Geoff Cottrill – Chief Marketing Officer at Topgolf
For 300 years golf had remained the same. Then Topgolf came around. If you ask their Chief Marketing Officer Geoff Cottrill if Topgolf IS golf you’d be surprised to learn his answer.
On this episode of The Courageous Podcast, we discuss how Topgolf is democratizing and diversifying the game. Geoff, on Forbes list of the 50 Most Entrepreneurial CMOs, and Ryan discuss what happens when sneaker culture meets golf culture and how to successfully introduce a new concept to the masses.
Ryan Berman 0:00
We're joined today by Geoff Cottrill. You are I think the second guest to ever come back on, like, I've ever asked back on.
Geoff Cottrill 0:37
Ryan Berman 0:47
That's probably [Inaudible 0:46] Asked back on the show. No one is coming back on my show. (Laughs) Asked back on. And I will tell you this, I am so curious about what you're doing.
Geoff Cottrill 1:01
Oh man, I'm having the time of my life.
Ryan Berman 1:03
All right. So, why don't you do this, you're a good presenter. So, can you share where you are? Did you have to move? And what you're doing?
Geoff Cottrill 1:12
Yeah. I joined Topgolf a little over a year ago, about 14 months ago, as their Chief Brand Officer. Chief Marketing Officer that we recently evolved into Chief Brand Officer, and I'm absolutely having the time of my life. We're based in Dallas, I live in Atlanta. So, I spend a fair amount of time between the two cities back and forth. But, like I said, I'm as happy as I think I've ever been in my life.
Ryan Berman 1:39
All right. I love already where this is going. Because I think ‘brand,’ that word is getting punched in the face for all the wrong reasons. I don't know if you're seeing this, if you feel this, like Brandless. Brandless tried to base, I don't want to vilify Brandless, but I felt like they tried to be like, “You don't need to pay for brand. We're going to strip all that out.” So, how would you define brand? Maybe we start there.
Geoff Cottrill 2:07
How would I define brand. I think brands are defined in products, services and experiences, and in often cases sort of cultivated and developed in the mind. I think you first have to start with a product that people want or need, or don't yet know they want or need. Or a set of experiences, or some kind of service that's meaningful to people. And only then, I think, can you actually start or have a brand on your hand.
Ryan Berman 2:39
You're a fairly intentional guy from what I know. So, talk me through the journey on coming to this conclusion, like, “Wait a minute, this is the wrong… This Chief Marketing Officer title doesn't totally fit the bill.” Walk me through how you… I'm assuming this came from you, by the way, this ask.
Geoff Cottrill 2:58
Oh, no. It actually came from conversations with our entire executive leadership team, lots of different conversations. Marketing is one element of our mix. We got things like retail, there's memberships, there's all kinds of other things that sort of fit into brand, if you will, that, I think, goes beyond marketing. The word marketing can sometimes be limiting. And it could also send signals to people about what they think it is or isn't. So, I was like, “Yeah, sure, let's change it.” Honestly, I don't care what you call me. I don't care what my title is, I really don't care anymore. I've gotten to a place in my life where title isn't important. The people I get to work with and the work I get to do is the important piece.
Ryan Berman 3:46
So, I think when we last left off on the show, you were biting your lip on where you were going next. I'm not surprised by this, but very thoughtful on your process on where you're going to go. When I'm actually thinking of what you said, you might have already unveiled your criteria, but what was the criteria for you for your ‘what's next’?
Geoff Cottrill 4:11
First and foremost, I think I used to say this when I was younger, but I don't know that I meant it as much as I do now. I want to be surrounded by people that are trying to do something meaningful and that aren't trying to do it in an evil way. There's evil in every political organization, political corporate brand organization I've ever been in. And so, it started with the people, and then, second on this’ Topgolf is just such a wonderful… It's got such a wonderful culture and our conviction around this idea of the unlimited power of play, and bringing more play into the world through the lens of golf. Golf has historically been a ridiculously exclusive sport, and has blocked people from coming into it for lots of different reasons. We exist to bring more people into the game to make it more diverse, and to make it more fun, make it more accessible and inviting. So, coming here and having the opportunity to have an impact on a game that's been around more than 100 years, that's got its own culture. and traditions. And all that's good. There's nothing wrong with it. But there are new traditions being formed, new people coming into the game, and it's really exciting to be part of that. I think when I look back on my career, someday I'll look back at this as perhaps my proudest moment that I worked with a group of people that made a difference to bring the face of golf a new look.
