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Professional Development

3 Key Startup Lessons From Up-and-Coming Sports Entrepreneurs

Let’s take a look at some advice from three up-and-coming sports startup founders on their journeys to create opportunity.

Jarrod Barnes

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With the sports industry’s market size growing to just over $73 billion in 2019, there is no lack of opportunity to create and innovate within the business of sports.

The question is, where does one start?

A quick Google search of “how to start a business” will yield approximately 11.6 million results. The traditional path of attending a top business school seems to be the road less traveled for many entrepreneurs today. Current and former professional athletes like Kobe Bryant and Alex Morgan have continued to turn heads by launching businesses and building venture capital portfolios, almost making the process look easy.

Let’s take a look at some advice from three up-and-coming sports startup founders on creating opportunity and reaching success as a business owner.

Embrace Failure

“Entrepreneurship is dealing with failure; it’s one thing for you to create an idea that you like, but it doesn’t always stick with people,” states Chad Kayner, co-founder of 4est Ventures, an organization that transforms athletes into entrepreneurs and connects startups to potential investors. “It’s important to check your ego at the door — and understand that the stakes are much higher with your failures. You don’t truly learn until you go through it.”

Failure is, in fact, a harsh reality when it comes to launching a business, with the Small Business Association stating that 50 percent of businesses fail during the first five years.

READ MORE: Informational Interviews Can Be Crucial to Your Career Development

“Creating and selling things are fantastic, but you have to have the business model figured out in order to become sustainable,” said Kayner.

One of the top reasons small businesses fail is due to cash-flow problems.

“It’s survival; you have to use everything in your toolkit. If you haven’t been placed in that place before, entrepreneurship will bring it out.”

As Blake Masters and Peter Thiel say in the book “Zero To One”: “All failed companies are the same; they failed to escape competition.”

Starting from ground zero can be a huge challenge. Yet, it was failure that has helped Kayner build a community of mentors and a high-functioning organization. While it may seem like the odds are against entrepreneurs, it’s the ability to adapt, both yourself and the business, that can open the additional opportunity.

Be Prepared To Adapt

When launching a business, there isn’t always a direct next step or path to take. Rae Emard, founder of Athent, a mobile app that helps athletes and creatives easily understand and manage their finances, investments, and personal brands, shared how, “we grow up and go through our education system and come find out in business there are a million different ways to find what you’re looking for and get to where you want to be.”

Dominique Easley, a defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams, is also an investor in Athent and claims that he’s fallen in love with the process of entrepreneurship. Providing a solution to the needs of financial literacy and brand development that professional athletes face has given these entrepreneurs purpose.

But it wasn’t always that way.

“For me to enter that realm was difficult. It was too awkward for me, but then I started seeing how the app was evolving and started to understand the details and gain confidence,” stated Easley.

Emard and Easley both had to adapt, even if that meant moving across the country to find greater opportunity and be surrounded by the right people. “I came to Los Angeles and literally went from crowdfunding to a functional app,” stated Emard.

In the process of adaptation also comes growth. Both Emard and Easley have helped position Athent to receive the endorsement of prominent current and former NFL players.

Embracing failure while learning to adapt is one thing, but lasting success is built through remaining patient.

Remain Patient

The late William Feather, author of “The Business of Life” stated that “unnecessary hustle is one of the American follies. We hustle at both work and play, and consequently enjoy neither.”

Hard work is not to be overlooked or ignored, but it is focused energy over time that has the power to produce lasting results.

READ MORE: How to Master the First Month of a New Job in Sports Business

“It’s patience, and understanding the balance between executing and always knocking on doors. We need time to make really good decisions, and trusting your gut feelings comes from experience and patience,” shared Kayner.

Jumping to a quick conclusion may feel like it can give you an edge, but it can cause you to create an artificial timeline. When an idea fails to align with that timeline, the mind can run wild.

“Control what you can control; solve what you see is the problem,” stated Easley.

Ideas are powerful, and the sports-business landscape is wide open for those willing to bring an idea to life. Enthusiasm, passion, and grit are all key characteristics of startup founders, but in order to sustain a business, be prepared to embrace failure, adapt, and remain patient in your pursuit.

Jarrod Barnes has served in athletics administration at Clemson University and is also a former Defensive Back's coach at Ohio State University, where he worked directly with coach Urban Meyer and Greg Schiano. Jarrod was a two-year letterman and first ever Ohio State football player to pursue a Ph.D. while on the active roster. Jarrod currently resides in Charlotte, NC and works with Rise Sports Advisors, a brand management firm for professional athletes and also runs Prime U, a talent & leadership training company for collegiate student-athletes and young professionals. Jarrod has been widely recognized by Who’s Who Magazine, ESPN, Fox Sports and The Big Ten Network as a top up-and-coming young professional. Jarrod can be reached at Jarrod@frntofficesport.com

Professional Development

Inside The Huddle: Group Expectations with Michael Taylor

After ten years on the business side of pro basketball, Michael Taylor has learned how valuable persistence and personal branding are in ticket sales.

Front Office Sports

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In the buildup to Front Office Sports’ Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on May 10, we’re introducing you to the huddle leaders who will be lending their expertise to the conversation.

Today, meet Michael Taylor: Director of Team Marketing & Business Operations at the National Basketball Association (NBA). Taylor will be one of the leaders of the huddle “Squad Goals: The Evolution of Group Expectations.”

Taylor played basketball at West Virginia State University, where he graduated in 2004 with a degree in business administration and management. After playing basketball in Europe for a few years, pursuing a career on the business side of basketball simply made sense. It’s also proved to be a natural fit. For example, during his time in Detroit with Palace Sports and Entertainment, the group sales department jumped from 29th in revenue leaguewide to fifth in just over three years.

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Premium Sales with Naimah German

Now, with over a decade in the NBA, Taylor takes great pride in the people he has been able to develop.

“I look at some of the people that I’ve been able to work with and have hired and are thriving in the industry and moving on to different leadership positions, and that is probably the thing I’m most proud of,” he says. “The people and the development pieces are where I like to focus my time.”

The biggest mistake that Taylor sees young reps making in their early years is not having a short memory.

“In this business you have to be able to take the bad days…the days where you make a hundred calls and 50 people hang up on you and you leave 50 voicemails and no one returns,” he says. “You have to be able to maintain the same enthusiasm, the same confidence on that next call. And then, on the flip side, you have a day where maybe you made that big sale. Do you then slack off? Do you get complacent? Do you not focus on your fundamentals anymore because you’re starting to see some success? Don’t focus on what happened yesterday, whether it was good or bad, but approach each day as a chance to be great.”

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Group Expectations With Josh Feinberg

Taylor’s other piece of advice to young professionals just beginning their career in ticket sales is to constantly be maintaining their reputation online and in real life.

“It’s never too early to think of yourself as a brand,” he say. “The things that you do now, you’re building your reputation before you even realize it. The sports world is small. When you think about applying for internships or applying for jobs, your reputation is what speaks before you even get into the room. Everything that they do either adds to their brand, or it takes away from it.”

Meet Michael and hear more of his thoughts on the current ticketing space at the Front Office Sports Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, CA on May 10. For tickets and additional info, click here.

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Professional Development

Inside The Huddle: Premium Sales with Naimah German

German will lend her expertise on premium sales at the Front Office Sports Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland Coliseum on May 10.

Front Office Sports

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In the buildup to Front Office Sports’ Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on May 10, we’re introducing you to the huddle leaders who will be lending their expertise to the conversation.

Today, meet Naimah German: Premium Sales Consultant with Legends at the Las Vegas Stadium (the future home of the Raiders). German will be one of the leaders of the huddle “The Experience Economy: Navigating Shifting Premium Sales Demands.”

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Group Expectations With Josh Feinberg

German made the move to Nevada in January of 2018 ahead of the Raiders moving to and playing their first season in Las Vegas in 2020. In the months since, German and the rest of the organization have had their hands full in the best possible way.

“It has been a whirlwind to have that many people on the waitlist,” she says, “but we were all committed from the very beginning, and we are making adjustments as we go along. So it’s been a lot of learning as we go through that process of checks and balances and communicating with one another.”

Prior to arriving in Las Vegas, German graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2007 and worked in insurance and advertising sales for a number of years before completing her master’s degree through Northeastern University in 2014. German’s breakthrough, and what she describes as one of her proudest professional accomplishments, came in 2015 when she landed a Membership Development Associate role with the Miami Dolphins.

“That was the most rigorous process to get a job that I’ve ever been through,” German says, reflecting on the experience. “I did two separate phone interviews and then I had to fly myself out to Miami. But I knew that if I went down there, I was going to come back with the job. They had a hundred of us participate in a sales combine, and we competed for a job over the course of that whole weekend. They accepted nine people into that inside sales class and I was one of the nine.”

German then joined the Legends crew in 2016 as a Premium Sales Consultant with the Atlanta Falcons, where she stayed for about a year and a half before moving on to her current role in Las Vegas. With her experience on the premium side, German has learned that the ability to build strong relationships with clients go a long way.

“Ask questions and you will be able to build a relationship with someone and know why they want what they want,” she says. “Everyone wants the top-notch experience, so being able to identify potential problems early in the process is going to help alleviate any potential frustration.”

