Million Dollar Monday

One Clear Sign it's Time to Sell Your Business

October 04, 2021 Greg Muzzillo
Million Dollar Monday
One Clear Sign it's Time to Sell Your Business
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Frank Fiume successfully started i9 Sports, the nation’s first and leading franchisor of youth sports leagues and camps. Fiume discusses with Host Greg Muzzillo the importance of going against the grain and pursuing your passion and also understanding when it’s time to call it quits and exit the business. Tune in to this week’s Million Dollar Monday to hear more.

Chapter Summaries:

Key Takeaways:

  • Even if you know where you think you are going to go, sometimes the path takes you in a different direction.
  • It was also a lesson to realize at a very young age that although it was good money and I had no passion for it, there was a tremendous conflict there.
  • If they can't see themselves doing what you aspire and they don't want to encourage it because it's almost like they don't see the roadmap that you see. And that's what makes us as entrepreneurs so different. We have this vision, we might not have the roadmap completely drawn out, but we have a very succinct vision. We know where we want to end up.
  •  The key message here where we definitely want to share with the viewers is that I was a student of the industry. I went to any conference I can get my hands on everything from, private sports, complex owners, conferences, business conferences, college, intramural sports conferences, anything. I just wanted to soak everything up and truly be a student of the amateur sports industry. 
  • Even though I had my system it was not refined at all. We were learning as we go. One of the keys to success that I share with people all the time is the ability to pivot. Don't be afraid to make a mistake, but, when you make a mistake, fix it and move on. Don't make the same mistake. 2, 3, 4 times.
  • "Success without fulfillment is ultimate failure." - Tony Robbins

Resource Links:
Frank Fiume Website |Running With My Head Down
Twitter |Facebook |LinkedIn |Instagram | i9 sports website

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Frank Fiume:

And now by 2015, I am totally confused because if i9 is my purpose in life. How do you sell your purpose? I went to a Tony Robbins' business mastery event and the owners where I went was trying to get like my mojo back and see if I'm missing something. And Tony said "success without fulfillment is ultimate failure". And then he said, look, if you're here in this event and you no longer have passion for what you do, you owe it to yourself and you owe it to your company to get out.

Greg Muzzillo :

Wow . Hello and welcome to Million Dollar Monday. I'm your host, Greg Muzzillo bringing you real successful people with real useful advice for people with big dreams. I understand big dreams. I turned an investment of $200 and a lot of great advice from some really successful people into my big dream Proforma. That today is a half billion dollar company. Well, hello and welcome. I am very excited to introduce my guest for today. A man that I think I would like to think parallels my own pursuit of passion, perseverance, and purpose in life. He's written a wonderful book that if you wonder what's an up close and personal journey, look like going from being a kid that wanted a better life , all the way through listening to the advice of your parents, listening to advice of many other people , and all of the crazy ups and downs and ins and outs all the way through having a successful exit. But I don't want to spoil the whole story here while we share it. You've got to get this book to just live the life. It's so well-written Frank , and I love it. So it finally, you know, this guy, I'm going to tell you how you know this guy, because if you live in a densely populated area, you've driven by the signs for his primary successful company called i9 sports. And you've seen those little signs in the ground about signing your kids up for different sports. So without any further ado, as they say, please join me in welcoming Frank Fiume Frank. Thanks for joining me, Greg. Thanks

Frank Fiume:

For having me on. I appreciate it.

Greg Muzzillo :

You know, one of the things I like in the book that you go through is how you felt sort of a lost out of place, or maybe that you weren't going to be successful because like freshman year in college, you didn't know what you wanted to be. And I love that. You're so honest in the book about you had no clue. Well, Frank, I had no clue either, and I think so many people just really don't know what they want to be and that's okay. Because it will come to you, right? It will come to you as , as you experienced.

