In this week’s episode of The Breakout Growth Podcast, brought to you by SAP, Sean Ellis, and Ethan Garr talk with Jonathan Becher, President of Sharks Sports & Entertainment. If you are a hockey fan you probably know the San Jose Sharks, the flagship brand of Jonathan’s organization, but in this discussion, we quickly learned that when it comes to growth, the sports team itself is just one component of an exciting and complex ecosystem.
With its huge media presence, four buildings (arenas and skating facilities), and fans with varying interest levels and unique backgrounds, Jonathan has a variety of tools and resources he and his team can tap into to create meaningful experiences to attract and retain audiences. But it is not without its challenges.
Professional sports are typically steeped in tradition and slow to embrace change, but sports teams can’t afford to ignore the world around them. The Sharks literally live in the heart of Silicon Valley, and the world around them is becoming more digitized every day. Jonathan sees his job as one of “pioneering the future of sports entertainment,” so growth is then about embracing traditions while at the same time building new, engaging, and interconnected digital experiences for the future. A hockey fan at his core, Jonathan believes his staff is up to the task, and he brings a wealth of experience that includes everything from working as a developer to building startups, to even serving as CMO of SAP, to inform his approach. We learned quickly that Jonathan is a growth hacker at heart; working to understand the must-have experiences powering growth, and using data and experimentation to meet the needs of diverse audiences.
It’s a great conversation, but before you jump in, learn more about SAP’s cloud solutions for mid-size enterprises at sap.com/sme. If you have ambitious goals, SAP is the technology partner you need to scale and drive innovation. Instead of relying on stitched-together solutions to manage business finances, operations, HR, suppliers, and customer relationships, leverage the flexibility of SAP’s cloud-based ERP solution to gain the insights that will help drive your breakout growth success.
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We discussed:* Much more than just a hockey team; Sharks Sports & Entertainment (05:40) * A future built on content and connected experiences (28:18) * Tattoos for die-hard fans – a mistake and important growth lesson (33:58) * Digital-First; beyond “Butts in Seats” (40:42) * Managing growth and culture: “the tyranny of the urgent” (48:15) * Thinking forward when sports is often about tradition and looking back (50:43) And much, much, more . . . Transcript: Announcer 00:00:08 Welcome to the Breakout Growth Podcast, where Sean Ellis and Ethan Garr interview leaders from the world’s fastest growing companies to get to the heart of what’s really driving their growth. And now here are your hosts, Sean Ellis and Ethan Gar.
Sean Ellis 00:00:25 In this week’s episode of the Breakout Growth Podcast, Ethan Garr and I chat with Jonathan Becher, President of Shark Sports and Entertainment. The flagship brand in Jonathan’s organization is the National Hockey Leagues San Jose Sharks. So we thought it’d be pretty interesting to see how a sports organization approaches growth and if it’s different from what we typically see in the tech industry. To be honest, we got quite a bit more than we bargained for. Right, Ethan?
Ethan Garr 00:00:49 Oh, yeah. This one was a lot of fun. I think, I think our listener’s gonna love it. I mean, first of all, we learned that the Sharks organization isn’t just one sports team, it’s actually multiple sports teams, plural. And it’s an entertainment engine, it’s a physical building and plants, it’s concerts and events, and it’s a lot of people. Um, and really it’s fans of all types.
Sean Ellis 00:01:08 Yep. Uh, you know, I, I think it’s the diversity of fans from their highly variable interests of excite excitement and interest in the sport to the unique backgrounds and attributes that they, uh, you know, it, it’s one of those things that really creates an exciting, uh, set of challenges and opportunities around growth. And within that, there are just a lot of interesting areas to delve into.
Ethan Garr 00:01:31 Yeah. For me, coming from a, like a mobile app background where you often have like just a single job to be done, the must have experience usually can be pretty well defined. You know, if your app says it’s gonna stop Rob calls, that’s probably where the experience starts. Right?
Sean Ellis 00:01:43 It better anyway. Right.
Ethan Garr 00:01:44 But in entertainment, it’s not really that simple. And that was kind of eye opening for me. I mean, you know, imagine trying to dial in the must have experience for that rabbit hockey fan who paints her face for every game while making sure that the person sitting next to her has just as good a time at the event, even though she’s never been to a game before, doesn’t know the rules, and is there because, you know, she’s ca it’s casual. She’s there because maybe her company gave her a couple of free tickets and she’s there to just see what it’s like.
Sean Ellis 00:02:09 Yeah. And, you know, it’s, it is definitely complex. And what I found amazing is that Jonathan and his team, you know, they’re, they’re figuring all of this out using the same types of approaches that we use in tech and, and other industries. I mean, he talks about freemium, he talks about experiments. And, and clearly, you know, when he uses the frame, the growth mindset, it’s not just fluff. He’s, he’s really approaching things from, from that perspective. And to be honest, it makes sense. He, yeah, he’s driving this organization in San Jose, which is the, the heart of Silicon Valley. So it’s not just a sports organization, it’s a sports organization that’s in the heart of Silicon Valley surrounded by tech people. And, and probably a lot of their customers are tech people. And so, and, and probably a lot of the team like him have have a background in tech. So he’s not just the CEO of a sports organization or a president of a sports organization. It’s actually been a three time startup ceo. He was also the CMO at sap. And yes, they are the ones that are, uh, sponsoring this, this, uh, episode. And, but you can just tell from everything that he does, his, his approach is about data and experimentation, and
Ethan Garr 00:03:15 It’s also about culture, right? I mean, he, he seems acutely aware that the Shark’s future is gonna be influenced and really driven by digital experiences. And he is kind of working to create that culture within his team where the organization’s willing to take risks, try new things to embrace that digital transformation on a continuing basis. You know, and he describes what he calls the pioneer mindset that he’s trying to align his team around so that they can pioneer the future of sports entertainment. And as he says, when you’re pioneer, you know which direction you’re trying to go, but there’s no map that’s gonna get you there,
Sean Ellis 00:03:46 Right? Well, there might not be a map. There are some tools and partners, uh, that, that, that might be helpful along the way. So before we jump in with Jonathan, we wanna invite our listeners to check out the sponsor for this week’s episode. SAP is the world’s leading provider of enterprise application software enabling hypergrowth companies to scale quickly to achieve their growth ambition with their agile cost effective, easy to implement cloud solutions. If you are working to power breakout growth success in your business, please check out sap.com/sme.
Ethan Garr 00:04:17 Nice segue there, Sean. I like that one. , should we jump into it?
Sean Ellis 00:04:21 Yeah, let’s do it. Hey, Jonathan, welcome to the Breakout Growth podcast.
Jonathan Becher 00:04:33 Hey, Sean, Great to be on with you today.
Sean Ellis 00:04:35 Yeah, we’re excited to have you here. And I’m joined by my co-host, Ethan. Hey, Ethan.
Ethan Garr 00:04:40 Hey, Sean. Hey, Jonathan. Good to be here.
Sean Ellis 00:04:42 Yeah, so, so Ethan’s had, uh, an exciting last few days, uh, being down in Florida. So, uh, hopefully, hopefully his connectivity and everything else will be good for this. Um, he’s, uh, he’s, we’re trying some, some new equipment today, but so far so good. .
Ethan Garr 00:04:58 Yeah, it’s my penalty for trying to take my family to the happiest place on Earth.
Sean Ellis 00:05:02 . Yeah. There, there’s, there’s no room in life for vacations and family times right now. .
Jonathan Becher 00:05:07 Ethan, I can confirm that California is a happier place than Florida, so I You went to the wrong one.
