What Being an NFL Mascot Taught Me About Running a Business
Struggling through my day as Toro the Texan helped me understand what it's like to launch and run a business.
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I've had many influential professional experiences, but there are few experiences that stand out more than the day I spent as an NFL mascot for my hometown team, the Houston Texans. Looking back now, I realize that spending time in the Toro suit was in some ways like a mini-accelerator. In hindsight, there's a lot to learn from working as a mascot, as silly as that may sound.
Here are the four most prominent lessons I've gathered from my time as Toro.
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1. It gets hot.
The first thing anyone ever says about working as a mascot is that it gets hot, really hot. And they were not kidding. Imagine being trapped in an encased fur mascot suit that's weighing down your whole body while trying to perform as much aerobics and cheerleading as you can.
It's a fun analog to starting and running a business, where you'll constantly get heat from investors, customers, competitors and even partners. There are also the naysayers who will continue to doubt you even after years of proving your business model. If you can't take that kind of heat, then this life is not for you. That's what running a business can feel like sometimes.
The heat you face as a mascot can be similar to the pressure you face when starting a business. And this pressure isn't just mentally trying -- it's physical too. Some nights, especially when I was first getting TheSquareFoot off the ground, I'd stay up until morning making sure our product and service were functional enough for clients. The fatigue was palpable. If you plan to build a lasting business, you have to able to take this pressure. You must have the mental and physical strength to tough out the hard times, and there will be many of them. Ask Toro, he knows!
2. Even the best fans will boo sometimes.
Customers, like fans, can be fickle. Some fans don't care whether your team fumbles five times on their own goal line or if the other team made a phenomenal play at the last second. You have to keep on cheering for your team even when the fans are booing. To them, a loss is a loss. Much the same way, it doesn't matter whether your startup's shortcomings are your own cause, or the cause of a competitor receiving a $10 million seed round. If your product isn't the best, your customers can turn on you -- but that doesn't mean you can't win them back.
Listen to your customers when they boo, and use that listening to your advantage. Find out why they're booing, and figure out what you can do to fix it. But there is a key difference between being a mascot and running a business. In business, you can take actionable steps to improve your team's performance. As a mascot, all you can do is keep that proud gate up and try to pump up the fans.
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3. You're not here to please everyone.
Know who your market is, and focus on them. As Toro the Texans' mascot, it's certainly not Colts fans. One of the most common mistakes that businesses make is to assume that everyone wants your product or service. Even being in that blindingly hot furry suit for a few hours, I knew which team I was rooting for but more importantly, I knew the fans I was trying to rally. No one else mattered; the rest were just noise.
Similarly, it's vital to identify specific target demographics for your business. Once you know exactly who you're trying to please, you can then tailor your offerings to best deliver on the needs and desires of your end customer.
4. You're in it for the team.
The goal of a mascot is to get fans riled up for the benefit of the team. It's a selfless pursuit and makes you realize that it's not always about you. Similarly, as a business, you should be dedicated to advancing your industry not just making money on your own. Ask yourself, what industry gap are you bridging? Become a thought leader and an advocate with the goal of growing the industry you're in.
Moving away from the us-versus-them mentality will not only foster mutually beneficial relationships with others, it will help you build a better service or product for your customers. Remember, there would be no business if not for the industry you're in, just like a mascot is lost without a team and its fans.
I didn't know it then, but the struggles I faced during my one-day fame as Toro the Texan mirrored the struggles I faced as co-founder of TheSquareFoot. I hope other entrepreneurs and business leaders can learn from my experience.
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