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Olympic Entrepreneurs

Olympic snowflake t-shirt

Last week, I wrote about some of the silly non-sports on display at the Winter Olympics, and the important fact every business person needs to realize:

You are in “The Entertainment Business,” first and foremost.

All of the dancing, gliding and daredevil activities are still going on, so this is a good time to focus on some of the entrepreneurial aspects of The Olympics.

1. Money-Making Opportunities

Opportunity-minded entrepreneurs are always on the lookout for additional ways of generating revenue and profits, and The Olympics are like other entertainment and sports events, in that there are many ways for sharp business people to cash in on them.

For one thing: All around the physical venues, there is the need for supporting businesses like bars, restaurants, souvenir stands and such.

Enterprising entrepreneurs can also spot opportunities anytime newsworthy events occur. The keys are to think “How can I capitalize on that news?” and then to take immediate, massive action to strike while the iron is hot.

Here’s one prime example from this year’s Olympics…

China’s Zhang Zhen works “a day job” in a hospital, but has his own business on the side – an online t-shirt store.

He watched “the snowflake glitch” during last week’s Opening Ceremonies, along with about a billion other people around the world. But instead of just watching and snickering, like almost everyone else did, Zhang immediately decided to capitalize on the unfortunate gaffe by creating t-shirts with that now-famous “4 Rings And A Snowflake” design on them.

Reportedly, he sold over 100 of them very quickly, at around $6.50 each.

Not a huge payday, of course, and by now there are hundreds of online stores offering similar t-shirts and other items – not to mention the whole “copyright infringement” aspect of making up one’s own Olympic rings-themed items and selling them from one’s own apartment. But Zhang hopes the sudden attention to his store becomes “a breakthrough” for him so that he can increase sales and one day quit his job.

If he keeps up his eye for opportunity and habit of fast action, that just might happen sooner than later…

2. Olympic Leverage

The overwhelming majority of Olympians have their “15 minutes of fame” and then fade into distant memory for everyone but their family members. But some take advantage of their short time in the spotlight to create a whole new “celebrity” career for themselves.

I’m not just talking about the big stars, of course. It’s not that extraordinary for Michael Phelps or Bruce Jenner or Mary Lou Retton to parlay their Olympic success into multiple millions of dollars worth of endorsement deals and speaking opportunities.

But many practically-unknown competitors have also taken advantage of their Olympic experience to start their own businesses.

Have you ever heard of any of these Olympian entrepreneurs?

  • Steve Furniss, 1972 Broze Medal swimmer: Started his own swimsuit company, “TYR Sport,” a competitor of Speedo.
  • John Morton, 1972 and 1976 biathalon competitor: His “Morton Trials” designs trails for ski resorts.
  • Dick Dreissingacker and Judy Greer, 1972, 1976, 1980 and 1984 rowers: Built their “Concepts2” to over 50 employees, selling millions of dollars worth of oars and rowing machines.
  • Josh Davis, 1996 triple gold medalist swimmer: Founded “USA Swim Clinics,” which sells swim camps and holds swimming workshops all across America.
  • Michelle Roark, 2006 skier: Started a perfume company called “Phi-nomenal,” and also owns a beauty salon, spa and retail perfume store in the same building where she produces her fragrances.
  • Ted Ligety, 2014 gold medal skier: Co-founded “Shred” in 2006 – Designer of high-performance ski equipment.

The list goes on, of course. But these are all excellent examples of “turning one’s hobby into a business.” They’ll all admit that being Olympians helps open doors and seal some deals, but such a distinction isn’t a necessity, of course. All it takes is to have the entrepreneurial thought “How can I turn what I love to do into a business?” and then the willingness and determination to take the action necessary to make it happen.

3. Entrepreneurial Spirit

Olympians and entrepreneurs have a lot in common: Independent spirit, self-reliant attitude, excellent work ethic, and more.

A number of Olympians built successful businesses before they ever competed in the games. For others, having their own business was a much more preferable alternative to working a job – for various reasons, such as:

  • They needed flexibility for training, travel and competing that a job wouldn’t give them
  • They needed more money to pay for their training, travel and equipment than they could earn from a job
  • They found it difficult to get a job in this sluggish economy

Here are a few examples…

  • Dale Begg-Smith, 2006 Gold Medal Skier: Started an internet advertising business as a teenager; now drives a $300,000 Lamborghini. When he was 15, his coach told him he was spending too much time on his business and too little on the slopes. Oops. You probably have similar “misery-loves-company” naysayers in your life.
  • Shannon Bahrke, 2002 Silver Medal and 2010 Bronze Medal Skier: While recovering from a 2007 knee injury, she started the “Silver Bean Coffee Company” with her now-fiancee Matt Happe (who soon after sold his “Revolution” bike shop, which was ranked the #1 bike shop in Utah). Silver Bean sells hand-roasted coffee beans both wholesale and retail, and now also has two brick-and-mortar coffee shop locations.
  • Jesse Lumsden, 2010 and 2014 bobsledder: He has sold over 2,000 of his “Survive Sochi” bracelets (in just the past two months) to help cover his training costs. He made the first ones himself by hand, until 150 orders flooded in in the first 48 hours after he started marketing them beyond just his family and friends.
  • Debbie McCormick, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014 curler: Started “Goldline Mobile Pro Shop” to sell curling equipment at tournaments all over Canada, after she was let go by Home Depot when they ended their Olympics sponsorship program.

And while we’re on the subject of Olympians and marketing, I simply can’t resist mentioning Tongan luger Fuahea Semi, who legally changed his name to “Bruno Banani” in order to get sponsorship money from the German underwear company of the same name, and this year became the tiny island nation’s first-ever Winter Olympics competitor.

Isn’t it fitting (no pun intended) that a Winter Olympian would pull a guerilla marketing stunt like this, to participate in an event full of fake “sports” and pseudo-athletes?

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! Gotta love the Winter Olympics!

2 Responses to Olympic Entrepreneurs

  1. Phil Brakefield Reply

    February 19, 2014 at 6:45 am

    Great post, Steve.

    The forest is indeed made up of tress.

    And, perhaps because of snow fatigue and cabin fever, I thought of a couple of MISSED opportunities by former Olympians.

    Little known bench-warmer on the 1972 Russian basketball team, Yellen Ticksmeov, should have developed a line of official timekeeper clocks that automatically stopped three seconds before the end of a game while at the same time illegally requesting a time out.

    Mary Decker could have easily started marketing mini curbing for walkways and garden paths, which upon completion, looked so good it caused one to fall down and cry.

    1912 Olympic marathoner Kanakuri Shizo missed a golden opportunity to introduce the expression, “are you Shizoing me?” into the vernacular by finishing his race in the unofficial time of 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds.

    Dave Johnson REALLY screwed up by not capitalizing on his Reebok-sponsored partner’s failure to qualify for the 1992 Decathalon in Barcelona. Dan O’Brien totally failed to even qualify for the team, and Dave could have started an entertainment franchise called “Dave and Buster’s”. Oh…wait.

  2. Steve Sipress Reply

    February 19, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Love it, Phil.

    Amazing how I missed all of those “golden” opportunities!

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