Alan Arlt Founded Ultimate Hoops in 2006, which was acquired by Life Time Fitness in 2008. Prior to Ultimate Hoops, he worked at Discovery Communications in New York City in Marketing and Sponsorships, where he oversaw the Ad Sales Sponsorship & Product Placement team. They generated over $100 million dollars in advertising revenue annually across multiple media platforms.
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Worst Entrepreneur moment
- Alan experienced 3 tragedies in a row, but somehow bounced back. Listen to his story…
Entrepreneur AH-HA Moment
- Hire on passion, train on skills. KILLER content Fire Nation!
Small Business Resource
- Pocket: When you find something you want to view later, put it in your Pocket!
Best Business Book
- Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss
- Ultimate Hoops: Creating the ultimate basketball experience.
- Alan’s site
- Alan’s twitter
Interviewee: I’m ready. I took a bath in leather fluid this morning so I am ready, John.
Interviewer: Yes, Alan founded Ultimate Hoops in 2006, which was acquired by lifetime fitness in 2008. Prior to Ultimate Hoops, he worked at Discovery Communications in New York City in marketing and sponsorships where he oversaw ad sales sponsorship and product placement team which generated over 1 million hundred dollars in ad revenue annually across multiple media platforms. Alan say what’s up to Fire Nation and share what’s going on in your world right now?
Interviewee: What’s up Fire Nation? First of all, thanks for having me on your show John.
Interviewee: It’s a true honor like some entrepreneurs I didn’t have a linear path to starting a business, and certainly not a basketball company. If you were to pull up my high school basketball team. I’m sure I would have received the most for least likely to start their own basketball company. But the more I look back on my life. There were little signs that made say you know I guess that’s why I would start ultimate hoops. So I’ll give you one example, one of the sign as a kid I was obsessed with stratomatic basketball. Do you know what that is, John?
Interviewer: No idea.
Interviewee: So it’s a board game which create realistic simulation of statistically accurate basketball using MBA players. So basically how the game works. You’re the coach of an MBA team. You make the choices about who plays, when to match them up against opponents and the big appeal for me was the statistically component. Because the game required you to track ever stat for every game. And when I would play with friends as a teenager. Most of them found that task tracking stats to be an annoying aspect of the game but for me I was just so absorbed in the stats and I would study these stats sheets for hours after the game.
Who had the most points, who had the most field goal percentage so soon my buddies lost patience playing with me because I was so obsessed with the stats but luckily for me, you can pay solitary stouts. So I would play with this game alone hours after hours after hours. So that was one of the early signs that I knew that I was on my way to start in a basketball company. So fast-forward a few weeks later I graduated from the University of Minnesota and a few weeks later I sold my car, threw some items in a U-Haul and from Minneapolis to New York City.
And no, I moved to New York with my aspiration to be a writer but I really just want to live there and I was always fascinated by the city. I’d never been there before, I only knew New York through movies and books and it just seemed like the perfect adventure to do right out of college. So I started sending out resumes. My first job there was at Turner Broadcasting and then two years later I accepted a position at Discovery Communications where I spent six years there building and growing their ad sole sponsorship business.
So then I experience three tragic events in the span of 18 months which really sent me on the path to starting ultimate hoops. It started in July 2001, my dad passed away, followed by a few months later of 9/11 which had such an impact on me and everyone else who lived in New York City at that time. And then my mom passed away a year later from a stroke. So those three things really knock the wind out of me. I took some time off from discovery, I traveled and then landed back in Minneapolis and that’s really when I had the idea to start ultimate hoops.
And you know I started to float the idea at ultimate hoops to family and friends and they all thought that I was crazy. They were all trying to convince me it was a bad idea. A friend of mine at the time said you know you’re the successful marketing executive in New York, have a good job, good career path and now you want to side of Basketball Company in Minneapolis? And so you know I ignored their advice and I started in 2005 with ultimate hoops. And what made ultimate hoops a difference is it was a basketball league that was completely different from anything that was out in the market.
