“Can we call it even at 20?”
That’s how Chris Ruder, CEO of Spikeball, closed a deal of $500,000 for a 20% stake with Daymond John on the season 6 finale of Shark Tank. Since the episode aired, Spikeball has seen sales increase exponentially and cannot go one day without someone yelling out “Hey, Spikeball!” when they see the team sporting Spikeball gear or spot the game on the beach.
Though the game existed prior to what we know it as today, the original passion came from Chris playing Spikeball as a kid. “It was a product that I absolutely loved,” Chris notes. “Sports wasn’t a huge part of my life but after playing Spikeball and seeing strangers walk up and ask about it, I thought that it might be the marketplace speaking to us.”
For a little background, Spikeball is a team sport played by two teams of two players. Players stand around the net and bounce a rubber ball off of a circular net, which is placed just a few inches off the ground. Each team has up to three hits between the two players to bounce the ball on the net to transfer the possession to the opposing team. Essentially, if volleyball and four square had a child, it would be Spikeball.
Over the last few years, Spikeball has grown beyond being just a backyard game. The company is trying to provide tech and platforms to bring the community together. “One way we’re trying to bring the community together is the Spikeball app, including a feature to find players in your hometown.” Although the app has been live for only three weeks, it already has thousands of users. In addition to the Spikeball app, USASpikeball, the governing body of the sport of Spikeball, will have 175 tournaments this year. “That’s thousands of people coming together who never would’ve met otherwise and are rallying around Spikeball. When that happens, growth happens.”
When Spikeball was in its early stages, Chris was looking for a network of like-minded folks to walk down the path of growing a business with him. As a first-time entrepreneur, Chris learned quickly that there was a lot that he didn’t know about running a business.
When Spikeball joined Junto, Chris attended the first class, three months after the last day at his corporate job. For the first time, he was exposed to one of the core principles of Junto: shared experiences. “People like to tell you what is best for your business,” he says. “I’m among a group of people who suffer from [unsolicited advice] and appreciate shared experiences way more than advice.” In each of the four elements of Junto’s program, the Apprentices, Mentors and Instructors share experiences rather than give advice because, from what we’ve observed, that is the way entrepreneurs learn best and improve their decision-making skills.
Similarly, Scott Palmer, COO of Spikeball, recounts his experience being on the outside looking in during JuntoI in 2013. Scott was a moderator in that program and was hearing about what the JuntoI Apprentices did after each class and how they were practicing their habits. In addition, he was intrigued by the shared experiences and transparency that are fundamental to the Junto program.
Coincidentally, Scott then joined Spikeball as COO, advocated for the company to enroll in Junto II in 2014, and when the program began, he was now on the inside, experiencing all that he had heard in the year prior. As a moderator, he heard how the Apprentices were implementing emotional intelligence in their companies and personal lives. Furthermore, the transparency shown by each Apprentice became something he was excited about when he joined Spikeball’s team, and it immediately had an impact on him. He recalls “...that there was so much transparency with the emotional intelligence aspect. It helped me be more transparent. I tend to be less of an emotional person and that transparency aspect pulled more out of me.”
The importance of transparency in a business also resonated for Spikeball during Nick Sarillo’s class on Operations & Metrics. At Nick’s, they practice open-book management, which enables every team member to take ownership of a part of the company’s profit and loss statement. The transparency that comes from the team’s weekly huddles allows the company to operate without the need for a bookkeeper, because they are the ones keeping the books.
Nick also highlights how consistency is achieved through specifics. For instance, Chris will always remember that “there are 60 nickel sized pieces of sausage on Nick’s pizza and no one is allowed to make a pizza until they’re a certified pizza maker.” Chris recognizes that even though he’s definitely not the guy to implement new processes at Spikeball, the transparency and consistency evident during Nick’s class gave him a new appreciation for Scott’s job as COO. It also opened his eyes to the importance of encouraging and having new processes put in place even if he is not the one driving them.
Both Chris and Scott have brought some of the emotional intelligence habits back to their internal team, which a lot of them have enjoyed learning. “For most people, EI seems like a foreign language,” Scott says. Even though the internal team works for Spikeball, the company might not be their life like it is for Scott and Chris. “They’re coming from a different place than we are, so it affects their moods and receptiveness to information. It’s a matter of understanding how to manage expectations and understand how people want information delivered to them.”
Another outcome of Spikeball’s time in Junto was during Gaye van den Hombergh’s class on Leadership & Social Awareness. “To me directly,” Chris mentions, “she said to smile more. I had thought about it a good amount and I loved the [idea].” As a result, Chris has an alarm in his Google Calendar that goes off twice a day reminding him to smile more and it has been ringing every day for nine months. Chris has noticed that when he smiles, people are much more receptive and engaged than when he maintains his natural face.
With the holiday season approaching, the company is preparing for the rise in orders that will be piling in. Next year, Spikeball will have close to 300 tournaments, which will have a positive impact on sales. Additionally, their app for iPhone and Android will continue to take root, already attracting thousands of users in a mere three weeks. As Spikeball prepares for 2016 and continues to focus on building their community, Scott notes, “I jokingly say world dominance, but we do have audacious goals.”
Given all of the success the company has had, the changes that Chris and Scott have made since graduating from Junto, and their focus, those goals are likely to be met.