Ryan Berman 5:48
I love that. And lovingly, I have a hard time believing that not just knowing your background, but that's so cool. You keep raising the bar. Look, for the listener, if they haven't done any appropriate stocking on Geoff. Coca-Cola Company, Converse, you've done some pretty badass things. My favorite story… By the way, Geoff, I got to tell you, I'd say probably twice a month now I get to go travel somewhere and take a stage, and sort of, share why we need to be courageous now, and then, how do you actually do that. And I almost always share the story you told me about Converse. About starting every meeting with the Converses’ conviction statement because you don't know if someone's on day one or day 6000. So, at Topgolf, I guess, are you just sort of a mosaic? Did you just take the best of what you've done in the past and just bring it forward to where you are now?
Geoff Cottrill 6:41
I think so. I've learned something new everywhere I've gone. I think I got here, we were sort of setting the path for what our North star was. It started with the idea of play, but we pushed really hard to get to the essence of what we believe in before we wrote a vision statement, or a mission statement, or anything like that. But, like, what can we all around the table sort of agree that we believe in, and we believe that the world might need more or less of? And we centered around this idea of play. I think the George Bernard Shaw quote was, “You don't stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing”. And I took so much inspiration from that quote that this idea is centered around bringing more play to the world through the things that we do. In a world that's filled with stress, and filled with bad news, and filled with pandemics, and all this kind of stuff, we felt like and we feel like there's an opportunity to bring this sense of wonder and sense of play back into the world, and everybody could kind of use a little bit of a break. So, coming to our venues, being able to hit a golf ball while eating chicken wings, and listening to super loud music. And it doesn't matter if you drive it straight down the fairway or miss the ball, we don't care. We’re just chalking it up to having fun and playing. So, yeah. I think I brought a little bit of me, and I think I've gotten a little bit better every place I've gone because I've learned something in each place. So, I'm just so excited to be here.
Ryan Berman 8:21
So, I will say just as a tee-up, unintended pun, by the way, I really didn't mean that one. Usually, I do, sun's out puns out. So, I'd love for you to think about one thing you've taken, one thing you've learned from four spots in the past that you brought into this. But first, as your brain is working on that, if there was like a pie chart of this play that you talk about, what percent is sticks-based? What percent is social-based? Me going and hitting a ball is very much... That's an individual moment, but almost everything else; eating chicken wings, socializing, talking is about the buddies I'm with.
Geoff Cottrill 9:03
Yeah, that's right. First of all, golf is a social game in and of itself, and has been for a long time, right? It just hasn't had the diversity and the inclusion in it, but it's always been 2, 3, 4 guys, 4 women, group of people, 4 people, a couple of golf carts, spending the day walking, hitting balls in the grass and having a nice time in the sunshine. So, our experience starts with golf, but you don't have to be a golfer to come in. It's a low-pressure much more fun way to enter the game. And, in a lot of cases, most of the people that come into our venues every single day have never even held a golf club. So, we're not about golf, but we're about introducing you to maybe having a laugh with a golf club in your hand. That could lead to you being a golfer someday, or it could just lead to you had a really good time on a Thursday afternoon. We're focused on this idea of just making sure we're delivering on the spirit of play. And where it leads, who knows?
Ryan Berman 10:10
So, there's a little bit of potential gateway, but that's not really the strategy and the business.
Geoff Cottrill 10:14
Yeah. And we got data that we're about to share at the NGF conference next week in Charlotte that shows that we are a very big source of bringing new people into the game of golf, and we're proud of that. But we're really focused… That's a result. Like, we've talked about this in the past. Getting new people into the game of golf is a result. The goal is for us to make sure that every player that comes in… First of all, every person that comes in is a player and that they have fun while they're in that hitting bay with their friends, or their workers, or whatever. That they're just having fun. That's what we're focused on, and if it leads to golf, amazing. If it doesn't lead to golf, amazing. At least, you had fun.
Ryan Berman 11:02
Right. So, player, not golfer. We're back to that sort of idea. So, I guess I have to ask because I feel like it would be a good time to be Topgolf. Layers and reasons, I'll give you the layman. Every three days, there's now an article on ESPN talking about PGA Tour and LIV Golf. I know you got to probably play Switzerland a little bit on this, or maybe not, do you just see both of them as like, “This is great because golf is top of mind for fans?”
Geoff Cottrill 11:42
You know it's funny, I don't spend a ton of time thinking about the tour or the LIV Tour because it's part of the game of golf, but it's not our part of the game of golf. So, there are people honestly far more qualified in the world of golf to talk about the pros and cons of those things. I just like to see people playing the game in some form or fashion. And, like I said, we're focused on our experience more than we're focused on the professional leagues, or professional golf, or anything like that. We're part of Callaway. Golf is super important. It's in the DNA of every element of our company. But as it relates to LIV or the PGA Tour, I'm not an expert at all.
