Minor League and lower-level baseball are not known for having sufficient funds. From day one, the Savannah Bananas had to get dramatically creative and innovative to do unique things. In today’s solo episode, Jesse Cole shares the Bananas’ mindset and their process for innovating without resources. He also explains how they set the tone with their people, product, and processes to create this innovative culture. Finally, he breaks down the One City World Tour’s financials and how they were able to do it. Sit back and enjoy the show because there are many ideas that you can take back to your business. After all, it’s all about out-thinking and not out-spending.
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Savannah Bananas: How To Innovate Without Resources
We’re going to talk about how to innovate without a budget. Yes, you got that right. How to innovate without any resources. This is something that we’ve learned from day one with the Bananas and have learned from day one of joining this industry, minor league baseball and lower level baseball, having sufficient funds is not something we’re known for. We’ve had to get dramatically creative and innovative to be able to do unique things.
I’m going to share the Bananas mindset and our process to how we do it. I believe that lack of resources should never hold anyone back. I believe it’s a blessing in disguise because lack of resources forces you to get creative and do things with a limited budget, but also do things that maybe other people wouldn’t do instead of just throw money at the problem. It’s not about the lack of resources that hold companies back. It’s the lack of resourcefulness that holds companies back. One of the biggest things in our mindset that we talk about often is outthink, don’t outspend. Once we built that into our culture, it’s been very easy to start getting creative in new ways of making things happen.
Next, I’m going to share how do we set the tone with our people, product and processes to create this innovative culture. There are some ideas that you may have be able to take back to your business and your people because we’ve learned a lot having zero funds in numerous times throughout my career and how we were able to make things happen. Finally, I’m going to break down the One City World Tour, the financials of it, how we were able to do it. This is in the middle of a pandemic, one of our toughest financial years that we had, 2020, taken a seven-figure hit in total revenue. How are we able to do something brand new and try something brand new with not a lot of resources? I’m going to go through the deals, the whole setup and the process to doing it so to give you a little practical example.
That is the plan and what we’re going to have some fun. Hopefully, this can spur some more questions and ideas for your company to get a little more creative now more than ever. Number one, how do we innovate without a budget? Let’s talk about the people, products and processes. Often it starts with people and people is your greatest asset. Many times, companies look at people as a cost, “If we’re bringing on three people, that’s going to be $200,000, $150,000,” whatever that number is. People are an investment, but sometimes you have to get creative on that.
We’ve never had the opportunity to hire people from the outside and pay him six figures immediately. That’s not how our business has been made up. How I started was as a 22-year-old, unpaid intern. I had to prove myself and be successful. That’s built on a lot of the sports industry is originally was unpaid interns. Now all interns are paid and they’re taken care of, but that was the setup. Often businesses are like, “I can’t do internships. An internship with accounting firm or my law firm or my cleaning company. Isn’t that sexy?” That’s a mindset that’s holding you back. The reality is you can make it as attractive as you want.
For a sports team, it does sound cool to have an internship with a sports team. The reality is there’s so many young people out there that are begging for experience. They want to get in and get their hands dirty. They want to do things. I would say one of the biggest fundamental successes for our company has been based on our internship program. When we talk about how to innovate without a budget, you need to bring in people that are talented without investing a huge amount of money without even seeing what is their skillset, or is it a great fit for the culture?
Our intern program is base of almost everything we do as far as our people. Now looking at the Savannah Bananas, almost every single person on our staff started as an intern, from Jared Ordin back in Gastonia, who was our president, started as a seasonal with us in the spring to our whole entire ticket team. You go through down the line. We’ve even had people start as game day staff. We’ve had two people join our team that started the game day staff member then became an intern, then joined our full-time team. There’s such an opportunity there to test people first.
I’ll give you an example. Our first year, people think of the Bananas, they often think about our videos and our content. We weren’t into that to begin with. We didn’t have huge plans. We were trying to market ourselves, but we brought in a photography intern. We have a college right near us, Georgia Southern. We brought in a photography intern, Ben Sheffield. He took some great pictures to start the year. About two weeks in, he says, “I can make videos. I love making films.” I said, “Let’s try one out.”
