Friday, February 25, 2011

Innovation and Entrepreneurial Breeding Grounds

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Tech Coast Angels Fast Pitch Competition where 10 finalists (out of 140+ applicants) conducted 90 second pitches followed by Q&A and scoring from an elite panel of judges.  It was an awesome display of entrepreneurship in Los Angeles.

The picture to the right was taken on my phone during one of the pitches.

What makes an event like this so special is the energy in the air.  Entrepreneurship becomes a living, breathing thing taking place before your eyes as people create, innovate and collaborate.  You could’ve walked into the room with a skeleton of an idea and walked out with 25 ideas on how to make it a real business. 

In the end, all participants benefited with entrepreneurship being the big winner.

This made me think – does anything like this exist in the golf industry?  It’s a large, struggling industry so one would think it’d be a meaningful effort, but to my knowledge the answer is no.  At least, I’ve never heard of it and a Google search produced no results.

The only thing I’ve ever seen was the “Inventor Spotlight Section” at the PGA Show this past year, which I tweeted about at the time – “@steventanner: In the ‘Inventor's Spotlight Pavilion’ section of @PGAGolfShows ... Lots of #golf trinkets but sadly nothing game-changing.”

The golf industry badly needs innovation – not in the form of new teaching aids or white driver heads, but in the form of game-changing business models that address the way people consume and experience golf.

I think a conference on this topic would be helpful.  Even just a two-hour event in one of the side rooms at the PGA Show.  If golf industry members had an entrepreneurial environment to learn, network and discuss their ideas, I bet a few innovative business models would come out of it.

If someone knows of an event like this in existence, please let me know.  Otherwise, I hope we see it soon.  I’ll be the first person registered.

And, if you’re an entrepreneur in any industry I encourage you to attend local events like what the Tech Coast Angels put on yesterday because I guarantee it’ll be a valuable experience.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Keep Your Chin Up, Kid

I'm in the Badger state two weeks after the Packers won the Super Bowl and I find the whole experience difficult. 

I was born in Chicago and am a lifelong Bears fan.  They’re my favorite team in all of sport.  And, even passive football fans know that the Bears and Packers are bitter rivals.

MKE is littered with banners.  So are the storefronts, freeway signs … reminders of it are everywhere.  It seems like everyone wears either a Packers jacket or cap, or both.  And, every logo screams at me: “The Packers won two of their final five games against Da Bears – including the NFC Championship Game on your home turf.”

It’s times like these when I’m happy to be a golfer.  I’ve spent several days at my in-laws house in Beaver Dam, which is filled with people I love tremendously.  And they are Packer fans.  But learning golf at a young age taught me about sportsmanship and respect.  It taught me that you never root against others … and most of all, you should never let internal disappointment lead to external aggression. 

This psychological process reminds me being an entrepreneur.  I recall the early days with TGA, the junior golf company I’ve lived and breathed for 7+ years, when franchise candidates, schools, courses, suppliers, partners, etc. turned us down regularly.  The rejections seemed personal.  They still occur, and they still sting. 

However, being an entrepreneur has taught me a lot.  Cockiness has turned to humility.  Rejection has turned to determination.  Entitlement has turned to gratitude.  Golf prepared me for these lessons.

My advice for current or aspiring entrepreneurs is this – expect disappointment and take it in stride.  Do not take it personal and maintain relationships with the naysayers, whether they’re potential customers, suppliers or investors. 

Consider it like this – you’re a QB who just missed a touchdown pass in the first quarter of a 16 game season.  That’s okay.  And the receiver who dropped the pass – he may ultimately become the Robin to your Batman.  Thus, do not discard or alienate him … stay in touch and keep him close, because you never know when he may score the winning touchdown for you in the Super Bowl after dropping three critical passes.  Think Jordy Nelson.

Finally, to all of my Packer friends, I say “congratulations.” Enjoy the ride and please keep our trophy safe and unscathed until it returns to its rightful place in Halas Hall next year.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The USGA's Impact on Golf - 2011 & Beyond

I’m in Colorado for a few days and I find myself thinking about the USGA.

The organization has been a hot source of news lately. 

On a personal level as the COO of a junior golf company, I was disappointed to learn that their foundation (based in Colorado Springs) was ceasing its grant program in 2011.  The USGA had previously given over $67 million to development programs across the U.S. since 1997.