Ethan Garr 00:05:13 I actually agree with you there,
Sean Ellis 00:05:14 , we’ve got, we’ve got a few more years before we get hurricanes in California, so based on global warming. Um, so, uh, Jonathan, if you could maybe give us a, a quick introduction. Yeah. Your president of the Shark Sports and Entertainment. Most of us are, are gonna be familiar with San Jose Sharks as the kind of main, main part of that. But can you give us maybe a bit more of an introduction on, on what the organization looks like? Yeah,
Jonathan Becher 00:05:40 Absolutely. As you said, um, I’m president of something called Shark Sports and Entertainment, which is the parent organization of the nhl, the National Hockey League, San Jose Sharks. We also have an AHL team, you can think of that as a minor league team called the San Jose Barracuda. We have four buildings so far in our network of ICE facilities, uh, one of which called Sharks Ice in San Jose is the largest indoor ice recreational center in North America. Um, and we have a nonprofit foundation as well, but we’re in a growth mindset. I guess we’ll probably get there. Uh, we’re expanding to the digital world. I think I have to say the word metaverse at some point, but only if you make me and, uh, we’re opening more physical buildings also.
Sean Ellis 00:06:18 Perfect.
Ethan Garr 00:06:20 Awesome. So, by
Jonathan Becher 00:06:21 The way, I should also say I’m a strange person to be in sports, cuz I spent most of my life as a tech career. But maybe we’ll get to that. I don’t know, actually.
Sean Ellis 00:06:27 I think that’s why we’re headed right now. Oh,
Ethan Garr 00:06:29 Okay. Fair enough. Yeah. I’d love to love to get a little bit of sense of your journey. How, how did you get here and what is your background?
Jonathan Becher 00:06:36 Yeah, so, uh, yeah, kids don’t try this at home as maybe the, the way to start those conversations . So, uh, I started off life as a programmer. Um, I have a cog science, what these days we’d call machine learning, AI background. Um, I thought I was gonna map using neural networks. A and I was very interested in speech recognition as well. Uh, one of the tough problems back in the day was the phrase, Please write Mr. Write right now, uh, contact sensitive grammars. The word right means three different things. Um, and the problem is, is that program, at least at the time, was such a solo sport, and I’m very much of a, uh, person that loves interactions, et cetera. So I didn’t, I lasted probably a couple years as a programmer from there, got into presales, helping people solve problems with technology, which actually brought me into marketing or what now we might call growth hacking.
Jonathan Becher 00:07:27 Thank you, Sean. Um, product led to marketing, I guess, for lack of a better phrase than anything else. Uh, and then I did three, it was a startup, sorry, three times startup ceo. Um, my last startup got acquired by sap, the very large, uh, multinational organization. I joke at the time I got acquired, there were 35,000 people at sap, which was bigger than the town I grew up in . Um, SAP is now more than a hundred thousand people, so I grow, That was definitely a growth as well. About four and a half years ago, I decided to take a step back from technology. I’d flown like 2 million miles in seven years and visited 40 countries, took some time off, wasn’t sure what to do, uh, and got a call to say, Would you like to grow shark sports and entertainment? And, uh, hockey’s my favorite sport, even though it’s the one I’m personally at the worst at, uh, . I’ve been a season ticket holder of this franchise for probably a decade before I joined. And, uh, in some sense, I can say all the jobs I had is been trying to connect customers to experiences. And so this is the ultimate customer experience job. But, uh, maybe get to that as well.
Sean Ellis 00:08:33 So such an interesting, uh, like background for them to wanna reach out to you and say, Yeah. Do you want, do you want to take the, the helm here? What, what was it about your background, do you think that stood out to them?
Jonathan Becher 00:08:44 Yeah, well, a couple things. Um, and I’ll, I’ll give you maybe the, uh, the grand deal at the very end of the, the short answer. The first is, um, I, at one point was the chief marketing officer for, for sap. Uh, and part of that I did two things that were relevant. One is, uh, we renamed the building that I now am sitting in that the Sharks play in from HP Pavilion to SAP Center. So my name’s on that contract. So I knew something about the operations of this building long before I got here. Two is I built, uh, well, some help some other people. I built a sports vertical at SAP using technology originally analytics. I’m an analytics guy by background, help teams make better decision, not so much Moneyball, which that movie is a bit exaggerated, but still a fun movie , but more from an operational point of view and internal point of view, et cetera. So we did a lot with analytics in the nba, the nfl major league and in hockey. And so I was reasonably well known. Not that famous, but reasonably well known. And, uh, the owner, uh, of Shark Sports and Entertainment. My boss is one of the founders of sap, so he met me during my SAP
Sean Ellis 00:09:48 Career. Gotcha. Oh, now, now it makes a lot more sense of indeed, of where the, I mean, it shows, shows how important relationships can be. And obviously somewhere along the way someone heard that you’re, you’re probably a, the, that, that you’re a hockey fan and, and if, if you’re passionate about the sport and with everything else that you bring to it made a little more sense that you’d be a good fit for it.
Jonathan Becher 00:10:09 It, it does indeed. And I still think at the time I was named, some people would say, but he’s a tech guy, not a sports guy, because industries tend to promote their own. Um, but I think we’re seeing a lot across many industries, not just sports and entertainment of cross pollination, of taking ideas from one industry and trying to try that in another. And that’s really a lot about what I’ve been I experimental mindset, if you will.
Sean Ellis 00:10:30 Yeah. Especially I think on the ownership side, you see, you see a lot of tech people that have, have moved into kind of owner. I mean obviously Mark Cuban being, uh, one that stands out a lot, but, um, but just, yeah, I think, uh, obviously tech and money tend to go together and ownership and money go together, so, Well,
Jonathan Becher 00:10:49 I think the future of sports and entertainment is technology driven. I mean, there’s a phrase we used to use all the time, which is not, is directionally accurate, not precise, which is every company in every industry has to reinvent itself with tech, which I definitely believe in, uh, sports, entertainment and maybe government are one of the last industries to reinvent themselves with tech, but that’s happening as well. Mm-hmm.
Sean Ellis 00:11:09 . So Ethan, do you, do you have any more questions about sort of background before I jump into how they’re approaching growth? No,
Jonathan Becher 00:11:15 It’s something to
Sean Ellis 00:11:16 . Great, great. So, um, obviously the, the, the topic of this podcast is centers around growth, and
Jonathan Becher 00:11:23 This is my shock face
Sean Ellis 00:11:25 . Exactly. So I’m curious, when you think about growth for a sports organization, what, what does that look like? How are you thinking about that? How, how is that similar or different from really maybe in the tech world?
Jonathan Becher 00:11:37 So maybe, maybe myth bust for a second. I don’t consider myself a sports organization. I’ll say, I mean, for years we were called Silicon Valley or Shark Sports and Entertainment, uh, and sports was capital letters and entertainment was little letters. Um, but we actually deliver as much entertainment, concerts, family events, et cetera as we do hockey games as well. Um, that, so, and I think maybe our future should be thought of as more of a content factory than a mud which is live than sports or entertainment. But ignoring that, your question still stands, I think many of the measures are very similar to ones you’ve probably talked about. Well, I’ve heard you talk about it multiple times on this show as well, but different nuances, I mean, we’ll start with the obvious one, which is brand, which is, there are lots of measures of reach.
Jonathan Becher 00:12:27 One of the interesting things though when we talk about measures of reach for us is the distinction of indirect versus direct reach. Um, there’s always a combination that people talk about, can they turn their customers into fans in a very funny sense, we do the reverse. Can we turn our fans into customers? Cuz the vast majority people that are fans of our franchise do not necessarily have a direct relationship with us. They’re not physically in our building, they’re watching television or, or you know, some digital version of that as well. They’re out of market, et cetera. So we don’t necessarily have a one to one relationship with them. And so one of the things I’ve gotta figure out to change those reach metrics is how do we disintermediate some of the middlemen middle people as well? Uh, as an example, tomorrow we’re all getting on a plane and going to Europe, we’re playing a preseason game in Berlin, and then two regular season games in Prague. There’s some very loyal fans there that have never been customers of mine, right? So now we build an outta market club, we call it the 1991 club in order to relate with them more directly as opposed to indirectly.