He started doing a highlight film. I was like, “This is pretty impressive.” We came up with the idea of thinking differently and said, “What if we did a music video with our players?” Ben shot a music video, “Can’t Stop the Peeling.” This was his first real film with the team. It was so different. It was a music video, it took off, a couple hundred thousand views immediately. It put us on the map in many ways. We’ve gained thousands of followers. That was produced by an intern. It’s like, “You have a very talented intern.” We brought in interns with a low expense and we let him have freedom to create. He started producing more videos. We started challenging him up at the top. At the end of the year, he had one more year left at school. He started working remote and then he joined us full-time. Six seasons later, Ben is still a part of our team. It started as an intern, but it started with that test. We’ll get into that mindset of how do you innovate? How do you test?
The next step is you got to give permission for people to try things. If we bring on interns, first-year people, we always are hesitant. We have fear of them trying new things. That’s the opposite mindset for us. We want them to get their feet wet immediately. We want them to get their hands dirty. When someone starts with us, we immediately asked them what ideas do they have and to try and test them. I’ve shared the story about our intern in 2020, Austin, who came up with the idea of doing a thank you rap for people when they bought tickets. He was awkward. He didn’t want to make the rap and he didn’t want to do it. I said, “Why don’t you give it a try?” That first day, he gave an awkward rapping to a fan and said, “This is Austin, the awkward Bananas rapper. I’m here to fill your day with fun, joy and laughter. I hope you enjoy the merch. Thank you so much for your purchase.” He made that. From that day on, he continued making raps and he was testing it.
There was no expense. He was an intern, but he was testing a new idea. He learned how important that culture was for us. In 2020, we brought in Carson and we said, “You’re going to be our membership coordinator. Have fun with the emails back to people.” I’ve shared on LinkedIn a few of the email responses when people ask, “Where’s the link to buy tickets. How do you buy tickets?” He said, “You’re going to take a paddle boat down the Eastern warp. You’re going to come out to a bridge. You’re going to take a left. You’re going to get out of the bridge. You’re going to go to a kiosk at the mall at Dillard’s.” He wrote this ridiculous copy and people are laughing.
Is he creative? Yes, but it’s the permission not to have a typical response. Now he’s been writing a lot of our copy as someone who just started with us. The permission to try ideas and not be afraid of what people think is huge. A person on our staff could have very easily, our president, myself could be like, “No, we don’t want to be outrageous. We don’t want to be different. Let’s make sure you get a feel for our fans before you start sending that.” That wasn’t the mindset. That was important when we start bringing people. Look at interns, then look at how do you get them out, testing new things. Are there volunteers? You look at churches. Churches are based so much on volunteers. It’s crazy.[bctt tweet=”Clarity of expectations is crucial in trying to create an innovative culture. ” username=””]
For us, even our Banana Nanas, they volunteered to be a part of this dance. We take care of them, their tickets and the food. We have Mananas, our male cheerleading team, who want to volunteer. There are people who are into what you’re doing. Look at all those opportunities. That’s one thing that we’ve looked at is, how can you hire your fans? How can you hire people that like what you do? Give them a shot, give them a test at a low cost. I think that creating that innovative culture without a budget starts with those minimum tests on people.
The next thing in regards to people is you got to have clarity of expectations. This is something that’s crucial in trying to create an innovative culture. You have to let people know the challenges you have when it comes to resources. When we’ve brought people in that maybe hasn’t been an intern and they had either a bigger budget in the past, it’s very tough to get to a place where you had a big budget. You had a big staff and you’re coming to something much smaller. Right now, we’re the process of hiring a stage manager, like an entertainment director for our team. We changed with our clarity of expectations.
I wrote on this job description, it says, “Why this job is not for everyone? We play at an old 1926 ballpark. We don’t have any digital scoreboards. We have very little technology in our ballpark. We have a very small budget. We are in a small market, and because of this, we have to outthink and not outspend. We have to barter and trade constantly. We have to make trades for equipment, promotional items. We have to be resourceful. We need our use our resources like our players, coaches, interns, characters. We have to maximize the show and we need to bring the show to the fans. Without video scoreboards, we need to utilize the entire ballpark for the show.”