Ryan Berman 12:26
Yeah. This is where I'm like, “Oh, come on, man.” I want to have a beer with you and be like… How happy is Topgolf that these two are always in the news? That has to be a good thing, right?
Geoff Cottrill 12:37
Well, I think it's ultimately probably anytime golf is in the news, it could be a good thing, as long as it's not a bad thing Golf is in the news about. There's been a lot of back and forth between the two. I'm personally staying the heck well away from that. What's really interesting, separate from that being in the news, is what is actually happening in the game of golf right now. There's a massive transition going on. Lots of interesting new brands coming up, the fashion, the aesthetic, the vibe. The personality of golf is changing and we are in the middle of it. And I sometimes wonder if the golf establishment sees the wave that is coming in. I'll give you just a super quick example, 30 years ago, when I think about street culture, right? Basketball ran the streets. Rucker Park. It set the fashion, set the trend, set the attitude for youth culture. 20 years ago, basketball still super, super important. There's a plus sign; skateboarding came in. And initially, they were at odds with each other, but over time, they learned like, “Hey, wait a minute, there's hybrid stuff in and out.” But you had basketball culture and skateboard culture. What you're seeing now, right now at this moment is a lot of those people that were in those sort of those eras are now getting older. Skateboarders backs hurt, my knees hurt. Bask, same thing. A lot of these people are now playing golf, so they brought their sneakerhead aesthetic. And we've got the Jordan One has a golf silhouette now. That's a big deal in youth and sneaker culture. So, you're starting to see all these people come to golf and play golf and embrace it in a slightly different way than the establishment has sort of embraced the game for years. So, we're right in the middle of all of this that is going on, and all of these people are coming through our venues playing at Topgolf, also playing green grass golf, but really playing and enjoying the party aspect of loud music, just all the stuff that we do. So, we've made some really good friends in the last year with some of these people that are changing the game. And, like I said, in 10 years time, this sport, this game is going to be extremely different than it is today with the look, the feel, the attitude. Things are going to change. And we're, I think, pretty well positioned to ride along, and participate, and contribute to that change.
Ryan Berman 15:11
I didn't think about it that way, but you're so spot on. Like, guess what? My identity. You're not going to find me in khakis. Just not going to do it. And it was my father's path, but that's not why antied, but it just wasn't for me. So, I love that creativity is going to be playing. So, again, I might naively be walking into this, but you have the data and I don't. So, kind of going off what you just said, yeah, that's brand, we're back to brand. The possibility of brand of, like, do I identify with this cooler version, like “Oh, Topgolf.” When I think of Topgolf, I'm thinking of playing, and fun and socializing, all these things. The irony is, and again, this is the part where I don't know if I'm naively walking into something and I don't want to vilify any other vertical or any other sport, but when I think about bowling, I really can't think of a single cool brand. I personally can't. I'm sure they're out there. But when I think about Topgolf, it's like, “Oh, my gosh, that's the exponential, the multiplier difference on brand versus not.” Is that what we're going for here, this experience of, like, every single time you walk into Topgolf, you're going to have fun?
Geoff Cottrill 16:22
We hope every single time you walk into Topgolf that you have fun. I think a lot of people, the first time they come, I jokingly say it's against their will. They go to a corporate event, their boss decides, their boss likes to play golf, and their boss is like, “We're going to do an event at Topgolf.” And you're rolling your eyes, like, “I don't play golf. I don't want to do this. I don't want to go, please don't make me go.” And then, you show up. And you're like, “Wait a minute, this isn't golf. This is way different than golf.” And, “Wow, actually had a really good time.” And we're turning a lot of people's heads with like, “Wow, I didn't know that this could be so much fun.” So, it's super important for us the first time you come that you realize that it's not golf as you might know golf. And I'm personally determined to change what that four-letter word means. What images come up in people's heads when they think about that word. It's going to be very different in 10 years than it is today. Yeah, so we're focused on that. And just to give you a little bit of data, there's 12 million people in the United States that only play green grass golf, and there's 12 million people in the US that only play off-course golf. Off-course, meaning Topgolf, putt-putt, video games, virtual reality. So, what is been defined as off-course golf. Then there's 12 million people in the middle that play both. So, we are 80%. Represent 80% of the off the course experience and activity. So, the off the course golf is becoming as big as on-the-course golf is. And it's not slowing down. The growth rate is only accelerating with things like 2k23, the game that just came out. The video game with Tiger Woods on the front. So, it's super interesting to be on this side of the equation with what is happening. And we need and want golf to be healthy, but at the same time, we're driving all this new energy around the sport. And, again, changing the perception over time, all of us who were doing this, changing the perception of what golf is for people.