Frank Fiume:

Well, it's easy to say it now as a 52 year old, that it comes to you. But the truth for me, Greg, was that when I was in college, you know, I had my friends, some of them knew exactly what they wanted to be. They knew they wanted to be an engineer and where they want it to be a CPA, or they want it to work on as a federal agent for the government where they knew they wanted to go into law enforcement. And to me, it was just like, they had like this holy grail, like they knew where their future was supposed to go. And I was grasping at straws. I didn't know where I wanted to go. Fortunately for me , part time I worked at a mortgage bank and I was around these guys that all , were passionate what they were doing and in banking and finance. So I kind of knew I was going into business. I just didn't exactly know where it was going to go. And it was really stressful when I graduated college I'll never forget. I said, I would always say to my dad, like, I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do. And he'd always say, don't worry, you'll figure it out. And , my dad though did get me , helped me get an interview with a medical sales company and selling medical products. And , so that was my first job as a 22 year old, I'm selling selling these multi , millionaire world-renowned surgeons in New York city. I'm selling them medical products and it was very surreal. It wasn't something I had passion for, but nonetheless , it gave me a great experience and

Greg Muzzillo :

Good money,

Frank Fiume:

Really good money. But it was also a lesson to realize at a very young age that although it was good money and I had no passion for it, there was a tremendous conflict there. And I knew I wasn't going to be able to do it for the long haul.

Greg Muzzillo :

Right, right. However, what I love about your story, and there may be a lot of people listening right now who maybe they don't love what they're doing. What I what I really enjoyed about your story was how you put your head down and you c ontinue to keep your eye on doing that about what you would be passionate. And even though you knew that the pharmaceutical sales that you came in and out of very different companies, was just a bridge, was just a way of feeding you and then eventually your family, while you actually got to your career, but you never lost sight of that eventual goal of yours.

Frank Fiume:

It is really difficult to live it it's, again, it's kind of easy to look back now and say, oh, well, it all worked out. I knew it was going to work out. The truth is, I didn't know it was gonna work out, but , this medical sales, or then pharmaceutical sales job, it was paying the bills. It was paying the benefits. And as a 30 year old at the time, when I was just about to make this decision of going full-time into the business, it was tough. I mean, we had a new home, we just moved to Florida. We had our first child, our daughter was born. And so I had even more pressure on me that, how do I possibly leave this career that a lot of people aspire to in medical sales and pharmaceutical sales, absolutely great jobs. It's just, it wasn't right for me. So I went against the grain in terms of what family and friends thought I should do, because they thought I was insane that I'm going to leave this safe bet. But I just, it wasn't, it wasn't me. I was, I was really, I feel like in many ways I was being a fraud. I absolutely no passion .

Greg Muzzillo :

Don't you think sometimes though, I think I try to tell people, don't listen to what so many people say, because I think sometimes people are afraid that your idea might actually work out and then you could become super wealthy and pull up someday in a Mercedes and live in a bigger house. And I think maybe some people are even afraid of what could come from your idea and they don't even know how to give really true advice.

Frank Fiume:

I think that's possible, you know, I have another theory too. And my theory is this, my theory is that when people our friends and family truly love us, they want us to win. Yeah . I think at times they look at it as when they give advice. If they can't see themselves doing what you aspire to do. Then they don't want to encourage it because it's almost like they don't see the roadmap that you see. And that's what makes us as entrepreneurs so different. We had this vision, we might not have the roadmap completely drawn out, but we have a very succinct vision. We know where we want to end up and look, if everyone else had that same vision, they would have all done it. And that's that I think is the rub right there with a lot of it was a problem. And I think jealousy, and then people being envious could be a problem as well. But I think a lot of times with our family, they just want us to win. They don't want us to get hurt. And if we don't come from an entrepreneurial family, I don't come from, they only know the stories of people who have failed

Greg Muzzillo :

Two businesses that you were in were first , something around softball . And then you eventually got into the whole, I9 youth sports thing. Tell us a little bit more about the whole softball thing, and then how that kind of got you into, or how you eventually got into youth sports.