Sean Ellis 00:13:29 Yeah, I used to live in Eastern Europe, so I know the, uh, the checks are are big fans of hockey
Jonathan Becher 00:13:35 . They are indeed.
Sean Ellis 00:13:36 And, and so much of the NHL is, is, uh, talent from from around the world. So, um, it’s not surprising that, that there would be some fans there.
Jonathan Becher 00:13:44 Yeah. So, so a raw measure of reach of, you know, 2 million eyeballs to us matters a lot less to who’s actually touching those eyeballs and are we doing it through our direct mechanisms or through from third party as well? And that’s one way to do it. Another way to think about it is, again, a more of a segmentation question, which is who are those audiences? Um, we’ve done a very nice job of expanding the sport to what the hockey might call non-traditional audiences. Um, something like 45% of our season ticket members are women, whereas hockey is traditionally thought of as a white male sport. Uh, we have a very large and growing Hispanic Latino audience, um, on par with most US soccer teams, if you will as well. We’ve doubled down on the South Asian audience as well. And we try to do this in an authentic way.
Jonathan Becher 00:14:34 For example, uh, we, we have our own, I hate to call it this, but it’s the first phrase that comes to mind, Subbrand called Los Tiran, which is Spanish for Sharks. Uh, it has its own social presence, it has its own, not, not necessarily heritage tonight, although we do do that as well because that becomes a one off cultural creation thing. But more of a, we actually reinterpret the logo, you might actually dunno if you can see it on the table behind me, which is a, a more authentic version of our classic logo. Don’t change the logo, everyone tells us, but we do it, we actually change it for particular audiences. For example, here in northern California, Santa Cruz is very much of a skater community, right? Yeah, yeah. So we wanna move into Santa Cruz cruise brand, right? We, we actually mashed up the Santa Cruz brand with our own brand and created a subbrand of our logo for that community as well.
Ethan Garr 00:15:22 Is is, is what you’re describing that sort of digital transformation something you see consistently across the nhl? Or is it more specific to the sharks because, and is that related to your, where, just where you’re located?
Jonathan Becher 00:15:33 Yeah, so I, I think it’s, uh, on the spectrum. Is everybody doing it or are we the only ones doing, It’s closer to where one of the few teams that are doing this, um, you know, the traditional marketing statement, particularly if you’re a brand marketer, is, you know, your logo is your logo and, and become the logo police, make sure it’s never used, put on the wrong background, et cetera. And I’m of the belief, uh, both in my history and in this, which is as long as it’s recognizable and attributable, then then stretch your logo in ways you never thought it was perfect. Make it authentic and deep into the communities you’re trying to serve. We, Northern California is one of the most culturally diverse places on this planet, so why not take advantage of that rather than saying, sorry, we are the only ones that get to decide what it means to have affinity for our brand.
Ethan Garr 00:16:18 It it’s funny because my, my question, uh, that, that I was gonna ask you was, you know, there’s very different in sports and I I’m realizing as you’re saying this, that you’re an entertainment organization, not a sports organization, but in, in sports, uh, you have very different kinds of fans you have when it comes to hockey, I would say I’m sort of middle of the road between casual and hardcore. I would say I’m more casual. Um, sounds like you’re a hardcore fan. I have friends who are like, they’re nutcases and I, I don’t, I would never, you know, never be caught dead at the game with them . But, um, it really runs the gamut. But, and my question was gonna be how do you speak to those different audiences? How do you, how, like, how, what’s, you know, and I think you have a story that, that you mentioned to me in an earlier conversation that might be interesting here about just how different it is to talk to those d but now as you’re explaining this, it’s actually even it’s, it’s even more d it’s not just about casual versus serious fans. It’s about casual fans within certain segmentations. Can you expand upon that a little bit and how you’re reaching those different organizations, or excuse me, different users,
Jonathan Becher 00:17:17 Sean, this is called a setup from Ethan. He, he knows a story that I’m gonna tell, so he is encouraging me to tell it. So what was that?
Jonathan Becher 00:17:24 I appreciate that. I hope I’m telling the right story that you wanted me to tell. Um, so when I got here, the brand ethos of the Sharks, uh, was captured in the phrase Sharks for Life. You can go onto Twitter or any other social platform, you’d actually see hashtag Sharks for life. And it was very much of a targeted, those fanatical fans, those that are very deep affinity that, uh, you know, track players and know their friends and et cetera. And it was fantastic. And look, as, uh, as a longtime tech entrepreneur and someone that knows marketing, you don’t really get that kind of affinity in a b2b a business to business sense. It’s a very much of a consumer brace brand. And in fact, my first year here, we went deep in the playoffs. And so I had this crazy idea myself and the team, I said, We should offer free tattoos to fans before the playoff starts.
Jonathan Becher 00:18:13 And I don’t mean the henna tattoos that wash off after a week, I mean actual authentic tattoos. So we went to three local tattoo pollers here in San Jose and we negotiated, I don’t, I don’t remember the exact numbers anymore. I think each of them were gonna give away 50 tattoos to the first 50 people that showed up. And it was gonna be like on a Thursday, a Friday and a Saturday, and 150 people lined up overnight before the first tattoo poll opened. Like 800 people showed up to get the 50 tra. That’s how Sean ended up with his face tattoo. By the way, I won’t make any movie references and uh, no, that’s boxing, not hockey, where it’s all face, right? . And, and part of me freaked out in two different ways. One is, holy crap, I mean, my entire life of thinking about product led growth, it never occurred to me that someone would brand themselves literally with your, on their body.
Jonathan Becher 00:19:06 Right? This is fantastic. And so we were crowing about this. I think I might even have written an article and contributed to one of the sports magazines. Here’s how deep our brand affinity is. And then that summer we do what I’ve done many times in a career, I’m sure many of your, uh, readers and a has done as well, which is we did a customer panel, a real life one as opposed to a a, a hybrid one. And we brought in, I can’t remember, 30 ish or so fans, some of which were hardcore, some were modest, et cetera. And we, and I think we, we kind of crowed about this and a couple of fans raised their hand and said, Yeah, we didn’t like that at all. I’m like, What do you mean if you didn’t like that all? And goes, Well, we’re a little bit put off by your brand ethos because I’m not sure I’m ready to be a shark for life.
Jonathan Becher 00:19:47 I I I’m happy to come to a couple of games, I’ll watch you on tv, but the barrier of actually burning ink into my skin, if that’s what it takes to actually be a customer of yours and for you to recognize me makes it almost too clicky . That’s right. Yeah. And so we were, we were pushing people away unknowingly. Yeah. And so we, we actually change the brand ethos to teal together. There’s room in this for everyone mm-hmm. , regardless of whether you’re a first time fan or a RA fan, if you’ve lived in Silicon Valley your whole life since Apple meant and Orchard and not a company, or you’ve just gotten off a plane as you’re coming here, we don’t care what your background is, ethnicity, et cetera, we, there’s room for you and we’ll try to treat you authentically so that you feel like you are included in the game and environment and entertainment that we love. And we’re now three and a half years into that. Oh yeah. We even turned over our official fan clubs to different fans and now there’s probably seven or eight different fan clubs all focused on different things. So rather than us trying to control the narrative, we, we let them control the narrative and self-organize. It worked out really well.
