Could you provide a brief recap of your career since graduating from Owen?
I graduated in 2012 and went to work right away with a consulting firm called North Highland. I spent every moment from graduating until the end of 2019 working there. I was a bit of the industry expert for the firm in the automotive space. I was able to manage big accounts and get experience and exposure to tons of clients but also learned how to run a consulting firm and how to run a business from the inside. The end of 2019 came around and I was thinking about jumping ship. I decided to go a different direction.
In 2020, I joined the Nashville Entrepreneurship Center and went through one of their startup accelerator programs to learn how to take an idea and turn it into a business concept. I knew a lot of the conceptual aspects of starting a business, but I had never sat down and wrote a business plan. The EC was helpful in setting up and putting together what the business idea was going to be.
What is your company and where did the idea come from? What served as the biggest motivator or influence in starting your company?
The concept is called Jersey Exchange and it is essentially a “Rent the Runway” for authentic pro sports jerseys. It is for hardcore fans who want to wear a jersey to a game and want to stand out, but they can’t justify buying really expensive special edition jerseys. What we’re aiming to do is have consumers have a few jerseys at home but give them the opportunity to wear special edition jerseys that may be meaningful, like cancer awareness or military appreciation. For special jerseys, players aren’t going to wear them again. Consumers question how they can justify dropping $300 on a jersey when they’re only going to wear it once or a few times over the course of that season. However, if they were to subscribe to our service we can provide them authentic, special edition jerseys that they can wear and then send back.
The idea was really birthed on the concourse at Bridgestone Arena. I’m a season ticket holder for the Predators and was sitting at one of the games looking around recognizing the number of people that were walking around wearing jerseys that weren’t real, authentically bought jerseys from the team store. Recognizing that ⅔ of the people at the game were wearing fake, knock-off jerseys I thought this was a huge revenue loss for the team and the league from a licensing standpoint. The league and players were missing out on all their licensing revenue. I thought about how we could get in at the fake jersey price point and let consumers wear the real jerseys. This was the solution I came up with.
What is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur and how have you worked to overcome this challenge
Aside from getting it off the ground due to the current economic environment, definitely the accountability part of it. When you work for somebody else, external accountability is easy to see and notice. You understand that you need to get work done because your client or team needs it — now I’m accountable to customers and I don’t know specifically who they are. I can do a little to figure out what motivates them and how they want to get the product, but I can’t sit down and have a one on one with my customers and say,“this is what we’re going to do and this is when we’re going to deliver it to you”. I have to set some of those timelines myself and be internally accountable for it instead of being externally accountable for it.
What qualities are most important to possess as an entrepreneur?
I think the best quality and behavior that you can have is to be a problem solver. To be naturally inquisitive, and wanting to understand how things work and then in figuring out how things work — figuring out how you can make things better. It’s thinking about what’s broken and needs to be fixed or what can we do that would make things more effective, more efficient or even cheaper. That continuous problem solving mindset is key.
What are you most proud of about your business?
What I like most about the business concept is that we really can serve a lot of different constituents. It’s not just about getting customers and fans authentic jerseys. It’s also about getting the teams and players this licensing revenue. I think there’s a huge data play on the backend of whose jerseys are popular and how fast they are going, where they are moving and what’s going on. It’s more rapid feedback than just — here were your jersey sales last year and here’s the most popular player. Rather, here is how their popularity is trending up and down during the season based on how they’re performing and how we could use that to benefit the players or the team. It allows us to focus on the players we need to be paying attention to. In addition, we can give partner organizations ways to amp up the experience of going to a game – in addition to free tickets, you get a jersey to wear and be a “true fan” as part of a giveaway or similar. It’s the social fabric of watching sports.
What advice do you have for students as they launch their business? Are there any tools you consistently use as an entrepreneur?
Go do it. What’s holding you back? This idea was brewing in my head for a year before I made the jump. I was fortunate that I had the opportunity and resources to jump out with no job, but I wish I had launched it sooner and could have been off the ground a year prior to a suspension of live sports. If you’re not in that position, I would say figure out what’s holding you back and be that problem solver. Figure out how to get rid of that constraint and go for it. Do it on the side, nights and weekends if you have to.
For tools, I use my network of mostly folks I went to grad school with. I was extraordinarily fortunate that I got a great network of other folks in my class who went out and started businesses. Having a great network and being able to leverage it is key. I spent a lot of time looking back in retrospect either unconsciously making deposits into that network and helping other people out whenever an opportunity presented itself or someone reached out to me. Now as an entrepreneur, I’m taking withdrawals from my network bank.
What do you do to live a balanced life? Do you have any interesting or fun hobbies?
I still try to play sports as much as possible. I played water polo in college and I’m still active in that community here in Tennessee. What’s cool for me is this concept tugs at a nagging string I had when running through other areas of my life. When I was in consulting, what I did for fun and escapism was sports. I went to sporting events and played sports. Now I’m in this entrepreneurial role where I’m working exclusively on sports related stuff and that makes it fun. It gives me a chance to scratch that passion in a different way.