I set the tone that goes on a whole another page and all those things that we’re looking for. Setting the tone that, “We don’t have a ton of resources. We don’t have a ton of tools that you’re going to be able to plug and play. We’re going to have to get creative.” It’s very important when you bring someone in, set the tone, let them know, “You’re not going to get $1 million budget to go hire all these acts.” You’re going to have to think, “How can you make that same impact for your customers, your fans, the people, whatever the job is without having those resources.” That’s how we set the tone with our people. Our intern programs now growing year-round. We’re bringing people in the fall, the winter and the spring. We are teaching everything we can about our business. We are constantly giving them new tests. Whether it’s social media, they get new campaigns, whether they get to use a new platform. That is huge.
Number two, product. How do you innovate new products without having money? This is a little unique for us. You have to break it down into look at what are those products that you have and why do you have to spend money? The number one thing we try to do is maximize our assets. What are the things that you have right now that you may look right past or you may not think that you can utilize them in different ways? For us, where we do a great job is we maximize the assets of our players and our coaches. When you look at a sports team, their players play and their coach’s coach. For us, our players entertain in every possible way and so do our coaches.
For instance, at games, our players are out passing out programs. They are signing autographs. Our players are involved with passing out roses to fans. Our players do the t-shirt toss. Our players are out greeting fans at the end of the night. They are a part of all of that. In addition, we look at how can the players also be involved in our social media? Our players, can they do videos? Can they do TikTok videos, Facebook videos? Can our players do photo-shoots when we’re trying to promote new things in the ballpark? The great thing that says like, “You’re using your players.” The reality is our players love it because they’re being looked upon as celebrities.
Who are those people in your office that instead of saying, “We’re going to go hire people do a video shoot,” or are there people in your office that might want to be a part of it? Southwest Airlines does a great job of this. They have a lot of their employees are constantly in their ads. They love it because they become celebrities. We don’t always have to think, “Joanne does our HR. She can’t be a part of something else. Alan’s our president, he does this. He can’t do that.” We’re all in this together. That’s the mindset. When we look at our products, if you’re trying to promote something, sell something, utilize what you have. That is so key.
Number two, with the product, trade or barter. If you’re looking for something, trade and barter is not talked about now as much as it should be. It is huge. It was everything for us. When I started as a 23-year-old, after I got the job as a GM of the Gastonia Grizzlies making $27,000 a year, I couldn’t pay myself for the first 2 or 3 months. We had $268 in our bank account. I had no other options. How could I trade everything? I tried to get our signage traded for free. I worked on our printing. I remember a gentleman approached me and he said, “Have you thought about doing baseball cards for the team?” I said, “I’d love to, but the reality is we don’t have a lot of funds.” He goes, “I’ll print the baseball cards for you. Can I put our logo on the bottom back corner of the baseball card?” I go, “Yes, you can.” He printed all of our baseball cards. We had Russell Wilson baseball cards when he played for us.
He came to us and said, “What about business cards? What if you did business card baseball cards?” He printed all of our business card baseball cards for free. He had his little logo on the bottom corner. It was a win-win. He came to me to barter and I got new printing. I got baseball cards that brought in revenue with zero cost. That mindset, I started looking with everything. We got our doughnuts traded. We did doughnutdogs and doughnut burgers. We had pizza traded at the stadium. You got to offer advertising. The reality is now we’re not even selling advertising, but we’re still doing barter.
The reality is my yellow tux has a dry-cleaning deal all summer. There’s no trade for advertising or marketing. We throw a few tickets to them. I share and talk about it, but that’s it. What are those opportunities? What services do you have that you could barter or trade? Example, at our ballpark, Segways, our players enter the game on Segways. Our pitcher takes them out on Segways. That’s traded. We have a Banana boat where we’ve had players take the field on a Banana boat or we’ve had kids do Banana boat rides, that was traded for free.
The biggest idea is to call people with an idea and say, “I’m thinking about this with you. Is there a way we can work together? Are there other values that you can add?” I had the idea of in Savannah, there’s something called a pedicab. It’s a bike with a little seat chariot at the back. They ride them all over Savannah. They’re very popular. I was like, “What if we had our players take the field on pedicabs?” I thought about that idea and I haven’t called yet. I thought about this now, “Why don’t I call right now?” Hopefully, if I can get in touch with someone and I’ll share maybe how I do it. This is a complete cold call. I’m going to look up Savannah Pedicab. First, if I can find the owner’s name because I always want to try to call and talk to the decision maker.