Ryan Berman 18:40
It's funny when you're like, “We're not golf.” I'm like, “Oh, that’s the tagline; Topgolf, we're not golf.” But one of my favorite case studies of all time is Zappos, rest in peace Tony. But like when you walk into their building in their lobby, there's this huge side that says, “We're a service company that happens to sell blank.” So, for you, you're a blank company that happens to provide golf. What's the blank? Is it…?
Geoff Cottrill 19:06
I think it's funny, we struggled with, “Are we golf? Are we not golf?” I think when I first got here, it was like, “We're not golf. We're entertainment.” And I was like, “Yeah, that's cool. That's amazing, but we're golf.” “No, no, you don't understand, Geoff, we're not golf. We're definitely not golf.” I'm like, “I hear you. I totally hear you. But our name has seven letters in it, and four of them spell golf. And when you go to our venues, there's a giant field with big giant targets and ball dispensers, and golf balls, and golf clubs, and we trace the shots, and we keep score, and what do you mean we're not golf?” So, we've sort of come to grips with the fact that golf is the heart of our experience. But there are loads of different things to do and experience while you're at Topgolf. So, we're not golf as the average person on the street would define golf. We're a new modern version of it. Modern golf, if you will. And so, yeah. I think we're an experienced company that's focused on getting people to play, bringing more play to the world. And we're doing it through new and different ways to play the game of golf.
Ryan Berman 20:12
Very cool. All right. So, I asked the question earlier about mosaic Geoff. So, mosaic Geoff, is he like… Because, look, the amount of times I've blown it in my life, I need more than my two hands. It's just a lot of mistakes, but you learn from those, or you're like, “Oh, I loved that little moment from that company.” So like, can you pick three to four experiences, one from three or four different companies that you learned in those worlds, and you brought forward into this world?
Geoff Cottrill 20:42
Yeah. I started my career with Procter & Gamble. P&G taught me the basics, the blocking and tackling of sales and marketing. And they taught you rigor and discipline. And I think I bring that with me, although, I tend to be a little bit more on the creative side. So, I tend sometimes to not have the rigor and discipline that I need. But they taught me that, and I'm grateful for it. Coke taught me…
Ryan Berman 21:07
Can I ask you one question on that?
Geoff Cottrill 21:08
Ryan Berman 21:09
I never got why it's called sales and marketing, shouldn't be called marketing and sales? And this is not a presumptuous thing, it's just…
Geoff Cottrill 21:15
Good question. It's a good question. Yeah, I started in sales, and then, I worked in marketing as well. So, I guess it's just sort of where I kind of come from. So, I learned that at P&G. And I got to Coke, and I learned the power of creativity, and the power of a brand, and the power of a brand having a bigger idea and a meaning than something to aspire to, and something that could inspire. I worked for a guy named Steve Koonin who now runs the Atlanta Hawks. He's just the greatest teacher I've ever had. He didn't know he was teaching me, but he taught me more than anybody in my career. So, I took that from my first, I worked at Coke twice. I went to Starbucks, and I had the fortunate opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time with Howard Schultz, who I found to be the most fascinating, and arguably, the most inspirational person I'd ever met in my life, but also, ever had the chance to work with. So, he taught me the importance of belief, and conviction, and passion. And I just loved that about him. Some of my hardest days of work in my career were working for him because he's very, very demanding. But, as I look back on that time, I realized that he was just getting me ready for whatever was next for me. So, I'm so grateful for him. And then, Converse taught me the power of letting go. Just letting go and realizing that you might be charged with running a brand, but you don't really run it. The people that buy your stuff really decide if the brand is cool or not. It's not your advertising campaigns, or your graphics, or images or anything like that, or what you do, it's just what people think of you. And we found that people liked the Chuck Taylor for a certain reason, and we just respected that. And so, learning the power of just getting out of the way was great. And here it's just the idea of just, like I said, bringing play and just having fun. I'll tell you a super quick story. I was at a golf tournament in Jacksonville nine months ago, I was with the guy that runs one of our businesses, our top tracer business. And we were walking through the golf course, and they were just getting ready, it was a practice round. They were getting ready to close, of course, because it was getting ready to rain. I look across like 20 yards away, there's two seven or eight-year-old kids, they're on top of a hill. They both lay down, and they roll all the way down the hill. And it's just one of those moments, and they were giggling and it was impossible not to stop and smile and sort of laugh. And I looked at my friend and said, “Dude, if that was me and you that did that, they would kick us out of here so fast. First of all, they would say we probably had a beer too many, and they would say, ‘what the hell are you doing? This is not the way you behave at a golf tournament.’” And I said to him, “What happened to us? Between those kids, and that unbridled joy, and where we stand right now, what happened to us?” We realized, “Wait a minute…” And then, that George Bernard Shaw quote is in the back of my head, “You don't grow old because you stop playing,” or whatever…
Ryan Berman 24:28
I don't like to share. I'm under NDA for shit too. But like, I did a keynote with 150 leaders of Kellogg's. And you'll like this exercise, I will share this. It was day two, and I said… At dinner the night before, someone who was on my dinner had been there 32 years, and someone was on their second day. Like, holy shit, this is cool. So, the big boss gave me the green light on this. I'm like, “All right, everybody, 150 people, you've got 10 minutes. I want the most tenured people at table one, and the least 100 people at table 27. And, by the way, you can't talk; go.” And it took them 10 minutes, you watch, like, everyone tried to… The experiment of their style. And when they finally got into place, the one question I asked on the values, I asked, the newbies.Two people stood up, I'm like, “What are your top values?” And they're a week and three weeks, they're number one value is family. I think this is crazy, by the way. And then, I asked table one, these guys were there for 30 years, both of them, and both of them had the number one value of fun. And I think there's the secret. Not that there's anything knocking on family, but when you're 27, 28, a new leader, you have an idea of what you think you're supposed to do. These guys are like, “I'm not going to spend my time doing something if it's not fun.” And I'm sure they had a ton because they'd been there for 30 years. So, metaphorically rolling down the hill, are those particular kids.
