Brent Robertson is the cofounder and CEO of Back9Booking, a site that lets you book tee times at your local golf course online. Back9Booking launched its website in March of this year. This month, they listed their 50th golf course on the site, with 10 more in the pipeline. Fast Company caught up with Robertson to talk about the challenge of taking on GolfNow, a national competitor owned by Comcast. The key? A business model that gives courses full control over their own pricing.
FAST COMPANY: The one time I tried to play golf, I let go of the club during my swing, and it went flying into the driving range.
Does your startup solve that problem?
No, unfortunately, it does not. Not quite yet.
Then I probably won’t be using your business. What does it do?
We are a reservation system. We’re an online aggregator of tee times. So if you’re looking to play golf in Chicago in a certain area at a certain time, rather than call each golf course to ask about availability and pricing, you go to our site. We’re much like an Orbitz, or Kayak, or Travelocity, but for the golf industry.
You’re taking on a big player in this space called GolfNow.
GolfNow is a nationwide company. It’s owned by Comcast, which owns the Golf Channel, and has been around about five years.
So what’s your selling point over GolfNow?
GolfNow charges a fee to users of their system, whereas we do not. We get paid by golf courses, on a commission-only model. GolfNow also gets courses to list two or three discounted tee times a day on the site, and GolfNow takes all the revenue on those tee times.
Taking on Comcast must be kind of scary.
It is, with the financial backing they have. But what we’ve found is that many golf courses don’t want to participate in the GolfNow model. When you give a third party control of two tee times a day, and they control the price, that affects the brand image, in a way. If you sell a $100 tee time for $50, it’s hard to justify charging everyone else $100. A lot of golf courses don’t want to get involved with that. We’ve got a system that allows golf course owners 100% control of the pricing.
Do you have plans beyond Chicago?
Absolutely. Golf courses work with various automated online solutions to manage tee times. We’ve integrated with two of the larger software companies that do this, so we can work with about 700 golf courses in Illinois and the surrounding states. Our expansion plans are to go through the Midwest, and then ideally somewhere in the south, to generate yearlong revenue. The ultimate goal is to be a national brand.
You run the business with two of your brothers.
I’m the youngest. The middle is Struan, and the oldest is Glenn. Glenn is very technical, so he’s the COO. Struan has a strong finance background, so he’s the CFO. I’m the CEO, having done sales jobs as my career before this. But we’re all equal partners. I’m not their boss; they’re not my boss.
You don’t find yourselves throwing golf balls at each other?
No, the nice thing about three people running a business, is it always ends up in a vote that’s gonna win, 2 to 1.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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[Image: Flickr user JD Hancock]