Let’s see if they answer. A lot of times you don’t know if you can get the right person on the phone, but I’m going to go call them. You have an idea. If you want to do something, but you don’t have money. I can’t afford to buy a pedicab, even if it’s like a couple hundred bucks, it’s something that I’d rather not put in my budget. If there’s a way I can do some trade with them, then that would be a win. I’m going to call him and see if I can get in touch. I’ll call the regular number. Here we go. This is bizarre, by the way, I’ve never done this.[bctt tweet=”Whatever’s normal, do the exact opposite.” username=””]
“Thank you for calling Savannah Pedicab. Our winter hours are Thursday through Sunday, 5:30 to midnight. If you’re interested in our wedding cabs or want to inquire about setting up a reservation for a special event, please email us at [email protected]. Thank you and have a great day.” This message is for Rusty. Rusty, this is Jesse Cole, the owner of the Savannah Bananas. Just had an idea about partnering with you guys. I would love to share, I think we could have some fun potentially this summer. If you could give me a call back on my cell, that would be great. It’s (781) 424-2499. It’s Jesse Cole with the Savannah Bananas. I look forward to hearing from you. Take care.
I had to leave a message. I didn’t get to him, but the key was I said an idea. A lot of times, we share an idea. It was cold. I never spoke to Rusty, the gentleman from Savannah Pedicab, but we’ll see if it’s that idea that he wants to have his pedicab in front of some fans, that could be a win-win. Look at how do you maximize your assets. How do you trade and barter? Small bets are huge. A product for us is our merchandise. We look at small bets. How do we add value constantly without dramatically increasing costs?
For us, we realized that adding koozies and adding a decal into every merchandise order is only $0.50 each. We bought in bulk. We got them. It’s $1 cost and it’s a very high value ad for a very low cost. Even without having tons of resources, can we add those value pieces that make something even more attractive to a buyer? The number two thing when we looked at our merchandise, we said, “Instead of buying a ton of inventory, could we buy exactly what our fans want?” We had to test that. We tested it with our 24-hour shirt and everything was pre-order.
We said, “Twenty four hours, whoever wants this shirt, this is it. It’ll never come back.” We did hundreds, but what happened is now there’s zero inventory. When you can find ways for your fans to pay for your innovation, that is the key. You have an idea. Can you put it out there? It’s very similar to Kickstarter and a lot of those ideas that they have now on the internet, it’s let your fans tell you, do they want this before you have to invest the huge cost? That has been for us.
Other things, small bets, we only spent $300 on Macon Bacon Toilet Paper. We only bought a certain number of rolls to test to see how it would do. It’s the same thing with the Dolce & Banana Underwear, we do small bets. It seems crazy. Those are innovative ideas where we don’t bet the farm. What are those crazy unique things that you want to try and do small bet in front of your customers or your fans? If it does well, then you expand it. We’ve bought a lot more Dolce & Banana Underwear over the years. Look at those small bets.
Finally, social media, this is the best way to test everything you do without spending a lot of money. This has been the single-handed game changer for us. We need to remember that quantity leads to quality. We think we’ve got to do the perfect post, the perfect video. We are obsessed with posting every single day, multiple times a day, to see what works and what doesn’t work. The biggest example of that is TikTok. An intern with an intern pay, not huge salary, not huge benefits started with us. We let her tackle TikTok. Her name’s Savannah. She was empowered to try it. The only challenge I said to her was “Post every single day. I want to know what you’re learning from each one, what works, what doesn’t?”
We’ve posted 300, 400 times and gained a great following, but not a huge cost. The constraints of having to post every day fosters great creativity. How do you put constraints to bring on new creativity? Steve Jobs was a master of this. When he’d meet with his engineers, they’d say, “That’ll take about a year to get it done.” He goes, “We’re releasing in six months.” People thought he was crazy. It was, in the beginning, especially tough to work for him. We push our self in regards to thinking on when we can get things done.
