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Feb 6, 2020

Frank Fiume II is a pioneer in the youth sports industry and the founder of i9 Sports—the leading franchise of youth leagues and camps in the U.S. Since 2003, i9 Sports has generated more than $300 million in sales, with 2 million participants in 900 communities across 30 states nationwide.

A baseball fanatic and native of Queens, New York, Frank graduated from St. John’s University and began a career as a medical equipment sales rep, though he was determined to pursue his life’s true purpose. So in l995, he created his own adult men’s softball league, ABA Sports. The start-up company quickly grew to over 900 teams in just six years, making it the largest adult sports organization on Long Island.

In 2003, Frank sold ABA in order to create i9 Sports, a business that catapulted him to national recognition and that Entrepreneur magazine ranked as the #1 children’s fitness franchise. Frank has been featured on Fox Business News, HBO Real Sports, and in dozens of publications and national news media outlets, including USA Today, Sports Illustrated, and The Wall Street Journal. Frank sold i9 Sports in 2017 to a private equity firm, but remains a minority shareholder and member of the board of directors.

In today’s conversation with us, Frank shares how he built the nation’s most successful youth sports franchise and what he learned while creating a movement that has inspired 2 million participants in 30 states nationwide.

What We Discuss With Frank Fiume II

  • The power of purpose and following your dream
  • How to overcome the dark days while you’re growing your franchise and movement
  • Why franchising is a powerful model for expanding your movement quickly
  • How to use social media as a franchise
  • How to build wealth for your employees through an ESOP
  • When to know when it’s time to move on to your next venture

Key Takeaways

  1. I wanted to create something that was all about fun, safety, convenience and brought families together to create great memories.
  2. Find mentors who can share their knowledge with you and provide the motivation you need to keep going.
  3. You have to have a strong why, especially to get you through those tough dark days of growing your franchise and leading your movement.
  4. You’ll always do more for other people than you will for yourself.
  5. My wife and I have a mantra, which is to live with no regrets. That means we do what we think is right, even if it’s scary. It shuts off all excuses and you just go for it.
  6. I chose franchising because I wasn’t yet comfortable hiring people all over the country and I wanted to expand rapidly. I didn’t have a lot of capital at the time, so using other people’s investment capital as a way of expanding my business was a great vehicle to use. Plus you can grow faster.
  7. However the people in your franchise system are not all going to believe in your vision. So you have to constantly gain their buy-in to believe in your vision, and follow your rules, systems and processes.
  8. In franchising, you’re also going to be giving up some of the revenue, but you also don’t have the same amount of expenses and issues that occur at the franchise level.
  9. You want to have a franchising consultant not just a regular lawyer setting it up. Because you don’t know what you don’t know.
  10. Having a franchise attorney is the second piece to the puzzle. There are way too many individual state-specific laws for the franchising industry, and they’re changing so quickly that you want a lawyer who knows what they’re doing.
  11. Recruiting franchisees is going to be mostly internet-based, through franchise portals, Facebook ads, franchise boards and other avenues.
  12. On recruiting – just because someone like football or played football doesn’t mean they should own a football business. They must be able to apply business acumen to it.
  13. We didn’t have social media early on, so the #1 thing we did was to make sure that our employees were at the fields regularly – to feel and remember why we do what we do.
  14. When you build your organization, you aspire to have a great management team around you. Fortunately I did that. What nobody told me was that when that happens, I found myself not needed anymore.
  15. I started to feel really guilty because I felt i9 Sports was my purpose in life, but I got to the point where it wasn’t as fulfilling as it once was.
  16. An Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) is where you sell your company to your employees. They don’t need to have any money for the investment. Your corporation goes out and gets a loan from a bank, which loans the money to you personally, paying you for your stock at a valuation.
  17. The benefit of an ESOP is that your employees share in the profits. You still share in the profits and control the company, but they also benefit and get a sense of ownership.
  18. Another benefit of an ESOP is that you’re not giving away any information to a competitor. A lot of times if you’re bought out by a competitor, the deal falls through before it closes and they now have your proprietary information.
  19. My purpose is to use my creativity and enthusiasm to inspire others. I was mistaken when I thought my purpose was the ABA softball league, then i9 Sports, and then my book. I realize now that it was none of those things and it was all of them. Our life is made up of a series of missions.

Episode Resources

Running With My Head Down Book

Connect With Frank Fiume II and i9 Sports