Creating a market | Launching a DTC sport (with Chris Meade, Co-Founder & Chief Marketing Officer of Crossnet)
New brands are always popping out of the woodwork. But Chris Meade took a different approach when he founded CROSSNET, which created an entirely new sport
New brands are always popping out of the woodwork. But Chris Meade took a different approach when he founded CROSSNET, which created an entirely new sport. Described by Chris as “four square meets volleyball,” the idea was the result of a late-night brainstorming session between early 20-something friends looking to avoid turning into corporate drones. In just a few short years, CROSSNET went from a prototype to being sold internationally through both DTC and retail channels. In this episode of DTC Pod, Chris shares how CROSSNET was born—and the hiccups and wins they’ve experienced along the way.
4:47 - The night CROSSNET was invented
Chris and his friends were throwing ideas for a product invention at the wall to see if anything stuck when someone mentioned four-way volleyball.
“ESPN was on in the background. Not sure if that motivated it or not, but Mike wrote down four-way beach volleyball. Mike’s one of our other co-founders, grew up playing soccer and basketball. Four-way volleyball net. And we're like, yeah, no shit. That'd be sick. Jumped on Google, and nobody had done it before. And right now it was like four in the morning, you're in your hometown farm town. It’s cool, and nobody does it, and we’re like, this is it. That's the game. So we went to bed and then the next morning we woke up, went to Walmart, got two badminton nets, cut up the center, staked them on the side of my mom's garden shed. Texted all the boys, like yo come over. And we just started making a game in the backyard, like you did when you're 12 years old.”
7:47 - Building a brand
Chris had previously worked with his friend and brother on a startup during college. He knew that when creating his own company, he wanted to create a true brand.
“I graduated with a film degree $100,000 in debt. And I was making like 40 grand a year. It wasn't sustainable. So I couldn't go home and focus on e-commerce. So I left. And my brother invented the GLUNT, which is the glass blunt, which is famous, probably the most famous glass blunt that went on for like millions of dollars in sales. It was really, really successful. And I gave up on the cane and I could have gotten involved in that. So when I started CROSSNET, I'm not giving up. I don't care how long this is going to take. It's going to work, just stay patient. So that was the e-commerce history kind of to set us up for good success because I knew I did not want to drop ship this thing. I wanted to form a brand.”
12:53 - Balancing Uber and CROSSNET
Chris was still working in sales at Uber when he moved to Miami, juggling both his full-time job and experimenting with CROSSNET.
“We started getting the proof of concept down. We had 50 units coming to the States, started selling them. And people started to take interest a little bit. I went to my boss [at Uber Eats] and I said, Hey, I don't know if I’m making the right move, but I’ve got a damn good idea. I'm going to move to Miami in two weeks. You'd either let me work remote—and this was before COVID. This is before everything—I was like, either let me work remote because this job is easy as hell and I can do it from my apartment, or I'm done. And he was so cool. And he's like, yeah, go work remote and lead the team. And I had a team of 12 people reporting to me. I led the team for six months working remote in Miami, on the beach playing CROSSNET during the day and answering emails from my phone for Uber.”
16:08 - When your product is your billboard
By setting up live games in Miami and elsewhere, Chris and his team got an incredible amount of exposure that was better than any billboard.
“What ended up happening was we go to the beach every day and set up the net. Get there at nine o'clock. And 20 minutes in we’d have everybody looking at us, every single person at that beach was staring at us taking photos. It was like a billboard, but it was just our product. I always say it's really hard to market a product that nobody gets to see, unless it's just one on one. When I set up a CROSSNET, hundreds of people see it. So people would start playing. I would film ads on my phone and go home and run Facebook ads at night. Eventually what would happen was you'd be on vacation in Colorado. You'd go home. And you sell nothing in Denver. And all of a sudden we started getting sales with Denver. And I'm like, oh shit, you must be out there playing, right. So it just started snowballing. We had 50 out, and then 250, and now there's 100,000 out there. So when summer comes, it's just that perfect storm.”
21:14 - The first factory
After nailing down a prototype, Chris and the team went out in search of a factory. They negotiated a small starting quantity for about $20,000.
“At this point we typed in Aliexpress Volleyball Nets. Found a few factories, sent over an NDA, sent over the blueprint. Our co-founder Mike was an engineer, so he was good at AutoCAD and we saved the cost there. Lucky. Sent it over, said yo, we have an idea. Immediately heard, ‘sure. $500 grand.’ $500? Who the hell do you think we are, $500 grand? No chance. Found one lady that was like, all right. I can do 50 for you. And we're like, please, we promise one day we'll be the biggest company. And now we outgrew our factory. We had to find a new supplier because it became so big. But to your point, negotiate. 50 units. Okay. We’ll wire over the check for $20 grand or whatever it was. We literally had $20 grand for this whole company to start.”