In her experience, German notices that many young sports professionals can define themselves by their work. While careers are important, she urges everyone to maintain a balance. 

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Selling A New Team With Ted Glick

“Don’t let the job take over your identity,” she says. “Sometimes people forget who they are with all their motivations and ambitions and what they want to do. Knowing you are more than what you do is a much healthier attitude to have in this business.”

Throughout her career, German has not lost sight of how sports can be a force for good. This is the primary reason she wanted to pursue a career in the industry, and why she continues down this path today.

“Sports is something that brings people together,” she says. “I always come back to that. When you’re at a game, we’re all one. We’re united.”

Meet Naimah and hear more of your thoughts on the current ticketing space at the Front Office Sports Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, CA on May 10. For tickets and additional info, click here.

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Professional Development

Why Athlete Retirement Transitions Can Be So Devastating

Sports psychologist Scott Goldman discusses the struggles athletes can face in retirement from their professional and amateur careers.

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Ben Hartsock was thinking ahead to avoid difficulties following retirement.

Following a 10-year NFL career, the tight end jumped right into a career as an agent. For Hartsock, it was better than taking time to figure his life out after the structure and rigidity of an NFL career.

“There’s really two schools of thought, and there’s the school of thought you need something waiting when you’re done because idle time is the devil’s playground,” said Hartsock, who ended up realizing agent life wasn’t right after two years and is now pursuing broadcasting.

“Had I not jumped right into working, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I could have downward spiraled.” 

Professional athletes, no matter the sport, leave a life of structure and must transition to a life of relative normalcy. More athletes today are thinking about it, but no matter how well-prepared the transition, it can still cause hiccups, Hartsock said. After 20 years of playing football, Hartsock said it’s almost like being institutionalized.

“I don’t know what other industry or business has a similar experience,” he said. “The shelf life of an athlete is limited in a way I can’t think any other profession is. Think about going to high school getting great marks, going to college and excelling, and after five or 10 years of being the best surgeon in the world, they take it away from you. That’s hard.”

READ MORE: As Retirement Nears, Yankees Star CC Sabathia Experiments With ESPN Deal

Athlete struggles following their athletic career’s end is not an easy topic to address, said Scott Goldman, the president-elect of the Association of Applied Sport Psychology. Goldman is a sports psychologist who’s worked for 20 years with collegiate and professional athletes.

Much of the conversation in post-career struggles revolve around professionals, but Goldman said it’s also a serious issue among collegiate athletes as well, as 90 percent don’t go professional. While many sports don’t have a clear path to the pros, Goldman said those that do — like basketball and football — can make inflate aspirations.

Goldman said he’s happy that leagues, like the NFL, are working intently to help create programs and guide players through their career and after to help ease the pain.

When Goldman works with an athlete struggling post-career, he said he likes to follow the Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief. Leaving an all-or-nothing career, like professional athletics, can leave athletes in a similar depression as losing a loved one.

“For some of them, it’s as much a shift in identity as dealing with a tragic loss,” Goldman said. “Most of these athletes get up at 6 a.m. and their day is largely accounted for and scheduled. It can be really intense when they leave.”

Goldman said he believes more potential employers are realizing that while athletes mostly don’t have lengthy business resumes, the commitment and dedication to their careers and being successful can often easily translate to the business world.

Often times, careers ended because of injuries are worse because they’re sudden. For careers like Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki, players get a goodbye tour and can ease into their retirement through a grief-like path.

Beyond the personal-identity struggle, Goldman said athletes also often struggle with their financials following retirement. The general public has a perception of multimillionaire contracts, and while some athletes are set for life, those contracts are in reality few and far between. More common are the sub-million dollar contracts with athletes averaging less than three years as a professional athlete. Add on trying to ensure that money and whatever post-retirement career the athlete ends up pursuing to obligations, and the stress can be high.

READ MORE: Missy Franklin Opens Up About Retirement and Life After Swimming

“It’s amazing the demand of the million dollar athlete,” Goldman said.

Former athletes balancing a dwindling bank account with their lack of direction can experience a perfect storm for emotional troubles. That’s where people like Goldman and companies like Priority Sports, Hartsock’s former agency, and its Preparing for Life After the NFL, or P.L.A.N., come in. 

Leaving a professional sports career often doesn’t have a ceremonial ending like other transitions in high school to college; college to the working world; or even a long TV series finale. Goldman said he doesn’t often like to use cliches, but can’t avoid one in this situation.

“It’s more of a transition than a severance,” Goldman said. “When you exit one room, you enter another space. Sometimes we focus on what we’re leaving and other times, it’s what we’re entering.

“It’s important to accept what we leave, and see what’s coming next and find meaning.”

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