We really treated our players like MBA players through our online capabilities. We really transform the one hour a week on court experience and with seven day a week on court and on line experience. So we’re acquired by like you said lifetime fitness in 2008 and fast forward to today ultimate hoops league is now the largest recreation basketball league in the nation connecting teams and players and over 20 US markets. And in the past year we launched a new part of business.
Our ultimate training products which has enjoyed incredible growth in the 35 lifetime locations we have it in today. And we have an aggressive plan to expand the products into all of lifetime locations by the end of 2016.
Interviewer: Wow! Fire nation I really hope that you are listening to this because there is a couple of things I really want to highlight right now. I mean:
1.) Here’s Alan as a kid he was obsessed, he was passionate about numbers and about basketball and about this and about that.
And guess what? He develop skills because of the expressions and that’s one thing I love to talk about when so many people would come to me and see John like what can my thing be? Like where can I follow my path? My journey to success? And I say well we’re doing your passions and your skills intersect? That is your zone of genius and I let you found your zone of genius. And it a while to actually sit down and exploit that zone of genius in a good way.
But when you finally did for obvious reasons you dominated that niche because you had the passion and the skills and you turn it into something that was absolutely incredible. And now we have a lot that we’re going to be talking about today. We are going to have you tell a few stories but before we do my friends I want to get this out of your minds. I mean, you have the mind of a champion and I want you to share some insights with fire nation. I’m going to ask you five questions take about 30 seconds to answer these questions, each and:
1.) Is ideally, what is the first 80 minutes of your day look are like?
Interviewee: Yeah, well I definitely start my day with some type of physical activity. Working out, going for a run, playing basketball, but I do try to avoid stationary machine workouts because I’m not discipline enough not to check my email. So it’s best if it is an activity that requires me to put my phone down because you know my best ideas, my best moments of clarity is when I’m off in a run or playing pickup basketball. I’ve never ever had a great idea while working out a smart phone in my hand.
Interviewer: Yeah. And you can listen to entrepreneur a fire when you’re running. Let’s be honest.
Interviewee: Of course I can multitask and I’ve done that.
Interviewer: So Alan, what’s your biggest weakness as an entrepreneur?
Interviewee: I would say lack of patience. You know when you have been hardwired from the beginning that every sale, every player is food on the table and pays the rent. You have a tendency to really, really fast and it’s hard to dial that back when you start to scale. And it is a constant struggle for me. I want every idea to move as fast as possible, but I’ve gotten much more discipline around that and certainly have been a four-year-old and one-year-old daughter at home. It will be some good reps with my patience skills.
Interviewer: Patience is a virtue fire nation and that’s only going to be tested even more so in the future. I have a little premonition Alan.
Interviewer: What’s your biggest strength?
Interviewee: I would say adaptability. You know there’s so many ups and downs when you operating your own business. There’s never a cruise control settings on a business. There’s just so many factors that are going to be there to be rocking your boat. Starting a business is like getting in a boat and setting out to sea like you don’t know what’s going to hit you and try knock you out of that both.
But I think being able to be adaptable to anything that comes up is important and you need to find the anchor to kinda help you when you get hit a few times and for me that’s always been the product. You should always be able to control the quality of your product even during tough times.
Interviewer: Don’t rock the boat, don’t rock the boat baby. Alan, what’s a habit that you wish you had?
Interviewee: Definitely having the ability to unplug. Being more discipline with my schedule. You know, I hear a lot about Tim Ferris talk about this and other people and I’m so jealous about how discipline they can be. I’d love to be able to work and end my work day at the same time each day so I’m always trying to wrangle that monster but I’m trying not to let that habit bleed into my team. I certainly don’t want people feeling they have to be plugged in on the time so I try not to send emails on the weekend because it’s certainly my cross to bear.
Interviewer: Well, you’re a step ahead of me Alan, I don’t even know that it is possible to unplug so I have to constantly come to that realization first.
Interviewee: It’s tough. Yeah.
Interviewer: What’s one thing Alan of all the things that you have that have you fired up right now? What’s the one thing you’re most fired up about?
