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Sept. 28, 2020

Episode 048 - CMO INSIGHT: Chris Meade, Co-Founder and CMO of Crossnet

Episode 048 - CMO INSIGHT: Chris Meade, Co-Founder and CMO of Crossnet

Chris Meade is the CMO and a Co-Founder of the exploding brand - Crossnet.

Crossnet is the growingly popular 4 square volleyball game that can be found on the beach, in the backyard and in thousands of schools across the country.

Chris Meade discusses how the startup initially went to market to become one of the fastest growing D2C (direct to consumer) brands, booking over $2.25 million in sales in only their second year. 

Chris offers a practical, bootstrap-hustle to marketing and shares not only how Crossnet has grown to this point but their plans for growth beyond just online sales. Recently winning the opportunity to partner with some of the biggest retailers in the world (Target, Dick's, etc.), Chris shares the growing pains of scaling Crossnet and ultimately laying out the plan to help their retailers sell more Crossnet.

Learn more about Crossnet at...

And be sure to connect with Chris on LinkedIn at...

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Welcome to out-of-home. Insider today's episode is brought to you by led truck media led truck media specializes in hyper-local street-level campaigns to get your message in front of the right people, whether your campaign is one day or one month with nationwide coverage, does your campaign can be live in any major market within 24 hours.

If you want to reach your perfect audience in a truly engaging way, visit led truck media.com. Led truck media out of home advertising 2.0, thanks again for making today's show possible. All right. Without further ado, let's meet today's guest. Today's guest is Chris Mead. Chris is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of cross net founded in 2017, cross net 30 X their business in one year growing sales from 74,000 in 2018 to 2.25 million in 2019, making them one of the fastest growing direct to consumer brands in the sporting goods industry.

Cross that didn't happen by accident though. He came as the result of an intense brainstorming session with lots of bad ideas, from an idea to a concept, to a product. And now a brand Chris Mead offers the unique perspective of a sound business leader with a sales centric approach to brand building Chris.

Thanks for being on the show today, stay the intro. I like to, like, I think everyone deserves a great introduction and you've done incredible things over the last couple of years. Talk to me about how, how you and the fellows came up with the idea for crossing in the first place. Uh, so we were all working nine to five, so I just graduated college.

Uh, pretty much people are just sick of hearing from their bosses and just like doing that nine to five grind. And we were like, we all got together. And we're like, let's just come up with something. Cool. And fortunately for us, our buddy, Mike, who's a childhood friend, he's an engineer, right? Like this stuff, this doesn't happen without him knowing how to use AutoCAD and draft stuff up.

Like for me, I could draw it out on a napkin, right. Like I can't go in there and program it and send documents over the China. So, um, yeah, we, we were just brainstorming a bunch of shitty ideas to be honest. And this is the one great one was a four way volleyball. So. And it's one of those things. Like you come up with a good idea, right?

And then you go and you Google it. And it's like, oh, that's already a publicly traded company. Uh, but this just was never, never invented. Like we didn't see anything on the internet. So we're like, why not? That's pretty cool. So, so you've got this idea now, how do you bring it to life? How do you start working relationships in China and actually developing a product from.

Yeah. I mean, for us, like we had experienced using like Allie express and DH gate and all those like websites to buy cheap product. Uh, so the first thing was to just like reaching out to volleyball, we just typed in like volleyball supplier or volleyball net. Right. And the first thing was, uh, Hey, let's find two or three people that we really can communicate and have a good conversation.

And we sent them over to the blueprint and it's like, you're nervous. Right? Cause you don't want to wake up and somebody steals your ideas. Sure. Worst case. But what we did was we found two people that like really had a good rapport with and we sent them, Hey, this is what we envisioned. This is kind of what our budget is for the project.

Can you make it work? And we ended up going one supplier and we waited patiently. And then the product came in about a few months. That's incredible. Right? So you sit down with your buddies, come up with an idea, sketch it out, bring it to life. And within a few months you've got a real product then comes selling the product and finding people to buy it.

How did, how did you, how did you ultimately come to market with the product? Yeah, I mean, there wasn't any grant to market strategy. It was literally, we had this four way net. We had about 50 or a hundred units in our garage. And so we'd go to the beach. We drove like 45 minutes to the beach every day. And.

We set it up. So it's at the volleyball net and people like, all right, they're set up volleyball net. We set up the other side and you're like, oh, what is that? And by the end of the day, there'd be 40, 50, 60 people in line playing this thing. It's like a crowd. And then like, when you see a crowd on the beach, you're always like somebody hurt, like somebody get getting a fight.

Like, what is that? So more people would just come and then we. Maybe fill me the whole time on my camera or my iPhone. And so we'd make the impressions on the beach. We'd usually sell the one that we played on and then we'd run home. We'd upload it to Facebook or Instagram and then run ads on it at nighttime.

So, yeah, so that's essentially how we got our first units out and. Whoever bought it on the beach that day. It was obviously the, like the, the brand ambassador, right? Like they were stoked on the game, so they would go set it up at third beach and the whole effect would happen over and over. So I have one set outside of my apartment right now, literally actively watching people play on it.

They're doing that marketing for me. So let's get a hundred thousand of these out in the world and let's see the snow just keep falling into it, you know? So it's cool. So smart. Right. So I love the hustle. I love that. Just the ingenuity behind it. Hey, let's go play the thing rather than, uh, you know, do come up with some complex idea.

How does that scale, how do you go from 74,000 in sales in 2008? 30 times that in a year, I mean, that's incredible growth. Obviously. There was intentionality. Yeah, it's just persistent state. Like we, there's a lot of beach, the cover. There's a lot of grass to cover and there's a lot of homes and the game just really resonates, right?

Like we didn't make this game to get rich. Uh, it's cool to see the money coming in, but like, it wasn't like a get rich fast game. Let's sell the company in two years to a major. We built this cause it's fun. Like I'm going to go out after this chat and I'm going to go play with my boys. Like I just flew in from Connecticut.

I'm going to go play, cross that with him on the beach. And we're going to go for a swim it's genuine. So people have kind of like felt that same way. And I don't know about you, but I'm not a volleyball player myself. I never was actually grew up. I hated volleyball because I go into class and it's six on six, 10 on 10, whatever the rules.

And I touch them all once in 45 minutes and I'd be like, yo, let's just play basketball instead. But now you're playing cross at gym class, it touching on the ball a hundred times in 30 minutes, you're actually secretly working on your fundamentals. And then when it becomes time that you're old enough to play in a volleyball team, you're like, oh, I'm actually pretty good at this.

Let's go play. Well, it's kind of becoming like a gateway sport. That's pretty cool. And are you in schools already? Do you have schools playing cross that almost 10,000. Holy smokes. Wow. That's incredible. That's cool. Right? Cause I've got a school age kid. He's seventies and second grade and, and totally right.

If, if he was sat out there with five, six other. He's the kind of gets bored quick. If he's not engaged in the game, this though he would be all up in it. So that's very cool. You've got a sales centric mindset, right? Your sale, your background is sales, but you simultaneously built a brand. How, how do you, how do you accomplish both of those things?

A lot of, a lot of companies like to go out and spend all the money on branding because it looks cool and it feels good, but you've really continued to stay focused on sales. How do you, how do you balance those two things? Not the hardest thing, but the best thing for us ever was that we did this all self-funded.

We literally felt that pain of the are taking the money out of our 401k. We're liquidating it. We're taking every dollar we have besides the next, like two months of rent and we're risking. And if this is, if this goes wrong, like we're, we're going back to corporate America and we're going back to this.

Unhappy, I guess. So every, that mindset hasn't left us, uh, and that's kind of been, every financial institution will be like, why am I going to pay camera crew 10 grand when I could shoot it on the iPhone? And I know that my iPhone actually performs better because people think that the video in their timeline is maybe their cousin or their brother posting and not like the ad, you know, people know what ads look like these days.

So let's humanize it as much as possible, but. Balancing brand and sales. It goes hand-in-hand. Cause I run the sales team for the company. So I see the content that I, I see a lot of companies they're siloed, right? Marketing doesn't really talk to sales. Marketing is making stuff that they hope sticks. But for me, it's like, I'm on the front line.

I know what my retailers need. I know how they need to sell it. I know what the gym classes need to educate the kids. Let's make that content rather than random stuff and hope it works. It's smart. Right? Cause really you're tailoring your, your brand building to the people that the, the real people that are buying it.

The big decision makers that have the, have the, the means to buy thousands of units from you and your business has started to shift in terms of retail. Talk to me about that. Right? You started out as this. Direct to consumer powerhouse in a short period of time. You're, you're, you're switching, uh, or at least a little bit of the focus has become more to the retail side.

Talk to me about what that looks like. Yeah, it's fun. So our business has shifted from, I'd say, if we were having this chat last year, it'd be like 90% DTC. And now it's like almost 70% wholesale, uh, which is great. Uh, but it also presents its own challenges. You talk about why brands don't want to be on Amazon.

They don't own that customer data, which is hard to upsell. So my biggest thing is creating content that leverages the entire experience. Like they need to engage with our content on. So they find out about products releases, but also the biggest thing is creating content around, implementing the rules.

