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Golf Yeah - Gordon G. Andrew
Tom Cox — Golf eCommerce Entrepreneur
00:00:00 00:32:28

Tom Cox — Golf eCommerce Entrepreneur

“Spend ten times the amount of time you think you should spend on hiring the right people for your business. Not twice the amount. Not three times the amount. Ten times the amount."

Tom Cox

Founder and CEO - Golfballs.com, Inc.

Lafayette, Louisiana

We’ve had a number of golf entrepreneurs on the Golf Yeah podcast, but it’s safe to say that none are as hard-wired or successful as Tom Cox. Tom is the co-founder, president and CEO of golfballs.com, a company he started in 1995, which was one of the first eCommerce businesses for golf products. Golfballs.com has been on a rocket ship since then. In 1996, for example, the company had sales of $16,000...and they currently are around $35 million.

There are three things I find interesting about Tom. First of all, he already had a solid 10+ year golf industry career before he started golfballs.com...as the manager of a prestigious golf club in Broussard, Louisiana. But Tom knew that he wanted something more...and had self-confidence to reach for it.

Secondly, Tom had the innate ability...not only to see a market opportunity in used golf balls, but also had the flexibility to change the focus of his business into mass customization of new golf balls and other golf-related items. So he had the talent of most great entrepreneurs...which is the ability to connect the dots, and to adapt quickly based on what he learned.

The third thing I find interesting about Tom is that he has not allowed his success to get in the way of giving back. And the way that Tom gives back is by serving as an advocate, advisor and fan of startup companies and their founders. Toward that end, he is co-founder and volunteer President of Opportunity Machine, a business accelerator. Tom is also a limited partner in Tectonic Ventures, a venture capital fund focused on technology companies with high growth potential.

Here's a fun fact about Tom. On the Meyers-Briggs personality test, which classifies people as one of 16 personality types, Tom is an ENTJ, which means he is Extroverted, Intuitive, Thinking and Judging. Meyers Briggs calls this personality type “Commanders;” and describes them as natural born leaders with charisma and confidence, who project authority in a way that draws people together behind a common goal. Other ENTJ people included Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. That group also included Richard Nixon, but we steer clear of politics in our podcasts.

Show Highlights: 

  • Why a passion for golf was NOT the key to Tom's success
  • How Tom came to connect the dots between two concepts -- used golf balls and internet marketing -- to create golfballs.com
  • Behind the scenes insights into the world of used golf balls
  • What happened in the market that caused Tom to change his business model
  • The value of owning the golfballs.com domain, and how he also acquired golfball.com
  • Why most people do not pay an additional fee for customizing their golf balls
  • What types of things that Tom refuses to imprint on a golf ball
  • The key to success in running a business with 120 employees
  • The next step in Tom's plan for golfballs.com
  • Why Tom invests so much time helping other entrepreneurs to succeed

Notable Quotes: 

On his original business plan: “It was simply to have a website as a marketing engine, and to employ guys who dive for golf balls do the fulfillment. It was not to run an operation with 120 employees."

On changing his business model: “You can pick ONE thing and be really good at it, and the ONE thing we work to be really good at is customized golf products....which means that you have to give up on some other pieces of the industry...and one of those pieces was used golf balls.”

On market timing in 1995: “We were a unique differentiated product selling online. Back then, golfers were one of the first demographic groups who were buying online. Golfers were early adopters of the internet.”

On who buys personalized golf balls: “If you want to play the least expensive golf ball, then you will probably not be a customer. But if you play a lot of golf and you like customized products -- and an increasing number of people do want their products customized -- then you're likely to buy a customized golf ball."

On his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: “Entrepreneurs fall in love with ideas, and think that the idea or product will win the day. But it’s people that make a successful business.”

Resources: 

Tom's successful mass customization eCommerce business: https://www.golfballs.com

The Lafayette, LA-based business incubator / accelerator designed to grow business and entrepreneurship, create quality jobs, economic diversity, and regional prosperity: https://www.opportunitymachine.org