Frank Fiume:

So I was in medical sales again, right? I'm doing this full time . And on the weekends, I played softball with my college buddies and this is in long island. And I was noticing Greg that a lot of the leads that we played in, first of all, all of them were really poorly organized and I was kind of like doing the math and I'm like, these guys are making really good money running these softball leagues. And all the leagues that were at ground had been around, you know, 20, 30 years, they had a monopoly on all the fields. And the only thing I knew was I was kind of doing the math and we, how many teams they had. I'm like, they're not treating this like as a, as a business. Now, remember what I'm doing. Full-time is I'm calling on these surgeons and I'm figuring out like how to, how to work autonomously. And , I'm actually as a 22, 23 year old kid doing this, and I'm realizing these guys are missing the boat, there's something here. So I decided I was going to start running a softball league just as like a side thing, just to have some fun. And I quickly learned the more I looked into it, the more pushback I was getting from people. And that, to me, maybe even more suspicious that this was really a business that was untapped. And I scratched and clawed. I got some of the worst quality fields you could possibly get, but I knew where the competition was lacking because I was a customer. And I knew all of the leagues that were out there. So needless to say, we started running a softball league, my wife and I, we, and my wife, we had just met actually, we were, we were together. Well , we were just freshly engaged, I should say , same thing. And we started winning a softball league and we got 35 teams the first season. And , truly perseverance. I chipped, I clawed, I scratched my way to getting fields again, terrible fields. I was that I was only accessing, but I was figuring out though, Greg I was figuring out how to run these leagues better. And by sheer lack of demand from my competition, they, with throwing these fields back, they weren't renewing the fields. So I was only getting them because they weren't getting the demand. It was, I say, as simple as that, but this happened over a period of years. So I was running these softball leagues and then my wife and I just started to move to the Tampa bay area. And we were willing to give up the softball league in New York. We said, we'll start over here in Tampa. We're all good. And , we'll see if we can run a remotely. It was just then around 1998 that I learned that the NFL was going to be introducing flag football throughout the United States, as a way promoting the game of football. And that got me thinking, Hey, I could take the same principles on how to run a league and adapted to flag football. And the key message here where we definitely want to share with the viewers is that I was a student of the industry. I went to any conference. I can get my hands on everything from , um, um, private sports, complex owners , conferences, athletic business conferences , college, intramural sports conferences, anything. I just want to soak everything up and truly be a student of the amateur sports industry. And that led me to realizing that no matter where you went in the country, it was all the same. New York was not an anomaly. The leagues that were run poorly, there were also being run poorly around the country. And now I'm thinking I've got softball in New York. This NFL thing is intriguing, but the NFL was not teaching how to run the league. They would just merely giving you jerseys and a football and flag belts and saying here, almost like a vendor relationship. And I thought I can do this. And that's how I got started.

Greg Muzzillo :

That's where idea came from for these sports?

Frank Fiume:

Yes. Yep , absolutely. So the adult sports was really my bread and butter, but the interesting part of all this is that while I had all this experience running adult men softball, and it was recreational, I didn't have experience with running a kids league. It was more like I realized that there was a great demand. I saw that this could be a direction to go and let's face it. It's far more gratifying. Seeing a kid scored his first touchdown with grandma and grandpa and mom and dad sharing them on the sideline. But it is seeing some, you know, middle-aged guy, you know, pulling up at second base with a leg cramp.

Greg Muzzillo :

Yeah. But that being said, your start in youth sports. That didn't all go that well, either in the beginning, right?

