(Golf) Lessons for Founders

8/4/10

I am fairly certain that I have yet to peak as a golfer, and equally confident that I never will.

As I’m on the verge of ignoring the golfing gods (and worshipping the startup gods) for yet another full summer, my confidence in the previous statement is growing. To appease the golfing gods, I used some time-tested golf maxims to convey the lessons (read boulders) that the startup gods have recently thrown at me.

My body is here, but my mind has teed off. (Unknown)

From the age of 10, when I first started playing golf, until I left for college, I spent the majority of my waking moments on a golf course or thinking about golf. If you are a founder, the best question you can ask yourself is: “Do I feel this way about my business?” If the answer is “yes,” then you have a chance to succeed. If not, I would start looking for your next move.

I don’t exaggerate—I just remember big. (Chi Chi Rodriguez)

Chi Chi was best known for waving his putter like a sword in celebration of every putt he made. He was one of the best showmen the game has ever known. As a result, he always had a huge gallery. Why? Because Chi Chi knew how to celebrate his accomplishments in an endearing way.

Knowing how to tout your company’s exploits in an endearing way is a vital challenge for entrepreneurs. We have all met the founders who have the world conquered. Nothing is a problem. They are “going to crush it.” When I meet founders like this, I immediately move to suspicion. I become more of an adversary than a fan. Conversely, there are those founders who we all root for. Their passion, like Chi Chi’s, is evident. Rather than trying to ram their success down your throat, they implicitly ask you to see how neat their product or service is. They build a fan base.

When I die, bury me on a golf course so my husband will visit. (Unknown)

I went to Summit Series in May, an unbelievable event, and had a chance to hear Mark Cuban and Ted Leonsis speak on balancing relationships with startups. I left thinking that both men are super impressive and equally insightful.

Mark Cuban stated, and perhaps the quote’s author would agree, that there is no room in a founder’s life for a relationship when launching a business. Ted Leonsis respectfully disagreed and preached more of a balanced approach to life. I believe that the most important factor in the success of both your startup and your relationships is communication.

Golfers and founders spend most of their time at the “office.” Relationships can survive, but only if this reality is made abundantly clear to a spouse from the outset AND he/she is on board throughout. Beyond time, startups often rob their founders of financial security, arguably the number one reason for divorce . The point: if you have a spouse when you launch a venture, you better get him or her on board for a long, expensive haul. A spouse can be a huge factor in a founder’s success or failure, and certainly a vital influence on his or her happiness.

Golf can best be defined as an endless series of tragedies obscured by the occasional miracle. (Unknown)

There may be no better parallel between starting a company and playing golf. Much of golf is frustration. Most shots do not meet your expectations. Even pros will tell you that they hit only 2 or 3 great shots per round.

Startups are much the same way. Potential clients almost always say “no.” Potential investors seem to know no other word. Those who agree to buy or invest take forever to commit. And then a miracle happens. A key question: Can you (the founder) glean enough satisfaction from those miracles to compensate for the all of the tragedy?

There are no pictures on scorecards. (Unknown)

My twin sister, a golf orphan for most of her life who recently caught the bug, always loved this one. She would get a lucky bounce or ground one up the middle of the fairway, turn to me with a big smile on her face and proclaim: “There are pictures on scorecards.” In other words, only the final result matters.

The inner workings of most companies are ugly, and startups can be downright brutal. Emotions run high and rational procedures are few and far between. But there is no video camera inside the office. What matters is what your company can produce. Can you produce something a client wants? Can you raise the money you need? These are the only numbers that are written on the score card. The emotion will die down and the procedure will creep its way in, but only if you can put some birdies on the card early in the round.

At the end of the day, passion is the only certain prerequisite for success in entrepreneurship. Is your passion enough to attract others? Is it enough to overcome the financial and personal challenges? If so, you may want to put your clubs in the garage and pursue your business. After all, your odds of becoming the next Tiger Woods are likely smaller than becoming the next Jeff Bezos, or Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs, or…

Matt Shapiro is the Author and Founder of the Entrepreneur’s Census (www.bit.ly/entrecensus) and the Chief Executive Officer of Tooble, a new educational software venture. Contact: matt.shapiro@yale.edu. Follow: @entrecensus Follow @

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  • Kris

    I agree with these comments and enjoyed this article. Is there a way to have a start-up and retain a scratch handicap at the same time? Please comment.

  • Bob Crimmins

    Well done… Nice par.

  • http://www.bit.ly/entrecensus Matt Shapiro

    Kris,
    I am sure to be “preaching to the choir”, but short game is probably the best thing to focus on if time is short. I read a great book by Stan Utley a few years back. Dr. Bob Rotella also has some good ones. Best of luck!

  • http://www.bit.ly/entrecensus Matt Shapiro

    Bob,
    Better than my usual score :). Sean at TechStars and Mark at Startup Weekend were both very helpful with the Entrepreneur’s Census. Two great organizations! Shoot me an email if you ever have time for a chat. matt.shapiro@yale.edu.
    Matt

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  • http://Www.snareit.com Jordan

    Matt

    Nice parallels. You really captured the whole experience from the many lows to the one high and what it’s like to take a relationship through the entire experience.

  • http://www.bit.ly/entrecensus Matt Shapiro

    Thanks Jordan!
    Let’s chat again soon.
    Matt

  • Jason

    Well done. Few more additions……As my high school golf coach used to tell me “Swing hard in case you hit it ” and you can always equate any success with “Drive for show…….etc”
    Talk soon.
    JP