Sean Ellis 00:20:50 I think it’s so interesting with hockey cuz I would be, I would be someone who I, who is not a hockey fan traditionally, but I remember I was in Boston and, and just a, a corporate event ended up going to a Bruins game and, and uh, and you know, a lot of those, like, you don’t even look at the game. You’re just socializing and eating some food. And I just, I found myself get pulled into it. And, um, when the Olympics come around, uh, my wife is Russian and, and so like we’re you know, we’re, we’re, uh, she’s, she’s a big hockey fan. And so, um, you know, it’s, it’s always an exciting time in our household, uh, when, when there’s any kind of international sports going on. And so, uh, you know, it and, and then the other thing that I’ve seen is a lot of people that I grew up with in Southern California, I never heard any of ’em talk about hockey, but now I see them as hardcore hockey fans, like season ticket holders. And, and so it is, i, it I think it is a sport that is so engaging and, and, and is really easy to get your head around versus like a football or a baseball for a foreigner that that kind of like, what is this thing? It’s, it, it, you can, you can get into it pretty quickly. And, and it’s cool to see actually how how easily fans do get converted into, into, into really, uh, liking the sports side of the sports side of the sport and entertainment business.
Jonathan Becher 00:22:12 . So I’m gonna draw analogy to growth hacking and SAS business models and stuff like that, which is a bit of a stretch, but it works for me given my background, which is the challenge with hockey, with the growth mindset is it doesn’t translate as well to TV to linear direct as some other sports. American football is almost made for tv and I don’t mean to denigrate American football, but it is designed that breaks and the actions, everything to, to deal. Whereas hockey is much more of a continuous sport kind of like, uh, uh, soccer, the other football, right? Soccer. Yes, exactly. And so we find, and I, we’ve done experiments, we actually can ab test this is you’re much more likely to fall in love with forget fall in love. You’re much more likely to ex uh, to enjoy the sport if you come see it a couple of times.
Jonathan Becher 00:22:58 So it’s a little bit like the freemium model. If we can get you to experience what it is to feel the energy of live sports, even if it’s not our own game, of course it’s better if you come to our building, et cetera, then you recognize, oh, this is a really interesting sport and you start getting more in and then you grow from there. And then it’s like, Oh, well can we get you back for a single game? Or is there a, a pack of five or 10 games? And, and so if immediately you say, buy a season ticket membership, well I don’t want you to pay for 42 games. No one’s ever gonna be interested in that in the same way, you know, enterprise software, when it says here, there’s a 10 million deal, please, you know, premium works actually,
Sean Ellis 00:23:34 Right? Yeah, I mean the, the, the analogy that’s always brought up is like asking someone to marry you at the, at the bar as opposed to like buying a drink and getting to know someone and kind of, you know, that there’s a whole, there’s a whole, uh, period of getting to know each other. And I think it’s, you know, in, in acquisition of a, of a customer that makes a lot of sense
Jonathan Becher 00:23:54 As well. Sean, you’re dating yourself. Nobody goes to bars to pick up people anymore. It’s all done and
Sean Ellis 00:23:58 Asked now swipe flat, swipe right. Yes, exactly.
Ethan Garr 00:24:01 How, I mean, how much of the future of your organization then is about getting fans and physically in seats versus the, into the technological ecosystem of, of sharks or entertainment?
Jonathan Becher 00:24:13 So, so this, this is the question, um, that we debate, I’d like to say on a daily basis, but it’s probably in every other day or a multiple times a week basis as well. Cause one of the growth metrics, it’s clearly a traditional growth metric of revenue. Come on, it’d be silly to say that revenue doesn’t matter, although I will tell you, we’re community based. Uh, virtually all the profit we make, we put back into the local community. So we, we profit isn’t the primary motive and we wanna recoup our costs and we wanna spend more. So our costs will go up as we recoup them as well. And so the, the traditional approach for revenue growth would be how do we get more butts in seats? How do we make sure that every ticket to every event is sold? How do we sell more, create more events there, you know, there are 50 or 60 hockey games a year, but there are 50 or 60 concerts a year.
Jonathan Becher 00:25:02 There are family events. C we have Disney on Ice coming home and grow Trotters. You know, we do 140 to 160 events a year. So we could ask ourselves, can we do 365 events or can we do it not just at nighttime, but during the day we rent ice time for people to learn figure scans. But all those are constrainted. Ultimately, there’s only so many days in a year and so many hours. And so the question is now how do we think digital first rather than digital afterwards? We’ve done a decent job of streaming those things of an, of it extending into the digital world. But now we’re trying to say, can we create revenue bases which are digital first and maybe don’t have a physical inclination? As an example, we started, uh, the largest online three by three e gaming tournament a couple of years ago. Uh, I think the last tournament there were 180 teams so far we’re, we’re intentionally not monetizing this. Um, but we’re streaming it on Twitch, the commentary goes on Discord, all that. Our brand is strong enough that we can extend in that space. Uh, we, we called this, by the way, these new initiatives, we call them think beyond the rink cuz the rink is the physical constraint. How do we think beyond it? So we, I’m not gonna say the word metaverse, I think I promised that at the beginning of this,
Sean Ellis 00:26:16 So I you just said it,
Jonathan Becher 00:26:19 But how do we create digital first activations? Um, another example, you know, hockey players are famous for nutrition and workouts. Does it make sense to partner with a nutrition or, or, uh, a digital delivery company, one of those apps to actually have the, can you become a hockey player kind of thing. It’s been voted other than boxing the hardest sport for people to play. So it’s a good cardio traditioning as well. Can we share some home techniques as well that’s potentially another revenue source? Can we, we do a lot of incubation. We help people test new technology. Um, so can that be another direction that we go as well? So
Sean Ellis 00:26:54 I love that. Yes. I mean it seems like as far as trail blazing on the technology side that, I mean, there, there, there’s no other sport that is more no other professional sports team and, and the broader entertainment organization that’s, that’s more in the center of tech. San Jose doesn’t have any other major sports team, do they?
Jonathan Becher 00:27:14 Well, the funny thing is, is the San Francisco 49ers are actually only 10 miles away in town called Santa Clara. So one could argue they’re nearby even though they’re called San Francisco 49ers.
Sean Ellis 00:27:24 Yes. Yeah, yeah. But I, but I just, you know, obviously, obviously just, yeah, now I live in southern California, but I, I spent some years living in, in the Bay area and like you cannot escape technology in the Bay Area. You go right, you go sit in a restaurant and you wanna just turn it off and have a normal conversation, but everyone around you is talking technology all the time. And so even if you’re not hiring people from tech in your, in your organization, they, they, they can’t help but immerse themselves in technology.
Jonathan Becher 00:27:54 You got it. My joke was pre pandemic. My Uber driver used to pitch me on business plans all the time. So
Sean Ellis 00:27:59 Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And you almost, you almost feel like that’s, uh, yeah, the the ones that focus on, uh, kind of Menlo Park area, that, that, that’s probably, they’re just hoping to get a VC in the car,
Jonathan Becher 00:28:12 . Exactly.
Ethan Garr 00:28:13 You know, I’m curious, Jonathan, um, the, the way you’re describing this, so, uh, sounds a lot like what people describe as omnichannel. You know, you hear this and and that’s really in CPG all the time. You hear, I’m, I’m curious if that word has penetrated your organization at all in terms of how you think about this.
Jonathan Becher 00:28:29 It, it does actually there we do talk about omnichannel and, and I’m, I’m hot and cold when it comes to omni channel because at least in my history, and I spent a lot of time helping retailers and, uh, actually lived on site in in the world’s biggest retailer for early in my career, which we won’t use their name necessarily. So I’ve been indoctrinated or not on the concept of omnichannel, and I’m not, And, and to the extent that omnichannel becomes exact same experience on every channel, I’m not sure that’s appropriate because certain channels require different experiences to the extent that it means recognize who you are and treat you appropriately regardless of the touchpoint, then I’m a huge fan.
