Let's get this ball rolling
It's time for this week's rundown of the My Biggest Lessons podcast! Chris Meade was joined by Tim Shields, founder and CEO of UBALL, to chat about his biggest lessons creating and growing a new sport. Watch the full episode below ⤵
Taking a game of basketball off-court has been pretty much impossible since the birth of the game in 1891 — until now.
Enter: Tim Shields, inventor of UBALL. Growing up, Tim and his 3 siblings always found themselves looking for a black top while on vacation to get in a few games of 2-on-2 basketball. Finding a playable surface wasn't always easy, and on one particular vacation, they were left no pavement to dribble on. Questioning why there wasn't a secondary form of basketball out there that could be played on natural surfaces like sand and grass, the idea for UBALL as a product came to fruition.
With a versatile new product idea that could be used virtually anywhere and adjusted rules to the original game of basketball, an entirely new sport was born.
Growing a new sport and brand simultaneously is no easy feat (just ask our host, Chris!), with many lessons to be learned along the way. Interested in learning more about how Tim has grown UBALL into a successful sport and product? Keep on reading! ⤵
A brand new way to ball 🏀
For Tim, growing UBALL has brought on some challenges and important lessons — particularly the relationship between sport and product.
When creating a new sport with a new product, the goals for each can be different, throwing off the initial synergy between the two. In the case of UBALL, it came down to people who wanted to use the product just for fun, and people who saw it as the next up and coming sport, wanting to be part of it as a legitimate athlete. Tim emphasizes the importance of maintaining the symbiotic relationship between product and sport; as it creates a space for all to enjoy, rather than each being their own separate thing.
Test, test, test 🧪
One key component to growing any new brand, and a lesson learned for Tim, is to always thoroughly test your products. Tim reiterates that even if you think you know your product, run it through thorough product testing after every small tweak and fix before sending it to production. This particular lesson was learned early in the UBALL days, when they decided to cut down a bit of the weight in the rim to make the product lighter for shipping. Without testing, they began production on the product. By luck, they discovered an issue before the product was sent to customers: the rim was susceptible to bending and warping.
With any adjustment to your product, no matter how big or small, it's important to act as if it's the first time you're testing the product. Don't rely on how well you think you know it!
The roster 😎
As we've come to learn in the age of digital media, having a product that is organically shareable is key to growing your brand online. With UBALL being a combo of a new sport and cool product, it didn't take long for big names like Lonzo Ball to get their hands on it and post their experience organically.
Keeping up the momentum with athletes and influencers, Tim notes that humanizing the brand and not adding stipulations or expectations to post is what works best for UBALL. Instead of saying, "we'll send you the product in exchange for X amount of posts", Tim will usually let them know while there's no pressure to post, it really does help young companies like them out. This approach has been successful thus far, saving UBALL on paid sponsorships and continuing to grow the brand and sport organically.
Keep in touch 📨
When it comes to Tim's biggest lesson since founding UBALL, his biggest mistake has been neglecting his network. While networking is an extremely important aspect of growing your business, especially early on, the business relationships Tim made in the past would tend to fizzle out. Putting all of his focus on growing his brand, he had a hard time keeping in touch with his network.
Chris' advice for Tim? Pick 5 people you'd like to be good friends with by the end of the year, and start talking to them on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Talk about business, life, anything on your mind, but ensure that you're keeping in touch, and by the end of the year, you'll have made 5 really good friends in business.
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