We often think that it’s going to take us a lot longer than it does. If we add a constraint, a deadline brings great creativity often because we’re forced to put it out there. You don’t know anything until you do, test and ship. That was a constraint we put every day. Some new video has to go out and we have to learn from it. That’s been a big thing for us. Whatever’s normal, do the exact opposite to outthink don’t outspend. For us, it’s players doing choreographed dances, it’s players doing music videos, it’s players doing love scenes, which we’ve done.
We did a Titanic love scene with our coach, which was bizarre. You put people in different positions. For bankers, nurses, lawyers, what are those unique situations you could put yourself in. People think of bankers and lawyers as professional, serious. As soon as you start showing a level of fun, doing different things, it’ll start creating more attention. Whatever’s normal do the exact opposite. How do you test it, put yourself in a different position? I remember Savannah Police asked Ben, our videographer, to do a film of them lip sync.
It got millions of views. It was one of the famous love songs from the ‘80s, Hold On, Wilson Phillips. It took off. It got millions of views because it was police officers doing a love song scene. It wasn’t the best video in the world, but it was people in a different situation. Look at your team, your business, your industry, could you do a rap video? Could you do something that doesn’t seem so out of the element for you? That’s a way that you can start creating great attention for your brand when you think outside of that typical industry box.
Finally, I know I’ve been a lot on product. I talked about our show, how we maximize the assets, the merchandise, the social media, and then the process. The one thing that I’ve done by mistake is I share before we’re ready. I get in trouble sometimes with our president and our staff. It’s like, “Jesse, you’re already talking about all these things we’re doing and we haven’t done them.” I go, “Maybe we’ll do them now.” It’s share before you’re ready. There is a method to the madness.
When I first started, I get excited and I talk about new products and new things we’re going to do. That fires me up. What I’ve realized is that it becomes a giant test. The more I share things publicly or share to a group or to a few people and gauge their reaction, that tells me whether the market is ready. Will they find it funny? Will they find it useful? Will they talk about it? Is it remarkable? If you share something and no one comments on it, you could potentially go down this long path and investing a lot of money and investing a lot of time and it would not be remarkable.[bctt tweet=”Out-think, don’t out spend.” via=”no”]
I challenge any executive people in business, if you want to do something, share it. Often, we keep things a secret. It’s okay if you share something you don’t end up doing it. No one’s going to remember or pay attention anyways. I purposely go on podcast regularly and I will talk about things we are going to do in the future, or that I hope that we’ll do in the future. I gauge reactions. I know people have heard me talk about the Banana Blackout drink, which is a terrible idea for so many reasons. The idea of having a black slushy, which is the strongest drink that we could serve and only allowing fans at a game to have one. That’s the max. You’re only allowed one at a game. It might get on your tongue. It’s a black drink. It’s a bad idea.
When I share it with people that go the Banana Blackout, that’s ridiculous. It creates intrigue. Based on the reactions that I’ve got, that people would want to try it at least once. If I didn’t share this at all, if every single person said, “That’s the worst idea world. That’s the worst idea. I’ll never have that,” then it might give me a sign we should not invest that much money or time into developing that. That’s the key. I’ve been talking so much about doing a halftime show at our games. Baseball does not have halftime shows, but the idea of stopping the game and doing a halftime show over the top with our band, the music, confetti, it sounds a lot of fun for me.
I’ve been sharing it with people and the reactions I’ve got are pretty good. I still have no idea what it looks like. I don’t even know if we’re going to be able to pull it off. I have no idea, but because I’ve shared it, it’s giving me that encouragement that we should at least try it. Finally, we’re talking a lot about doing weigh-ins before the game, visiting team versus home team, like a boxing UFC weigh in. Let’s do it. What’s the worst thing I have to lose there? Maybe it gets awkward, which most of our promotions get awkward anyway. That’s not a big deal.
Sharing, getting reactions, that is everything. You can test without putting any money into it, test by talking about it. I know it’s like, “What you got to do, you got to do it,” but first, talk. Our process to all of this is have an idea, share it, then test it and then expand. Idea, share it, test it at a minimum cost and then if it works, expand it. We look at how many of those experiment tests can we do? I’m going to go real hard practical now into the One City World Tour. I’ll share some value of how we are able to start a barnstorming professional team with very little resources.