Ethan Garr 00:29:10 Yeah, I think, uh, Domino’s Pizza has done a fantastic job with that. Uh, you know, they’re really like just omnichannel geniuses in terms of like making it sort of a connected experience from one, uh, from your phone to the store to the, And by the way, I still don’t eat their pizza, but, um, , uh, but I I do respect their, their, that they’ve, uh, how they’ve, how they, they’ve used, um, used the, the omnichannel Metaverse .
Sean Ellis 00:29:39 Okay.
Jonathan Becher 00:29:39 We’re gonna have more buzz phrases though. See, see we can come up with another one. Yeah. Say say APIs. Come on. Let’s say APIs.
Sean Ellis 00:29:45 ,
Sean Ellis 00:29:46 Yeah. So that’s, that’s not too far from where I wanna take things. Um, okay. not really. I what I wanna dig in a little deeper. You, you mentioned kind of measures of success to some degree. Um, I wanna, wanna wanna kind of look at, you know, you, particularly as you, as you talk about kind of the diversity of the organization, there’s, there’s a lot of different things going on and it’s, it’s not a particularly large organization from what I can see. So how do you, how, how do you actually keep people all all pointed in the same direction enough so that you, you get the kind of collective momentum of people working together? Are there, are there kind of metrics around that that, that help you, uh, know what’s going on and, and, and keep people focused on moving those metrics? Or just how, how do you think about some of that?
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Jonathan Becher 00:31:34 Yeah, I like to say we’re a really big brand, but only a mediam size company, maybe 250 full-time employees, a thousand or so part-time employees. The thousand part makes us bigger than people realize, but they’re part-time. So first of all, I think what you’re asking is essentially my job, um, which is to make sure, well, to help set or to set the long term vision, I tend to call it a bha big, hairy, audacious goal. And ours is to pioneer the future of sports and entertainment. It’s very much of a be willing to be first, be willing to take risks. Experimental life mindset. I don’t put the word failure in there cuz failure doesn’t work well in our industry. So it’s more about experimentation and to set current year priorities. The, the organizational objectives. I, I guess I’m also the chief strategy officers. You will. And in some sense my definition of success is can I narrow the gap between what people do and what we say is important? Cause that, cuz reality is we all live in what I call the tyranny of the urgent, right? We have 140 or 160 events of every people just go, Yeah, I know that’s what you told me, what’s important, but this is urgent. I gotta get this done. As
Sean Ellis 00:32:39 Someone who used to run conferences, I know like, there is nothing more urgent than a live event .
Jonathan Becher 00:32:45 Yes, exactly right. And we’re, we’re essentially doing 140, 160 of those every single year. Not to mount mention that, you know, there are 40 practices and skating lessons a day and all this stuff. So if you can narrow the gap, in fact, I founded a company, uh, it’s the one that got acquired by sap whose tagline was, uh, I see, I can remember the tagline exactly. , uh, uh, aligning execution with strategy. Uh, people often said aligning strategy with execution. That’s backwards. That’s making your strategy match what you do the other way around,
Sean Ellis 00:33:16 Right?
Jonathan Becher 00:33:17 , and there are a bunch of ways to do this. We, we are formal about it. So I actually publish objectives every fiscal year. Uh, those objectives are measured with key performance indicators. Each objective typically has two KPIs. One that’s more subjective and one that’s more objective, one that’s leading and one that’s more lagging. There’s a dashboard which we update sometimes monthly, but usually quarterly we share it with everybody in the company. So we have that. We, we use an SAP product called Success Factors to cascade those objectives to every manager and to every employee so that you have line of sight. So you know what you are supposed to do, ma it’s not identical, right? You, it’s, so no, you know, what you do contributes to the overall company objective and that works okay. Right. But to be fair, there’s still a lot of employees that go, What do I do?
Jonathan Becher 00:34:03 And so we have a lot of informal sessions. I run and ask Jonathan anything, uh, unstructured hybrid meeting every month where people ask me random questions. Some of them are like, How could you possibly not know this? Some of them are really good and insightful questions, but uh, that helps course correct along the way. Um, I give out Becker bucks, uh, which is harder to do in a hybrid world, but I still try, it’s a $2 bill, uh, when I to, to modestly incentivize behavior, which helps us move in that direction as well. So, but more than anything else, I’m a, it’s the title of my own personal blog. I’m a managed by walking around kind of guy. And so, you know, we’re only four locations there within 50 miles ourselves. So it’s easier than I when I ran a multinational organization. But just, you know, getting people to put think forward, which is hard cuz sports is about traditions. Schwar is about thinking backwards and getting us to rem and say it’s the future that we worry about as opposed to the just the event that happening is part of my job.
Sean Ellis 00:35:01 And I think it’s, um, yeah, something I hadn’t really thought a lot about till, till you start talking there, but the, I yeah, obviously the pandemic has, has, has affected so many businesses from, from like hybrid workforce or fully remote, but clearly in the live event space. Um, yeah, I used to, I used to to run, uh, growth and marketing in the early days at event. Right. And so kind of following the journey of a company that focuses on, uh, ticket sales like that, you know, in addition to, to having a, an event that I used to be at that’s been all online ever since. How, how has, how has that kind of changed some of the things you’ve talked about? Uh, in, in terms of like how, how do you keep momentum going through, through a pandemic and then particularly the, the management by walking around? Clearly not, not possible that people are all remote,
Jonathan Becher 00:35:56 Although I do manage by zooming around now. ,
Sean Ellis 00:35:58 , I’m gonna actually zoom around a little faster. . Yeah,
Jonathan Becher 00:36:01 Fair enough. Uhhuh. Nice one there. Sorry John.
Sean Ellis 00:36:04 So,
Jonathan Becher 00:36:04 So look, um, I personally believe the live entertainment business was the hardest hit by the pandemic. Uh, people often talk about restaurants, but many restaurant and, and I get it, a lot of restaurants closed and I feel very badly for them. But many restaurants pivoted to take out at least that was a way to,
Sean Ellis 00:36:21 I saw a lot of restaurants actually start to do better as they moved into parking lots and got noticed
Jonathan Becher 00:36:26 . Exactly right. And you know, many of them partnered with third parties to get them on. And so there is a model, I’m not saying it’s perfect for everybody. Um, we were shut completely. We were I think one of only a few, maybe a handful of sports teams in the US that couldn’t even play in our own building. Forget not with no fans, actually the players weren’t allowed in the building as well. So we relocated to Arizona for some period of time as well talk about a physical disruption, not just a digital disruption. And then where then we were let back in the building after a couple of months it was zero fans. And of course remember this disintermediate talk fun. We don’t make money with, just watch me on tvm TV ratings went through the Great Roof, that’s great. Doesn’t really do much good for me as well.
Jonathan Becher 00:37:06 And then when things were really allowed back in, we had to prove that people were vaed or tested, et cetera. And so we pivoted and partnered with Clear and actually worked on creating a proof of VAX to get back in the building. Unfortunately, the proof characteristics changed all the time. The good news there is it taught us how to be a lot more experimental, how to think about what you might say time to market, time to value rather than perfect because we were very much to using an old trope. We were very much in an operational, excellent organization for decades, which is, if you’re gonna put on a hockey game, the hockey game’s not gonna be that fundamentally different. Let’s harden it in such a way that we put it on exactly the same way 41 50 times a year and do it over and over again.
