Drew Neisser > “Eight Tips on Loving Your Start-Up”

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Job satisfaction need not be fleeting for entrepreneurs especially if they follow these 8 tips gleaned from an interview with ZogSports founder, Robert Herzog.  This article first appeared on FastCompany.com.

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

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

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.”


[Robert Herzog, Founder of ZogSports]

Drew is the CEO of Renegade, the digital & guerrilla marketing agency from New York City that helps clients make more out of less by transforming communications into "Marketing as Service." @DrewNeisser