Do you feel bored and unfulfilled, counting down the hours until you go home? Jesse Cole, author of Find Your Yellow Tux, is here to save you.
Jesse (@YellowTuxGuy) is the owner of two multimillion dollar summer league baseball teams, The Gastonia Grizzlies and the Savanna Bananas. His motto is, “If it’s normal, do the exact opposite.” For instance, don’t start with the baseball game, start with a circus, then let it explode into a baseball game.
In this episode, Jesse shares his stories of how he created an amazing life by doing the unexpected. By the end of this episode, you’ll know how to reignite your life and excel in your business.
Reinventing Baseball with Jesse Cole
Charlie Hoehn: Can you tell me what those early days were like where you were trying to drum up attention?
Jesse Cole: I remember the phone call I made to the owner of the team. I said, “Ken, we’re no longer going to be a baseball team.” He goes, “What are you talking about?”
“We’re going to be a circus. It’s going to be all about entertainment.”
“The reality is, no one’s been caring about a baseball team.” He goes, “What do you have in mind?”
I said, “Our players are going to do choreographed dances every game, we’re going to have a grandma beauty pageant, I’m going to get in the dunk tank every game, and it’s going to be a circus.” He laughed and said, “I guess we’ve got nothing to lose.”
I think it was Will Ferrell who recently said in a commencement speech, “You got to keep throwing darts at the dart board, and you’ll eventually hit the bullseye.”
For us, we literally kept trying crazy things. We had a flatulence fund night where we gave away whoopee cushions and had a bean burrito eating contest on the field. We had a salute to underwear night where we actually threw grizzlies underwear in the crowd and people that wore their underwear on the outside got a free ticket.
It was the most un-family friendly night we could ever have, and believe me, both those promotions failed miserably.
“But we learned. And more than anything, we created attention.”
I mean, back then, we offered George Bush an internship after he was no longer the president. We just started thinking crazy and when everyone started noticing, you know what? These guys are fun, let’s give them a chance. When they come to the game, they would see ridiculous promotions and people getting pied. Now they see our senior citizen dance team called the Banana Nanas doing Uptown Funk in the middle of the game, and they’re like, “You know what? We’re going to escape and have fun.”
There have been a lot of trials, a lot of failures. But when you come to our games, it’s absolutely ridiculous. The reality is, people need to stand out and do things differently. We all need a little bit more fun in our lives.
When Everything Changed
Charlie Hoehn: What was your favorite moment, your favorite experiment that you tried?
Jesse Cole: My breakthrough moment happened in 2011. We’ve given away colon cleansings, we’ve given away port-a-johns…we’ve done it all. We were having fun, the crowds were going crazy. We did a “Dig to China Night” where we literally buried a one-way flight to China in the infield dirt. But no return flight, no accommodations, just a one-way flight to China.
We just did ridiculous things. I know the crowds were loving it, but I was like, there’s got to be something more. So in 2011, I saw the Simon Sinek, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” video.
“I was in the middle of a conference, and I sprinted out of the conference. Literally left the conference and started watching it over and over again.”
I’ll never forget the moment that happened in a game in that 2011 season. We found out that someone who was 21 years old and a celebrity in our community had gone off to Afghanistan and unfortunately was killed. An intern came up to me and said, “Jesse, I’m very close to the family. We’ve got to do something.”
We looked two weeks ahead to our “Salute the Troops Night.” There were 3,700 people in the stadium, and in the first inning, we stopped the game. We invited the entire family, the mother, the father, the grandmother, the sister, the girlfriend down to the field. Everyone stood, and two Marines brought a framed jersey with his name to them. And for two minutes, we read this tribute to Nick.
You could hear a pin drop in the stadium. 3,700 people silent. When the mother walked off the field, she gave me the biggest hug I’ve ever received, and I walked to my office and just lost it. It was that moment that I realized, really, why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s to bring people together and create a family and treat them like a family.
That’s how we developed our business name, Fans First Entertainment. Everything we do is for the fans, to bring them together.
I know I went a different direction than all the colon cleansing and the port-a-johns, but really, that was the moment that stood out.
Now, moments like that happen every single year where families come to us and hug us and say, “You won’t believe what you’ve done for our family, and that means everything for us.”
Learning from Find Your Yellow Tux
Charlie Hoehn: Tell me about Find Your Yellow Tux.
Jesse Cole: The book title is Find your Yellow Tux and it’s How to be Successful by Standing Out. I have six tuxedos, yellow tuxedos. I proposed in a yellow tuxedo, and thank goodness, she said, “Yes.”