Then, on Christmas Eve last year, David Fay announced that he was abruptly retiring at the end of 2010 after 21 years as the Executive Director.  Mr. Fay did some great things for golf during his tenure – including bringing the U.S. Open to municipal courses and recently helping to reinstate golf in the Olympics after a 100+ year absence.

The incoming ED, whenever hired, will have big shoes to fill and will likely leave a large footprint on the game.  In my mind, there are three immediate and significant issues he/she will face:

Equipment – most equipment manufacturers have maxed out their products within the USGA’s limits.  The 460cc driver is the most prevalent example.  There is little room left for innovation.  Thus, as the focus shifts from R&D to marketing, will the USGA consider loosening its rules or creating separate guidelines for equipment played by amateur players?

Handicap system – rounds, players, etc. are all down and have been for years.  From personal experience as well as talking to others, the main issue is time.  5-7 hours for golf (including travel, warm-up, etc.) is too long in today’s world.  Will the USGA and its affiliates sponsor a 9-12 hole format (or some other expedited golf set-up) and create supporting handicap systems?

Rules – with the recent examples at Kapalua and Abu Dhabi of fans calling in rule violations on PGA Tour players, a real question arises about how stringent the USGA should be about enforcing its rules.  I’ve heard recommendations from colleagues about the need for a separation between tournament rules, recreational rules, street-golf rules, junior rules, etc.  Will the USGA consider a tiered rules system that accommodates the different levels/aspirations of its players?

As an entrepreneur affected by the USGA’s decisions, I am anxious to see how these issues unfold.  They will play a large role on how entrepreneurs look for opportunities within the industry for years to come. I look forward to expanding on these ideas and hearing your thoughts in future blogs. 

Until then, happy entrepreneuring…

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

90 Seconds Could Change Your Life

I’m an MBA student-analyst for an angel group in Southern California and they put on a pitch competition every year.  The deadline to apply was yesterday and we finished with 139 applications.

The first round has two parts – entrepreneurs complete an online application and then they deliver their 90 second pitch live on a conference call.  I’m on the screening committee, which means I’ve reviewed/analyzed/scored almost all of the 139 apps/pitches.

An interesting reality has emerged during this process – the pitches are either very good or they need a lot of work.  There is little middle ground.  Most are excellent, but I’m surprised at the number that fall into the not-so-good category.

A solid elevator pitch is one of the most valuable assets an entrepreneur possesses.  In the start-up world, your idea/company lacks pedigree.  Thus, you need to convince people that they should care about your business.  You likely have 1-2 minutes to do this before the other party becomes disinterested.  Think about it – how long is your average elevator ride?

First, I believe the goal of an elevator pitch is twofold: 
  1. Spark curiosity so the person wants to learn more
  2. Give the listener a good enough sense of what you’re doing that he/she can describe it in one sentence to someone else
In my experience, strong pitches have these universal components:
  1. Customer pain (what’s the problem?)
  2. Product description (what’s the solution?)
  3. Customer definition (who’s going to buy this?)
  4. Market analysis (what does the market look like?)
  5. Your competitive advantage (what’s your IP/defensibility?)
  6. Team background (why will you be successful?)
In a 90 second pitch, you have 10-12 seconds for each item when you include an introduction and a closing.  Thus, you get about one sentence on each topic.  Make it worthwhile.  Doing so requires that you come down from the 100k foot level and talk about tangible things while not getting so detailed that the elevator doors open on item #2.

The subject most commonly overlooked is ironically the one that’s most important to the person listening – the team.  With a start-up, you’re asking people to invest in YOU.  Your job is to convince the customer/investor/etc. that YOU are the person who can solve the problem, bring the product to market, create a scalable/profitable business, etc.  Thus, make sure you talk about you and your team.

If you’re an entrepreneur, my advice is to make sure you have a strong elevator pitch.  This requires preparation and practice.  You never know when you’re going to bump into the Steve Jobs of your industry and be asked – “So, what do you do?”  A good answer is essential to the concept of happy entrepreneuring…

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"If you follow every dream, you might get lost."

I was listening to the radio this morning and Neil Young’s “The Painter” caught my attention.  The main chorus is – “If you follow every dream, you might get lost.”

I like Neil Young but my initial reaction was – “Wow, that’s a crummy message.”

A few minutes later, my mind was reflecting on the PGA Show and something clicked. 

The thing I love best about conventions is that it’s capitalism at its finest.  Anyone can buy a booth and peddle their product.  If people buy what you’re selling (and everything at these shows is negotiable), your business grows.  If not, you burn through a lot of cash.  For a young company, conventions can make or break the business.