.
Discover

Faces of Entrepreneurship: Steve Fox .

Week of November 27th "Face of Entrepreneurship" is Steve Fox, Founder of Urban Putt.

Faces of Entrepreneurship: Steve Fox

Null

“In my own former narrow way of thinking, I conceived of entrepreneurship as strictly a money thing, and not necessarily all that interesting. Eventually I came to realize that starting and running a business as an entrepreneur is a creative act, balancing business needs, budget, and people in a way that is incredibly rewarding. So now, I see entrepreneurship as something that gives me freedom to create, freedom to set my own hours (often seven days a week!), and freedom to remake my life according to my own rules.”

-- Steve Fox, Founder, Urban Puttempty


What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?

I was an accidental, even reluctant, entrepreneur. Starting right after college, I had worked for 35 years as an editor and writer, getting a paycheck every two weeks from someone else, and I was essentially happy with that arrangement. It was secure, predictable, and I enjoyed the creativity my various positions afforded me. But I had a dream to open a mini-golf course in San Francisco, and the only way to do that was to become an entrepreneur: write a business plan, assemble a team, and raise capital. I had to learn every step along the way just by doing it.

In my own former narrow way of thinking, I conceived of entrepreneurship as strictly a money thing, and not necessarily all that interesting. Eventually I came to realize that starting and running a business as an entrepreneur is a creative act, balancing business needs, budget, and people in a way that is incredibly rewarding. So now, I see entrepreneurship as something that gives me freedom to create, freedom to set my own hours (often seven days a week!), and freedom to remake my life according to my own rules.

How did your business come to be? (e.g. What sparked the idea? How did you decide to take the leap?)

For years, my wife and I threw yearly bring-your-own-hole miniature golf parties in our house, and people loved them. We got to see how something like this would work and to test out the concept in our own house, though at the time we never thought our parties as the germ of a business.

My editing job was becoming less satisfying, as the publishing industry struggled to stay relevant and profitable. I began to feel like I was in a dying industry. My wife said to me (only slightly facetiously), “If you’re not enjoying work, just quit. We can move to the middle of nowhere, where land is cheap, and open a miniature golf course.” As a San Franciscan, I didn’t want to move to the middle of nowhere, but the economics of a mini-golf course in the city seemed impractical and unrealistic. Even so, I was eager to explore the possibility. So I took a course from the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center on writing a business plan, and got to work. Ultimately, after four drafts, I created the plan for Urban Putt, a bar/restaurant/miniature golf course in San Francisco, surprisingly, the numbers suggested it might work. At age 55, I quit my job (editorial director at PC World) and started work on my dream. A year and a half later, we opened Urban Putt.

What is the biggest learning from the journey so far? What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would change/do over?

I have learned that people (in this case, customers) are hungering for real experiences, to interact with others without the mediation of electronic devices, screens, etc. I see it every day, as people relish playing on our crazy 14-hole course, and their palpable enjoyment continues to push me further to make the holes more interactive and magical. These days, people can buy almost anything online, but they can’t buy experiences.

Before I started, I wish I had known that whatever you think something will cost, you should probably tack on 40%. I had to do a cash call, asking my investors for more money four months before opening, because I had underestimated costs. It was a painful and expensive lesson.

What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business? What is your professional and personal mission statement?

I am aware that I need help and expertise from others, from people I trust. Successful entrepreneurs should seek advice and listen to everyone who is credible, weighing plusses and minuses. Then make your choice and be clear about it. Trying to please everyone is a fool’s errand. One day you will wake up and realize you know more about the dynamics of your business than anyone else in the world. That is an exhilarating realization.

Of course, if what you tried to do isn’t working, change it and try something new. Don’t believe that just because you’ve had success in starting a business that you are suddenly infallible. Be flexible and willing to experiment.

My personal mission statement: My business is a direct extension of me; it’s a reflection of who I am and what I believe. That credo helps me make sure I am doing the right thing.

What’s it like to work alone/with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?

Look for people with experience in areas you lack. I knew nothing about running a restaurant or bar, so I found an experienced general manager, a chef, and a bar manager. I listened to them, learned from them, and gave them enough freedom to oversee their bailiwicks. I also set up a compensation plan where they were rewarded for success both in their areas and in the business in general.

What does “success” mean to you? What’s the dream for your business? What has helped/will help you achieve it?

I have investors, who trusted me enough to put money behind my unproven concept. So success starts with financials--paying back my investors and keeping them satisfied. Beyond profits, I judge success by seeing my customers having a great time and participating in the fun that we are trying to create at Urban Putt. I derive enormous satisfaction from walking the floor at the restaurant and on the course and talking to people, asking them how they are doing. I measure success by gauging their joy.

I would like to start a second Urban Putt, in another city, mostly as a way to take everything I’ve learned and apply it to a new location. I now know what works and what doesn’t, and I can tailor the new spot to take advantage of that knowledge.

What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey.

Often on Monday mornings, when no one else is around, I walk out onto the course, turn all the holes (everything we have is interactive, mechanical) and just take it all in—the whirring motors, carnival sounds, clacking mechanisms, flickering lights. And I am overwhelmed by this strange, one of a kind creature I have somehow set in motion. I liken it to a parent marveling at his firstborn, at swelling with proud over a miracle of creation.

The low came before we opened, when I ran out of money and had to ask my investors to pony up more capital. I felt so inept and embarrassed at my miscalculations, and I called an old friend and financial whiz—who was also an investor—for advice. At that point, my spirit was broken, and I was filled with fear, thinking I wouldn’t be able to reach the finish line. Essentially, he advised me to stop groveling, stop apologizing, and to “start acting like a CEO.” I had been so focused on my own perceived failings that I was no longer projecting the confidence and enthusiasm for the project that had allowed me to get it going in the first place. Ultimately I put on my chief executive hat, raised the additional cash, and opened the business. The rest is history.


emptyNasdaq's Education Foundation helped launch The Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in the fall of 2015. Located in San Francisco, it has quickly become the go to destination for the next generation of risk takers and idea makers who take the plunge into entrepreneurship.

Scroll up