That’s who I am, but what I believe it means is that everyone has something that makes them stand out. It’s about finding your best version of yourself. That’s not only just for yourself but also for your business.
Over the last 10 years in this crazy business, we’ve seen the things that have worked. I believe it’s so applicable to everyone.
“Be different, find your own self, and stand out.”
That’s what this book is. One of the big premises is, “Whatever’s normal, do the exact opposite.” Normal gets normal results. One of my mentors, Bill Veeck, says, “I try not to break the rules but merely test their elasticity.”
I love him, but I’ll tell you, we break the rules when it comes to a lot of things.
I think that’s the key in life, if you really want to have purpose and fulfillment. That’s what we’re having fun with. I know this book is going to be very entertaining and tell a lot of ridiculous stories, but it’s bigger than that.
Charlie Hoehn: How do we really apply this stuff?
Jesse Cole: I think this is what I call the “mirror moment.” The great example is from Jerry McGuire. Basically, they were all about more clients, more money. He wanted to be less clients, more money because it applied better to him.
“I tell everyone, ‘What frustrates you about your business? What frustrates you about your industry as a whole?'”
For us, baseball was too long, too slow, too boring, and people weren’t interested anymore. We changed the game on what baseball should be like.
How did Uber start? Airbnb, all the best companies start that way.
If you look at yourself, what’s frustrating you in a given day? What’s frustrating you about your business? Are you just going through the motions? Are there certain things that are really bothering you, that you don’t feel passion for it, you don’t feel purpose?
That’s the starting point. I call it a mirror moment. Once you get there, the question is, what’s the next step? The next step, I believe more than anything, is to become a sponge.
The Importance of Self-Awareness
Charlie Hoehn: How do you know when you’re looking at the right frustrations?
Jesse Cole: Charlie, your book Play It Away is perfect, and I think the reality is, you had your mirror moment. You realize what happened when you were getting sick, when you had serious anxiety because of what was going on. That probably wasn’t the right thing you should be in at that point.
Now, not everyone’s going to go through the challenges that you went through, but you realized that moment, when there’s something wrong. You’re having to work so hard, you had to take certain things to keep you going.
I’ll tell you, there’s a lot of people that go home and they’re not that excited about their job. I think most people’s worst day is Monday. That’s a terrible thing. The suicide rate on Mondays is higher than any time. That’s crazy to me.
I know this is very deep, but it’s a reality.
Maybe they need to change what they’re doing in their job. Maybe they’re in the wrong field. It’s not creating excitement and passion. Are they watching the clock during the day or are they losing track of time? You know, those are things that I think people should think about.
Think about your job in a given day.
“What moments during the day do you love the most? What moments are you having the most fun laughing?”
Those are the things that I started to think about when I realized this for myself. When I’m creating and working with our videographer and coming up with new things to put out, I have the time of my life doing that.
Realize the things that you don’t enjoy and that you’re not good at.
Are you putting out fires every day? A lot of times during the day, you’re doing things that you just aren’t good at.
For me, I’m terrible at operations. I can’t put anything up around this ballpark. It takes me hours. So don’t do that. You need to hire people or work with people that can do that.
What was the best part of your day? If it’s lunch or if it’s going home and having a couple of beers, you may need to look at something else.
How Urgent is Your Happiness?
Charlie Hoehn: What happens if they’re thinking, “This is just a stage in my life?”
Jesse Cole: You know, it depends on how urgent you feel your happiness is. Most people are content with their jobs. They’re content, they’re happy, they’re going with it. But I think people should come to work on fire. I think they should just absolutely love what they do.
That’s a challenge for people.I don’t know if it’s a sense of urgency, but start just being aware.
Look at yourself and ask if this is what I’m the best at? This is getting obviously serious, but it should be fun. For instance, I love talking about this stuff. It’s exciting.
The other day, we adopted a pig and literally had a pig at our ballpark because the team came out with the name Making Bacon. We did a PSA to Sarah McLachlan’s video about saving the dogs to save the pigs and saying stop making bacon.
That was the most fun I had all day, and you know what? The video went out and people loved it. That’s what it’s about for us. Now, I’m not saying, if you’re an accountant in a law firm, you can start bringing in a pig to the office. But you can do things that are kind of ridiculous and have fun.
“When you go home, do you have stories about your day?”
Start creating those moments, create those stories. It makes life worth it.
What I love about you is that you are living what you stand for. You’re out rock climbing, building or whatever it is. Your whole concept about playing and having fun and how that’s added so much to your life, you’re living it. It gives you a lot of joy and it’s you and it’s authentic.