Interviewee: Definitely our new ultimate hoops basketball training products.
Interviewer: Woo tell us.
Interviewee: Yeah. So we are really hyper focus on these new products and really to be different than the thousands of other basketball training businesses. And how we are different is we’re not going to sell a dream to a parent that we are going to turn their son and daughter into a WMBA or MBA player. That’s not ultimate success for us. Success for us is having someone still improving and love playing the game of basketball well into the later years.
And you know there is a tragic trend happening in basketball right now and that is too many players are retiring from the sport and it’s not just the older demographic. So let me share this quick stab with you John.
Interviewee: 70 percent of kids quit playing basketball by the age of 13 and never play again. 70 percent so our big thing is you know a basketball career should never end when you’re 13 years old. And when a player graduates from high school or when they turn 40. So we’re starting this new movement call never retire. We want you playing basketball for a lifetime and we want our products to inspire players to leave there own basketball legacy and not want to find one – not want to find by others. So that’s one of the things that we are focus on and what I am the most fired up about.
Interviewer: Rightfully so. I mean that is a shocking statistic.
Interviewee: Yeah, and it’s you know it’s that way across the board. It’s not just basketball. Youth sports in general has just gotten so hyper competitive and in so many games that a lot of these kids get burned out. So we start seeing a lot of the participation go down.
Interviewer: So Alan you have been on a journey. Let’s be honest, I mean you went to New York City, you will experience three rapid fire tragedies. I mean your father, then 9/11 and then your mother, I mean back to back to back. You went back home. You know you started something you had your ups on your downs with that. I mean you’ve seen all sides of this game – of these entrepreneurs journey that we are on, but what I would go for you to do now or our listeners is take us to what you would consider your worst entrepreneurial moment? And tell us that story take us to that moment in time.
Interviewee: Yeah, well, like most entrepreneurs I’ve fail a lot but you know thinking about this definitely my biggest and broadest failure that happened to me very earlier on was adding people to the organization without establishing a culture first. And as the business grew, I started to hire unskilled rather than passion for our products. And I’d falsely assume that every person wanted to join our company had a passion for ultimate hoops.
And the negative result of staffing a team with people who didn’t share the same energy and passion is that same low passion that same low energy is going to leak into your products. And as a service product like ours that is really, really dangerous. So the lesson I learned is you need to establish a culture before you start scaling your organization and adding people to your team? So we now higher people strictly on passion, the passion that they have for our products and never unskilled.
I mean you would figure out the skills you need to be successful in our organization if you truly love our products. And when you want to be basketball disruptors in the marketplace. You have to have that that passion. So we want people who view challenges as an opportunity and not a burden. So if you go to our career, page, and UH life.com. You actually see this orange pin wheel that outlines our culture so applicants know right up front, and they can determine if they are of which fit for them and if they have a culture DNA match for us.
And plus is just fun to work with high-energy, highly passionate people. And today I could not be happier and more blessed for the team I get to work with every day.
Interviewer: That’s such a great insight and fire nation. The passion piece needs to play a part in what you’re doing when you’re building out not only your individual entrepreneurial journey, but a team that you are bringing in. Your team has to be on board, in their heart, in their soul. So that’s what you’re doing, the skills I mean those are trainable. You can’t train passion that is that one factor you know that’s that it factor that some athlete have.
You can train passion in your employees. It’s going to be there and that’s why I love that initial tests that he do to make sure they could potentially match for that’s first and foremost. And Alan, I really want to do swing here because I know that you’re just a guy that’s full of stories and full of really good lessons that comes from that. So get really specific with us here. Take us to an aha moment, take us to a light bulb moment that you had at some point in your journey.
And really tell us that story and you know what you did once you had that idea to actually turn it into success?
Interviewee: Yeah, so during my early days in New York, I would play pickup basketball on the weekends in East Village and starting –
Interviewer: What about Chelsea Pier?
Interviewee: Ah, that’s what – I’m get into that. Actually where I played my corporate basketball league for discoveries.
