A person considering whether or not to start a business often hears advice from others to “follow your passion.” In many cases, the building of a business is itself the entrepreneur’s passion. However, there are those times when the passion to build a business can meet with other things an entrepreneur is passionate about. When I owned and operated GolfCourses.com and GolfResorts.com, I was in that position, experiencing the excitement of building a business around something I truly enjoy, golf. Now, truth be told, I golfed a lot more AFTER I sold those, but hey, it really was great immersing myself into the golf biz for that time. I mean, heck, I was in the position to go on golf trips and be able to tell my wife I had to go . . . for the sake of the business!
Scott Hastings, President of PrivateSuites.com, seems to have taken the “follow your passion” mantra to the next level while building his interrelated Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) businesses. Scott is a big fan of MMA and his sites CrachMMA.com and MMATraining.com cater to fans and devotees of the white-hot sport. Scott has really done an amazing job of leveraging each business to help grow his others. MMATraining.com focuses on fighters and their training regimen and builds relationships with the MMA participants. CrashMMA.com puts together tour packages for attending MMA events and through its MMA relationships can put together some great opportunities for MMA fans to meet the big names in the sport, folks like Randy Couture, one of the biggest names in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.
Now tie in PrivateSuites.com, Hastings’ business which offers companies, groups, or individuals a great opportunity to catch an event from a, well, private suite at various venues across North America. This business weaves in nicely with CrashMMA.com and the tour packages it puts together for MMA fans. However, PrivateSuites.com also services fans for other events such as concerts and other sporting events.
Scott, how about we start with a recap of last week’s CrashMMA.com trip to Las Vegas for UFC 109. This had to be an incredible weekend to be in Vegas with it being Super Bowl weekend in addition to the big MMA event. We all know the dirt stays in the desert, but what morsels can you share from that trip?
Overall it was another fantastic UFC weekend. I have been to every major sporting event in North America, and I can honestly say that a live UFC event tops them all.
This was our 4th trip to Las Vegas with a CrashMMA event, and they keep getting better each time. We had a Private Suite rented for the fights, filled with food and drinks, had a great Private training session on Thursday at the world famous Xtreme Couture, and an after-party at an awesome Las Vegas club on the strip, with a number of UFC fighters hanging around.
We stayed at Mandalay Bay and enjoyed all the sights and sounds that Las Vegas on super bowl weekend has to offer.
We’re trying to give fans the weekend from an ‘insider perspective’ and at the same time trying to expose a new group of people to Mixed Martial Arts and the UFC. It’s a great sport and an unbelievable live experience. If we can offer things like meeting a favorite fighter and access to an unbelievable after-party, we know the customer is getting that ultimate VIP treatment, and that’s what we want.
People who read MO.com and who know me, know I am a big believer in getting a great domain name on which to build your business. MMATraining.com is solid and clear on the subject matter, CrashMMA.com has the sizzle that goes with the sport, but PrivateSuites.com is a real gem, perfectly describing the offering. How much weight did/do you put in the naming of the business and tying that in with your ability to secure the matching domain name?
It was very important to us to select a domain name that would represent what we are all about. With MMATraining.com we focus on a number of aspects, but the main goal is to further the training of fans and athletes. We have the largest MMA gym directory in the world and rank well across different MMA categories – the biggest being training.
For PrivateSuites.com, obtaining a great domain name was extremely important to our business model. We wouldn’t have been able to grow the business at the rate that we have with a name that didn’t have the right fit.
When you see PrivateSuites.com you know automatically what you will be getting. It attracts high end customers, venues looking to work with us and other suite owners.
We’ve found often times that with higher-end entertainment items clients aren’t looking for a specific service or event but are just looking for something to do. Because of this, we have to reach out to them. We felt that any type of marketing and promotion we would do needed a domain name that jumped out at the customer above all others.
With our Private Suite inventory we aren’t just offering tickets to games or concerts. We are offering a private VIP viewing experience that you can only experience by watching from a VIP luxury suite. We attract a very wide range of customers: From Fortune 500 companies to a group of diehard hockey fans. We think our domain names tell a story before the customer even gets onto the site and that’s very important to us.
Your background prior to launching the above mentioned business was with the very large firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Do you believe the experience you gained while working for PwC has given you a substantial advantage as you launch and run your business? Or would your “on the job training” as an entrepreneur immersed in building the business have gotten you ‘up to speed’ fast enough? I think entrepreneurs get mixed messages sometimes on the ‘when’ of starting a business. Get experience first, then start a biz . . . or start a biz and you’ll get the experience in buckets . . . obviously no right answer, just curious on your view.
I think my time at PwC was extremely valuable. It is a tremendous place to work, and I would recommend it to anyone. During my time there, I was exposed to a wide variety of different businesses and how they operate. I was able to witness first hand hundreds of different entities and what worked well in a particular business and sometimes what didn’t. Overall, I think my time prepared me extremely well for my current business. I was very fortunate to have received that opportunity.