You weren’t faking it. I think that’s the key. It’s “What do you love doing?”
A great example in the book The Happiness Equation is called the Saturday Morning Test. I referenced this in the book. If you have nothing to do on a Saturday morning, what do you want to do?
That’s such a great way of looking at what you should be doing with your life or at least what you should try as a side hustle.
Learn to Have Fun
Charlie Hoehn: I’m betting you were a very creative person growing up, doing the funny quirky mischievous practical jokes and that type of thing, right?
Jesse Cole: 100%. We made videos, we had fun, we did ridiculous things in school that our teachers from high school still talk about. But I thought I was going play baseball. I put all my energy into baseball. I was fortunate to get a college scholarship, but then my arm got torn to pieces and I was done.
The reality is, you think you are the best at something and plan all of it, but you know what? Things change.
I’m probably the only baseball owner in the country that says, “You know what? Baseball has a serious challenge: it’s long, slow, and boring.”
I don’t love baseball like I used to. I love entertaining fans. So it does pivot, and I think the key is just being able to be self-aware.
Charlie Hoehn: What can others learn from what you guys have done in transforming something that was previously boring?
Jesse Cole: You know I say this all the time, but it’s “What business are you in…but what business are you really in?” A lot of businesses can’t answer that question. They are saying that they’re an accountant, they’re just about accounting. To a degree, every business is in the time business, and they need to understand that.
“Are you making people’s time better, are you taking away time, are you giving them time?”
Once you understand how you help people’s time, then you can start to look at what business you’re really in.
We realized that we have to give 100% to entertainment because people want to be entertained. They want to escape; they don’t want to watch baseball. With a regular business, think about it in the same sense of what frustrates you about your business.
Law firms and accountants are so over the top professional and formal…You know that’s how businesses look at it. It’s about them, it’s not about the perfect experience for your customer. Start to think about that from the beginning, from the first time they see your website, from the first moment they answer their phone.
We literally go all the way to the beginning. When people show up to our stadium, they are going to see people dressed up as penguin costumes.
“Why? Because they are our parking penguins.”
They are dressed up as penguins and they’re parking people. Doesn’t make any sense. But if I am coming to a game and I see someone dressed as a penguin parking, I think that’s funny.
And then when they keep walking, we have a 30 piece pep band. In baseball. You don’t have a pep band in baseball. We have a 30 piece pep band playing Uptown Funk or the theme from Rocky as you’re walking in.
Then, people are dressed in banana costumes, and as they walk through the gate, The Banana Nanas, our senior citizen dance team are doing a Justin Timberlake dance.
That’s all before you even get into the stadium.
If you think about the perfect experience for your customer, you can change the way people think about your business. I think that’s a great starting point.
Doors Open When You Go All In
Charlie Hoehn: Tell me some of the other transformative things that have happened that wouldn’t have if you just maintained the status quo?
Jesse Cole: When we came here, the former team had cut the phone lines and the internet lines. We had a picnic table on a storage shed that we were working at. For six months, we worked so hard trying to market the team and said, “You know what? We are going to do all of these crazy things.” But no one cared.
It was going from professional baseball to college summer baseball, and no one cared. It got so bad that I’ll never forget the phone call I got in January. They said, “Jesse we’re completely out of money.”
My wife and I were driving back from my friend’s wedding. She turned to me and said, “Jesse, we have to sell our house. That’s the only option we have.” So we sold our house that we had in Charlotte with our other team and we literally emptied out our savings account.
“We found this terrible duplex down here in Savannah, and we went all in.”
When we had the opportunity to name the team, we went with Bananas. Most teams are going animals. We went with Savanah Bananas and decided to go all out in the marketing. Our mascot’s named Split, we’re going to have the Banana Nanas. We’re going to have a promotion where we throw bananas from the top deck called “Banana in the Pants.”
We thought about all of these crazy things that you could do, and all of a sudden, they started noticing. That’s the perfect experience for your customer.
We realized people were frustrated going to sporting events and getting nickeled and dimed. So we made one ticket price: $15, and that includes all you can eat, all your food, all night, plus the ticket.
We sold out the first six or seven games in advance, and on opening night it starts pouring. And it pours. By 7:00 to 7:30, we were not going to start, then maybe going to start late…and 4,000 people kept coming. And they didn’t stop.
