Chris and his two best friends have built a $300k/month business that sells four-way Volleyball nets. After a night of brainstorming business ideas, the three friends decided to go with the Volleyball net one. What started as a joke, has become a full-time business.
Hi Chris! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?
I’m a 26-year-old entrepreneur living in Miami and running the world’s first four-way volleyball game company. I grew up in a small farm town in North East, Connecticut called Woodstock. I graduated with a film degree from Quinnipiac University in 2014, got into sales to pay off college debt, and now have built a multi-million dollar company in less than two years with my two best friends.
CROSSNET combines aspects of volleyball and four-square by having four players compete against one another in a challenging game to 11, win by 2. I’m responsible for all things and marketing, as the Chief Revenue Officer. We sell our product at our website and about 20+ other marketplaces including Target, Walmart, Amazon, Scheels, and Academy.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was working at Uber HQ as an Account Executive helping launch the UberEats app in Boston and Providence. I came home for the holiday break and one night was up late with my brother Greg Meade and childhood friend Mike Delpapa. Mike just graduated from NorthEastern with an engineering degree and wanted to invent something. We sat up all night writing down the most ridiculous ideas and then four-way volleyball was proposed. We quickly realized it was not as ridiculous as we thought!
How did you build CROSSNET?
The next morning we woke up with this idea of four-way volleyball on a piece of paper with 200+ ideas crossed out above it. We drove to our local Walmart and bought two volleyball nets, cut their centers out and rigged up a prototype. We then invited our best friends over and started playing elimination volleyball, one hit only, and used old school four-square rules like we were back in elementary school.
Simply put, it was a blast and we were onto something. Next up, Mike started crafting blueprints and finding potential manufacturers. We then found one that excelled in the sporting goods industry and patiently waited as we had samples delivered. We’d then wait and wait and wait for some more. We’d finally get the game and immediately point out flaws. Go back onto Whatsapp, relay the feedback and repeat the process. A year later, we had our final product!
While this was going on I was working full time at my job at Uber and coming home at night building the CROSSNET website, while my brother Greg was launching our social media accounts and building hype and an audience for launch.
Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
Every time we set up CROSSNET we always gather an impressive crowd. Our four-way net turns heads because nobody has ever seen anything like it before. We quickly figured out that if we were getting this reaction, all of our customers were probably experiencing a similar thing. This meant it was vital to get as many nets out into the world as possible and spread them out across the United States to reach as many customers as possible.
We were very selective with ambassadors and influencers who we thought would have the best following and pull in their local communities. We also sought out influencers who had a consistent history of putting out high quality, engaging content. We would offer product exchanges for a video and story post and saw our brand grow overnight. We would then repurposes the best of the best videos and run Facebook and Instagram ads with them to generate revenue.
When starting off with this strategy we learned that if we continued to send out tons of units on a limb and prayer that the influencer would actually create the content we would quickly find ourselves in the red and out of tons of money and product. When selecting an influencer we will always get their personal phone number, email address, and have a way to contact them. There is nothing worse than getting your message left unread by dozens of influencers after shelling out hundreds of dollars to ship your product out and having no idea if you’ll ever see content created. We’ve learned to start small, build trust with your connections and scale from there.
After using the videos to create traffic to the site we are constantly looking at data to determine where customers are dropping off, how we can build motivation, and increase conversion. A few helpful applications that Shopify users should be using are Privy, Klayvio, Hotjar, and Carthook. When starting off with a lean budget we used Privy to capture emails and provide discounts to increase conversion. Hotjar can be used to find where customers are dropping off and will allow you to quickly identify the weakest points of your website. Carthook is an incredible application that we just started using that transforms the checkout process from three pages to one, this has increased our conversion by almost 1%, which is hundreds of thousands of dollars across the year.
What are your goals for the future?
Our goals for 2020 are to finally release our indoor model that hundreds of schools are patiently waiting for. Teachers and volleyball coaches will be able to take their current CROSSNET model and add our indoor base attachment to create an indoor permanent solution. Set up time will be around 5 minutes and we envision classrooms having dozens of students working on their volleyball skills on our net.
We are also looking to become more involved in the volleyball community and create as many events and tournaments as possible. Financially, we will be looking to hit $5,000,000 in sales in 2020, while continuing to be 100% profitable. With more revenue, typically comes more expenses. We will be looking to bring on several part-time, remote employees to help take CROSSNET to the next level. We will need to hire customer service agents to deal with wholesale and retail inquiries, general customer service issues such as tracking and shipping, and somebody to answer our phone line. Additionally, we will be bringing on graphic designers, copywriters, and an email marketing team. We can’t do everything ourselves and training and staffing will be a top priority for us in Q1 after we wind down from the holiday season.
What were the biggest challenges you faced and the obstacles you overcame?
Our biggest obstacle has been creating a brand new product and sport with very little money in the bank. Being patient, when you have this crazy idea, was tough for us. We wanted to get a million nets out there and send them to everyone, but financially that was simply not realistic. We did not want to bury ourselves in so much debt, where we were working for the first two-three years simply to recoup our losses. We started small, purchased 100 nets, sold them and rebought 200. Now we’re buying in 7500 unit increments. It’s an awesome feeling.
Which are your greatest disadvantages? What were your worst mistakes?
Our worst mistake was launching our company and accepting orders before we had our final product and enough inventory in our warehouse. We’d bring our prototype to the beach and dozens of people would have an absolute blast playing it. We’d then direct them to the site where they’d purchase with the understanding that they’d receive their order in a few weeks. In the beginning, a few weeks turned into a few months, and that was our first experience with how important having good customer service was.
I always tell fellow entrepreneurs to make sure you 100% have your inventory in before you start selling or to properly set customer expectations for the absolute worst. Customers won’t complain about getting their order earlier, but they certainly will about getting it late. We now pride ourselves on having a 48 hour turn-around time and getting almost every order that arrives before 5 PM EST out of the warehouse on the same day.
If you had the chance to do things differently, what would you do?
Break down every single cost and find ways to improve your margins from day one. Negotiate on everything possible. If you end up saving $50 here and $200 there, you may end up saving yourself a month’s pay. I wish we did this in the beginning instead of feeling helpless to these larger companies manufacturing your packaging and product. It would have helped us become profitable much sooner.
What are some sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?
I recommend turning to Google as your best friend. Simply searching topics such as “5 Ways I Can Grow My Startup” and“My Business has Hit 1 Million Dollars, What’s Next?” will teach you some of the best lessons ever. There are thousands of articles to help entrepreneurs in every aspect of their business because more than likely there will always be somebody who has been in similar shoes before.
I also love listening to audiobooks and podcasts while I work. Being an entrepreneur is an absolute grind, so I’ve been finding myself listening to easy listening sports podcasts such as the Pat McAfee and Bob Menery to keep up with what's going on in the world.
Where can we go to learn more?
Visit our website to learn more about CROSSNET. If you’d like to follow along with my journey follow me on Instagram at @chrismeade or my LinkedIn. Always available for questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.