At the same time I have learned an incredible amount over the last year running our current business. In my opinion the biggest reason is that it all falls on me at the end of the day. It’s my responsibility that everything gets done, and I didn’t have that same responsibility at PwC.
I don’t think there is a simple answer as to how one should proceed with their career. People have had great success by starting their own business the first chance they get, and others have flourished after some ‘seasoning’ within a larger entity, like an accounting firm. Both ways have worked for different people.
I know that my time seeing a variety of businesses and working with a large accounting firm was the exact thing that I needed to grow and learn, and I was much more prepared for my current role because of that experience I had.
Over time, you have developed solid business relationships with some of the top names in MMA. I think this is something a lot of folks would like to hear more about, including myself. In what ways were you able to get the initial contacts and then ultimately grow those contacts into the strong connections you have today?
Great question. As popular as MMA has become, it’s still a relatively new sport. Because of this and because MMATraining.com had become one of the bigger sites in the MMA category, we were able to secure some interviews with some of the top UFC fighters including Randy Couture, Sam Stout and Kenny Florian. Relationships developed from there with many more of the top names. We were also able to take advantage of some sponsorship opportunities with some of the fighters which furthered our connection with many of the guys.
MMA is also a very tight knit community and we have had great experiences working with people in the industry. It seems like everyone knows each other, is very accessible and is friendly. Most of them are much different than the stereotype the average person has about a ‘cage fighter.’
Once we decided to start Crash MMA it was a perfect synergy with what we had built with MMAtraining.com. In the last year at Crash MMA events we have had a private meet and greet with Wanderlei Silva, had dinner and watched the UFC with Sean Sherk and Chris Lytle, as well as taken a Private Jet to the UFC in Las Vegas and Memphis.
MMA and the UFC have been a step ahead when it comes to fan interaction and using Facebook and twitter and the different social media networks. So it’s much easier to get in contact with an MMA fighter for a Crash MMA gathering. Imagine trying to have Derek Jeter for a meet and greet at a Yankees game? I’m not even sure where I would start.
Lastly, the UFC and Dana White have done an unbelievable job of opening their fighters up to fan interaction and these small gestures go a very long way in terms of fan appreciation, and no one has done it better than those guys.
As I outlined in the opening, you have managed to put yourself in a position to launch and grow a business around something you greatly enjoy, MMA and sports in general. How much value do you put on that for you both personally and for building the business?
I’m very fortune to be able to wake up each morning and work at something that I’m passionate about and have been my entire life – sports. I have great support around me and a dedicated staff which has really helped us grow.
I think if you dislike what you do, it will show in your work and the dedication (or lack thereof) that you have for it. I’m one of the lucky ones because I get to do something I’m fanatical about. It’s hard work and long days, but that’s the recipe for most successful start ups and hopefully we can create one here.
I’m reminded of the old saying “If you love what you do, you will never work another day in your life.” And in my case it’s true.
You have three business units that feed beautifully into each other. Yet, I believe PrivateSuites.com has become the lead ship. As you grow the “product offering” of PrivateSuites.com, how are you looking at securing the “inventory”? Is it one venue at a time or will you go after more inventory (suites to sell) in some other manner? When I was in the golf business online, I really admired what the folks at LastMinuteGolfer.com were doing. They offered a fantastic service, offering users/customers opportunities to book tee times through their site. The business grew regionally, adding a course at a time, and soon gained a real foothold with a big inventory of golf courses.
For us, we have to make sure we’re doing an excellent job with every city and every venue that we work with. We have focused regionally first on some great cities: Toronto, Columbus, Detroit and Buffalo. We also have some great strategic partners in the United States and Canada that we work with closely and have expanded our fleet of suites to Dallas, Tampa, Miami and Atlanta among many other cities. There are a large number of other cities we have in our inventory and many more on our radar for 2010.
We’ve found that each market is unique and must be approached as such. Also, we believe that with a lot of hard work and great results in 2010, we will be able to add 20 more venues.
Our long term goal is to have every major market in North America in our inventory by the end of 2011, and we believe that’s a realistic goal given our success with our current group of Suites.
I know your brother; he’s in pretty good shape for a guy that loves to crunch numbers. If you and he were thrown into an MMA cage match, which one of you would be the one walking out at the end?
(Laughs) I’ll choose my words very carefully with this one. Ted is a bit older so he has what we like to call “man strength,” so with each passing year he gets stronger and stronger. We have always been competitive, and at the same time I’ve been very fortunate to have great support, from not only my brother but my entire family.
We are usually pretty competitive in the gym together, but that usually doesn’t involve punching or kicking at each other. I think it would be too much for the family to take, and we would have to call it a draw before we even got in the cage.
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