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How a Golf Ball Stand Helped Kickstart a Love for Entrepreneurship

Aside from the obligatory “lemonade stand” at the age of 6 (in my case, it was a Coca-Cola stand), my first “real” entrepreneurial pursuit was loaded with life long lessons for company building. I’ll share three at the end of this post, but first some background.

Winding through my childhood neighborhood was a creek. This creek was a 12 year old boy’s dream. It was a portal into nature in the middle of the city of Atlanta. There was wildlife throughout the corridor and also another resource that would fuel what had become another passion of mine: golf balls.

You see, a mile and a half upstream from us, not one but two golf courses straddled the creek. That meant there was a great supply of golf balls rolling down this creek from errant shots. I’d take an empty garbage bag and fish out as many golf balls as I could carry, sometimes numbering over 200 per haul. Back home, I’d put them in a vintage Coca-Cola cooler.

I cleaned and organized them by brand. There were far too many for my own use, so I thought I could sell these lost golf balls back to golfers who may have hit them in the creek. I priced the balls by brand and condition — the Titleist Tour Balata and Professional at $2.50/ball and a Maxfli or Top Flight at $0.50.

The cooler was then loaded onto a skateboard and was pushed to the sidewalk adjacent to the 12th hole on the golf course. This is where I set up shop. After one day I walked away with $350 and the satisfaction of making good money for a 12 year old! I was hooked on entrepreneurship.

This experience was one of the first that grew my passion for the hustle of company-building. The blood and sweat to hunt for the golf balls, clean them, price them, and drag the cooler to the spot left me with some life lessons on some fundamentals of business.

Three takeaways from my golf ball stand that I still use when advising entrepreneurs:

  1. Location. Make it easy for your customers to find you. This is true both online and offline. I knew that corner of the street next to the 12th green would be a prime location. There were two water hazards on that hole and on the back nine many golfers didn’t plan for losing so many golf balls. They would have 1/3 of the round left and after depositing a ball into the lake or creek, most of the time they would stop by my stand to buy more balls.

  2. Differentiation. How do you differentiate from the competitions? Price and selection were mine. The nearby pro shop carried 4 versions of 1 brand of golf ball. I carried over 15 brands and probably 40+ varieties. A dozen of these golf balls would be at least $20 from the pro shop. At my stand, they could be as little as $6.

  3. Loyalty. Generate repeat customers. It’s been estimated that recruiting a new customer is anywhere from 5-25 times more expensive than retaining one. This was one I, admittedly, could have done better. The golf course had a tournament every Saturday morning with 40-52 golfers. In retrospect, I should have timed the shop around this event.

When building a tech startup, it can be easy to overthink elements of the business. But, remembering to check your business against age old best practices can help drive focus on execution.

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