Jonathan Becher 00:37:51 Let’s worry about every single corner case. Now we’ve recognized, eh, can’t do that, let’s get it 60% right and then just adjust on the fly. And that experimental mindset has worked really well. The second thing it’s forced us to do is to recognize every sports, almost every sports team in hockey for sure and other sports lives on the butts and seats. And so we went deeper into the digital par partnership world, which is how do we actually use our brand to help other teams and other organizations tell their brand story. So one example I’ll give you cuz it’s relatively recent is Adobe has become a new partner of, of ours since the pandemic hit. Now Adobe’s not really interested in bringing its part, I mean maybe they do this as well, but the primary reason is not to bring customers out and have them sit in a suite and wind them and dine them, which is the traditional model of selling a suite.
Jonathan Becher 00:38:44 But rather they know that we are attracted a very creative audience. I told you we recreate our logo a lot. So they want us to do that with the Adobe suite of tools and extend beyond traditional artists, but actually go for the next generation of kids, particularly kids that won’t, can’t afford to get access to the Adobe Suites. So now using our brand, we can partner with, uh, schools. Yes it gets Adobe into that. They grow the use of creative studio over time as well. But it’s authentically through our brand and getting people to reinterpret our logo. We’ve also partnered with a, a local bank who would love to get their checking accounts, but they’re not nearly as big as the very large well known bank that throw billions at ’em, right? They, they can’t go into a school and say get our checking account, but we built them a a a digital literacy platform based on being a general manager. Do you trade this player? Do you draft this player? Cuz you fix that, which is really just budgeting in disguise, right? But they’ll play our game as a 10, 12, 13 year old because they want to know about who put player. Oh by the way, that gives them a little bit affinity with this third party brand. So those are the growth trajectories that we’re going on, which don’t allow, don’t require butts and seats. They, they think beyond the rink.
Sean Ellis 00:39:55 And as you, as you talked about sports, uh, traditionally is is pretty backwards and tradition looking and, and, uh, being able to have the disruptive that all the negativity that, that, that comes with the pandemic, but the, the disruptiveness of, of just not, not running around with your, with your, you know, clothes on fire in, in, in just the event management side of things to, to actually have a minute to step back and say, gosh, what, what can we do? So if there’s any kind of embracing some of the digital pieces that you’ve talked about, like there was a time to more time to think about those things, uh, for, for the last couple of years.
Jonathan Becher 00:40:35 Well said Sean, I, you know, the old trope again, don’t let a crisis go to work waste. This was devastating on us economically. I mean, let’s not be clear, we lost a ton of money, but at least out of that gave us a chance to shift and think about it. And, you know, people are starting to come back to live events again. I don’t say that everyone’s back to a hundred percent, but it’s growing back there as well. It’ll get back to mostly where we were. But then we also have this new thing that allows us to grow into markets we never would’ve had a chance to do three or four years ago. I mean, we didn’t have a Twitch channel before the pandemic, right? I mean, we knew it was important, but we didn’t really have the time or energy to actually do it.
Ethan Garr 00:41:14 So I wanted to ask you Jonathan, um, uh, you know, when you think about the, you mentioned that you’re kind of actually a small organization, even though people would think that sports organizations are, are huge, I was curious for you, and going back to Sean’s question about, you know, how how do you align people, How do, do you get everyone, whether it’s with a metric or you know, pointing in the same direction, How do you think about that when you have, you know, you have employees who are at the con concession stations where actually they, they are the, maybe the the most important representatives of your brand. How do you get them to project the brand and the values and these things that you’re trying to express to a larger audience?
Jonathan Becher 00:41:54 Well, look, I I’m not gonna suggest that a part-time worker paid 20 bucks an hour, et cetera, is gonna look at my dashboard and go, Oh look, your customer satisfaction index is, is trending down in f and B and therefore I should be smiling more. That’s silly. I mean, maybe the supervisor maybe, but probably not even there. So there are a couple things that we do. First is we’ve created some cultural, uh, touch tones if you will. We call them our pioneering principles. Cuz remember my b a is pioneer the future of sports and entertainment. They’re eight of them. I’m not gonna try to go through all of ’em on this podcast, but those are the cultural norms that we’re trying to establish, which we feel are a little bit different than what traditional sports and entertainment done, but not such a huge stretch that people go, I can’t possibly get there.
Jonathan Becher 00:42:45 So I’ll let, So I’ll give you a simple example of one which is individual success is, sorry, team. Instead it backwards. It’s hysterical. Team success is more important than individual success. That’s one of our pioneering principles. So then we then we talk about it during training cuz we do a lot of training with both full and part-time workers. What does that mean? I mean, the classic example is we, we draw analogies on ice. If you, if you score four goals but the team loses, that’s not a reason to celebrate. Even though scoring four goals is incredibly rare feet, right? If your stand sells more than some other stand, but that other stand is shut down because of a power problem that you knew about but didn’t say anything, that’s not a reason to celebrate as well. So, so we draw parallels all anchored in these eight things.
Jonathan Becher 00:43:28 Uh, you know, another anchor thing is say what you mean and then do what you say. Why say what you mean. Because a lot of people don’t wanna speak up. They don’t have the the voice, but we want to give them the voice to say it’s okay to say something. It’s okay to disagree with your boss. It’s okay to say, I’m not sure this is the right and, but once we all agree on something, none of this public compliance and private defiance commit and let’s go now let’s do what you said to on. So my point to you is we, we do a lot of what I would call role playing all anchored in these eight principles. And if we do this right, then the metrics go up. But honestly, managers get the metrics, individual employees, it’s hit and miss. You can’t expect every person to do that,
Ethan Garr 00:44:10 You know, But I, I’ll be honest with you cuz I, I’ve spent the last week at Disney World and I don’t think any organization is better at doing this than Disney when it comes to, I mean, you know, they call everyone they’re cast members and it’s amazing. Uh, it is funny, we, we ran into three guys who were, they did a, a program when they were in college where they came to Disney. They were, they were, uh, from the UK one, they said they were a bad joke. One guy was from uh, England, one guy was from Scotland. Scotland, one guy was from Ireland. And I started chatting with them about their, uh, you know, and their, they came back because they’re friends and they wanted to, to, you know, they, they reunite at Disney World every couple, every year or two. Um, cuz they love it so much.
Ethan Garr 00:44:47 And I, I was asking them about their experience and even though they’re five years removed from this program, the way they talked about Disney, it was like they were selling to my, to my, to my daughter, the experience. Even though they had, they, they owed nothing to it anymore. And I just, I think, um, organizations that are intentional about it, and I think that’s what your, your touch tones are all about. Organizations that are intentional in getting everybody on the team to think about the end user experience and the value you create. They’re the ones that succeed with it. So it’s, it’s, it’s interesting to hear how you’re approaching it and while you say it’s hit and miss, I’m sure it’s a lot better than a lot of, uh, you know, a lot of, uh, teams out there that aren’t thinking about it that way.
Jonathan Becher 00:45:27 Yeah, well my standards are high, so, uh, you know, I I but again, celebrate the wins as well then. So another one of our, those touch tones is push for more, but don’t forget to celebrate the wins. Cuz you gotta balance the, not everyone deserves a trophy. I’m not trying to get back to that, et cetera, but that when you make a breakthrough, let’s make sure we properly celebrate it, but then don’t rest on your laurels because continuous improvement is part of what we’re trying to get done as well.
Sean Ellis 00:45:53 Yeah, gotcha. There’s definitely some good, good sports analogies there of just like, yeah, you, you uh, you let down your guard, you’re, you, you fall behind again, like all, all of those, uh, all of those, those, uh, those pieces. But speaking of sports, I mean obviously this is a, um, uh, a growth podcast. Most of the listeners are gonna be Yeah. In, into, into tech companies and, and growth in tech companies. What is it about an organization like, like, like Sharks sports entertainment, that that would make it attractive for, for someone to, to think about trying to have a growth role in, in your type of an organization?
