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Surviving Covid with a Bootstrapped Venture: Kristi Herold, CEO of JAM (Part 2)

Posted on Wednesday, May 5th 2021

Kristi Herold: I called everyone in my address book. I would also say, “If you know anyone that you think might be interested, will you send me their contact info?” I had friends faxing me their address books and then I would go through their address books and call everyone and tell them my idea. I kept doing that until I had about 800 names on my list.

I wanted to send out a paper newsletter. I couldn’t afford enough stamps for 800 newsletters. I could only afford 400. Luckily, my then boyfriend who was a pro-cyclist became my business partner and he ended up delivering 400 of those newsletters.

With that, I could pay for the other 400 stamps. That was how we got our first season off the ground. I sent out 800 newsletters. The week before I was ready to get the league started, I only had 13 teams signed up. 

Sramana Mitra: What sport?

Kristi Herold: It was five different sports – Soccer, Flag Football, Basketball, Beach Volleyball, and Ultimate Frisbee. I only had 13 teams across five sports which, at $350 a team, wasn’t going to be enough to survive. I recall that I was crying in my bedroom thinking about what I had just done. I spent the last five months trying to build this business. I quit my job as well to pursue this. I was wondering what I was going to do.

After crying for hours, I just got off the floor and picked up the phone again, and said, “You said you wanted to sign up. Now is the time to do that.” I converted that 13 teams to 52 teams within 5 days. For that first season, we had 52 teams signed up to play. That first year, we ended up with 250 teams over the course of the year. I did everything myself. I had one car.

I had sponsors lined before I even had people signed up to play. I had Power Bar, Gatorade, and Wilson Sports Equipment as my early day sponsors. I remember going to games and dropping off Power Bars and asking people if they were having fun. I encouraged them to go back to the bar afterward to socialize. I was going non-stop. I was at every game and I was at the bars every evening trying to encourage people to sign up again for the next season.

Sramana Mitra: Teams would pay a certain amount to be part of this league?

Kristi Herold: That’s right. They pay a team fee. Back then it was about $350 for an 8-10-week season. There was no membership fee, it was pay as you play. You could sign up by yourself as an individual or you could sign up as a full team. If you signed up by yourself, then I would put you on a team with other individuals and make sure that you get to meet new people. I didn’t spend a lot of money on advertising during the early days.

With word-of-mouth, we just started growing very quickly. I would rent any facility I could whether it was a gym, softball field, or a baseball diamond. In 2019, we had built it up to have over 11,000 teams. We were doing 8 figures in revenue. I had 40 full-time employees and 350 part-time employees. It grew a lot over those years.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Surviving Covid with a Bootstrapped Venture: Kristi Herold, CEO of JAM
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