So people know how to play, how to have fun and keep going outside. But now what I'm doing is I'm partnering with the stores to create in promotions like. For black Friday, we're deciding on a partner right now. One of the partners is going to have the best price for black Friday. And so it presents this whole other set of challenges is the other retailers going to get mad at me?

Cause I sided with this one, one retailer. Uh, but those are just decisions that you make strategically. Uh, so yeah, so right now we're in almost 1500 stores, uh, trying to drive traffic there. I'll take both consistent orders over random sporadic DTC orders any day. So it's just shifting that whole mindset.

I mean, even talking with you about getting billboards, like cross it now available at your local Dick's sporting goods over on route 95, like stuff like that. Uh, it's interesting. Cause it's uncapped terrain for us. Like we're all 27, 26. None of us ever done this before. So we're trying to just figure it out along the way and not located.

Yeah, absolutely. And I appreciate that you've bootstrapped it in its entirety and Ben, so mindful of that, I think that it presents an opportunity for more startups and more, more young entrepreneurs who think that they're limited by their means when really it's just about how do you work within those means rather than I can't, because I don't have.

W with those retail. Right. So it sounds like you need to create a bit of a demand in those markets to pull and create the demand for your retailers. Right. So what are the, some of the ways you, you talked about the social media and making sure people know how to play the game. Um, what else do you do? I know that we've talked a little bit about some billboards and things like that, but how does, how does it grow from.

Yeah. I mean, for me, the things I'm thinking about are we just revamped our entire packaging. Cause if we're in all these stores, our packaging needs to stand out. So before it was just coming from a warehouse direct to consumer packaging is cool, but they really just rip it apart and get the game out right now.

Our packaging is actually a billboard in the store and the products almost two feet long and like half a foot hot. So it takes up good real estate inside the store. Sure. We need to make sure we're creating our own billboards. So like we've put, it's kind of timely with COVID. Everything's changing over to QR code.

We wanted to QR code three years ago, but nobody was using a QR code. Now we've got a QR code, watch our ad, learn how to play it right in the store. So people are smarter. People are stopping and watching and learning how to play cross net. While they're looking at it, we've been playing around with the colors to make sure it pops and it stands out from what else is on the shelves in our section.

And then from a email database perspective, we can actually geo people based off their area code and then send them. So an example would be with academy sports. Midwestern and also like kind of Southern retailer, that 284 locations, I could, geotarget based off the zip codes that I have from my email database and send them directly to academy.

So I know academy is not in new England, right. So I cut out all of new England, no need to send them that email I'll I'll split, test that and send them to Dick's and see how it performs better with link clicks. So getting smart about. Very cool. And you've got some exciting stuff coming up here. I know there's been a push for the Forbes 30, under 30.

Talk to me about what that journey has looked like. Yeah, it's been cool. I mean, we were featured on Forbes, uh, last year, actually, they had some awesome story about us, like our growth from just bootstraps to two and a half million dollars. That was crazy. But I think it's just everyone's dream. Right? You create a company in your twenties, like Forbes 30 under 30.

That'd be sick one day and. It can come through yourself. Uh, had a lot of, a lot of people have reached out and nominated us, uh, fingers crossed that we get it, but we'll see what happens. Absolutely. We'll include a link to that in everything below. In fact, a first guest of the show, James Heller was a, was a Forbes 30 under 30 award winner.

So maybe there's some good Juju from being on the show. I don't know. I don't know. I can't, I can't make promises, but we'll make sure to tag James too. What are you, what are you most excited about right now? There's a lot of things going on with the business and the world. It could be absolutely anything.

Now, what are you most excited about? Um, so we released our doubles net a few weeks back and it's, if anyone's ever played cross net before they know it's fun, they also know it's kind of small, right? You have a few feet of room to move. But it doesn't build up that big sweat. And for three years now, our biggest thing is I wish it was a little bit bigger and I wish I had a teammate.

Uh, those are two things we constantly hear. So we finally have our doubles with that out. We're kind of edging on the, is it PC friendly to have eight people in the net? So we're working on that, but we're almost to the point where we can have eight people play and nobody's going to really get mad. So that's going to drive the sport forward.

That's going to create a team element. That's going to create tournament's and people traveling hours to come play and win money. So that's going to be the next iteration across now. And I think that's the better version of cross it, to be honest as a founder cross, it's a million times more fun. It's doubles than it is a solo school.

That's very cool. And there's a few things to impact from that, right? It's that sales centric marketing approach, right? That's feedback that you got from me on the front lines of selling where the marketing marketing might not have been exposed to that, but you're getting the feedback. So you're able to tweak the product.

The next evolution, obviously coming in the form of tournaments and more sort of team play. Was that something that you thought of as an evolution of the game or has that just happened via feedback or maybe a little bit of both. Yeah, definitely a little bit of both. I mean, when you think of sports, right?

