Thursday, August 15, 2013

Entrepreneurial Lessons from a Book on Toddlers

I've been reading up on toddler discipline (my little one recently entered the stage of reckless abandon and “no daddy!”) and am finding numerous theories/lessons that seem to apply as much to business as parenting.

One particular story resonated with me and I’ve found myself referencing it on several occasions this week within TGA’s walls.

The story is this – in an effort to study the impact of boundaries, a behaviorist removed the fence surrounding a preschool yard to see how the kids would react.  Instead of running wild with their newfound freedom, the kids huddled near the center and seemed paralyzed.  Why?  “There is security in defined limits.”  No different than if you removed the sidewalls on a bridge – everyone would drive slowlyyy down the middle.

As an entrepreneur, there are few to no proverbial “fences” surrounding what you do.  You need to be that child that bravely, almost defiantly, steps out into the danger of the unknown.  The best entrepreneurs I know are the ones who embrace uncertainty and manage change the best. 

But then an interesting thing happens.  You have some success.  You start hiring employees.  You have a C-level title by very nature of being the founder (or part of the founding team).   And then you realize that the exact traits that got you to that point are in many ways contradictory to the skills you need to be a good leader of the team you’re building.

Basic HR responsibilities like a vacation policy, staff handbook, consistent review structure, etc. are more of a nuisance to you than anything.  It’s all about results, not processes.  And when you give someone an assignment, you expect them to figure out how to get it done (and done well) with little need for hand-holding or guidance.  Because that’s the environment you, the entrepreneur, excel in.

But most employees need clarity and structure with these things.  They want (rightfully) to understand the expectations, have clear objectives and know how and when they’ll be evaluated.  They need a leader, a manager.  But often their boss (you, the entrepreneur) can’t relate to these needs.  Especially if you’re a first-time entrepreneur.  So while you did a great job of getting the company from A to B, you now need to adapt your approach quite significantly to get the company from B to C.  Fred Wilson wrote an article called “Becoming A Boss” that is a must-read if this topic is interesting to you.

From my experience there are two main stages to entrepreneurship.  The first is taking an idea and turning it into an actual product with a viable business model – i.e. being the kid that steps away from the pack and heads into unchartered territory where there are no fences.  The second stage is taking your viable business model and turning it into a long-term sustainable company – i.e. getting the pack you just stepped away from to now follow you thanks in large part to the fences you’ve built along the way of your trailblazing journey.  

Being successful with one stage is difficult enough, much less both.  It takes a unique individual who not only has the aforementioned personality traits and skill set, but also possesses a high level of self-awareness, eagerness to learn and willingness to adapt.  Entrepreneurship is not for most, and the personal experience I'm speaking from comes mostly from failure which is not fun.  But if you think you've got what it takes and can handle the ride, the successes and highs can be the thrill of a lifetime.

Good luck and happy entrepreneuring...

Monday, August 5, 2013

Could Shorter Loops Help Golfers Play More Holes?

The Wall Street Journal ran an article this past weekend on a golf course in Michigan that is experimenting with 5, 7, 9 and 12 hole formats in addition to the normal 18.  It has generated a decent amount of discussion within golf circles already, including at the highest level within Southern California, and I wanted to add a few comments.

To read the article, please click here.

The reason why I think this concept has really opened eyes can perhaps be explained through my personal history with golf.

As a child, I was fortunate to have parents who were members of the local country club so I could play unlimited golf for no additional fee.  And because of the course layout at Moraga Country Club, there were natural loops of 4, 5, 8 and 10 holes.  I took advantage of this countless times when I simply wanted to enjoy the game and had limited time or sunlight to do so.  Some of my best memories with my dad, my friends and even being alone came during these times when dusk was setting in, the shadows were long, sprinklers had to be dodged and the many majesties of golf were in full force.

Now, as an adult in the metropolis of Los Angeles where club memberships start at $100k+, I, like so many others, rely on public facilities for my golf.  The problem is that these courses charge a minimum nine hole rate which is usually overpriced even for the nine holes, and often the pro shop / tee sheet is closed a few hours prior to dusk so there isn't an opportunity to jump on for a few holes at the end of the day.  Given my responsibilities as a parent and the increasing demand of 24/7 availability in the professional world, this golfing reality doesn't work for me.  I could go to a Par 3 course, but they are so populated that it's still a two hour experience to play the nine holes.  (Plus, I want to hit the big dog!)  As a result, I haven't played golf in 5+ months.  I wonder how much potential revenue the industry is losing from folks like me.  I want to play, but the game doesn't have a solution for someone in my shoes (yet), especially in an urban setting.

What Island Hills is trying to accomplish from my perspective is to provide the country club convenience at a public facility where you pay as you play.  Therefore, that free hour you may have to play golf is accommodated with a viable and cost-effective solution to enjoy golf for that hour.  Brilliant.

There are, of course, the issues of potential bottlenecks, the timing for alternative routings and so forth, which the course owner Bob Griffioen seems to recognize.  It's promising to hear him have clear perspective that his model is a test needing study and likely iteration in the coming months/years.

An important thing to note about Mr. Griffioen is that he comes from an engineering background, not a golf one, and he applies that perspective to how he operates his facility.  I can relate in the sense that I too am not a PGA Professional but rather come from more of a business background. I think the golf industry benefits when folks outside the inner circle take a crack at out-of-the-box solutions to some of golf's ailments.  I reiterate this belief daily when folks who aren't PGA Professionals inquire about TGA's franchise opportunity and worry whether they can be successful in the golf industry coming from a background other than golf.  The answer is absolutely yes.

Concepts like shorter loops, pay as you play models, free equipment and cheap lessons (similar to the Mini Prince at Princeville course I wrote about a few weeks ago) may not benefit the short term bottom line, but if they encourage new players to join the game then we all win financially and otherwise in the long run.

I applaud Mr. Griffioen for taking the risk to try this approach, I'm confident that the industry will be closely following (and aiding) his efforts, and I wish him all the best.