The below is a transcription of the words of Mark French of Mission Athletecare. He is also the founder of Court Grip.
The word hustle is often used in a bad kind of way, but I think for me, I’ve always considered myself as someone who hustles – this was true even when I was a kid. The first thing I hustled my way into was when I talked my way into a ballboy job with the New York Knicks. I met Mark Jackson, who is now the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, when I was 14. I said “I’d love to be a ballboy.” There was no internet or cellphones then, so he said I should speak to the head trainer. When I met the head trainer I told him: “Mark said I have a job. When do I start?” The rest is history. I’ve been very fortunate to work in media for the majority of my career. I’ve always been passionate about the arts, and I worked in every different role you can imagine, even behind the camera and selling. I worked with NBC Universal for awhile which involved a lot of travel back and forth to California from New York. At first it was a big scare to live in California, but one of the best experiences is to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. The best characteristics in yourself can be discovered by doing that.
Ultimately, when I moved back to New York I was given a position to figure out how to get more people to watch NBC, and to make new money from advertising. It was a big challenge, but it really was exciting because I built a team built on trust. We looked at the environment and we knew getting NBC’s content to “be better than it is” wasn’t really our job; What we were tasked with was to get more people to watch it. So I thought: “What if we bring our content to people in captive environments where they can’t turn the channel?” When I retell this story, people typically throw stuff at me, but at the time it was kind of cool. We were the ones who put the TVs in taxis here in New York! That was kind of our first innovation. The business strategy behind it was: “This is a very attractive demographic for advertisers, and it’s also large-scale.” When we first presented the idea to the Taxi & Limousine Commission, we said we’d do all the hard work, but even so, the initial feeling from them was that nobody was going to watch TV in a taxi. Today, tons of New Yorkers watch WNBC in taxis. So again, that’s hustle. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. I think ignorance has always been a secret weapon for me (laughs) in that I’m probably too dumb to realize that something’s too hard to do and so I keep going.
During that NBC venture of putting TVs in taxis, on gas pumps and trains, I was really lucky to see a lot of business plans from technology companies. I had no background in finance or M&A or anything along those lines, so it was a chance to see a lot of really good business plans, and some really bad ones too. I was blown away because I saw exactly how finance could raise a lot of money to get ideas off the ground. This inspired me to solve a problem I noticed for years on basketball courts. The problem was: When you don’t have good traction on the court, it really impedes your performance. So I flew out to Ohio every Friday after work to try to find and hire a few engineers. I chose Ohio because that’s where racecar tires are developed – traction was something they studied. The first nine scientists said my idea couldn’t be done. They told me there was no way to add something to a shoe to give it better traction. Later though, a few folks did believe in me, most importantly Dwayne Wade, who became my business partner and the person who co-funded my idea, as well as Urnex, who is a sponsor here tonight. Eventually, we launched the product with Foot Locker! It’s been an incredible experience. Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard got involved, and we sold the business about two years ago. I’m now involved in expanding into new products and investing in new start-ups. So whatever you do, it might be the next big idea.
About the event: Canopy Brand Group, a New York City-based branding and advertising agency, joined forces with Wishbone, to break the cycle of high school drop-outs in New York City, via the S.P.A.R.K. (Smart, Powerful, and Remarkable Kids) initiative. The panel and party took place on November 12, 2013 at the Art Directors’ Club in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. The interactive discussion was led by Canopy Brand Group’s Strategy Director, John Krubski; the panel of entrepreneurs included: Beth Bugdaycay, CEO & Co-Founder of the Rebecca Taylor fashion brand, Brooke Ely Danielson, Associate Editor of Accessories at GLAMOUR magazine, Marc Sampogna, Founder and Managing Director of Canopy Brand Group, Marie Camaya, Senior Director of Event Marketing at Nickelodeon, and Mark French, Founder of Court Grip and Partner in Mission Athletecare.
As students and guests arrived to the Art Directors’ Club, DJ Mad Linx set the ambience with lively tracks. Everyone was then treated to refreshments from Deep River Snacks, BluePrintCleanse and mini-ice cream cupcakes from Once Upon A Cupcake NYC. Bareburger was also on deck serving samples of their healthy shakes. All attendees also received a free raffle ticket for prizes from sponsors Madame Tussaud’s, Spider-Man on Broadway, Sierra Mist, and Brooklyn Bowl.
Silent auctions were conducted in the Google Lounge for gifts from Cookie Lee Accessories, Truman’s Gentlemen’s Groomers, and Estee Lauder. The evening focused on igniting and inspiring students from NYC high schools. Beth, Brooke, Marc, Marie, and Mark provided students with real-life stories of their experiences, insights into achieving academic and career goals, and, consistent with the event’s focus, advice on creating and sustaining mentor-protégé relationships. The panel discussion came to an end with a Q&A portion where the students got to ask the closing questions. Following the Q&A, the upbeat vibe kicked into high gear. Chris Hernandez from America’s Next Top Model introduced the evening’s teen fashion show (sponsored by Aéropostale and styled by celebrity stylist Jay Johnson). Chris kept the students energized by asking them to share their dreams with the crowd. DJ Mad Linx then spun more tracks as he MC’d and conducted the raffle draws. SPARK’s evening ended with the structured Breakout Sessions, in which students had the chance to go one-on-one with the panelists, and apply for Mentorships at their respective companies. The students also got to mix, mingle and get advice from the evening’s guests. New York Giants Cornerbacks Corey Webster and Aaron Ross were on hand, as well as Olympic Gold Medalist Sanya Richards-Ross, model Elliot Sailors, recording artist Justin and some of the city’s top business professionals. The night ended with complimentary gift bags from sponsors Urnex, Pirate’s Booty, Positive Connections to the World, hook + ALBERT, Ali & Kris, Blackstreak Entertainment, Bella Public Relations, The Rockefeller Group, Watson Adventures, and Udderly Smooth.
Canopy Brand Group and The Tesla Group are happy to give information to
anyone who wants to get involved!
You can also visit http://www.wishbone.org or http://www.sparkforchange.org.
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Final image credit (3rd pic with the tweets): Alex H. Yong