive at a precision machining company, Bonneau gravitated to the world of interventional cardiology during the 1980s and ’90s, when that field was undergoing a boom in technological advancement and innovation.
He struck paydirt in 1989 when he developed a metal endovascular support device, or stent, designed to hold open diseased arteries. The invention led to his work with pioneering cardiologists such as Dr. Simon Stertzer, who performed the first coronary angioplasty procedure in the United States.
“(Bonneau’s invention) was definitely a major breakthrough in that technology,” said Stertzer, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford University. “He made a great contribution, and I think that he deserves probably more credit than he got for it.”
The stent device was patented in 1994 and led to several other patents in which Bonneau was designated co-inventor. Those patents were sold to Advanced Vascular Engineering Inc., a medical device firm, which medical giant Medtronic Inc. acquired in 1999 for $3.7 billion.
The patent sales and equity in Advanced Vascular provided Bonneau the capital he needed to launch Aserta. The motivation to become a golf entrepreneur came from a common frustration: watching golf balls bounce off his putter face and drift off their intended paths.
An avid golfer, Bonneau believed he could make a better putter. As the sole owner of the company, he has shouldered a financial burden to fulfill his quest. But he has a plan to rebuild his fortune.
In November 2004, Aserta hired former Yonex executive Steve Okazaki to lead the company’s sales drive. Okazaki already has recruited a sales team of 28 independent representatives, and Bonneau anticipates the company’s account base this year will quadruple to 2,000 from 500. And he expects to sell approximately 50,000 units in 2005. (Suggested retail prices for Aserta putters range from $99.95 to $199.95.)
To increase awareness, Aserta is spending $1.5 million on print advertising and has several tour reps working the LPGA, Nationwide Tour and developmental circuits, where players will be paid $2,000 if they win an event using one of the company’s putters.
With such efforts, Bonneau is optimistic that the company will break even by 2006, and he’s looking forward to “building this company for the long term.”
Translation? Expect more inventions from Bonneau.
“The man is just extremely creative,” Okazaki says.
–“On the fringe” is an occasional feature focusing
on small business.