Building a product people love is the single best source of opportunity because it attracts people, partners, and investors to a business. It helps to have exceptional management, a compelling vision, great PR, viral marketing, word-of-mouth, a hungry sales team, and engaging content. But nothing pulls opportunity from the market like a product that delights customers. When the product is doing the heavy lifting, it creates a tailwind for all the other business functions.
If customers are spending money and time on our product it’s a clear indication we’re Making What People Want. Other forms of engagement can also indicate increasing levels of commitment. Loyal customers often want to be more than just a customer; they may want to get involved in the community. They may become brand ambassadors, spreading the word about your product, and bringing in new customers. They may like the product so much that they want to come work for the company. They may want to bring the product to new geographies as a franchisee. Or they may want to invest in the company. This blog is about the desire we have seen from PingPod customers to increase commitment to the business by becoming employees, franchise partners, and investors.
My path to joining PingPod is a variation of this story of increasing commitment. I was an angel investor and an informal advisor to Max from Day 1, but it was becoming an active customer – taking my kids to my local Pod, and seeing how much fun they had with a bit of coaching – that made me want to dedicate all of my time to the company. Similarly, our CTO Ilya Rivkin was an angel investor and delighted customer before he started peppering Max with ideas for building the PingPod app for scale. Earlier in his career, Ilya helped build the Nike+ iOS app and the Equinox reservation system. It quickly became obvious to all involved that he was the ideal person to lead and scale our technology team.
Ilya and I are not unique. The vast majority of PingPod employees were customers first. This is intentional: our product is our preferred form of recruiting! We are building a team of exceptional, mission-driven, intrinsically motivated individuals. When a customer who loves the product pitches us on how they can help us grow the business, we pay attention. We don’t have to sell them on the mission; they have already bought in. We don’t wonder if they are someone who will take initiative; by pitching us a solution, they showed us how they are wired. The very best will have thought about the business model and the product, how their skills map into what we are building, and pitch us on how they can help. If this paragraph describes you, then we want to hear from you. Get in touch!
Since opening our first PingPod in 2020, we have received a steady flow of inbound requests from people interested in opening PingPods in other parts of the United States and internationally. Typically, people reach out because they’ve played at our Pods, love the concept and business model, and want to bring it to their home city.
These inquiries are a great example of a customer wanting to increase engagement on multiple levels: they want to invest time and a significant amount of money to open a Pod, and are confident that profitable demand exists in their home market. For most potential franchisees, the attractive economics of a Pod are not the only, or even the primary, motivation to open a franchise. They love the idea of being an owner/operator of a Pod, becoming the center of a local ping pong community, and spending time playing and promoting the sport they love.
Franchise inquiries have increased in frequency and fervor as the PingPod network has grown, and brand awareness has spread globally through word-of-mouth and PingPod ambassadors, such as Adam Bobrow. We’ve seen more than a hundred inbound inquiries from more than 20 states, as well as internationally: from Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Australia, China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Mauritius, Guam, and South Africa.
We have been working on a Financial Disclosure Document (FDD), the legal document necessary to sell franchise licenses to participants in the United States. We expect Greenspoon Marder, our franchise law firm, to issue the FDD this quarter. We plan to be very selective about franchisees in order to ensure that those we partner with elevate the PingPod brand and are set up for success.
Franchise partners will exhibit the following characteristics:
- Owner/Operator – franchise economics work best when the owner is also the operator of the business. An owner that grows multiple Pods within a given geography will have sufficient scale to bring in a manager – but initially, we’re looking for very active partners.
- Local Knowledge – an operator with in-depth knowledge of local commercial real estate, neighborhood dynamics, foot traffic patterns, and existing ping pong venues / facilities.
- Community Activation – an operator with deep ties to the local ping pong ecosystem and an ability to activate the community. Initial activation through word-of-mouth, coaching relationships, leagues, and community events are crucial to long-term success.
- Well-Capitalized – an operator with sufficient capital to make the initial investment to create a Pod and see it through to profitability. Relative to many other franchise opportunities, PingPod requires a smaller upfront investment and low ongoing operating costs due to the autonomous operating model.
- Business Acumen – an operator with previous business and/or franchise experience. There is no fixed template here, but we want to partner with people who have the requisite problem-solving skills to run a small business profitably.
We have had customers – ranging from individual investors to partners at global growth equity firms – play at a Pod, and reach out about participating in future rounds of financing for PingPod. These inbound indications of interest have almost uniformly exhibited the key characteristics we want in PingPod investors:
- Mission-Driven – PingPod is a mission-driven company seeking to make a dent in the world. Our mission is to use technology to solve large problems and reshape behavior in philosophically positive ways. It’s about using technology for fun, for fitness, for everyone. We want investors that believe in our mission, with the understanding that if we execute on it, big returns will follow.
- Long-Term Orientation – PingPod has a long-term vision that extends beyond our core PingPod network: we want to become the default operating system for all manner of autonomous experiences. We want investors that share our vision for how this new model can fundamentally reshape cities in the future.
- Customer-Obsessed – PingPod is a customer-obsessed company. We fundamentally believe in delighting our customers, and we build empathy into our culture and processes. We want investors who share that obsession, can empathize with our customers because they are one, and are willing to weigh in when they see ways to improve the customer experience.
- Strategic – PingPod is a non zero-sum firm. We pride ourselves on finding win-win scenarios with customers, team members, and strategic partners – situations where we grow the pie, rather than taking someone else’s slice. Our approach is relationship-based, rather than transactional. We want investors who share these strategic priorities, and can leverage relationships when it makes sense for all involved.
Our hope is that some subset of readers of this blog will be motivated to go try a PingPod. If you love the experience and want to get involved, then we want to hear from you. Join our community slack channel or e-mail us on [email protected].
See you at the Pod!