They just kept coming, and they waited until we started the game at 9:00. At 11:00, a young woman came up to me in the 8th or 9th inning, and she said, “Could you please get me a signed baseball?” I said, “We’ll do what we can. You know we believe in that.”
She said, “My fiancé had been coming to this ball park every single opening night since he was a kid and he just passed away. It would mean the world to me. I’m here with his family just to get a signed baseball.” I said, “Of course, of course.”
“Then she said, ‘And my fiancé’s name was Drew Moody, and you have a player on your roster named Drew Moody.'”
Drew wasn’t with us yet, but his younger brother, Logan Moody, was with us.
So I ran into the dugout in the middle at the end of the game and I said, “Logan can you get this signed?” and I told him the story. He got it signed, then went up there sat in the middle of the bleachers with her for an entire inning. As he sat with her, he gave her the signed baseball.
I watched as they hugged each other. When he walked by, I said, “Logan, that was really special.” He goes, “Fans first right?”
He understood what it was about.
An 18 year old kid after our first game understood the impression and the differences that we make. You know when you create those moments you know you are making a real difference.
Simplifying is the Key
Charlie Hoehn: Why don’t more people pick up on this stuff?
Jesse Cole: It’s almost so obvious, but it takes a lot of work. I have a whole chapter about this in my book. It is so hard to simplify. Steve Jobs said it best, “If you could simplify things, it could move mountains.” That’s what the greatest companies have done.
So when we simplified it to Fans First, everyone in our staff understands it’s about fans first. And what does that mean to them? It means we take care of people. We don’t have this long mission statement, this complex thing about what we’re supposed to do.
“It’s not about profit, it’s not about any of that. It’s simplifying.”
If you simplify your mission and what you stand for, it’s very easy to put that into your whole system and your whole business.
It’s a challenge. You’ve got to sit down and say, “Hey why are we doing this? What’s the point? How can we make this easy?”
If we have a part time staff join us within a day, how will they know exactly what we’re about and how to do it? It takes some time, but for us, that’s been the key. It’s simplifying it.
Charlie Hoehn: What is the one thing that listeners can do today or this week that can change their life?
Jesse Cole: Ooh, I love that question, Charlie. I love that question. If you want to change your life, you have to have a mirror moment first.
You have to literally look at yourself and say, “Hey, what’s frustrating me? What’s bothering me? What am I missing? Why do I feel stuck? Why are there moments that I feel stale?” Write it down.
From there, what moments fire you up? What do you get most excited about? When you’re pumped to go into work, what are you doing that day? Or if you are not pumped going to work ever, that’s a moment that could change your life because you realize you are doing the wrong thing.
“So it’s what frustrates you, and what fires you up? It sounds so simple, but I keep doing it every single day.”
Sometimes I am doing things I don’t want to be doing or I shouldn’t be doing, and I try to pivot to find more ways to do things I absolutely love. It fires me up so that I look at the clock and realize, “Whoa I’ve been doing this for three hours.”
And I think the reality is that we get comfortable. I say it to my own staff all the time: “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
Every single day, are you challenging yourself, are you trying new stuff? If you are constantly comfortable with what you’re doing, you are not growing. If you’re going to be comfortable sustaining and maintaining what you’re doing, you’re not going to be doing things that fire you up.
Putting it Into Practice
Charlie Hoehn: When was the last time you were uncomfortable?
Jesse Cole: Every day. I’ve launched Find Your Yellow Tux and I’m doing a podcast and I am putting myself out there. I am recording one minute boosts every day. Literally every day, I am putting myself out there in something I am not used to doing. I used to be on the field in front of 4,000 fans and putting on crazy promotions and shows and pieing fans in the crowd. I am used to that, but I am not used to recording myself.
It is challenging me. It’s challenged me to reach out to people that are better than me.
“How many times in a day do you reach out to someone that’s better than you and try to learn from them?”
I read hundreds of books, but when I’m reaching out to these people that have achieved great success, I’m uncomfortable. You’re having to sell yourself and you’re having to convince them to work with you. Those are things I do every day.
Charlie Hoehn: How can our listeners connect with you, follow you and come to one of your games?
But you know we’d love to have you in Savanah. We’re fortunate. We have sold out 32 straight games and it’s been a circus at the ballpark. But reach out to me. We’ll see what we could do, we’d love to have you.
Charlie Hoehn: What should Author Hour listeners say if they end up going to a Savanah Bananas game?
Jesse Cole: Yes, hit me up on Twitter or on my website. If you are going to hit me up to come to a game, we’re going to put you on the field and you are going to do something absolutely outrageous. So just be ready for that.