Competition drives sports. That's how sports, like we have our own rules. We have our own gameplay and only when it drives sport is by competition. And it's, it's great to have one-on-one competition, but when you think. The leading sports in the world that people actually have a falling for and get really good at.

They're mostly all team sports besides like tennis and golf. So if we create a team sport around it, uh, get more volleyball players involved. I think that's really going to propel the sport and other backyard games. I won't name them, but like, they're pretty obvious though. They've done a great job of creating a team element.

So why not call them? Yeah, no, it's smart. And it's, uh, it's cool to see some of those things that we started playing as backyard games now being on TV. Exactly. Pulling all sorts of big advertisers helped me for a second. A lot of the audience are business development folks from both like the media side and the agency side.

How do you, how do you, how do your co-founders, how do you. Fellow entrepreneurs in your space think of out of home because you know, we've kind of had this gap, um, between a local billboard company and some of the exciting tech startups in our space. And we're always looking to just better understand how do we, how do we help businesses like yours right now?

He asked me this question six months ago, about a completely different answer right now. I'm excited about the potential because of the retail. Uh, for me, six months ago, the less educated Chris would have said it's scary. Seems very expensive and seems very restricted and limited. So getting more education out there about, um, it's cool, right?

Like I'm in San Diego. Now getting a billboard here for a thousand bucks would be cool. Why not use my thousand dollars on Facebook and really, really target and hone down on the moms and dads who are actually buying the. Why would I spend my thousand there? If I know my thousand, it's going to definitely hit my consumer, um, some more education around that would be super helpful.

And I think that's great. Yeah. I mean, I put up a thing on LinkedIn. I think you saw the other day, like I got tons of comments about how to actually track attribution. Uh, but as a self-funded business owner, like I only have so much cash to play around with. So having more education on why this is a good risk and how I'm going to actually see my return rather than blindly spending the money and hope I get it back is needed out there.

Yeah. And actually the episode from last week, and I'll make an introduction for you, a performance marketing mindset of exactly what you just described. How can I measurably spend money in the real world, in out of home? But also, uh, attribute a sale to it. Uh, um, just remind me to make an introduction to that.

And that's, again, that's an evolution that out of home needs to make and then, you know, continue to make the effort to educate folks who have the means to spend money on it. Cool. All right. Well, that's been a, that's really helpful. How about, like, where do you go for education, inspiration, motivation, you know, podcasts guy you like to read.

Where do you tap into? I try to, I actually, I love to read, uh, but I think listening to a lot of podcasts recently, uh, got aroused. Like how I built this. That's one of my favorite ones. Uh, just always trying to connect to people like who are, are in my shoes or have been in my shoes in the past. It's tough finding really good operators who have been in retail.

Like we are. There's a lot of DDC people. I mean, there's so many DDC people, but people that actually landed target and Walmart, those are not frequent. So trying to introduce myself and meet as many people as possible there, but yeah, podcasts have always been great in finding people via podcasts. It's been also very cool.

It sounds like, uh, it sounds like you need to start a podcast just for that, but you have a podcast with the cross that side too, right? Like you guys talked to a lot of, a lot of big volume. Oh, yeah. Well, what's that all about how do people find it? Yeah. So it's called the cross that volleyball podcast. Um, like I said, I'm not into volleyball before I started this company.

So, uh, what made sense was we wanted to create a connection with our core audience, which is volleyball players and no better way to do that, then. The greatest of all time to come do it. So he got a, this guy named Ryan malar. If you're not into volleyball, he's like USA gold medal Olympian, like one the game winning point, like at the Beijing Olympics, like he has the most street cred.

So he runs the podcast. He has the best of the best like dudes that have like seven gold medals come on the show all the time. So once a week, it airs on Monday mornings. But yeah, we have the best of the best on volleyball. It's quickly becoming the number one volleyball podcasts. It's very cool. Because again, like getting back to the origin story, you're, you're an outsider.

You didn't eat this because you play volleyball and love volleyball. Nope. Created because it was an idea. So kudos to you on B, going from an outsider to an insider. That's ultimately, that's ultimately then the thesis of this show. So congratulations on that. I appreciate it. Absolutely. Chris, where can people find you?

What's a good place to follow you. Yeah, a cross net game.com uh, best place to buy it. Uh, we're at pretty much every retailer in the world. So go check it out if you're in the us. And then, uh, on LinkedIn, Chris made to try to post as much engaging stuff on there. So follow me on there. Awesome. He's definitely a good follow on LinkedIn from a founder's perspective, sales marketing, definitely a good follow-up make sure to link to all that stuff below Chris.