The first thing, idea. We asked when you start with an idea, is it different? Is it remarkable? Do we believe in it? Are we passionate about it? That is so key with any idea. If you don’t truly believe in it, if you’re not passionate about it and you don’t have energy to share it, good luck, the idea might already be dead. People look at me, it’s like, “Jesse, you have so much energy.” Most of the things that I want to do, I believe in so much. I believe it’s going to make a difference. I believe people are going to love it. I believe it’s fun.
You got to start with that. If you have an idea, and a lot of times we’re afraid we have fear or whatever, but deep down you do you want to do this? Does it excite you? Start there. The One City World Tour, was it different? Yes. There are no barnstorming teams right now, especially not during a pandemic. Is a One City World Tour different? Yes. There’s no such thing as a One City World Tour until we invented it. Do we believe in it? Yes, 100%. As we saw fans, drive 40 hours from Utah to a game in 2020, as we saw fans drive from Texas and California to come all over, we believe that we have fans that are wanting laughter, wanting joy, wanting fun. We believe that we should bring it to more people. It passes that first test.
Number two, share it. How do you share it without investment? I first started talking about it almost two years ago, the idea of the Bananas taking the show on the road. We used to be like, “If you come to my city, I’ll be there.” I heard that over and over again. I shared it with peers. I started talking to people. It’s like, “Can this work?” They said, “If anyone could do it, it would be you guys because it’s not a typical baseball game.” I started sharing that. The next step is how do we test it with a minimum cost?
We put it out to our fans. We shot a video and put it out to our fans and said, “We’re looking to do a world tour. Where should we go?” It was a question, but more it was trying to gauge the interest level. When we got over 1,000 nominations, heard from 300 cities and 15 countries, we knew we were onto something. Now we’re at the idea to the share, to the test at a minimum cost. We know it’s time to move forward, not to expand yet to move forward. How can we do the minimum cost to see if it’ll work?
For us, we had to make a deal. We had to make a deal with a city that we knew that we weren’t going to put so much down first. That’d be hard to be profitable or be successful. When we reached out to cities and we heard from different cities, we created some demand. What happened is we narrowed it down to five cities and out of those five cities, they were fighting for us. “What would it take? What’s the best situation? How can we make you choose our city?” We got the cities competed. That’s so important. I learned this when I was in college from Massachusetts, trying to get a baseball scholarship. I was hearing from all the Northern schools. Boston College offered a scholarship, Northeastern, University of Maine. I had so many Northern schools, but not many down South because they hadn’t seen me play until I went down and I played a tournament down at Wake Forest.
Wofford College saw me and they were interested, but it wasn’t until they learned that Northeastern was offering me a full ride and Boston College offered me a scholarship that Wofford tripled their offer to me and made it one of the highest offers they gave because of the competition. It’s simple. If you’re trying to start something and innovate without resources, how do you get people competing for you? Even if they don’t even know you that well, Wofford saw me pitch once, but they knew other people wanted me. You want what other people want that you can’t have.
We had these cities competing. Finally, one city was said, “What’s it going to take? What if we provide this?” Mobile, Alabama made it a no brainer for us. We knew we had to keep our costs still down. We went to the operators of the stadium and said, “We need to limit our costs dramatically because we’re going to have a ton of expenses.” We’re taking the whole show on the road. We were able to get our rent down to almost pretty much nothing. We made it as a win-win. The team operating the stadium could make a lot of money on food and bev and other opportunities, but we wouldn’t have that hard cost going into it.
Most people, when they go into an event, they have to try to cover so much to make it profitable. If you’re hosting an event or a concert, it’s like, “Our costs are going to be $30,000. We’ve got to sell these many tickets to breakeven.” We didn’t want to get into that game because we knew we already going to have costs as far as our travel, our hotels, our players, all of that. We ended up getting the best rent situation we could possibly get. We can set the precedent for that.
