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Forget About Funding and 7 Other Keys to Loving Your Start-Up

Job satisfaction need not be fleeting for entrepreneurs especially if they follow these 8 tips gleaned from an interview with ZogSports founder, Robert Herzog.

Robert Herzog

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Robert Herzog founded ZogSports a few months after watching an airplane crash into what was his office on the 96th
floor of the World Trade Center tower. Eight years later, after
growing his company from one sport to a dozen, from five hundred
participants on 29 teams to sixty thousand on 4,000 teams in three
markets, Herzog happily admits that, “I love what I do everyday.” How
Herzog has been able to sustain his initial enthusiasm is both
instructive and inspiring, revealing 8 tips for just about any
entrepreneur who actually wants to enjoy the journey.

1. Pursue your Passions

Duh, right? After all, why would you go to the trouble of starting a
business if you didn’t love the idea? [Pause here if you’re in it for
the money.] With passion comes insight and hopefully an unmet need.
In Herzog’s case, the insight came after meeting his wife playing co-ed
softball. “I played in all these other recreational sports leagues and
while I had fun with the sports aspect of it, they provided terrible
customer service,” explained Herzog. Knowing he could do better, he
added “I wanted to create what I wished had existed when I was single.”

2. Make sure its Meaningful

This is one of the lofty notions that sounds good at the beginning
but can be tough to sustain once an organization matures. Recognizing a
growing interest in altruism, Herzog made charity the third pillar of
ZogSports along with the sports and social aspects of the service.
Herzog is understandably proud that the organization has helped raise
one million for charity thus far but takes just as much joy from the
sports and social aspects. “I organize other people’s fun for a
living,” explained Herzog, offering a broader perspective on what can
make a job meaningful.

3. Hire the Happy

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While most entrepreneurs will tell you the importance of building a
team of different personalities and skill sets, few will call serious
attention to the attitudes of these hires. “When I hire people, I ask a
whole series of questions about how much fun they are,” explained
Herzog. “We don’t hire people who are really uptight,” added Herzog,
who considers himself the most uptight of the bunch. “When I started
Zog, I wanted to create a workplace that was fun, open and
collaborative,” noted Herzog, who I witnessed greet a random team
captain with outright exuberance.

4. Prepare yourself Properly

The serial entrepreneur is often content to get his/her idea off the
ground and then move on, requiring a modest amount of prior experience.
Herzog, on the other hand, brought a wide range of experience to his
new company, enabling him to adapt to the changing nature of his job.
“I feel like having a whole bunch of different jobs before this was
incredibly helpful,” insisted Herzog. Having been both a management and
operations consultant and executive at several start-ups, Herzog “was
about making things better,” which also ensured he was unlikely to get
bored as the company grew.

5. Forget about Funding

Spend time with entrepreneurs and inevitably the conversation drifts
back to finding VC funding. And while not every entrepreneur is in a
position to bootstrap his or her idea, don’t assume that outside funding
equates to job satisfaction. Self-funded from the start, Herzog has
not sought outside investors. Explained Herzog, “I have found that my
job is so much easier because I don’t have anybody else’s money in here
telling me how fast we should grow.” Also relating this independence to
his high job satisfaction, Herzog offered emphatically, “I don’t ever
want to work for anybody else again!”

6. Emphasize the Experience

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A lot of start-ups narrowly define their offering to the product or
service at hand and in doing so miss the larger opportunity. In the
case of ZogSports, Herzog is quick to note that their business
transcends sports. “Our goal is to be the highlight of a ‘zoggers’
week,” and to do that explained Herzog means that every customer
interaction from registration to the games to the post-game happy hours
needs “to be overwhelmingly positive and fun.” The end of result of
this emphasis on experience is that 80-85% of the new zoggers come from
positive referrals, keeping marketing costs down and CEO smiles up.

7. Live your Life

While working long hours is hard to avoid at the start-up stage,
entrepreneurs who continue at this pace year after year are unlikely to
say, “I love my job.” Although Herzog admits to having worked 80-90
hours a week initially, he has avoided over-extending himself and the
business since then. “I never wanted to work that much and completely
sacrifice every other aspect of my life,” explained Herzog. A father of
two, Herzog also derives helpful instruction from his family time.
Admiring his son’s ability to be happy 24/7, Herzog explained, “I look at him and say,
wow that’s just amazing, why should I dwell on this thing that’s
bothering me?”

8. Grow your Goals

Like sharks, entrepreneurs have to keep moving, challenging
themselves and their employees to do better. The gleeful Herzog is no
different here. “I see my enjoyment in my job being tied to being able
to grow the business and provide my staff new and exciting
opportunities,” he added. As such, Herzog is investing in new systems
that will make it easier to offer a standardized experience from game to
game, sport to sport and market to market. With these systems in
place, Herzog hopes to be able to expand to 15-20 markets in the next
five years, a growth pace that will be hard not to love.

Final Note: Given that he is in the business of providing “an escape from
people’s daily lives,” it is little wonder that Herzog puts a premium on
having a well-balanced life himself. He also is well aware that his
situation is not the norm nor easy to maintain, “I couldn’t think of a
better job for me but if I didn’t have to work hard at it, I might not
appreciate it.”

About the author

Drew is the founder of Renegade, the NYC-based social media and marketing agency that helps inspired B2B and B2C clients cut through all the nonsense to deliver genuine business growth. A frequent speaker at ad industry events, Drew’s been a featured expert on ABC’s Nightline and CNBC.

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