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Every day, Jesse Cole wears a bright yellow tuxedo — Dumb and Dumber style — complete with matching top hat and shoes. But the fact that he looks like a human banana isn’t even the most interesting thing about him. With style and innovation, he’s successfully reinventing the great American pastime: baseball.
You might be thinking how can you change baseball? For Jesse, his journey began in 2016 when he noticed that fans at minor league games almost never stayed to the end of the ninth. He decided to reimagine the spectator experience and created the Savannah Bananas — a minor league team that puts fans first. Now their games feel more like a day under the big top than a day at the ballpark.
My mantra for business is “WTF” (Willing to Fail) but Jesse takes that to the extreme — in fashion and entrepreneurship! Inspired by what he’s doing, I asked him to talk with me about failure, lessons learned, and taking the road less traveled. Here’s what he shared.
Look At Whatever’s Normal…And Do The Exact Opposite
Jesse and his wife bought their first baseball team, the Gastonia Grizzlies, in 2015, hoping to revive local love for minor league baseball. But on day one, Jesse got a rude awakening: the team had been around for seven years but no one had ever heard of them. Getting the word out was a bigger challenge than the Coles expected — in just a few short months, they were broke.
“We had only been married for two months and we had no choice but to sell our house,” Jesse says. “At that point, we were living on $30 a week.”
Despite their failure, the Coles only became more motivated. They relocated to Savannah, Georgia, and started a new team with a fresh mindset: be different. With the Savannah Bananas, they’re breathing new life into baseball with dancing, music and celebration.
“If you’re trying to market your product like everyone else, you’re in trouble. After all, normal gets normal results,” says Jesse. “If you want to stand out, look at whatever’s normal and do the exact opposite.”
There’s Strength In Numbers
Jesse hasn’t always been the guy in the yellow tux, surrounded by thousands of cheering fans. As a kid, he never quite felt like he belonged. When his parents divorced, his dad won full custody but had to work overtime to take care of him. Jesse spent a lot of time alone back then.
“I remember when my dad would get home from work and ask about my day, I’d lie and say I’d gone for a bike ride with friends,” Jesse says. “I couldn’t bring myself to tell him I didn’t have any.”
Now, his desire to be a part of something drives Jesse’s vision for the Savannah Bananas. He’s using the game of baseball to bring people together.
“There’s a reason why my favourite part of the game is the end,” he says. “The band is playing, I’m hugging fans goodbye and everyone is in it together. That’s my real ‘why’: I want to bring communities together and create an atmosphere where people feel like they belong.”
The Comeback Is Always Stronger Than The Setback
After overcoming so many obstacles to get the Bananas off the ground and find his entrepreneurial stride, Jesse’s philosophy now is that “failure is discovery.” It’s a chance to learn, grow, and give life to your wildest ideas.
He and his team have a “discovery journal” where they write down all the out-of-the-box things they want to do. They’ve come up with some of their best (and worst) ideas this way. For example, printing the world’s largest tickets on poster paper didn’t work out. Turns out, no one wants tickets they can’t even fit in their car! But introducing all-inclusive baseball tickets — one ticket for food, drinks, and entertainment — has helped them sell out every single game.
“Every failure is a part of what makes us who we are because failure creates a story,” says Jesse. “If we’re not creating stories, it’s a sign that we’re not trying enough new things. Even if it doesn’t work out, it’s a memorable experience that we’ll eventually have a good laugh about.”
Jesse proves that to reach your goals, you have to lean into mistakes, fail hard and use each setback as an opportunity. Failure is all a part of the journey — in fact, it’s the greatest teacher we’ll ever have. And when all else fails, there’s another philosophy Jesse and I both share: why fit in when you’re born to stand out?
April 8, 2019 at 09:55AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs