Over the years, I have made and broken more promises to myself than I care to count. The decision to be an entrepreneur, fortunately, was not one of those. The night before I decided to quit my corporate job at the age of 27, I looked in the mirror and told myself if you start down this path, you can never go back.
There are two main ways to start a business. The smart way: start something on the side, keep your day job and when your income equals your pay then go at it full-time. And the second way, the way I chose, is to cut off all sources of retreat. That is the way my brain works. Eventually, you need to make a commitment to your venture, and for me, that was taking the direct route. No one way is the right way, but as you may know the latter takes an unquantifiable level of faith. Faith in yourself, faith in your idea and faith that it will all work out. It is what I refer to as a blinded confidence. You have no track record. There is no manual. Business school can only teach you so much. You either make it or you don’t.
I began with a fly-fishing travel company that coordinated personal excursions and corporate incentive trips across the globe at all the top places: Alaska, Belize, Chile, Iceland, The Amazon and many more. In 2005, we built a small resort on a beach in Central America and operated one of the finest blue water fishing programs in the world. Dream job, right? For a time, it was exactly that.
By 2011, I was completely burned out on fly fishing. If I could offer one piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, it would be this: Don’t ever make your passion your business. You will lose it. Fly fishing was my one release in life. Five hours felt like five minutes. I loved it, until I made it my business. When April 2011 rolled around and I cancelled a free 7-day bone fishing trip to The Bahamas, I knew I had a problem. The trip that I would have died to go on when I was 27, I had no desire to go on at 39.
Immediately, I sold our resort in Guatemala. I took our boats and sold them to my top competitor and merged our business with that same competitor. Overnight, we became one. And by doing that, it freed up 90% of my time.
My thought was to try and buy a small underperforming company and turn it around. Remember that commitment I made to myself in the mirror? Well, I had no choice! For months, I looked and was not seeing anything I found appealing (or could afford). I was calling around town and luckily connected with a guy in the deal flow and he agreed to take a meeting with me.
All I can say is this meeting changed the entire way I wanted to do business. This was 2012 and he told me he was on the board at TOMS. At this time, they were still a relatively unknown brand with which I was not familiar. Once he started explaining this model of giving on every transaction, I made the decision right then to not buy a company, but to start another company. I just didn’t know what that company was yet.
I was enamored with profit and purpose businesses. The entire thing made sense to me. I read every article I could find on TOMS. When my new friend on the board of TOMS called and said you need to meet Blake Mycoskie, The Founder of TOMS, I jumped at the chance. I met with Blake for an hour in LA, where we spent most of our time discussing Blake’s love for fly-fishing. A few weeks later, Blake called me and said he was getting married in October and asked if I could help in planning his bachelor party – a fly fishing trip in Belize. I agreed and hosted Blake and 24 of his buddies on a 3-day fishing adventure.
I knew after my trip several things would happen with this new company I would start. Because giving was a part of our model, our customers would be more engaged, and employees would be attracted to our work. I would have a real reason to get up in the morning. The more we sold, the more we could give away. Giving didn’t need to be something done on the side but could be baked into the entire organization’s DNA right from the beginning. Business could be a catalyst for change and make an impact. It was self-fulfilling knowing there was a higher purpose at work here. Finally, I had my true path in life.
I took my time coming up with an idea. How strange is that? I didn’t have an idea for a business, but I had a concept. The industry I kept coming back to was sports. Sports were a big deal to me. My best friends today are the friends who I competed with on a daily basis through sports. Sports taught me about winning, gut-wrenching defeats, how to lead and how to deal with adversity. Sports were a microcosm of my life and business.
Giveback Sports initially started out as a ticket company in 2016. For every ticket we sold to a sporting event, concert, or performance, we would dedicate a portion of our profits to sending underserved youth to live sporting events. Kids who have never had that opportunity. I thought we would leave Stubhub and Ticketmaster gasping for their last breath! If a ticket was a $100 through Stubhub and $100 through Giveback Sports and that Giveback Sports ticket did more for the community, people would buy from us every time! Homerun idea, right? Wrong. We had too few sales in the first 12 months and they only came from my close supporters.
It was time for the overused business buzzword: PIVOT. That’s what we did. Instead of being a ticket company, we became an experience company within two weeks. We now create travel experiences for fundraising events. We help nonprofits raise more money with unique experiences in their fundraisers, galas and golf outings. We work with schools, hospitals, foundations, NFL players and more. From local and regional organizations to national nonprofits, we keep growing. And as we grow the profit side of our model we have expanded our giving. Now, not only do we send kids to games, but we also help athletic programs in need with a financial impact.
We have our purpose and we execute that mission every day when we walk through our doors.
Written by Scott Ruprecht, Founder of Giveback Sports, LLC.