Geoff Cottrill 26:02
Exactly. For me, it was just a moment of like, every once in a while you get those moments of clarity, and you're like, “Gosh, man, what we do is that. We're the kids rolling down the hill. That's us. That's who we need to be.” We need to be those kids who make other people happy with things that they do. And that's kind of what we're focused on doing.
Ryan Berman 26:26
How do you balance this? We're on a mission to bring more play, and at the same time, go, “I have to let go.”
Geoff Cottrill 26:35
Yeah, that's a good question. I think it depends on where you are in terms of how much you let go of the brand, particularly since we're kind of shaping who we are, and what we want to be longer term. But, at the end of the day, the consumer decides what your brand is, right? It's super simple, you come to the Topgolf. At the end of your time, you either had a good time, or a bad time. And there's different degrees of that, but you either had a good time or a bad time. And 100% of that result is on us for the most part.
Ryan Berman 27:11
And will be shared with somebody else.
Geoff Cottrill 27:13
Ryan Berman 27:14
If they had a good time, they're going to be like, “That was actually really fun,” which is probably the pinnacle of compliments, right?
Geoff Cottrill 27:20
Ryan Berman 27:21
Or they'll be like, “It was okay. The wings are good.”
Geoff Cottrill 27:24
It's funny, I've learned that at Converse when we built the recording studio. We built a recording studio that we call Rubber Tracks, and we let new artists come in and record for free, and we gave them all their content back. And I remember being asked over and over and over again by artists, like, “What's the catch? What's the catch?” And I was like, “Look, there's no catch. The musicians have been so good to Converse for so long. This is our way to say thank you. And it's our way to invest in the next wave of music.” And they'd say, “No, what's the catch?” And I was like, “No, the catch is that there's no catch. You're going to go in the studio, and you're either going to walk out, and one of two things is going to happen. So, you're going to walk out, you're going to walk on the street, and just imagine someone's got a microphone, and they say, ‘Hey, how was it?’ You're going to say one or two things. You're going to say, ‘Oh, God, it was awful. They made me sing about their shoes, and it was gross, it was a brand thing.’ Or, ‘Man, it was pretty cool.’” I said, “My hope is that we'll design an experience that makes you walk out and say, ‘That's pretty cool.’ And you don't have to say that to anybody, but that's our criteria. And if it's a bad time, then it was our fault. And if you had a good time, it was probably because of you and what you did while you were in there.” So, what we saw, we saw then people speaking about us on social media, and like, “Hey, I had this experience, look what I did. This was great. They didn't take anything from me.” And the idea of just not taking things from your consumers. Like, don't do things to or at your consumers, do things with and for your consumers. So, that was a pretty powerful learning experience for all of us that were there. I think a lot of us have carried that on to the different places that we've gone since.
Ryan Berman 29:14
Well, I think the lesson is it's human nature to have fear, right? It's human nature to be afraid. “Is this going to work? Who am I going to have to go and vouch this idea that bumbled? Am I going to get fired? Is my job on the line? Am I good? Am I actually good at what I do?” I appreciate your ability to kind of tell that little voice like, “Okay, you got to calm down. Let's body jump into the consumer's body and be like, ‘What's in it for them?’” How do we help them do better, be better? So, let me go back to this real quick, Geoff. First of all, how awesome, man. Procter & Gamble, Coke, Converse, Starbucks, now, Topgolf. And what I took away from each of your notes, the power block at tackle. Like, get the basics down. I call that the Pepto Bismol. Get the coding down of the business. Two is what creativity can do for your business. And I still wonder, like, do you smirk at that when you're like, “Wow, so many people don't get what creativity can do for their business,” Do you see it everywhere?