Interviewer: Woo, cool.
Interviewee: So yeah, I’m very familiar Chelsea Piers, so yeah, so I started playing on the weekends outside and just started connecting with people like me who had moved to New York, didn’t really know anybody, didn’t have any money, living month-to-month and was just searching for something bigger in New York. And at that time that really unconsciously taught me about the power community related to basketball and sport in general and how it can bring people together.
And in addition to playing hoops on the outdoor – New York courts. I also played at the corporate discovery basketball team at your favorite Chelsea Piers’, John.
Interviewee: And after games you know, we’d go out and have a few beers and everyone be talking about how many points on a rebounds they thought – they thought they had.
Interviewer: Right. And again getting bigger as the more beers they had.
Interviewee: Absolutely yeah and no one knew for sure because at that time no one was tracking full stats in recreation basketball league.
Interviewer: Even I know that not everybody on the team can have a triple-double.
Interviewee: Exactly, yeah, exactly, so you know, and then run in parallel to my rec basketball league experience. I was also going to Knicks games and I would often drift off during and just start scanning the crowd and I took notice of all the fans who were wearing Knicks jerseys of their favorite players and it wasn’t the just kids. It was adults and I said to myself, you know, there are 350 players who are lucky enough to make it to the MBA and get treated like pro.
But there are millions and millions of people like me who wish they were in the MBA. So I said to myself, wouldn’t it be cool to create a professional quality recreational basketball league with full stats, box scores, photos, power rankings that treat every player like a pro online. So I knew if I could deliver it there would be a market there.
Interviewer: That is vision fire nation but guess what with the vision has to, execution. That’s kind of the piece that I’ve been talking about. Now Alan, why don’t you share like not specifically like let’s not go through every step of your execution?
Interviewer: But give kind of the overarching value of how you were able to execute? So they are listeners who aren’t necessarily in the sport industry-specifically can take one or two of the key components that you did it to execute and apply to their journey?
Interviewee: Yeah, so I knew I could not replicate the on court experience of an MBA game unless I want to go and build a $500 million arena for a recreation basketball league and I don’t think I would have phoned an investor who would had been willing to sign up for that. That would not have been a good idea, but the one area I truly believed I could replicate was the online experience. And like I mentioned before I knew if I could give our ultimate hoops recreational league a players box scores, give them their own players profile that track all their stats they would see you know basically creating an ES ven.com for them.
That would be our separation piece on piece so it was a lot of website building, a lot of alliteration of different versions of the website. And you know, just a few weeks ago I looked at our first version of the website that came out in 2006 and it’s crazy to see how much it’s evolved. Because you know back then it wasn’t Instagram, Facebook was just starting so it’s evolved a lot. Through a lot of hard work, but that’s the key piece for us is really the online piece that separates us from our competition.
Interviewer: All right fire nation. I’m going to sum it up for us here. Find your unique selling proposition, find that USP that’s going to make you stand out. That’s going to speak your raving fans, to that percentage of people who know are starving audience for this. Alan found that obviously if I’m on a basketball team and I have nine assist like I want to be able to open up and say, “Yo bro I had nine assist look at this like this is legit.”
And that’s just a no-brainer looking back now, but the execution piece is so critical on that and if you in your industry fire nation can find that USP that unique selling product and execute on that better than anybody else can or does. That’s how you will stand out and Alan I’m not letting you go anywhere quite yet my friend. Because we are about to enter the lightning rounds.
But before we do, let’s take a minute to thank our sponsors. Alan welcome to the lightning rounds where you get to show an incredible resources on mind blowing answers. Sound like a plan?
Interviewee: Sounds like a plan. Let’s do it.
Interviewer: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Interviewee: Simply having a lightning bolt idea, you know, I never had aspirations to be an entrepreneur, I was just hit so hard by this idea and this vision for ultimate hoops that every other professional ambition I had just seemed to melt away so mentally for me it was like parking of the Red Sea. I just – I saw where to go and I just rallied enough people to come with me.
