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Surviving Covid with a Bootstrapped Venture: Kristi Herold, CEO of JAM (Part 3)

Posted on Thursday, May 6th 2021

Sramana Mitra: Give me the highlights of your strategy in growing this thing to that level. How long did it take you to achieve $1 million in revenue? 

Kristi Herold: It took me 8 years to get to $1 million in revenue. 

Sramana Mitra: In 1996, you started the business and then in 2004, you were up to $1 million in revenue?

Kristi Herold: Yes.

Sramana Mitra: Was that all word of mouth?

Kristi Herold: Yes, a majority. I did the old newspaper ads back then. We didn’t have a website until 1999 or 2000. It was a different time to build a business back then. 

Sramana Mitra: At what point did you leverage technology to do what you were trying to do?

Kristi Herold: I think it was in 2004. At one point, we built our own platform. We have our own proprietary platform that does everything including front-end registration – you can sign up online and put your team together online. It’s all automated so you get reminders about their games. 

Sramana Mitra: When did you start putting that automation in?

Kristi Herold: I’m going to say in 2004. 

Sramana Mitra: That was around when you were hitting $1 million in revenue that you started leveraging technology aggressively?

Kristi Herold: Yes, we tried to keep up with technology. As technology started becoming more and more available, we started to try to capitalize on that. Early days, you’d be mailing your registration form on a piece of paper with a check in it. Once we could start doing automated payments online, we applied it. We were in line with the times. 

Sramana Mitra: After you reached $1 million and all these technology pieces starting to come together, when did you start leveraging online marketing in growing your business?

Kristi Herold: For the first 10 years of the business, from 1996 to 2006, I was very invested in the business, but I also had three children during that time. My conscious choice was to have a lifestyle business. I wasn’t trying to grow and be a massive organization. I wanted to have a business that would allow me to have a lifestyle with kids. I chose to stay local.

From 2006 to 2016, I stepped back and I was not involved with the day-to-day operations. I took 16 weeks a year off. I had a great team, so the business ran without me. I didn’t need to be around all the time. I was working 20 hours a week, but I wasn’t involved in the day-to-day operations. This was a conscious choice.

By 2016 – 20 years in – my kids were older and they didn’t want to hang out with me as much. I was bored and I needed a new challenge. I debated selling the business. I thought about the legacy that I wanted to leave. At that time, I sat down and I was thinking that what I get most excited about is seeing people play and seeing the impact that we are having on people’s lives.

When I see a Sport Social game in action and I could say to my kids, “Look, that is one of our games. Look at those people playing because of what we do.” It felt so good. At that time, we had about 70,000 people annually. In 2016, that was when I decided to grow the business instead of selling it. I started to grow it through mergers and acquisitions.

From 2016 to 2019, I did eight acquisitions. I started to expand our footprint in the cities that we were in. The plan was to grow even further that way. In February of 2020, I was considering two acquisitions that would have doubled the size of our organization, but because of the pandemic, we had to pause that. The intention is to grow that way.

To answer your question about marketing and digital marketing, it wasn’t until 2016 that we started to grow. We started to build a marketing team at that point. We didn’t have a marketing team before that. We focused on delivering good customer service and word of mouth because we didn’t want to expand outside of our local area. 

This segment is part 3 in the series : Surviving Covid with a Bootstrapped Venture: Kristi Herold, CEO of JAM
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