Posted on Wednesday 23 January 2019 by Ulster Business
For Brian and Rory Smith, going out on their own with an online golf-booking platform came about a result of necessity.
The Belfast brothers were both made redundant within a year of one another, leading them to start BRS Golf – which was later bought over by GolfNow, owned by US broadcaster NBC.
“I founded BRS Golf along with Rory. The brand is still well known in the golf world. It started off as a tech product, a tee-time management product, which was sold to individual golf clubs – bookings, corporate days and green revenue,” Brian told Ulster Business.
“We started expanding into new markets, and of course, Ireland.”
It was a 10 year journey, from start-up, to selling the business to GolfNow – where Brian remains within the senior management.
“We set about integrating our business into GolfNow, also taking their products and establishing them in the UK and Ireland marketplace.
“We basically try to do everything that the US business does. We have doubled the customer base, to 1,500 courses and (represent) about 50% of the golf market across UK and Ireland.”
And in the last five years, the company has increased its workforce from 15 to 75, with that numbers expected to hit 90 by the end of 2019.
Brian grew up in south Belfast, studying IT and engineering at Queen’s University, before beginning his career at BT, where he worked for five years.
He then moved to Nortel, where he was then made redundant, leading him to setting up his own company with brother Rory.
“I always had an urge to start my own business,” Brian said. “We grew up playing golf, Rory got me into it – I was maybe eight or nine. We used to go down and hit golf balls in Strangford beach, and then went to Ardglass Golf Club – playing three rounds a day.
“I was looking at ways to get into golf. It was the perfect marriage. To allow members to book at their own club, and a need for club to reduce phone-calls, for example – the internet was taking off at the right time, and we were very lucky.”
For Brian, part of leading a business and being responsible for a team, is letting your staff get on with doing their job.
“I think leadership is extremely important. I’d say my style is to give people autonomy. The one thing I have really done, is creating a great buzz – a fun place, where they enjoy working.
“From a management style, I am a great believer in everyone’s opinion matters. Everyone should be listened to. There is no top-down approach.
“All the directors and managers sit down with their teams. To me, that’s the real secret. You can’t have a great business without a great culture. You have to drive results, as well. The business has been on the up for 16 years.”
And according to Brian, that growth will see it doubling its headcount to 150, over the next five years.
“We launched into Australia last year, we have four people there and that is supported in Belfast,” he said.
“We launched into France in September, and in 2019 and 2020 we are looking at Germany and Italy – growing the revenue line, profit and moving into new markets.”