We went to the hotels. It’s the same thing, compete. We went to all the local hotels said, “We’re coming here. We’re bringing 80-plus people, but we also know there’s going to be fans traveling, parents, families of the players are going to be traveling. What’s the best deal?” We got down to between three hotels and one hotel cut their rate in half for us. I also knew that occupancy rate is 40% right now. It wasn’t trying to make a bad situation for the hotel. I knew 40% occupancy. If we fill up the hotel at half the typical rate, we are at the 10% improvement of what they’re getting. It’s still a win-win. They offered it. They chose it. I didn’t ask for it. I said, “Come back with whatever you can. What’s the best situation?” They came with that and we won.[bctt tweet=”The greatest creators and innovators love that constraint of having not a lot of resources to make something happen.” username=””]
It’s the same thing with the bus deal. Our bus came in at very high. I said, “What if we take two buses? What if we guarantee that we’ll do 2 to 4 trips in 2021?” I kept layering it to get our costs down. This is something I had to learn when I was in Gastonia when I couldn’t pay myself for months. I wanted to create can’t lose situation for not only us, but for every person that we worked with. If everyone only makes a little bit, but doesn’t lose, that’s a win. That mindset is what we need to look on with anything we do. It’s okay if we don’t make a lot in the beginning, but let’s not lose. We cut our costs down dramatically for this event.
We only have to sell a certain amount of tickets to be in the yellow, as we call it in our staff. We don’t like black or red. That’s what we did. We’re going to Mobile with a very low cost because we’re trying to innovate this new thing and see then does it work? How do we expand it to more cities? To continue to experiment, we did a bunch of experiments. We had a coach contest to see who wanted to coach from OBL. We had 2,000 nominations. Who wants to coach? We got all these people interested in being a coach. We did a Golden Ticket. We learned this from PT Barnum. He did an auction for the first Jenny Lind tickets. We did a golden ticket. We said, “We’re going to fly people in to Mobile give them a hotel downtown suite, set up at the game, all their food, everything included.” We were able to team up with VZ Mobile to help with the funding of this and have the money go to charity. Over $1,500 was raised for the two tickets, which is amazing. Another experiment. If it can only raise $200 or $300, there was no real loss for us.
Finally, we’re going to try outs in Mobile. We haven’t had a lot of people sign up for this. We’re hoping we get a good turnout, but at first, it’s been very low. It might not work, but the idea can we get into the city? Can we get people excited about it? On the game day, everything’s going to be an experiment because we’re in a new city, new music, new sound, a new stadium set up, new promotions, and we’re going to see how that works with a new fan base that hasn’t seen what we’ve done. All of this it’s one city. If it doesn’t work, it’s not the end of the world. If it does, then we can expand it. We’re going to be in this for maybe $50,000 to $60,000 and that’s for all in, for a one city, which is key to think about for such a huge opportunity in years to come to have that as a risk is not a very big risk.
That’s the biggest expense we’ve had for most of our things. We even go much smaller than that, but it was all a series of small bets to get to that. I know I’ve gone on a little bit, but I wanted to give some examples because I think building this idea culture, this innovative culture starts with a mindset of, “We’re going to be resourceful. We only have a little bit to work with,” instead of someone saying, “What’s my budget for this,” say, “What can I create with no budget?” That’s what fires me up. Our prop budget in 2020 for the season, it was over $10,000, props, costumes, pot with cream, everything we use at the stadium. I made it a goal because I took over that budget. I’m going to keep it as low as possible and put on a better show than I’ve ever had. I kept it to $1,500 and I took that mindset as more of a test for myself. How can you limit your budget and get even more creative without your fans knowing? Sometimes if people know that you can spend a lot of money, there isn’t a lot that’s put into it.
It’s, “We’re putting a lot of money into it and hoping for the best.” People don’t have the skin in the game, the creativity and the idea of turning something from nothing into something special. That’s what’s exciting. How do I innovate without a budget? Start with that mindset, start thinking about everything you can do, your people, your products and your processes. Outthink, don’t outspend. Start with the idea, share it, test it at minimum cost and then expand from there. Start it from day one with your people and start saying, “This is what we’re going to do this year.” The greatest creators, the greatest innovators love that constraint of having not a lot of resources to make something happen.
I’ll finish with the biggest lesson I’ve learned. It comes from the book, Rocket Fuel: The One Essential Combination That Will Get You More of What You Want from Your Business by Gino Wickman and Mark Winters. Maybe the biggest game changer in 2020 for our team, myself and our president, Jared Orton, mind blowing. It talks about the keys between visionary, integrator and that most companies may have a visionary, but they might not have an integrator. The companies that have both that are working together are the ones that grow, dominate and make an impact. I read this about the visionary. I was like, “This is 100% me.”
There’s Walt Disney and then there’s Roy Disney. There’s a Henry Ford and there’s Mark Cousins. We need to know what the difference is. The visionary is constantly focused on seeing the future, looking at those ideas, those things that want to move the company forward. They are constantly big picture, idea generator. They’re constantly inspiring. They’re all about passion. They have a pulse on the industry. They’re thinking about what isn’t and what they can do about it. They’re about closing big deals. That’s who the visionary is, but there’s challenges.
We have too many ideas. We aren’t great at getting things done. We struggle at sweating the details. We’re not good at developing talent. There’s a lot of things that we struggle with. Letting go, we always have to feel like we’re in the middle of it. We’re not great on control. There’s a lot of issues. I realized, “This is 100% me. I need an integrator to help bring that together.” Jared Orton took the test. He’s our president and found out that he, 1,000%, is an integrator. He’s obsessed with running the day to day developing systems. He’s all about managing, leading people and focusing on the P&L. He’s unbelievable at looking at the process to everything, but there are challenges. They’ve got a lack of appreciation.
They can be seen as a pessimist because they all might say no to more things. They’re more into going slow, accountability and going through the whole process. There’s a lot of friction between a visionary and an integrator. I’ve realized that Jared and I we’ve worked together for five years with the Bananas and a few years with the Grizzlies. I’ve realized that sometimes we do have that friction is because we didn’t understand where each other was coming from. We read this book together was a game changer. It’s a few years old. I know I’m coming to it late, but we started immediately communicating better. We started having same page lunches talking about, “These are the things that I’m thinking as a visionary.” He’s thinking about how can we make those happen?
Here are the things that high on his list. We started working well together. That is the key. There are five rules that they talk about in the book to make sure the relationship is great between the integrator and the visionary. It’s stay on the same page. No end runs. The integrator is the tiebreaker. You’re in employment when working in the business and maintain mutual respect. We have our same page, lots of lunches, which is so great to talk about what we’re working on. No end runs, that means people on the team won’t go to me, they’ll go to him first or I won’t go to people on the team. It goes through the integrator. That’s what makes things happen.
The integrator is the tiebreaker, so if there’s a battle between visionary, integrator and a few other people, the integrator is the one that makes it happen, so they have to be the tiebreaker. As a visionary, if I’m in the business, I need to be an employee. I’m working in the business. I’m not the one telling people what needs to be done and then maintaining mutual respect. It’s very key that in your business, whether you are a visionary or an integrator, you’re looking for those people that can help you get the things that you need to get done. We all struggle at many different things. I struggle at so many things in regards to details and accomplish things, but it’s the integrator, Jared that makes it happen.
Even now with entertainment, I’m looking at hiring an integrator to help execute that vision that I have for the show. Wherever you stand, find that compliment and spend a lot of time on it. We’re spending two hours on our same page lunches, and that’s how important it was for us to connect. I’ll tell you the connections at a higher level than it’s ever been. With that and with that lesson, he talks about at the end of the book is focus on the rocks that go into your jar. There’s an example from Stephen Covey about the rocks, the sand, the water, maybe the marbles. You guys know it better than I do, but if you put everything else in, the distractions, all the other work you have before the rocks, you’re in trouble.
You got to put the rocks in first. I’ve learned more now to focus on the big rocks, the big pillars for our business and do less and then obsess. We’re focusing on those big things. That’s been a huge for us. We have tons of experiments we want to do, but what are those big things that you need to work on right now to make a difference? That’s it for this solo session, how to innovate without a budget and the lesson I’ve learned about working visionary, integrator and doing less and obsessing. I appreciate you guys. Keep rocking and rolling. I look forward to sharing more in the next solo session.
- Rocket Fuel: The One Essential Combination That Will Get You More of What You Want from Your Business
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