Geoff Cottrill 30:19
Yeah, I do. I think it's all about… It's funny, I was talking yesterday. We were working on a new campaign, and we had a conversation, and we were talking about whether or not a certain line needed to be in the finished piece. And I was like, “Well, does it need to be there?” And someone said, “Well, yeah. We need to align.” And I was like, “Well, are we inflicting rules on ourselves? Is it because this is what marketers do? Do we have to put this in here because those are the rules? Are those the right rules? Are we just inflicting rules on ourselves that aren't even really meaningful?” So, it was a really interesting conversation after that, after I sort of threw that on the table, and it was like, “You know what? Well, we don't actually have to.” And you said something a minute ago, like, you asked yourself a question, “Am I going to get fired for this?” Or whatever. Look, if you're a CMO, let me just cut to the chase here, you're going to get fired. It's 100% going to happen. And the sooner you embrace it, the sooner you realize you're on the clock. And you embrace it, and you let it drive you instead of let the fear stifle you. You will rise to heights you never imagined because it's a powerful thing knowing how the book ends. I keep notebooks. I write everything. I write notes in notebooks. And every time I get a new book, I go to the very last page in the bottom right-hand corner, and I write, “You are fired.” So, I know how the book is going to end, but I know then I have a lot of blank pages to fill in between now and then. So, a little word to the wise to the CMOs out there; you're getting fired. It's going to happen.
Ryan Berman 32:10
Well, to me, I feel like that's kind of part of the power of letting go, right?
Geoff Cottrill 32:14
Ryan Berman 32:15
The anxiety that you create for yourself. And, by the way, you drive everyone around you mad. If you just let go, then it puts you in a position to play. And I think if you are playing, you got a shot at belief, you have a shot at creating wild passion now for your work. So, let's say 10 episodes from now, 20 episodes from now, 50 episodes from now I have a chance to have a cultural disciple here, which I will. And you're in the Topgolf somewhere playing, you're not working anymore. You got fired. So, what do you hope…? When I asked them about the last five brands they were at they mentioned Topgolf, what do you hope they say about what they learned from you?
Geoff Cottrill 33:06
I hope they learned that it was okay to just kind of let go and go. It's funny, I got here and we had a couple of people on our social media team. The folks that just actually poked their head in my office and were making a ton of noise, and I just turned around, I'm like, “Shhh.” Which I shouldn't have done, but they just came banging on my door ready to interrupt. But you could just feel they were being held back. They were holding themselves back. Previous people might have held them back, I don't know. And I remember having a meeting with the whole social team, and I was like, “Look, here's the deal. I got one word for you and it's two letters, and the word is go. Go. Do not stop; go.” And I'm like, “Caveat; push it to the limit, just don't get arrested. Don't break the law. But go.” And I said, “I got your back.” And it is incredible what our social team has done. We've driven five points in national awareness in the past nine months because of what our social team has done. It’s just remarkable what they have done. They've gone out and changed the way we think about… We're no longer posting photos of cheeseburgers, we're posting pictures of people having a really good time, and playing, and just all of our interesting friends. So, I think that's what they would… I would hope that they would say that I gave them the ability to just run. And, I once had a woman that worked for me at Converse, and I didn't realize that I was doing this. And she said to me one day, “Hey, I just wish you'd give me enough space to surprise you.” And I was like, “What do you mean?” And her name is Joy Howard. She's like one of the most wonderful people in the world. She said, “If you just give me the space to surprise you, I could surprise you.” And I was like, “Wow, that's the nicest way to tell me, ‘let go,’ that anyone's ever said.” And I said, “Okay, I will.” And man, the stuff she did that I just sat back and was like, “Holy cow. Wow.” So, let go and encourage people to run, man. Just let them run.
Ryan Berman 35:15
I love how courageous that thought is. If you jump into her shoes and…
Geoff Cottrill 35:20
Ryan Berman 35:22
Think about what had to marinate for her to get there. That's not personal, right? She's trying to help. And this combination of words said just that way, and I just see you sitting back in your chair like, “Okay, let go,” like you said.
Geoff Cottrill 35:42
Yeah. I was like, “What? What do you mean I'm not letting you…” And then, I was like, “Oh, my God, you know what? You're right.” And I was like, “I'm so grateful that you just bricked me up the side of the head in a really nice way. But yeah, you know what? Go,” and she did. And now, she's gone on to do amazing things in her career. And it's been quite impressive to watch her grow.