Interviewer: I have to – I go that I was ready to be an entrepreneur for years. I just didn’t have an idea so fire nation. If you’re listening and you’re like Alan and myself were for a while. Have faith keep listening to entrepreneur on fire, keep your eyes open on your heirs open, listen, look and see around you, you never know when that light bulb is going to shoot out of the sky and if you like it hit us.
And Alan, what’s your best advice that you ever received?
Interviewee: Oh, about six months after I started ultimate hoops I met with one of my mentors, Tom Redman, who founded Aussie shampoo, which was eventually acquired by Bristol-Myers for hundreds of millions in dollars and we met for lunch at his house one day, his mansion one day and I’m sharing with him my early startup struggles, trying to scrape together enough to pay for rent, my spirits were down a bit and as I’m sharing more and more of my struggles this smile on his face gets wider and wider and I finally stopped, and I think I said something like, “I’m glad you think this is funny.”
And he leaned forward and he looked at me and he said, “Alan enjoy this time, enjoy this time because when you become successful. This is the time when you will look back on as being your fondest moment of the business.” And John. I looked at him as he was nuts.
Interviewer: And then he shared his story of his fondest memory of Aussie shampoo is when he was selling Aussie products out of the back of his van in Chicago with his young daughter trying to convince retailers to pick up this hair care product. A shampoo in a purple bottle with a kangaroo on it just scraping by. And what I took away from him was this is. It’s not the success you remember and cherish. It’s the struggle and you should enjoy the stress and the chaos of early startup stages. Because when you succeed you will find them to be the most memorable.
Now, I would not consider myself to be successful yet because there’s so much future growth and potential at ultimate hoops in front of me but I’m certainly more successful than I was at that moment in time. And Tom words really ring true for me. So my best advice you ever received is enjoy and embrace the struggle.
Interviewer: I can totally see you looking at him and saying sure easy to say Mr. hundred million dollar man. Like I got pay next month rent and that ain’t fun bro.
Interviewee: Yeah, it was a strange scene because here I’m sitting in this big mansion and I’m thinking you know if – I came from my little duplex apartment just to have this conversation with him. It was just something out of a movie. It was very strange.
Interviewer: What’s a personal habit, Alan you do have that you believe contributes to your success?
Interviewee: Well, I will go back to the beginning. It’s definitely staying physically active. You know I have my best thinking time, my best moments of clarity when I’m working out so that’s for me. And of course working for a healthy way of Life Company like lifetime fitness is incredibly important for me and I’m a father of two young daughters. So I have to stay in optimal shape as well.
Interviewer: Do you have an Internet resource like an Evernote that you can share with our listeners?
Interviewee: Yes, so like other entrepreneurs. I’m constantly on the go. Especially with my young daughters and for someone like myself who loves to read and research and stay plugged into the latest trends the app pocket has been an absolute lifesaver for me. And pocket is his service for managing the reading list of articles from the Internet. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that one?
Interviewer: Yeah, yeah, I love it.
Interviewee: I love it so when I see a great article on twitter or on the web. I rarely read it unless it’s hyper timely instead as save it to pocket and then I block off time on Saturday mornings. Very usually early, before my kids are up and I’d read all the articles that I’ve saved for that week.
Interviewer: Wow! If you can recommend just one for our listeners Alan, what would it be and why?
Interviewee: Yes. So I listen to your show on the time and I don’t think I could offer a business book that hasn’t already been mentioned on your show. But I will say I recently rediscovered a book while reading to my oldest daughter at night before bed and it’s the Dr. Seuss classic all the places we go. And I know it’s usually given as a high school graduation present to help navigate and inspire young adults to find their place in the word but as I was reading it I found a few big nuggets for entrepreneurs to take away from the book as well. And I’ll just share one passage with you.
Interviewee: “You have the brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes you can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, you know what you know and you are the one will decide where to go.” And I just thought that was simply beautiful and it just wrapped it up perfectly for me.
