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A passionate sports fan, filmmaker, writer, and entrepreneur, Rhett Grametbauer decided to change the narrative of his life so he bought a 1967 VW Bus and traveled the country to experience the world through the lens of the NFL. Every stadium, 32 teams, 16 weeks, 1 incredible adventure all captured in the documentary and book 25,000 Miles to Glory. His stories have appeared in Sports Illustrated, the Huffington Post, Inside Tailgating, Kombi Life and Roadtrippers.com. He also started a website to help take game watching parties to the next level, Foam Finger Nation.
City where you’re from: Austin, TX
Hobbies: Working on Hail Mary my ’67 VW Bus, Coaching youth baseball, and Promoting Foam Finger Nation and 25,000 Miles to Glory
The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. – Mark Twain
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I don’t know that I ever consciously decided to become an entrepreneur. I have always had a mind fertile with imagination and ideas. I believe in my ideas and want to share them with the world so I don’t think I had a choice. I have done other things from sell candy at elementary school to being the owner of a business devoted to vintage Star Wars collectibles, to traveling the country in the name of football to Foam Finger Nation.
Who were your biggest influences? Was there a defining moment in your life?
Growing up watching sports and in particular NFL Films with Steve Sabol. I viewed him in much the same way as I did George Lucas. They created these worlds that I just wanted to make mine and live in. One was football and the other was science fiction but both were equally compelling. I think the defining moment in my life was when I was working for the state of Texas and we decided to become a sponsor of the Dallas Cowboys. More like me being a huge football fan I decided for the state of Texas that the we would be a sponsor. The two people I met that worked for the Cowboys, Tommy Finn and Gina Owen, opened doors for me that I would have never thought possible. It also gave me a renewed confidence that anything was possible in my life.
What are you working on? How did you come up with this idea?
Foam Finger Nation is the premier online destination for sports fans to connect with each other locally and across the globe. Centered on bringing fans closer together through shared watch-parties and events, FFN also creates revenue for alumni groups from their watch parties and looks to help bars attract and retain patrons through incentive-based promotions targeted at specific fans and alumni groups within the area.
How is your product/service different and unique? What has been your favorite moment with it? What’s the vision?
There are other companies who were or are in the sports fan social network space. These include Sports Fan Live (no longer live), Fanatic.co, MatchPint (U.K.), Proud Crowd and Fancred (not a direct competitor). Other companies that could enter this space are ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS Sports, Facebook, Turner and Yahoo Sports. The former companies do not provide the revenue stream to alumni groups or watch party packages similar to that offered on Foam Finger Nation. Instead these companies rely on crowdsourcing watch parties that are not connected to the sports bar or restaurant believing that if enough fans show up at an establishment they will play the game. Fancred was a social network for fans to share their photos of watching games either at the actual game or with fans at sports bars. The more a fan participates the more “cred” they build on the app. There was no financial benefit to fans.
What makes Foam Finger Nation different is we either offer everyone in the sports game-watching ecosystem (bars, fans, alumni groups) a way to save money or generate additional revenue from existing activities. We also offer businesses the opportunity to target a highly sought after demographic by sponsoring watch parties.
We are adding some really cool graphics to the website that further incorporate the foam finger in our name and brand. This doesn’t sound like much but I believe it will make a tremendous difference in the look and feel of the website which is extremely important. Every day that we move closer to launching the full potential of Foam Finger Nation brings about a new favorite moment.
The vision for Foam Finger Nation is to own the watch party experience for sports fans, alumni groups, sports bars, and teams from the time they consider what they are going to do for the game to when the game is over. We want to continue to evolve as the way fans consume media and be as much a part of the game watching experience as the teams and games themselves.
How do you uniquely market your company?
Foam Finger Nation is in a unique situation. We have are going to use the film and book that I produced and wrote, 25,000 Miles to Glory which documents my travels around the country to every NFL stadium in 16 weeks. Currently, we have a plan for a screening tour to help benefit Vet Tix in 16 different cities in 2017 ending at the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. Part of the screening tour is promoting Foam Finger Nation and organizing watch parties in these 16 cities. Vet Tix alone has an email list of 500,000 people.
In addition, Dave and Buster’s has approached us about using our platform in their locations around the country. We currently have a database of every regional alumni group for 40 of the largest collegiate alumni groups in the United States. We also have contacts for most of the marketing departments for alumni groups at these colleges and universities. In addition, Foam Finger Nation has a database of over 4,000 sports bars.
What was more difficult: Building a social network, directing a film, or writing a book?