Jonathan Becher 00:46:31 Well, I, I guess if you wanna live in Silicon Valley, because the downside of of my business is it’s tough to be hybrid, right? Yeah. I mean I I I had an interesting conversation at a game the other night with a ticket tailor. It said ticket taker that said I wanna work from home. And I said, I used to be a chief, I used to be a cheap digital officer. I travel around the world helping people think through digital transformation. I’m not sure how you can do your job from the comfort of your living room. there, there’s certain jobs
Sean Ellis 00:47:00 Remote controlling a robot and then eventually AI’s gonna do that ,
Jonathan Becher 00:47:04 There’s certain roles that just have to be in person and live interport tend has a disproportional it. So if you like the buzz of Silicon Valley, if you like being around people there, there’s great, but, but we are literally trying to be at the forefront of disrupting what it means to run a sports and entertainment franchise. Um, and what I tell people is, and you may even ask me this, so, so I’ll, I’ll, cuz I don’t know where you’re going with this, I’ll preempt the answer, which is, I don’t know what the future looks like. I have some ideas, but the point is, I’m not trying to fix to a destination. I say wanna pioneer pioneers don’t have maps to how to get to the Oregon coast. Right there, there was nobody, uh, geofencing and saying, No, turn left at this river and then go down this, right? You just, you’re heading in a general direction, followed some by guidance, and then you figure out as you go and when things at work you do more of things that don’t work, you reset. And so if you’ve got a pioneering mindset and your goal is to help us figure out different growth trajectories, you’re a fantastic fit. If you are a, I need a map to find the journey where we probably don’t have a map to give
Sean Ellis 00:48:07 You. Right. And I, and I gotta assume, I mean we, before we got started here, mentioned that, uh, that my nephew has started working at, uh, the, the Sharks just a couple of months ago. But yeah, he has a master’s degree, he has a, a lot of different choices. But, uh, as a, as someone who grew up as an athlete, the ability to work in sports and entertainment with something that was so compelling for him that, uh, Sharks was a, was a very attractive organization. And I’ve gotta imagine that’s a, that’s a big draw for, for a lot of people, particularly young people.
Jonathan Becher 00:48:37 Yeah. So definitely, and I would say disproportionally, we hire people in their twenties. I, I, I don’t have the exact stats, but it’s more than 50% of the staff I would say. Um, but much like we learned over the decades that musicians actually make pretty good engineers and developers, it turns out athletes, uh, make good disruptive thinkers. I never realized that before because they’re used to pushing themselves beyond their own physical and mental boundaries. But they’re used to thinking, Why can’t I run a little bit faster? Why can’t I skate? I mean, just be, I saw this other person do something, why can’t I try that as well? And that why can’t I mental model as opposed to I can’t when, when it’s untapped in the business world. But they’ve never been shown how to do business. World works really well.
Sean Ellis 00:49:18 Yeah. And I, I actually have a friend who has, has built a, a few successful companies and he’s, he’s all about hiring former athletes also, just cuz they’re grinders. They, they’re, Well, that’s true. A lot of them are, uh, you know, waking up early, working all through school and, and then, and then continuing to work on their, their craft in a sport. So there, there’s other benefits to hiring, but, uh, I, he hadn’t actually talked about the sort of pushing the limits and, and thinking outside the box side of athletes, but that’s a, that’s another really good point there.
Jonathan Becher 00:49:48 Yeah. And to be fair, as much as I love grinders, which I do, um, we’re not a tech startup in the sense that we’re not pushing for an IPO three or four years from now. We don’t have, we’re not public and have the quarterly milestones on this. And so what I, what I do caution is about burnout. So we tend to go episodic, which is, you know, let’s sprint for 30 days and then treat this as a long distance race for the next 45. Let’s, I mean, and we do that. That’s better for muscle training also, as we probably know, , it’s not a every night you gotta be doing this till midnight kind of
Sean Ellis 00:50:18 Thing. Yeah. I thought it was my, that’s my preferred way to work as well. , I’m always, uh, I I I tend to over overcommit myself and then, and I love it and I thrive on it and then like, I need a break and I take some time off and, and that’s it. It, the, the, the mundane doing the same thing over and over again can burn people out. So that’s, that’s cool that you’re bringing that as part of the value for, for people who join the organization.
Ethan Garr 00:50:40 I, I imagine it takes, um, kind of two different mindsets to be successful in your organization because you are, because you are event driven, right? You do need those people who are passionate about administration and you beat and at the same time, on the digital sort of transformation or whatever we wanna call it front, you need those people who are all about the next experiment, the next ideas. And then you have to figure out ways to do you find yourself being very thoughtful about sort of understanding the motivations that each of the people on your teams have and saying these people are, are gonna be, we need, these people are love the administrative side. I’ve gotta give them those opportunities. These people are the growth people. I’ve gotta give them those opportunities. And kind of shifting around based on those, that motivation
Jonathan Becher 00:51:23 I’ve gotten, I’ve learned that over the last four years. To pretend that I knew that when I showed up here would be, you know, revisionist history. But, but I also start pairing people up. A someone who’s a little bit more disruptive in growth sometimes forgets how to scale, right? We’ve seen that in the tech world as well, right? Operational people understand scale issues much more, but they don’t always understand how to do rapid change. And so I’ve found that by pairing together,
Sean Ellis 00:51:48 Shiny together people
Jonathan Becher 00:51:49 . That’s exactly right. I mean, again, I can give you an example, which is because of the pandemic, we’re doing less person to person interaction. So we went to, um, cashless, but we went to, and so operationally that was easy, right? Uh, you know, just stop ca whoa, whoa. So a growth mind person said, but we wanna make sure that we don’t disenfranchise that part of our audience that may not have credit cards, right? And they, they rely on cash. Cuz that’s a big fraction of our fan base as well. So I was like, okay, well how do we solve that in scale? Let’s build reverse ATMs. So reverse ATMs are ones where you put cash in
Sean Ellis 00:52:24 Interesting.
Jonathan Becher 00:52:24 And a Sharks branded Sharks branded debit card comes out, right? But then the growth, right? But now it’s like, oh, but why does that Sharks branded card only have to work in our building? Right?
Sean Ellis 00:52:37 Page one general debit card.
Jonathan Becher 00:52:38 Now make it general. Oh, now suddenly we have a bunch of data. Oh, so now again, growth mindset, maybe make a, a choice, which is you can pay the 3% fees and have your data anonymized or will pay the 3% fee. And we get to use your data in the anonymous way as well. So there again, would an operational person to come up with that, probably not, but they would’ve fixed all the ATMs and et cetera. But would a growth person have recognized how to do it across nine facilities, et cetera? Bring those two together in magic happens.
Sean Ellis 00:53:07 I love that. And then they have a, they have a little brand interaction after the game. And, and that’s right. And can can essentially have they have, they have sharks merchandise on ’em at all times. That’s
Jonathan Becher 00:53:17 Exactly right. And so now I start thinking about things like share of wallet. Do I care how much money and should I be an operational, should I be, be a store of value? And so the, do I take this digital card and actually make it your entertainment card? Uh, you guys might be just close to old enough to remember there were physical entertainment books back in the day. Yeah. do, do I create the digital entertainment book and then if you use that Sharks branded card all over San Jose, you get a discount, et cetera. Right. No, I like it. Yeah. Yeah. And now, oh, do I back those with tokens? And I do, I put them, So this could go for a long way, but doesn’t have to solve all that on day one. Right? Right. Wanna dream? It’s about thinking about working. You take it. Yeah, that’s exactly right.