25:06 - The video that went viral
The best growth moment came when Chris agreed to send a free sample to someone who ended up being on an Olympic volleyball team.
“Yo, let me get free samples. I'm sure you guys deal with that all the time. But it’s like you know this stuff costs money, right? Would I just light $60 on fire? Or would you give me $60 for free? Hell no, you're not giving me $60 for free. So why should I do that for you? But there's one guy, I guess he was compelling enough. And he said, send me out a sample. I said, okay, I'll send it to you. You pay for the shipping. So he pays like $200 to ship it to Latvia. I don't know where Latvia is, we just ship it. Nothing happens. Four months go by. Crickets. I’m moving on to the next thing. And my phone just starts spazzing one morning. I wake up, I got like 5 million views on this video. 10,000 comments, a quadrillions shares. And it’s these dudes in Latviaplaying on the beach. It ends up being the Latvian Olympic volleyball team. So they're on the beach, palm trees. Spike it, dig it, doing everything I can't do on a CROSSNET. And that was our first banger piece of content.”
28:19 - The trouble with shipping
Shipping container costs have skyrocketed, but if you need product you have little choice. Chris hopes to see container costs stabilizing somewhat going forward.
“Everyone talks about shipping containers. I just found out our team paid $25,000 for a container. There was 350 units in that container. My cost on these just went up $70 for this damn thing. It's just like stupid mistakes that we're making. But also we really have no choice. If we want the products here, you have to pay it. But if you're losing money on the product, you have to shut it down. Don't even sell that product. It’s a loss here at this point. Chill out until the containers come back down. So those are all things we're dealing with right now...I have seen lately that containers are coming down. A lot of boats on the water are landing, now looking for their charges from six months ago. So now I'm dealing with the billing, which sucks. But moving forward we’re seeing containers hopefully being a fraction of that $20K. So if we can get down that $12-15K range, I'd be pretty content. I don't think we're anywhere close to that $3 grand that we started at in 2018.”
30:42 - Taking CROSSNET international
Today CROSSNET has warehouses and 3PLs in Canada, Australia, and hopefully will add a greater presence in Europe soon.
“I have a warehouse in Kingsville, Ontario, Canada. We opened up that last year. A warehouse in San Diego. Just opened up a 3PL in Australia, which took about a year of work. And then we're opening up a 3PL in Europe somewhere so that we can fulfill some of those countries. But it's a lot of legal work right now. You have to pay VAT fees for all the countries. And it's just a lot of headache to even deal with Europe right now. I'd love to get to Europe tomorrow, but Australia seems like it's going to be a rocket ship for us. There’s great weather, beaches. And the nice thing I'm pumped about is when it is freezing cold in Connecticut in October, November, January, February, March, go sell in Australia. Shut off all my ads in the east coast, throw them over to Australia.”
34:33 - Getting off the ground in Australia
While getting set up in Australia has had its challenges, Chris knows it will be well worth it.
“You cannot get an Australia website without having an Australian registered business, which is crazy to me. So it took us about eight months to get a registered Australian business. You can get a domain in 30 seconds here. You have to have a registered Australian business, which took forever. So eight months of planning, we vetted a ton of 3PLs and found the one that we liked, CP3, great company. And then essentially from there, it was just lining up shipments. Trucking that directly from China to the 3PL in Australia, them unloading, making sure our SKUs are right. Product photography, making sure the Shopify is duplicated but also speaks the language, which is important. And then from there, it's finding the relevant content that sticks.”
41:11 - Becoming a legitimate sport
From partnerships with legacy players to selling at a high level, Chris’ background has allowed him to help take CROSSNET to the next step.
“It's one thing to say all right, cool. We have a cool sport we made up. But it's still like, it's just a sport that you made up, it's not a real sport yet. So how do we validate, how do we make it real? So we did stuff with USA Volleyball, with Wilson, and we'll go on doing cooler brand partnerships. And for me, being 24 at the time, what better way to legitimize your sport and product than to put yourself into retail. Knowing nothing about retail, but knowing from my corporate days at like Contently where I was selling SaaS software. I was literally 22 years old. Had my nice little tie on, going in to see the CMO at like AIG, some 65-year-old lady, like Fortune 500, Fortune 50 companies. And they're talking to me in person. Like that doesn't even add up. So the way I got good at that was through LinkedIn, and that was the only way. It was crafting good messages, not the shit that you get every day.”
Chris Meade - CMO of Crossnet
Ramon Berrios - CEO of Trend.io
Blaine Bolus - COO of Omnipanel