Ryan Berman 36:07
So, I'm going to use a word now that is overused, but I don't know a better one to use to bring this up. In some ways, you're set out on this path to democratize and to diversify this game called golf. Like I said, I think it's an overused idea. It's a b2b idea, but it's a fact. But at the same time, like you said, you have to let go and let people play. People are going to decide whether it worked or not. So, where is that delicate nudge knowing, like you said, like, “Oh, my gosh, Geoff, you know how hard it is to change people's behaviors.” And if they're coming to Topgolf thinking, “This is a waste of time, boss. This is an uphill battle for me.” And then they discover for themselves they actually like this. Again, lots of dials on an app? Super nuanced. How do you do this?
Geoff Cottrill 36:59
Tell me more. Give me more about what you mean.
Ryan Berman 37:01
Well, again, I think you said you want to make the game more accessible, right?
Geoff Cottrill 37:05
Yeah, we did.
Ryan Berman 37:07
The diversification of this game, but it's golf, but it's also not golf. Again, is it because the decision is out of my hands, and it's like my CEO said we're going to an event here?
Geoff Cottrill 37:19
Yeah, in some cases. One; we have relatively low awareness across the US. Surprisingly, lower than I would have thought when I got here. So, we have the massive upside just introducing ourselves to people for the first time. So, properly introducing ourselves with the right point of view, the right attitude, the right spirit, and the right invitation for people to come and play. So, that's part of what we're doing. And then, like I said, it's a matter of just making sure we remove the intimidating factors of the game so that you can come in. A lot of people say, “Oh, I don't go to Topgolf, I don't play golf.” And I'm like, “Well, I know, but we're just not really what you think.” “I don't know, I don't know. It’s a big place and I don't play golf.” Like, “Okay, that's cool. That's totally cool, but let's show you.” And once we get you in the venue, and you see that, first of all, you hear the loud music. There's beers flowing and there's food. Hitting your table, and then, it's super low pressure. If you swing and you miss, we jokingly say it's a practice swing, and we just move on. And there's no judgment in the game. In any of the games that we offer, no judgment. So, we hope that you'll have a good enough time that you'll tell a couple of your friends. Like we talked about earlier, you either had a good time or a bad time. So, it's on us to make sure we take care of you. We entertain you. We make you feel good. We make you feel welcome. And we tell you that we want you to come back. And, like I said earlier, if you end up playing golf, that's amazing. But if you end up not playing golf, but you have a slightly different mindset of what golf could be… It’s like, “I don't golf, I don't go. Oh my God, I just played at Topgolf.” So, I think that's the thing. We like to say we're golf, we're not golf, we're Topgolf. And that's kind thing without trying to over-explain to people.
Ryan Berman 39:05
And how many states are you in and how many Topgolfs are there?
Geoff Cottrill 39:08
There's 80 now, we're building 11 to 12 a year. We just opened in Southern California, in El Segundo and Ontario less than a year ago. That's been just a tremendous success. We just opened in Renton, Washington, and Baltimore. We've got a lot of really interesting stuff on the books that we haven't announced yet. We're opening in Glasgow, Scotland before the end of the year. So, it's really fun. Like I said, there's so many places that we're not yet, so there's a lot of cities in places that never even heard of us. So, when we come to town, we have to present ourselves in a proper way that shows people that we want everyone to come, and everyone's welcome, and we're not… We want everybody there. One of our venues has a 100 base. At any given moment, on any given day, when those 100 base are full, there are a hundred completely different stories going on. No two groups at any given moment are the same. And that's kind of cool that you can look at all the different things that are happening at any given point. There might be somebody that can hit the ball like you wouldn't believe, and there might be somebody who's never even held the club before standing right next to each other, but hopefully, both having fun and enjoying themselves.
Ryan Berman 40:24
You said there's 80 Topgolfs, that's it?
Geoff Cottrill 40:27
Ryan Berman 40:28
Holy. And in how many states?
Geoff Cottrill 40:30
I have to get you that number.
Ryan Berman 40:33
I was curious. There's so much upside already on.
Geoff Cottrill 40:37
100% Yeah. Our top-line growth will grow from new venue openings, for sure. But, we're also focused on making sure our same venue sales are healthy by offering new products, new experiences, all that kind of stuff.
Ryan Berman 40:53
So, when you say new experiences, is there… If a guy like me wants to practice, if I want a coach, can I take a lesson there?
