McCourt earned a BA in Human Biology and an MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering, both from Stanford University. He began his business career in the renewable energy industry, working on the development of commercial solar photovoltaic projects with Enfinity Corporation and Ontario Solar Provider. Then Casey started Wonker.com, an online home for user-generated explanations of current events and trends. He became increasingly interested in peer-to-peer marketplaces, which evolved and converged with hislongtime interest in golf to become Clublender.
The McCourt Story —
I’d had multiple disappointing experiences renting at courses, even very well appointed private courses, that will likely sound familiar to many golfers. Here’s a not-so-extreme example: I attended a bachelor party in Florida a couple of years ago at a time when I was living in California (where I still live and where Clublender is headquartered). Because I was playing just one – not particularly competitive – round during a days-long trip, I wasn’t keen on carrying my clubs for the entire trip. I also wanted to avoid the hassle of checking my clubs, not to mention of shipping my clubs and being without them just before and after the trip. When I arrived at the course with my buddies, the set I was given as a rental was…okay. I think of this as the traditional trade-off for traveling golfers: bring your own equipment at financial, logistical, and maybe even emotional cost, or don’t and pay the price in terms of satisfaction with the equipment.
I had been thinking about peer-to-peer rentals and, with companies like Airbnb growing rapidly at that time and expanding our ideas as consumers of what’s possible to rent safely and satisfactorily, I conceived of a website where golfers could lend their equipment toother golfers in need of a set: a bit like Airbnb for golf gear instead of homes. That original idea evolved into the concept for Clublender. To ensure that our clients get top-of-the-line clubs in beautiful bags with as little logistical fuss as possible, our business model has morphed over time into one where we’re managing and maintaining an inventory of top-quality gear and shipping that gear to customers.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
I love working with my team to bring innovation to an established industry looking for ways to bring more people into the game. I enjoy brainstorming and implementing creative ways in making the experiences of golfing and traveling easier. Every day brings new challenges, which makes every day different and interesting.
How did the idea for Clublender originate?
I was and am excited about peer-to-peer marketplaces: allowing individuals who own certain items to rent them to individuals who don’t. I like the economic efficiency of such transactions.The owner receives the benefit of rental income for an item they’re not using; as long as that compensation outweighs the emotional or logistical cost of the rental, the transaction is worth it for him or her.The renter gets to use something more cheaply than if he or she had to buy it. At a social level, less “stuff” needs to be produced because the same item can be used more often.
Over time, a version of this idea morphed into a marketplace for items at a higher price-point — think surfboards, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards.That idea morphed into a focus on golf equipment, and then from a peer-to-peer model to a business-to-consumer model.
Part of my interest in focusing on golf has been my perception, based on personal experience and anecdote, that the logistics of golfing while traveling tend to be much more complex or costly — financially and in terms of hassle — than they need be. On-course renting presents significant uncertainty about equipment selection — make and model — availability, and quality regarding maintenance level. Shipping requires significant planning, cost, lack of availability of your own clubs, and risk of loss or damage. Like shipping, checking is costly, risky in terms of potential loss or damage, and inconvenient.
How long from concept idea to actual implementation?
I’d been seriously noodling on the concept of peer-to-peer marketplaces for at least a year or two in various forms, including with Clublender’s co-founder, before the idea morphed into what is essentially the conceptual backbone of Clublender’s current service. Clublender was incorporated in September 2016 and did its first delivery in February 2017.
What is it you do that your competitors cannot do?
I believe that Clublender’s biggest advantage is its focus on customer service. Our focus has been more on facilitating a satisfying customer experience, and on continuing to listen and learn from our customers, than on doing things a certain way for historical reasons. Our competitors could take the same approach, and in some cases they may already be doing so. We’re interested in partnerships with other teams – even those that currently seem like direct or indirect competitors – as long as they’re interested in making golf-related travel easier and more enjoyable.
Right now you are serving select States in the Far West — are there plans to expand nationwide and if so when?
We plan to extend our service area to include the entire continental US soon. We began in Los Angeles in 2016, began serving the rest of California in January 2018, and just started serving Utah, Nevada, and Arizona in the second quarter of 2018. We want to make sure that we can continue to provide our customers with a delightful experience as we expand, so we’re being thoughtful about the pace of our expansion.
How do you expect to handle very specific club needs from clients — some will want a specific grip and shaft type?
Ultimately we want to be able to provide equipment that is as fine tuned to a player’s preferences as that player can think to request. That said, as we expand our inventory, we’re selecting equipment that we think will satisfy lots of golfers, and we’re fine-tuning from there. We’ve introduced some diversity of shaft selection; we’re interested in further developing our offerings, both in terms of make-and-model and in terms of equipment specs within make-and-model.
Costs for the services will be roughly what?
Clublender’s Callaway, TaylorMade and Titleist clubs are $65 to $75 for the first day, while our premium PXGs are $200 for the first day. Additional days are $20 to $25 per day for Callaway, TaylorMade and Titleist clubs, and $60 for PXGs. We also offer a subscription plan for frequent golfers, which costs $50 per month and gives golfers a 40% discount on up to five rentals per month.
Many companies tout their ability to provide customer service. Define the term and how your efforts truly surpass those of others in the industry
To us, customer service means consistently facilitating an experience for our customers that delights them by providing whatever emotional and logistical support we can throughout the process. We want to make being at a new course or trying out new golf gear easier and more fun. We train our customer fulfillment reps to pause anytime they consider saying “you” to a customer that involves the customer having to do something so our reps make certain it’s not something we can do for the customer instead. Check whether a course accepts deliveries of golf clubs? We can do that. Check on the status of a delivery? We can do that. Explain how to adjust a driver head? We can do that. Our customers can select from a wide variety of equipment makes and models online. They’re met at their destination with the clubs delivered in a premium Vessel bag with a towel, ball marker, divot tool, tees, and any optional accessories they’ve requested (golf balls, gloves, or rangefinders) for their round or rounds—everything they need for a fun, relaxed day on the course.
The major golf organizations — USGA, R&A, PGA of America, PGA TOUR, LPGA — are all seeking ways to attract new players — especially Millennials, women and minorities — to the game. If you were counseling them what would you advise be done?
These organizations should seek to lower the barrier to entry for new players and make it easier for more seasoned players to play in casual settings. Justin Thomas recently posted a video of himself with some other world-class players enjoying a barefoot, banter-filled golfing experience in the Bahamas; it looked like fun and the type of activity that golf organizations would typically frown upon. Facilitating, or even encouraging, rounds of fewer than 18-holes could help more people find a place for golf in their lives. Allowing people to, say, skip a hole or two to get past a congested part of a course could help ensure that people playing on crowded golf courses don’t feel like they’re being herded or wasting valuable leisure time.
Some of the fun of golf comes from standardization, such as comparing scores on the same course over time, but there are so many ways to enjoy the game and spending too much energy attempting to snuff out new and different approaches to the game breeds apathy and even resentment. Golf organizations can start by being open to new ideas, but some of this change will need to come from golfers themselves by demanding different experiences and working with these organizations to facilitate change. A common question after a round is, “What did you shoot?” In a more supportive and playful culture the first question might be, “Did you have fun?”
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
A college friend said something to a group of kids we were working with along these lines: “Do what you want to do, otherwise you’ll end up doing what others plan for you.” This message was directed mainly at the kids but it resonated with me and still does.
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