Frank Fiume:

Yeah. It was terrible. It was, it was awful. Okay. Well, let me just say that the results were outstanding. Operation side was terrible. So from a strategic standpoint, I went from getting , starting out. Everybody told me it wasn't going to work. Here's the reasons why they said the business would never work. Florida is football country. Kids only play tackle football. They'll never play flag football. Second reason is that all the leagues are well established . They said that , parents will never go for a quote unquote , gym sport, a sport, the kids play in gym class. So I got a hundred kids right away. And the same folks that said it wasn't going to work. When I told them I'm going to operate next season. Next season being the spring season, you could only imagine why they told me it was never going to work in the spring. Everybody plays baseball in the spring is what they said. I got 600 kids to play that next season. So now I know we're onto something, right? I go from a hundred kids to 600 kids, but while the numbers were growing operationally, I was an absolute mess. I had college kids refereeing. They weren't showing up. I don't know if they were partying too hard or what, but you know cars were breaking down the morning of the game. And I was running around like a little bit tried to officiate games as I could. And phone calls parents. I read parents. I had to get my system down really well. I learned, I learned very quickly, Greg, that the customer for youth sports was totally different than the adult softball customer being the adult guy. What moms wanted was fun, safety and convenience, practicing games on the same day, no fundraisers, no tryouts. And that was the big aha moment for me to say, we can do this and we can do this on a larger scale. And that was what really birthed i9 sports.

Greg Muzzillo :

All right , we can do this. We can do this on a larger scale. So then how did you scale up?

Frank Fiume:

So after expanding to just three locations in the Tampa bay area and, having my adult sports in New York, I said to my wife, we either have to get really mature quickly and learn how to hire people around the country and grow this before somebody else does, or we need to find another vehicle. And I was always intrigued by franchising. I went to franchise conferences as well, and I talked to some of these franchise consultants and, you know, Greg had dawned on me that I think what was great about, and what is great about franchising is that franchisees have skin in the game and you find people that are super passionate about the business, which I knew it was going to be easy being sports. My toughest challenge in deciding on franchising was, was one. I had to raise the capital, which required me, I sold my New York business to raise the capital to franchise. And the second thing is I'm creating an industry now because nobody had ever franchise youth sports. And one of the toughest challenges, as you know, in franchising is explaining your concept right. And convincing them that it actually works. And I didn't have a totally proven model for one. And secondly, no one else was doing it. So quite the uphill battle. But fortunately , I had enough people that believed in my vision.

Greg Muzzillo :

Yeah. You know what I did find in the early days before the internet, we went to these own, your own business shows. Because there was no internet. Right? How do you explain to people what we did? Because you know, you walk by a burger franchise or an ice cream franchise or an oil change franchise and you just look at the sign, you know what they do, but then they walked by a business like yours or ours. And it's like, what? Like what do you do? But I found there were some people that are more like early adopters that were actually attracted to the newness and the non familiarity of what we were doing. But I wonder if you found the same thing . Yeah.

Frank Fiume:

The, one of the most interesting things I find about it about franchising and Greg , is that your early adopters , your first franchisees are much more entrepreneurial. Right. They have to be the , that'd be the risk takers . They look totally different than franchisee number 100. Absolutely joined because you had a hundred franchises yourself .

Greg Muzzillo :

That's right. Yeah.

Frank Fiume:

Doubt. Yeah. There's a lore about your first franchisees that first-generation, you're very close to them that close to you. You're kind of learning together. Even though I had my system let's face it. The system was not refined at all. We were learning as we go. And one of the keys to success that I share with people all the time is the ability to pivot. Don't be afraid to make a mistake, but, when you make a mistake, fix it and move on. Don't make the same mistake. 2, 3, 4, 5 times. And that's why I think so many people go wrong. They get married to an idea. And in my case, my idea was franchising, both adults and youth sports. Since my background was primarily an adult that ended up being a big mistake because as I did learn, adult sports in New York was in fact an anomaly. I could not repeat that level of success in my early franchisees and adult sports. They weren't driving the same kind of revenue in New York. And , it it was different for several reasons.