Geoff Cottrill 41:03
Yeah, absolutely. We have lessons. It's funny, I played a lot of golf when I was younger. I played a lot of golf in college. And I got married after college and had two kids. And golf is a lot of time and a lot of money, and at the time, I didn't have either so I just stopped playing golf. I continue to play soccer, but I just stopped playing golf. Years later, I went back to Coke the second time, I had an opportunity to play golf with Jordan Spaeth. I was like, “I don't play golf. I'm not going to play.” So, I ended up walking East Lake with him one day with a couple of people that worked for me. And they all played, and he said, “Why aren’t you playing?” And I'm like, “I'm horrible at golf,” because I am horrible golf. And he said, “We should be playing.” I'm like, “No, dude, I really suck. I'm really bad.” And he was like, “But you should be playing.” And I was like, “No. See, you'd be the guy that would have to say all 18 holes, ‘it's okay.’ But secretly, you'd be thinking ‘this guy's horrible.’ So I'm saving you that, and I don't want to embarrass the game of golf because I'm that bad.” So, the end of the round he says to me, “Listen, next time I see you, you better be playing golf.” So, that weekend, I went to PGA superstore in Roswell, Georgia, got fitted for a set of clubs that coincidentally happened to be a set of Callaway clubs, not planned. And I thought to myself, “I'm not a member of a country club, where could I take golf lessons? I bet that place Topgolf has lessons.” Well before I came to work here. I had been to one topgolf one time with my dad and my brother, and all I did was drink beer. So, I called Topgolf in Midtown in Atlanta, and I signed up for lessons. I took lessons for almost a year and a half, and I went from not being able to hit the ball to being able to hit the ball like you wouldn't believe. After that, I started playing again. I started going to Bobby Jones, hitting the balls all the time. I get a call from Topgolf. And I'm like, “Oh, dude, this is crazy. I learned how to play golf from you. I understand you.” Second month at Topgolf, we had a fundraiser for Jordan Spieth. I walked up to him and was like, “Remember me?” And he was like, “You're the Coke guy.” And I'm like, “No, I'm the CMO of Topgolf because of you. Because you challenge me to play the game again. And I did it through Topgolf, and I swear to God, that's why I'm here.” So yeah, we have lessons. We have all kinds of stuff.
Ryan Berman 43:20
Man, I would suggest we change our title again from Chief Brand Officer to Chief Story Officer. So good.
Geoff Cottrill 43:28
(Laughs) That’s a true story, dude. That's a true story.
Ryan Berman 43:31
I love it.
Geoff Cottrill 43:33
It's like it's too crazy to not be true. It’s true.
Ryan Berman 43:34
Of course, it is. And it's the universe. It's like, “All right, here we go.” All right. So look, we're coming down the homestretch, Geoff. This is obviously a show about being courageous and addressing some of the things we're afraid of. You're 14 months in on the job, where's the fear still?
Geoff Cottrill 43:52
Oh, look, I've lived with imposter syndrome since the day I graduated from college. I remember my first day, my first CMO role at Converse, I remember sitting in my office thinking, “Boy, this is a pretty big room. Man, I'm not going to be in here at all because I don't know what I'm doing. I'm not qualified for this job. I'm not ready.” So, I had somehow lasted nine years when they told me I was going to last less than a year. I went to Coke and led marketing in North America. Every day looking over my shoulder thinking, “I don't belong here. I'm not good enough for this job.” I'm here, I love it here. I'm having the time of my life, but I still suffer from, like, “Well, someone probably smarter is going to come along at some point and nudge me out of the way.” So, I think courage, for me, it's dealing with the imposter syndrome. I went to a state university in Florida, I didn't get an MBA, and honestly, [Inaudible 44:49] I have never taken a marketing class. I did not take a single marketing class in college. And maybe that's good, I don’t know.
Ryan Berman 44:57
This is your advice.
Geoff Cottrill 45:00
Yeah. I've taught marketing classes. And I've just learned that marketing is really about humanity. And I think it's the science of understanding people and the art of knowing when to shut your mouth.
Ryan Berman 45:16
Man, this is where I wish I had video. Just head nods and smiles. And, I so appreciate you giving us some of your time, and I'm excited to see what you build there. Anyone that…
Geoff Cottrill 45:30
What we build here, not what I build.
Ryan Berman 45:34
Touché, man. Yeah, I know. Again, anyone who chooses to live in Atlanta and commute 1,500 miles must be clearly excited about the work that that team is doing together.
Geoff Cottrill 45:47
Ryan Berman 45:48
Stay courageous. Keep me in the loop with what you’re doing. I hope to see you soon, buddy. Thanks so much.
Geoff Cottrill 45:53
Yeah, man. Go Padres. Good luck.
Ryan Berman 45:55
Go Padres. Here we go. Bye.
[End Of Audio]
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