The 71-year-old billionaire-entrepreneur discusses PXG's latest line of Gen5 clubs and the unorthodox approach to creating golf clubs and doing business
On Thursday, Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG) releases its latest line of clubs, the GEN5, its fifth line of clubs since the GEN1 debuted in 2015. Bob Parsons, 71, founded PXG in 2014 and is a self-made billionaire who is perhaps most famous for launching GoDaddy.com in the late 1990s. He was ranked No. 378 on Forbes Magazine’s list of richest people in America in 2020. Parsons recently met with The First Call's Jeff Ritter at Scottsdale National Golf Club, Parsons' home club, for a wide-ranging interview on his new golf clubs, entrepreneurship and more. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
THE FIRST CALL: How did the evolution of PXG as a company lead to the GEN5 line of clubs?
Bob Parsons: We started a golf club company in 2013, and our idea was to see if we could engineer golf equipment without a time constraint or a cost constraint. Our only constraint was high performance and a big “wow factor.” It took us a couple of years — we sold our first irons in 2015. And then we started working on our second version, with the constraints that we had to improve performance, which resulted in GEN2. Then it took it took us quite a while to do GEN3, but we finally figured out how to make them better. For Gen5, here we are now. When we determine when to release our clubs, it has nothing to do with some artificial bait or when our competitors release theirs. We release ours when we can't make them any better, they are significantly better than the last model and they’re ready.
TFC: The idea of not producing clubs each year is unconventional.
BP: That's basically how we got here. That formula has made an incredible difference in our success. One other thing: at PXG, we have no goals. I believe goals are counterproductive. Like, how much are our sales going to be? What's our earnings going to be? All that sort of thing. We can do that because we're not a public company. So, rather than working toward a goal ... because once you get there and you achieve it, then what do you do? You have another goal, and maybe it makes sense, but maybe it doesn't. General Electric is a company that fell prey to that. As we continue to get better, we’ve still got "it," and that's what I believe we will always do. And it's a reason for our success.
TFC: How were you able to build a new line of clubs during the pandemic?
BP: Number one, we’re located in Arizona, not California. All of our significant competitors that are in California were shut down. Arizona stayed open. Our competitors sell through big retailers and we sell direct. And so what happens when they completely shut down? They cancel most of their orders. We did just the opposite. We doubled down and tripled down on our orders. So our manufacturers, we kept them working and they're working with us on developing a new product. The COVID thing was a black swan event, but I believe in many ways it made our company better.
TFC: How do you keep your engineering and R&D team motivated?
BP: I pay them. (laughs)
TFC: What keeps you motivated to pay them?
BP: This is what I live for. I live for all my businesses. I have 14 businesses, and I work to always just do a better job and to stay in front of things. And while I'm telling you that I pay my engineers, which I do, these guys are as committed to this as anybody. They enjoy making a difference and working and having it be something that they're truly proud of. We kind of motivate each other when you get right down to it.
TFC: Let’s talk about your businesses. How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
BP: I taught myself how to program microcomputers. I bought an Apple when it first came out. And unlike many people who bought software, I wrote code myself. I started the architecture and got pretty good at it. I started Parsons Technology in my basement, and I had $15,000 to my name the first year. It received little, if any, ads in magazines and, of course, I had a higher price. The next year, I had $25,000 and pretty much did the same thing, but cut the price somewhat and lost all that. The third year was daunting because I was thinking about maybe not even following through with the business.
TFC: How did you turn it around?
BP: I placed an ad in a magazine. They said, “This ad usually goes for $15,000, but if you can get us creative in a couple days, we'll sell it to you for five." I said, “Do it” and they gave me instant credit. I did my first ad. I dropped the price all the way down to 12 bucks (on my product). And I made a fortune on it. I mean my mailbox was just stuffed. Then I started going to any magazine that would give me credit, running the same type of ad. And what I learned was a little ad can make a difference. Soon it was big ads, and then I was doing direct mail. I quit my real job at that time.
TFC: That ad sounds like a big break.
BP: Oh, 100 percent, because I started learning how to do direct marketing. And this is way back when there was no internet. There were no cell phones. And snail mail was a big thing. So I started doing a lot of mail. I mailed three, four million pieces a month.
TFC: What was that workload like?
BP: I mean, I worked myself silly. And that brings me to another point ... you hear people say, it's better to work smart than work hard. Here's what I'm gonna tell you: The people who work smart usually work for somebody who works hard. And that's bulls---.
TFC: How would you define success?
BP: I'd say success is happiness, pure and simple. If you're happy, you're successful. You won’t find that on a balance sheet, you won’t find that in a bank account. Although, you know, making money makes certainly makes things easier. But the things you need: somebody to love, something to do and something to look forward to.
TFC: Are you happy today?
BP: Brother, I've always been happy. Particularly after I came back from the war. I had a pretty hard case of PTSD and in 2018 I was treated with psychedelics. And it had been almost 50 years since the war. And I finally came home and now I'm just as happy as I can be.