As I watched the US Open this weekend and reviewed all of the advertising, I was reminded of the target audience and the brand building in those ads. I then wondered if golf is as critical to the startup world as it is for the big money guys on Wall Street.
Just take a second and review the sponsors and advertisers who were front and center this past weekend: JPMorgan, Mercedes Benz, Tiffany, Deloitte, IBM and American Express to name a few. Not a startup friendly brand among them.
As an experienced executive (read older) I grew up in an environment where important deals were many times created or consummated on the golf course. In fact I flew to Boston for the day from Chicago with my clubs to play a round of golf with new investors to help close the 2nd round of financing for GeoSystems (now MapQuest). Golf represented 4-5 hours of connection without paper, phone or computer. To many, there is a break down of official barriers that occur while preoccupied with that lake staring at you from the tee.
Golf and professional meetings are also a hold over from a time where men dominated the boardroom as well as the most senior levels of a company. There were exceptions of course and these barriers have broken down as well. But the country club and C-Suite operators and the golf course were important and a place where men transacted deals.
In addition, I feel like the type of deals transacted were in the category of large, earth-shaking, marriage-like deals that required a healthy dose of relationship building. And these relationships are based on years of professional standing.
Startups are different, vastly different. A favorite Steve Blank quote comes to mind, "startups are not smaller versions of larger companies". Every decision, strategy and move is made from a point-of-view that is far different than that of a mature company.
Startups are worried if they even have a customer, if that customer is willing to pay and for how long. Startups are concentrating on building out a product or service that has obvious value and does not require outsize sales or marketing efforts to create awareness. Startups are concerned with the amount of capital required to scale appropriately given all of the variables mentioned above.
For many reasons, golf is not important to startups:
- The nature of the type of deals critical to a startup is not made on long-term relationships. These deals feel more temporary and in the moment.
- Startups are first trying to survive and their moves made are based on a 3-6 month view. These change all the time as the startup's vision morphs.
- Nobody has 4-5 hours to give to golf in the middle of the day nor the practice needed to not thoroughly embarrass yourself with more seasoned players.
- Most importantly, the people who startups need to connect with are not on the golf course.
It will be interesting to see as startups mature to mid level then larger (IPO) sized companies whether these founders and executives look to golf to consummate deals or whether golf as a business platform will forever be a remnant from their father's day.