As the CEO of the Killerspin Table Tennis company and many other ventures, explains, what started out as a fun game to play during his teenage years with his father eventually not only provided him with inspiration about entrepreneurship, but also taught him how to pace and control himself while provided an exciting outlet to socialize with business contacts. The interview continues on...
Jeff: Not that they aren't all, but this is a special edition of Conference Room. We get a little entertainment as well as wisdom. We always love to talk to entrepreneurs who spot a trend and then capitalize on that trend. Robert Blackwell is a man who founded a company called Killerspin. When you think of table tennis, you don't think of a company necessarily, but your vision is to make Killerspin the company you think of when you think of table tennis.
Robert: Yeah, well we think that table tennis is actually, we think of it as a problem-solving sport.
Jeff: Explain that.
Robert: Well, when I was young, I played table tennis with my father, and I really thought it was because he liked me; but he told me that my mother told him he needed to spend some time with me.
Jeff: (Laughter) And so table tennis was that vehicle that you used to spend time with each other.
Robert: It was really two things. From a personal perspective, it's how I got to spend time with my father when I was a teenager. We didn't have the same interest in music or other things, and, you know, I spent a lot of time lying about how I was doing in school, so I needed some way to connect with my father, and table tennis was kind of a natural way. If you ask most people what they think about table tennis, they'll tell you it reminds them of good times with their family and friends.
Jeff: Um-hmm (affirmative). It's a sport that pretty much anybody can play, and, of course, I say that as we're looking at two essentially of the top table tennis players in the world here. Who have I got? I've got Biba Golic here, right? She's probably the best-known table tennis player.
Robert: That's correct.
Jeff: And who's she playing against?
Robert: She's playing against Ilija Lupulesku, who is an Olympic Silver-Medalist and a Silver-Medalist in the World Championships and has won the U.S. National Championships, I think six or seven times, is maybe one of the best doubles players ever.
Jeff: Wow. What you'd like to do is take this sport, though, because it's a sport that we can sit here and play and talk. It kind of brings people together in a corporate setting that there wouldn't otherwise be the same vehicle.
Robert: It's true. Almost everybody has had this experience with table tennis. So we think table tennis is also a way to solve financial problems as well, so you can use it. The Chinese now, which table tennis is China's national sport. They're the number one tourists in the world, the number one buyer of luxury goods, of automobiles, so we think this is a way to connect with the Chinese with their national sport, something that they care about.
Jeff: Um-hmm (affirmative). And you saw the business potential in this. Obviously you enjoyed the sport yourself, but you're a former equity options trader who loves entrepreneurship as well. You saw this potential ten years ago?
Robert: Yeah, when we started it, we started the sport actually to support our technology company as a hospitality sport. We were pretty small and couldn't afford golf and to buy sky boxes, which is how other people use sports, to really build relationships. So we created Killerspin, for the first few years really focused on creating events where we could entertain customers and that also would help people entertain their customers.
Jeff: Um-hmm (affirmative). You also said the experience you had as a trader, which is, don't get too high when you're doing well, don't get too low ...
Robert: Yeah, I was saying being a trader was really great experience because you have to be super focused. You have to pay attention to details. You can't get too emotional when things are going well, and you can't get too despondent when you're going through tough times.
Jeff: That helps when you're founding a company and growing it. Got you. Well, it is a sport and a company both that are growing by leaps and bounds. And you don't need to be as good as an Olympic table tennis player to enjoy this sport. It sure is fun to watch these guys.
Robert: It is.
Jeff: (Laughter) That is this edition of Conference Room. Boy, I'm breaking a sweat just watching. Hope you've taken something away from it. Jeff Flock. Thanks for watching.