Without question building Foam Finger Nation is the most difficult thing I have ever done. The complexities of creating all of the functionality that users take for granted takes hours of planning and even longer to program. The minute something doesn’t work correctly users leave so it is vital to the success of the website to make sure everything works properly.
Writing a book was probably easier than producing a film. The film has sound, graphics, music, and color. You are also limited to what was filmed to what you can show in the film. The book was easy as I was only limited by my memory and my vocabulary.
What was your biggest failure and biggest success? What did you learn from them?
My biggest failure is thinking how obvious it should be of the benefits Foam Finger Nation provides sports fans and bars. People would just self-identify themselves and automatically want to sign up.
The biggest success to date is finishing third in the Nightclub and Bar Show in Las Vegas for leads generated from our booth. It validated our idea and we made some invaluable connections around the country.
I learned the concept was sound and would take off if executed properly. I also learned that benefits weren’t obvious to sports fans and the best way to gain a critical mass was not going after the fans but the alumni groups and sports bars themselves.
Give the readers the best entrepreneurship advice you have.
There will be a lot of rejection, difficult times, and problems to work out. If you aren’t able to handle these then don’t start down the road of entrepreneurship. Dan Rather said that if all difficulties were known at the outset of a long journey, most of us would never start out at all. The road to success is a long journey and it is impossible to know everything that will go wrong and what will go right. The best thing to do is to start out and then adjust to what takes place in the real world.
Teach us something about online marketing. Can you recommend any favorite websites to learn that topic?
I think you need to take into consideration your demographic and how they best interact with internet marketing and social media. It is important to get potential customers into the sales funnel in as few clicks as possible. I have tried many different types of content to promote through social media. What seems to works best is content that is very specific to an audience. Instead of a general sports topic make the post as timely and relevant and about a specific team as possible.
I scour the internet for ideas and advice. I like looking at the blogs on SEMrush and Moz but generally I Google for a lot of topics and always find a new relevant blog about what I am looking for. It is important to consider your specific market and customer demographics when applying the advice written on the internet. One solution doesn’t work for every business.
While working on your project, have you come across any interesting bit of knowledge that you’d like to share? (i.e. any new research finding, any new platforms, some novel management technique, etc)
Most fans of sports teams do not live in the same area as the team they root for. At most, only about 30% of fans live in the same city as their team. This means that the market for Foam Finger Nation is even bigger than I originally anticipated. It is a staggering figure to think that if the Dallas Cowboys have 10 million fans that 7 million fans don’t live in Dallas and need to find a watch party. If you just get $1 every watch party from these fans that is over $100 million in one season. Now extrapolate that to every team.
Teach me something I don’t know (it’s vague and open-ended on purpose)
A ’67 VW Bus doesn’t have air conditioning, power steering, and wasn’t intended for long road trips despite the romantic vision people have of the vehicle. There is also a network of air-cooled VW people around the country that if you break down will come and help you fix your vehicle.
What daily habits do you have that allow you to perform at your peak?
I focus on three things every day. They are all designed to take me further down the path of completing Foam Finger Nation. This allows me to feel like I’ve accomplished something each day, gives me something to be excited about and allows me to believe in the vision I have for Foam Finger Nation.
I also look to make connections on LinkedIn every day. The more connections I have, the more people are exposed to Foam Finger Nation.
What should an entrepreneur focus on?
I think entrepreneurs should focus on the problem they are solving and constantly get feedback from potential customers. This feedback could prevent some unforeseen issues with the final product and could save time and money. I think it is important to understand that there are no finished products. There will always be new features that need to be added. Decide what the minimum viable product is for your company. It doesn’t have to be perfect or finished but it needs to solve a problem for customers in an acceptable manner.
Walk us step-by-step through the process that you had to go through to get from the early stages to where you are today.
I want to accomplish three things every day. These change day to day but I break everything that needs to be done down to three action items every day. It is a daunting task knowing what needs to be done for Foam Finger Nation and 25,000 Miles to Glory but if I see these a three steps every day then I will make significant progress. If I don’t write these things down then I am lost and overwhelmed.
What are some of the best books you’ve ever read?
25,000 Miles to Glory but I’m biased. It is about more than just football, it’s about having the courage to pursue your dreams and if we all did that how the world would be a greatly different place. Another book I recommend is Trust Me I’m Lying. It changed forever how I see the media and how I look to get media coverage for everything I do.
Where do you see yourself and your product in a couple years?
I honestly see a bigger company buying Foam Finger Nation in a couple of years. It is too big of a market and when we execute it properly it will get the attention of a bigger company.
After that I plan to do more films and write more books about sports but always with a human-interest angle.