Greg Muzzillo :

So now you're achieving financial success. I don't remember like the word beyond your wildest dream because people like you and me have wild dreams. And I'm not sure that we achieve things beyond our wildest dreams. because having big wild dreams is half the fun. Right? So you start to have some thoughts about maybe changing things up in your life may be exiting the business. Tell us a little bit about what brought that change of thinking, having some second thoughts about just pursuing the growth you were enjoying.

Frank Fiume:

So we know part of the dreaming is how big can, you know, how big is big, right? And how, how much impact we can have on others. And I want it to have an impact on many people. So of course we're building an organization, our goal and the goal in any business owner. I think it's making sure that we surround ourselves with great management with great people and that they are in essence, replacing you now, Greg, I really thought I nine sports was my purpose in life. It was my identity. We were intertwined. i9 sports and me were one. I know I had good days. I had good days. I not had bad days. I had terrible days, weeks, months, whatever I got to the point around 2015 where something was brewing for a while . And what was brewing was I nine was my identity and that was no longer needed. And it hurt. It hurt a lot. I got the dream. The dream was having great people working for you and with you, but I'd go into the office by 2015. And I was no longer needed as much. And part of the lore of i9 was rolling up my sleeves and doing the work. I got so much fulfillment out of it and it was no longer fulfilled. And now by 2015, I am totally confused because if i9 is my purpose in life, how do you sell your purpose? I went to a Tony Robbins' business mastery event and the only reason why I went was trying to get l ike my mojo back and see if I'm missing something like, how do I get my energy back for i9? B ecause I h ad this incredible amount of guilt, right? I think it's time for me to go. But those words never passed my lips. And Tony said success without fulfillment is ultimate failure. I swear. He said it, those words rang right through me. And then he said, if you are no longer passionate, and this is a business event, right, it's teaching you how to grow your business. Not telling you about exiting your business. But what he did say was, look, if you're here in this event and you no longer have passion for what you do, you owe it to yourself, you owe it to your company to get out. Was was it man, because Greg, I love my company with all my heart. It was like my third child. And now the way I was viewing it was I was hurting my business by staying. That's what flipped for me and realizing, you know, what it is time for me to go. And that was a, a little bit of a grieving process initially, you know, not even selling it, but inevitably I, did an initial sale as an Aesop. I sold it to my employees. And then two years later we resold the company , through private equity. And today I'm still a minority shareholder on the board of directors. And I love the company with all my heart, but it was time for me to move on.

Greg Muzzillo :

Yeah, but you still have the umbilical cord, right? You still have some involvement.

Frank Fiume:

I do. And I love the people dearly and I still talk with the management team and some of the people there and they're still family to me, but it's tough for an entrepreneur to ever come to that conclusion, especially because our identification gets so wrapped up. That's why we became successful. Right? Because we dive all into our business. But then by doing them getting so intertwined, it ends up being that blessing becomes a curse. And it's too common now that as I learned later in life, that it happens to many people. And I wish I knew that ahead of time,

Greg Muzzillo :

There is an art or a skill or, or a lot of wisdom required to know when you're not the person anymore to take the business to the next level, whatever that means. But we all know what it means. Right.

Frank Fiume:

You know what I say, the business and my hope for people that are entrepreneurs and growing their businesses, they get to look at this one day like this. One day, your baby, your business, it grows up, it gets married and has kids of its own. And you become the loving grandparent. And now I get to go as the loving grandfather, of the business, so to speak and enjoy it . And I get to give the kid back.

Greg Muzzillo :

Well, your story is inspiring. Your book is a manual for how to, and also how not to, but at the end of the day, it's not , it's all how to , and , I really appreciate that. You spent some time with me. I really appreciate that. You've shared your story. And most importantly, I wish you great success as you continue to pursue the next chapter in your book, the next chapter in your life. Thanks Frank.

Speaker 1:

Thank you. I appreciate it.

Introducing Frank Fiume
Pursuing Your Passion
Creating a Softball League
NFL & Flag Football
Scaling the Business & Franchising
Advice from Tony Robbins