Interviewer: I can actually picture the place that I was when I used to read that book over and over again in my grandmother’s house. And it’s crazy just how those thoughts even when I was 8, 10, 15 didn’t merely as much as they do now. But you know they meant something and they definitely became ingrained in my subconscious and fire nation. I know you love audio, so I teamed up with audible and if you haven’t already, you can get an amazing audiobook for free @EOfirebook.com.
And Alan, this question is the next last in lightning round but it’s a doozy. Imagine you woke up tomorrow morning and a brand-new world. Identical to earth, but you knew no one, you still have all the experience and knowledge you currently have, your food and shelter is taken care of but all you have is a laptop and $500.00. What would you do and the next seven days?
Interviewee: I love this question. So I would assume in the New World that people would be playing basketball. So I’m going to make that assumption.
Interviewer: Identical to earth.
Interviewee: Okay, so my action plan would be to purchase the following items: a URL, a low cost website platform, a high-speed camera with a video capabilities, a basketball stat trick taking notebook, a box of pencils and comfortably lawn chair which sunscreen. So then I would take those and I would search for an outdoor basketball court where a pickup basketball game was being played.
And I would position my lawn chair near the court and start taking stats, photos and videos of the game and after the game I would share my URL to the players of where they could find these photos and stats of the game that they just played. Then I would return every day for the next seven days and do exactly the same thing. And by the end of the seven days I would hopefully have started a community and online and eventually I could grow into ultimate hoops Jupiter, Saturn, or wherever we are.
Interviewer: It’s Pluto. Let’s be honest.
Interviewee: It’s Pluto okay.
Interviewer: The lost planet. I mean fire nation. How can you not love this? I mean this is what Alan would do if we just snap their fingers and he was on a brand-new planet that he could do anything that he wanted to. I mean this is a guy that has followed his passion that has combined his skills for just being analytical and being able to put something like this that together in a plan and execute. I mean go out and make things happen and Alan, I want to end today on fire. My friend with you sharing one parting piece of guidance the best way we can connect with you? Then will say goodbye.
Interviewee: So I would say don’t become an entrepreneur, just because you want to be your own boss or don’t like corporate America. You know I’ve talked to a lot of young adults with ambitions to be an entrepreneurs and they’ll say to me, “I’m going to school to study entrepreneurship. That’s what I want to do.” And I’ll ask them why, and many of them would respond with, “They want to be their own boss and they don’t want to work for anyone else.’’
So then I’ll ask them. I said okay that’s great. But what is your products? What is your idea? What is your vision? And they’ll be like, well, “I haven’t taught of one yet. I just know I want to work for myself.” And to me that’s risky because the glamour of working for yourself wears off fast and as you may know –
Interviewer: As not eating and asking your parents for money.
Interviewee: Exactly. And if you don’t love your business. You’re going to be miserable because at the end of the day late at night it’s just you and your business sitting there and if you don’t love it it’s gonna be tough. And plus I just think there’s a lot of value in working for someone else before you set out on your own. It forces you to work with other people, understand corporate dynamics, how to navigate and express your voice and working for good bosses and bad bosses is also incredibly helpful and forming the type of leader you want to be.
To wrap it up idea first, entrepreneurship second. If you want to learn more about me you can go to Alan Arlt.com. If you want to learn more about ultimate hoops you can find us on UH life.com. I’m also active on twitter and Instagram at Alan Arlt but I have one user pictures of my kids and there. And lastly, John, I just really want to thank you for your service to our country. It means so much to me that we have men and women in the armed services protecting us and allowing me to live in a country where I can freely operate the business I love so much so thank you buddy.
Interviewer: Wow! Well, I appreciate the appreciation 100 percent and fire nation you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and you’ve been hanging out with AA and JLD today so keep up the heat and head over to EO fire.com. Just type Alan in the search bar be sure those page will pop right up.
And a couple of quick notes AlanArlt.com. And that’s Alan A – R – L – T.com, UH life.com. This is all going to be in the show on those page with his book recommendation resource you name it, it’s there. Alan, I just want to say thank you for sharing your journey with fire nation today. For that, my friends –
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