After getting his degree, David Lowry took a job in a typical corporate “cubicle farm” where he quickly realized that something really important was missing from his life: the co-ed fraternity he’d belonged to in college.
“There were always ways to have fun,” he said, “but when we got out of college and entered the real world, we quickly discovered that it’s very hard to have that same experience.”
He and his buddies wanted to solve that problem. They drew up business plan after business plan until they hit upon the idea of creating a sports league where adults could get together for a fun game, and then hang out at a bar together to make friends.
“We identified some of the things we didn’t like about traditional sport leagues, which were almost always corporate sponsored,” he said. “Because after working with people all day, you’re now forced to play a sport with them too. There’d be all different skill levels. You have the college baseball jock screaming at everybody. And you have people who have never run a base at all. And in the corporate leagues if you see somebody on another team that you’d like to meet, good luck, because they go to their own bars after the game and you go off to yours.”
Their idea would solve all those problems. “We created a kickball league and created our own rules so it would be coed friendly, low skill friendly, and in any given league, we would take everybody back to the same bar afterwards,” he said. “That allows for a lot of mingling.”
That was in 1998 and, as it turns out, legions of people everywhere were longing for the co-ed fraternity experience after work. CLUBWAKA had found a massive, underserved market. Lowry became their Chief Strategy Officer, and he and his partners have since built the company to over USD$10 million in revenue and expansion to over 40 cities.
DOING WELL BY DOING GOOD
The social impact has also been massive. “People come to us and say, ‘You know, before CLUBWAKA, I never really knew many people. I didn't really do a lot,’” said Heather Lyons, CLUBWAKA’s Marketing Manager. “Then you get these really great stories of how these people met the love of their life and got engaged and are expecting their first baby. It really is about bringing people together.”
“Many people play kickball at their wedding,” Lowry added. “The wedding pictures have the wedding group with kickballs in their arms. The groom’s cake is in the shape of a kickball – with the WAKA logo on it. And a year later, they’ll post pictures of their newborn with a kickball.”
That sort of thing would motivate anyone, but motivation is not enough to build a business. For a long time they managed their business using technology almost as old as sports – or love.
“For seventeen years we used spreadsheets,” Lowry said. “And for a visual person like me, spreadsheets put me to sleep. It’s very hard to manage 40+ cities at a high level with that kind of detail pushed into your face.”
Spreadsheets certainly won’t help them get where they’re going. They want to triple in size – in five years.
That’s where RESULTS comes in. “In the middle of 2016,” Lowry said by way of example, “we chose to invest in one of our east coast markets. Typically, we wouldn't have known whether that investment was worthwhile until at least three months after the end of the first year. That’s due to book closing, waiting for reports, etc.
Speed and agility matter more today than they did when Lowry was just starting out. “As our industry has grown there are more and more clubs out there. Sometimes they literally copy us step by step,” Lowry said. The intensifying competitive landscape presents several challenges that Lowry uses RESULTS to solve.
For one, Lowry needs his far-flung employees to understand the business and their role in it.
“We all have this personal passion, and we like to be invested in the community. RESULTS has been a really powerful tool to get everyone in alignment to make that really transparent and clear, in terms of what we want to focus on and how we’re going to measure success,” said Lydia Rapp, CLUBWAKA’s Training Manager.
“We haven’t traditionally hired people with budgetary knowledge or good financial literacy,” Lowry said. “It was more like, ‘Can you run leagues?’ ‘Are you a happy person?’ And, ‘Do you have some management experience?’”
But in order for them to deliver the growth he wants, he knew he had to bring them up to speed on the business side. So Lowry made the move to share metrics that some executives consider private.
“Transparency is very hard,” he said. “It was hard to accept at the beginning. But now it’s become normal, and it’s OK. It’s not just an upper management thing to look at profit margin.”
RESULTS made it easy for him to teach his team what these top-level metrics meant and how their jobs contribute to them.
“The beauty of RESULTS is being able to say, ‘What are the most important things?’ For our markets, they are things like revenue and gross margin,” Lowry said. “And we’ve never had those in a nice format before, with a color that tells you whether or not it’s good or bad. Now, our staff is learning financial literacy and business, thanks in a large part, to RESULTS. It’s been helpful not only for management but for everyone.”
With it, they can take care of their business as well as they take care of their customers.
I GET IT! NOW WHAT?
Everyone at CLUBWAKA works remotely and RESULTS helps them manage their time and effort more effectively. “It keeps everyone on task,” Lowry said. “It’s the look, it’s the way everything is lined up.
"At the management level we were, on average, easily doing hour and a half long meetings. It was standard to book a meeting for an hour and go over an extra half hour. Then you always had to apologize to the next person you were supposed to meet with because you’re always late. RESULTS cut down meetings to 25 minutes.”
That efficiency extends throughout the RESULTS experience, opening communications for better teamwork. “Parts of our company used to be pretty siloed, only meeting with each other,” Lowry said, “but with RESULTS, things are more transparent. You can see the projects people are working on.”
RESULTS “helps us break up the silos by giving us a better means of building relationships with people from other departments,” said Matt McElligott, CLUBWAKA’s Digital Marketing Manager.
It also helps people be proactive. “Before, all of our reporting would look at things after the fact. So there was really nothing you could do about it,” McElligott said. “Now with being able to check in on a goal in real time we can take some action, now, to try to improve where we’re heading.
FOCUS WITH PURPOSE
That makes working for CLUBWAKA that much more pleasant. Rapp said that “RESULTS lets me sleep at night. One of the challenges of working from home is that you never really leave your office, and when you’re lucky enough to love your job, it’s really easy to let it take over your life. At the end of my work day, I review my Dashboard and make sure the most important things I needed to take care of for the day are done. I update Projects and KPIs and make sure anything I need to do the following day is on my Task List. Then I close all my browser tabs and turn off my machine.
“RESULTS has been incredibly powerful in guiding me to focus on and deliver what’s most important in both my personal and professional life.”
Lowry feels confident that he’s positioned to hit his ambitious growth target. “My mantra lately has been systematize, systematize, scalability, scalability. RESULTS is the way to put that all together.
“With RESULTS we are finally able to systemize things - it's the holy grail. Get the systems in there, and then you're scalable. Now we are able to turn back toward expansion - it's the solution for how we are going to grow.”
And it’s not just expanding the business that interests Lowry and his team. It’s the social impact. It’s the weddings. It’s the babies in kickball outfits.
“We believe that life should be fun and people should be happy,” Lowry said. “As one of the founders, that’s where I get my joy. I’m proud of all the new life we’ve helped bring into the world.”