Wednesday, August 29, 2012

An Entrepreneur's Approach to Challenging Augusta

I’m a week late in joining the Augusta conversation thanks to travel but have read a decent amount of commentary and put a lot of thought into it.

I think it was a smart decision for Augusta to allow female members because it’s the one I would’ve made. If I were a member there, I’d welcome female members for the more social environment.  If I were running the place, I’d welcome them because it’s smart for business as it doubles the pool of potential members and it’s smart politically.

I do not, however, agree with the pressure put on them to do it.  There are many social clubs in America that “discriminate” based on gender, ethnicity and other things like income and prestige.  It’s right that they’re allowed to do so.  They’re private and don’t involve access to jobs/education, fair pay, political equity or any of the other areas where women and men should be equal as human beings. 

I can’t join the Belizean Grove.  So what?  I’ll very likely never be allowed to join Augusta even though I’m a white male because I’m not rich and powerful.  I’m okay with that.

If women want to join a spectacular golf club in Georgia, they’re welcomed to create one.  They can make it female-only if they want.  That’s the beauty of America.

The entrepreneur in me has listened to Martha Burke for all these years and thought – if I were her, I’d transfer all of this time and energy into creating an amazing women’s-only club that rivals Augusta and use THAT as an example of why women are equal to (and in many ways superior) to men.  That would’ve been a powerful entrepreneurial approach to this situation.  

This is how all successful entrepreneurs I know look at the situations they find unsatisfactory.  They identify the problem, create an innovative solution, determine if there are enough like-minded people to develop a market and then go for it.  They don't bang on the door of the incumbent and demand change.  And, on a tangentially relevant topic, one of the beautiful things about entrepreneurship is that it’s almost completely agnostic to gender, ethnicity, age and everything else besides brains, guts and luck.

I applaud Augusta because I agree with their decision.  But I also believe that other male-only clubs like Cypress Point and Pine Valley are not doing anything legally or ethically wrong.  If their membership wants it that way, they have the freedom to do so.  And if you disagree, you have the freedom to do something about it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The PGA Tees it Back While Telling Us to Tee it Forward

Adam Schupak had an interesting tweet recently that I’ve been thinking about.  It said:

@JoshuaJTGA True but a mixed msg to say avg golfer should play fwd while pushing the pros back. If pros at 7700, whose going to play 6500?

There was intriguing dialogue back and forth about this concept between industry vets I know well and good points were made on both sides.  But the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with Schupak’s stance.

When you’re a kid shooting hoops in the backyard, what does everyone dream about?  Scoring 60 and hitting the game-winning shot in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, of course.  Or, at least that’s the scenario that played out in my mind almost every afternoon for years.

Fast-forward to adulthood and the same concept applies.  When you’re on the putting green lining up 8 footers, what do you imagine?  Is this the putt to win the U.S. Open or to shoot 88 instead of 89 on the local muni?

Kiawah's 9th Hole, a 494 Par 4

Tee It Forward is a great program and one that I want to succeed.  I bet we’ve all had too many bad experiences being behind a player or group that was playing inappropriate tees and holding everyone up.  A recent NGF study determined that the average round of golf takes 4 hours 17 minutes and 30% of golfers think that this is too long.  This is important considering most golfers cite golf’s time commitment as one of the two main limiting factors in how much they play (the other being cost).  Therefore, speeding up and maintaining a healthy pace of play is critical to the industry.

People want to play the courses the pros play.  The want to play under the same circumstances as the pros to gauge how far away they are from being as good as them.  It’s the kid in us that still likes to dream and play make-believe every once in awhile.  And telling folks to tee it forward while the pros are teeing it back eliminates the opportunity to do so.  Which is why people don’t play from their appropriate tees as it is.

Of course, the PGA of America has an obligation to the players and fans to provide a tough and fair test of golf, as does the PGA Tour and USGA.  However, I agree with Schupak that they’re sending a mixed message by using a 7,676 yard course for their national championship while promoting Tee It Forward during commercial breaks.

Next year the PGA Championship is at Oak Hill in NY.  Wouldn’t it be neat if they kept it at the length currently listed on the PGA’s website of 7,134 yards, or even shortened it to under 7,000, to align with their campaign?  That would send a powerful message, especially if they used other means besides length to challenge the players.  Otherwise, as long as the pros keep teeing it back, I believe the PGA will have a hard time convincing the weekend warrior to tee it forward.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What Kind of Entrepreneur Are You Going to Be?

I was talking to a serial tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist in the Bay Area recently and he had an interesting take on entrepreneurship.  This was his comment:

There are three types of successful entrepreneurs:
  1. The young and dumb kind who work tirelessly and fearlessly until they find something that sticks
  2. The technical experts who solve a specific problem that only a handful of people know exists and how to fix
  3. The authentic kind who have domain expertise, industry experience and the infrastructure needed (relationships, etc.) within a market to exploit its inefficiencies
Barring you being a technical expert, what kind of entrepreneur are you going to be?

When I look at my career, we were definitely in the “young and dumb” category when launching and building TGA Premier Junior Golf.  But, thankfully, we succeeded due to a great concept and a decent amount of luck.

When we launched GLinks in 2010, we were sort-of authentic entrepreneurs.  We knew through our experience in the golf industry that there’s a real pain point for young professionals to learn golf in a fun, convenient and cost-effective way.  However, we came to realize that GLinks is mostly a marketing company and this is not where our expertise lies.  With TGA, the marketing is easy because our partnerships with the schools give us direct and open communication channels with our customers.  With GLinks, we had to get word out to the broader community…. A task that requires a greater investment in time, resources and capital.  We ultimately decided that it wasn’t worth it (right now) when our main focus is on building TGA.

Last year, we launched TGA Premier Youth Tennis again as sort-of authentic entrepreneurs.  Through TGA, we knew the youth sports market and franchising industries well, but we lacked experience in the tennis industry.  This concerned us.  So, we formed a founding partnership with the governing body of the tennis industry, the USTA.  The combination of our expertise with the USTA’s gives us all of the tools we should need to be successful.  If we could go back and redo GLinks, we would’ve used the same strategy and added a promotions guru to the founding team or partnered with a marketing/promotions group before launching.

The lesson in my friend's comment is that most entrepreneurs are either the young and dumb kind or the authentic kind, and you definitely have a better chance at success if you're in the authentic camp.  As my MBA professors used to say, always entrench yourself in an industry before trying to start a company in it.

This advice provided me with clarity and I hope it gives you food for thought as you put your ideas through the feasibility funnel.  And, for those of you aspiring entrepreneurs who don’t want to worry about such matters, the franchise industry has thousands of proven business models for you to explore.