Ethan Garr 00:53:59 I just love the way that the fact that it, it sounds to me like the way you approach leading this organization is that all these ideas, uh, there, there’s, there’s the, the only bad ideas are the ones that we don’t, you know, prioritize for experimentation. Right. It’s a, it’s, it’s a cool, it’s a really a cool, cool outlook. And um, you know, I think part of my, my hope in the coming into this conversation is that we be able to share with our audience that growth doesn’t, growth is different across different industries and organizations, but that doesn’t mean that a lot of the principles don’t still apply. And I think, um, you’ve really shown us the, that, uh, very much today. And I think your background probably speaks to that. I know Sean’s gonna wanna wrap up with this question we always ask, but I have one, one question before we, uh, before we get there, which is, if, if you’re successful i i in this role and you look back, let’s say three years from now, uh, you can, if you wanna change that, that that date, feel free. But three years from now, what does the Sharks organization look like then where you say, I’ve killed it. I, I I I did what I set out to do.
Jonathan Becher 00:54:59 Yeah. I, so I could hide behind my earlier answer and say, you know, pioneers don’t have answers to where they’re going. They just had, hadn’t had west, et cetera. That would be unfair. I, I think, I think I have a concrete answer and many examples to what is our organization? Are we an entertainment organization? Which is, I think there are on that path though, are we a content organization or are we actually a data organization? Cause I think the last thing I just said is it may be that we are capturing the amazing profiles of the three and a half million people that frequent our four, soon to be five or six facilities. I’m not sure what that is. And so my get outta jail free answer is we recognize that we are in a fight for share of entertainment in the same way that retailers talk about share of wallet. We start talking about and measuring share of entertainment as our, as our growth metric. And we recognize, you know, Netflix is both a partner and a, and an enemy. You know, that streaming, et cetera. That that getting people off their couch is both a good and a bad thing. And if we can’t get them off their couch, then we need to entertain them around the couch. And so the conversation I have with you and others in three years now are share of entertainment conversations as opposed to how’d your hockey team do last night? Right.
Ethan Garr 00:56:15 That’s great. Oh yeah. So one last question then in, in, in terms of, uh, the best job I’ve ever had. Uh, you’ve had, had had quite a career. Where, where does this rank up there? ?
Jonathan Becher 00:56:27 This is my dream job. I, I, I mean, I, look, I I I went through an ipo, two companies got acquired. Uh, I’ve started some stuff I’ve done a lot of, been lucky enough, I grew up in a tiny little town, 13 people in my high school graduating class. So I never thought I’d get to where I am . But, but this combines interacting with customers, seeing little kids smile when they come in the building, experimenting with technology, not having to deal with Wall Street on a quarterly basis, uh, being able to grow in a sport I love. Sure, there’s some bad parts of my job. There’s bad parts of every job I’m playing, but, but this is my dream job. That’s, And so I think, thanks to my boss, if he’s listening for game job
Sean Ellis 00:57:05 . So, so Ethan, you’re reminding me of a friend of mine who, uh, is always dangerous to go out with cuz he always wants to have the final final and then the final, final final , the nights get sometimes long on that, on that last drink. But, um, the, yeah, so the, the question we like to wrap up with is, uh, what, what do you feel like you understand about growth now that, that maybe you didn’t understand a couple of years ago? Uh, yeah,
Jonathan Becher 00:57:29 Yeah. Um, so I think there’s a difference between intellectually understanding something and feeling it every single day. Um, we, we, as, as growth practitioners, we tell the story that growth is incremental. That measuring it month by month and looking at that is the only way it works. And in reality, growth is, is a sputter. Um, it jumps up and then it flat lines for a while and maybe even dips down. It it is, it’s not a hockey stick. So there, everyone always likes to draw their hockey . It it is. And so the periods during which growth is not working are the best periods to double down on your strategy. Uh, too many of us get discouraged by the non periods of growth. Probably the smartest thing that we did, and thank you to my boss, our owner for allowing me to do this, is we doubled down on growth during the pandemic when everybody else was laying off 50, 70% of their workforce when they were going back in Cocoon, we said, back with it, Let’s, let’s, let’s grow into this thing. And double downing on growth when everything looks terrible is something that we all intellectually know. But we had 10 years of so much amazing economic growth. We never tested our metal. And just remind me when things are bleakest is when time to try the hardest.
Sean Ellis 00:58:47 So yeah, my, my biggest takeaway from this whole conversation is just how, how cool it is to take someone from a really different, uh, background than what you would traditionally have in, in leadership in, in sports or wherever it might be. But when you, when you take someone from one type of background and, and you move them into to an area of leadership in, in a totally different area, you’re gonna have such fresh thinking and, and, and new ways of approaching it. And, uh, and it’s been, it’s been really insightful to hear how you’re, how you’re thinking about it. And, uh, I’m, I’m much more likely to, uh, to, to be drawn toward the Sharks as a, as an organization now than I was before. But I gotta start with hockey first and then, and pick my team from hockey. So . Um, but that’s
Jonathan Becher 00:59:33 Just to be clear, I don’t wanna make, I think I said this, I’ll say it again. Yeah. Certainly not everything we’ve tried at work. I, I would be surprised even half of what we tried work, we can do entire, uh, podcast on stories of things that did not work. Yeah, yeah. The point is to try,
Sean Ellis 00:59:47 Yeah, I think that that, my, my assumption would be that you have a lot more things that have worked than most of your kind of organizational counterparts have even tried stuff. So, um, to find the things that work, you gotta go through a lot of things that you try and, and you get smarter with everything that works and everything that doesn’t work. And, and so, um, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s really cool to see, you know, I, I’ll actually wrap up on one other thing that often I get the question of. So, so your growth approach, where have you done it outside of business? And I, and I always
Jonathan Becher 01:00:24 Bring point to beat up
Sean Ellis 01:00:25 . Well, I always bring up my, I did coaching, uh, youth, youth soccer coaching, and, uh, I, I used to, uh, my kids would come out in three in the morning and I’ve got different lineups where I’m studying the data, and this is like recreational where, where all the other coaches are like, Oh, just yell at the kids and, and they’ll work harder. Where I was like constantly experimenting with lineups and thinking about, you know, what, against this team, how many goals were shot against us, how many did we shoot against them? And, and, uh, by the time, you know, the, the initial season I coached, we didn’t win a game for the first four games, but ended up, uh, being three regions, the champion of three regions by the end, and then, you know, just, just dominated the next season. And, uh, and it’s, and again, it was just, it was more of just approaching it in a different way where I didn’t even have a soccer background. My wife signed me up, I said, What the heck are you doing? Um, but I loved it and, and turned out to be one of, one of the, the most enjoyable phases of, of my life. And, uh, so yeah, I’ve, I’ve, I I’ve seen kind of taking more of a, a, a tech experimental mindset and applying it in sports myself. So Well,
Jonathan Becher 01:01:34 For any hockey fan that might be listening, what Sean just described was putting your lines in a blender, mixing them up, which sometimes feels random to fans, but not, you’re really doing a sophisticated version of AB testing. Yeah, yeah. Seeing what my kind mouth the other end.
Sean Ellis 01:01:46 Yeah. Yeah. And it’s, uh, and it, and it’s, you know, but then, then combining that with the psychology of how do I, how do I make sure that every single kid on this team has confidence and loves the game and understands what their strengths are and, and feels proud of those strengths and all, all the, all the people management side of things, but at the same time using data and experimentation to just figure out different formulas that, that, that ultimately yield the, the better result. Well, Jonathan, great. Awesome. Yeah, Yeah, Jonathan, this is, this has been a really fun conversation and, uh, we’re, we’re excited to, to keep watching and see how you and the rest of the Sharks Sharks organization do in the, in the coming months and years. Appreciate it for
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