Should We Start a Table Tennis Company?

"Find a market need and fill it." – Jim Flowers

"Automate and scale." – Bob Summers

Having launched 3 start-ups in 4 years with great ideas, I have learned to first dream about my idea as a company and assess that according to business realities before I begin it. 

As I was in college, I again find myself interested in table tennis and, again, find my entrepreneurial tendencies pinging away:  Could I and my fellow players start a table tennis company?  Could we pair what we love to do with what we do for a living?  Is there a market need in table tennis that we could fill in a way that could automate and scale to create a high-growth company rather than a labor-intensive lifestyle or service business? 

To answer those questions, with the assistance of Elmira Hamidi, Catherine Galecki and Dan Notestein, we began with market research. 

Here are 12 pieces of data we found related to the market served by the table tennis industry.

  1. __________ people participated in table tennis in the world in __________.*
  2. 15.96 million people participated in table tennis in the U.S. in 2007. Source: Statista
  3. 18.56 million people participated in table tennis in the U.S.  according to a report dated 2012. Source: Sports and Fitness Industry Association
  4. 9000+ members and 285+ clubs are affiliated with the United States of America Table Tennis, USATT, the national organizing body for table tennis in the U.S. Source: Team USA
  5. $1,342,636 was the total revenue for the USATT in 2011, according to its IRS Form 990.  Source: USATT
  6. 1720 men were ranked in the world by the International Table Tennis Federation, ITTF, as of 10/4/12. Source: ITTF
  7. 1284 women were ranked ranked in the world by the International Table Tennis Federation, ITTF, as of 10/4/12. Source: ITTF
  8. 6 of the top 10 men with world ranking in table tennis are from China as of 10/4/12: Source: ITTF
  9. 5 of the top 10 women with world ranking in table tennis are from China as of 10/4/12: Source: ITTF
  10. 23 million table tennis tables are estimated to be in U.S. homes.  Source: Athletic Business
  11. $372.99 is the highest priced table tennis racket – the Ryu Seung Min G Max Blade – offered by table tennis supplies manufacturer Butterfly according to its high-to-low price search feature. Source: Butterfly
  12. 4 ping-pong social clubs have been started by Susan Sarandon and co-founders with the 5th scheduled to open "on the Moon." Source: SPiN Galactic

Wu Xian Sheng and Dan Notestein
Pictured in photo left to right: Wu Xian Sheng and Dan Notestein

Preliminary observations:

The sport of table tennis is fragmented and disorganized, a mix of recreational, amateur and world-class players.  Industry statistics are hard to come by ("How many table tennis rackets are sold world-wide each year?" remains unanswered on Quora and this industry report costs $175.) The online information delivery systems of the sports organizing bodies are dated and inefficient.  

Should we start a table tennis company?

I see an opportunity to do something about the online state of affairs in the sport of table tennis, but I question mightily how to transform that need for something to be done into a product or service that would be the foundation for a high-growth business. 

For now, I'll enter table tennis tournaments and not the table tennis market.

. . . . .

*Three researchers over several weeks have tried to find an orginal, authoritative source stating how many people in the world play table tennis. 

300 million table tennis players world-wide is a number we've seen often such as here and here.

According to Sport in the People's Republic of China on Wikipedia, however, China alone has 300 million table tennis players.

"How many people in the world play table tennis?"

If you can find the answer from a credible online source, please let us know.  We'll be glad to add your data and credit you with the find.

We'd welcome filling in the blanks on this one, too:

"Table tennis is a $ ______________ billion industry in the U.S. and a $__________ billion industry world-wide."

Elmira Hamidi, Catherine Galecki and Dan Notestein contributed to research for this post.

Jim Flowers is the executive director of VT KnowledgeWorks, a client of Handshake Media, Incorporated, the parent company of Handshake 2.0.

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