Sunday, January 19, 2014

Return & Ridicule - My Mercurial Relationship with the PGA Show

This week is the golf industry’s annual pilgrimage to Orlando for the PGA Show and I’m hitting the double-digit mark for years attending at 10.  I’m looking forward to seeing old friends, meeting new ones and checking out the latest and greatest.

One of the things I noticed last year was an overall sense that folks were opening up.   There wasn’t the feigned confidence of the mid 2000s.  There wasn’t as much of the territorial isolationism of the early 2010s.  The overall vibe seemed to be “this has sucked for a long time so let’s recognize that and focus on making it better.” 

Take a deep breathe of that fresh air, folks.  Feels good.  Let’s keep it going.

Writing this from the plane, I find myself reflecting on the mercurial relationship I’ve had over the years with the PGA Show.  I used to cringe on the flight over as I prepared for a week’s worth of frustrating conversations.  I’m not great at small talk and I’ve historically struggled with managing the traditionalist culture of the golf industry. 

We receive our fair share of criticism at TGA.  People disagree philosophically with our for-profit model.  They think golf should be taught solely at a golf course.  They disagree with our decision to employ coaches who aren’t PGA Professionals.   They believe we’re glorified babysitters since we teach kids under the age of 10.  They dismiss us solely for being in the same vague realm as The First Tee.  And so on.

We have responses to all of this, of course.  You can check out our website for our positions on these subjects.

What has frustrated me about the PGA Show was the feeling that I spent a week answering these questions and defending my company.  We’ve introduced hundreds of thousands of kids to golf, created hundreds of jobs, provided business ownership opportunities to dozens of entrepreneurs, and yet I still felt like a punching bag.

But these past few years, the feeling has been different.  I’ve learned something important.  The concept of return and ridicule.

I realized that not only are naysayers and critics part of life for an entrepreneur, but they’re things that should make us smile.

Yes, smile.  Why?  Because skepticism is a sign of one of two things:

The first is that you may just have a weak concept.  In which case, be thankful for the honest feedback.

The second is that, if you’ve had some early wins, you’re likely making people uncomfortable.  People have a lot riding on the norm – job, identity, etc. – and your innovation is threatening that sense of security.  When people feel uneasy, they push back.  Bad for them, good for you.

One of the things I enjoy most about the PGA Show is the countless amount of entrepreneurs who arrive hoping to strike gold.  For many, with the investment a booth requires, they’ve put all of their company’s young eggs in this show’s basket.  I have tremendous respect for the magnitude of these three days for them.

For my partner Josh and I, we’re going to meet with a bunch of PGA Sections and try to recreate with them what we’re doing with the SCPGA.  We’re also going to meet with leaders from the PGA and other industry associations.  And I’ll spend some time looking for products we can incorporate into our programs across the country.

We’ll undoubtedly have some interactions this week with questions/criticisms like the ones I described above.  Assuming they aren’t too frequent, I’ll smile at the uneasiness I’m causing.  Because that’s what entrepreneurship is all about. 

And, hopefully, there will be an equal amount of conversations about how our concept is a key solution to a nagging and challenging problem.  I’ll smile then too, because that’s also what entrepreneurship is all about.

For all the entrepreneurs descending on Orlando this week, I wish you all the best and encourage you to embrace the feedback.  Learn from it.  Win with it.

Have a great week, everyone.  Happy entrepreneuring…

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Who’s Really an Entrepreneur? You? Me? A Franchisee?

Happy New Year to the Golf Entrepreneur community.  I hope everyone had a happy and healthy holiday season.

Over the past few months I’ve found myself in numerous conversations around the central theme/question of – “Is someone who owns a franchise really an entrepreneur?”

I’ve heard several schools of thought with the most common response being “no” under the pretense that “entrepreneurship is about having that big idea and then doing something great with it, whereas franchisees get the idea and everything else they need handed to them.”

What strikes me about this sentiment is how it highlights for me in a highly personal way the differing perceptions and opinions about what “entrepreneurship” is.  Many folks fall within the camp of believing it is “idea” based, which makes sense because all new companies and products start with a central idea.

However, I offer a different perspective, one that defines entrepreneurship as “execution-based with risk.”

Let me tell a story that highlights what I mean.  I co-founded a company called GLinks in 2010 after winning a business plan competition and some seed capital.  My partner Joshua Jacobs created the original idea for GLinks, and it was to host events for singles at the golf course where they switched partners each hole in a modified speed-dating format.  I liked this idea because it captured the inherent socialization of golf – the concept that you can learn more about a person in four hours on a golf course than in four years in an office.  I brought the idea into a business school program, put it through the feasibility funnel and developed a formal business plan. 

The end result for GLinks was “a social golf network for young professionals who want to play golf, meet other like-minded people and learn a valuable business asset.”  This final concept included elements of Josh’s original idea while also incorporating my own ideas plus the ideas of many strangers that we learned through market testing.  As a result, the landing point for the “idea” of GLinks cannot be claimed by any one individual as it was a living, breathing thing with countless contributors.  Just as TGA started as an overnight camp for teenagers and is now a school-based program predominately for kids under the age of 10. 

This is why the definition of entrepreneurship as an “idea” doesn’t sit well with me.

When I talk about entrepreneurship being “execution-based with risk,” the first part refers to the ability to succeed in a highly unstable environment over a long period of time.  The second refers to having significant personal risk tied to the outcome. 

Let me expand by reverting back to the GLinks example.  Josh and I made the tough decision a few months ago to close down GLinks after two years of stagnation.  The reality is that we didn’t execute at a high level over a period of time.  There are valid reasons for this but we also made a lot of mistakes along the way.  The bottom line is that we didn’t accomplish what we set out to do and that’s a humbling thing.  Were we entrepreneurs?  Absolutely, we took an idea, risked our personal capital and launched a company.  But in this case we failed because we missed the “execution” part.  And that’s okay.

The question is – was I any more of an “entrepreneur” with my GLinks experience than one of our TGA franchisees who has risked their capital – often including home equity, 401k’s, savings accounts, etc. – to start and succeed with their franchised business?  Absolutely not.

We as the franchisor may provide the idea and business tools, but a sales/marketing strategy (and everything else in a franchisor’s “operations manual”) is meaningless if not executed at a high level.  We provide a lot of things, but we don’t (and can’t) provide the grit it takes to wake up every day determined to successfully navigate the roller-coaster of worrying about cash flow, overcoming naysayers, hitting sales targets, leading a team and everything else a franchisee is responsible for.  Because if they don’t accomplish these things, they may not have the funds to make their next mortgage payment. 

That’s entrepreneurialism, and it’s “execution-based with risk.”

I’d like to leave you with this article that discusses similar themes and features several folks in the golf industry, including myself and one of our new franchisees and Master Developers up in Canada, Joe Barnes.

I wish you all the best in 2014 and hope it’s a year of big dreams, big accomplishments and lots of happy entrepreneuring…