Rian Heim, the director of Soccer Shots here in Los Angeles was recently asked to participate in a conversation aimed at exploring the “entrepreneur as a phenomenon”. The focus being on experiences associated with entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial thinking, entrepreneurial acting and entrepreneurship in all organizational settings — large, small, public and private.
This conversation was initiated by Mark Khouzam. Mark is pursuing a joint MBA and MA in International Trade and Investment Policy with a concentration in International Business at George Washington University. He also happens to be a native Southern Californian and hopes to return at some point in the future. His goal is to work somewhere in the International Business space, and hopes to have a job that would be more meaningful than just a “job,” as Rian has shown to be a definite possibility!
Below is the article written by Mark, inspired by their conversation.
Scoring By Leading
By Mark Khouzam
“We made the decision in 2004 not to work for someone else and just to get out there and figure out a direction, and we knew somehow that we would make it work.” Just a few months after getting married, Rian Heim and his wife Alyssa decided that ordinary desk jobs were not for them. Rian sought not only financial security, but also creative freedom for him and his wife.
“What you are taught in school is to follow all the rules, go out, get a nine to five job, do what you are told, check-in, check-out, which are none of things that you do when you start your own business” asserted Rian.
When Rian, a designer, and Alyssa, a teacher, set out to start their own business, they knew that they had to commit themselves 100% or they would fail. After working as a free-lance designer for a few years, and looking for new opportunities, in August 2007 Rian heard about Soccer Shots from a friend and began to do some research.
Soccer Shots is a youth soccer development program for children, ages three to eight, which offers an innovative curriculum combining both fundamental soccer skills and character development. Two professional soccer players founded Soccer Shots in 2000 when they were looking to earn some extra money in the off-season. Their goal was to inspire and motivate children to be physically active, and Soccer Shots was their avenue for doing so. Their passion for soccer and entrepreneurial mindset came through in their efforts, and the success of Soccer Shots in Charlotte, NC and Harrisburg, PA inspired many of their friends to want to get involved. They began offering franchised businesses in 2005 and Soccer Shots quickly spread across the country.
Rian and Alyssa spent the next four months contemplating the opportunity to buy a Soccer Shots franchise. They conducted many financial and business plans, and thought not only about the financial investment but also about the time and energy they would have to commit to this endeavor for it to be a success. As Rian explained, he knew that this was not just any ordinary decision that he and Alyssa would make. This decision would change their lives and they had to commit to it for at least two or three years before revaluating their position. After plenty of thought and deliberation, and many forecasts of where they would be in a few years, Rian and Alyssa decided to go for it, and knew that they “had the freedom to succeed or not succeed.” They purchased the rights to start a franchise in the Los Angeles area in December 2007. With low overhead, support and direction from successful franchise owners, and flexibility, they felt like they had the tools they needed to succeed. However, they knew that the first few years would not be easy. Alyssa continued teaching for the first three years as they began to get the business off the ground and laid the foundation to make the Los Angeles Soccer Shots a success.
Starting only the second Soccer Shots franchise in California and the sixteenth nationwide, the Heim’s did not know what to expect. The Soccer Shots business model, originally built for the East Coast, had not been extensively tested in California, and there was no way of knowing how successful it would be. As Rian described it, there were three things that led to the success of their franchise: smart decisions, hard work, and luck.
“We take more credit for the success of the franchise, but with regards to the founding of it and what we had to work with, there was a fair amount of luck involved” stated Rian.
In a city of over twelve million people, the Heim’s felt very lucky to find good people to work with whom shared their same vision and were eager to see the business succeed.
Rian and Alyssa built the Los Angeles franchise from the ground up and began partnering with daycare centers, schools and parks across the county in order to offer and market their program in different locations. Soccer Shots gives parents the opportunity to enroll their children in school-supported programs where they know their children will not only learn fundamental soccer skills but will also learn to be a team player, and respect their peers while also having fun. It is impressive to see how such a small but energetic and enthusiastic staff of about fifteen, including directors, managers, and coaches was able to increase business by fifty percent in each of the four years since its conception. This December will mark the franchise’s fourth anniversary, and the team has managed to deliver its programs to over eighty schools, and is one of the top five most profitable Soccer Shots franchises in the country.
Rian expressed that at first he and his wife were not sure if they made the right decision to purchase a franchise, but now they know that they did. The success and growth that Rian’s franchise has experienced in the past four years motivates him to keep working hard and always striving to improve and expand the business. He jokes that some of his extended family and friends ask him when he is going to get a “real job” and stop teaching soccer to four-year olds. However, all joking aside, Rian and Alyssa spend little time worrying about other people’s perceptions, and feel lucky to have the autonomy and freedom to be their own bosses and be in control of their fate.
The Heim’s feel very fortunate to be where they are, and believe that the strong network of franchise owners has truly helped them navigate the process of starting their own franchise. Rian stressed that having the network of other franchise owners to share the experience with, and the opportunity to meet with them and share ideas and strategies at the corporate meetings has been one of the biggest advantages of purchasing a franchise.
Rian emphasized that the other franchise owners have been great mentors to him, and that he also gains continued inspiration and ideas from best-selling author – Seth Godin’s podcasts, books, and blogs. However, what is refreshing about the way that Rian and his wife started their business is that they did not just embark on an entrepreneurial journey with blindfolds on and hope for the best. They conducted extensive due diligence and equipped themselves with all the tools and resources they needed to succeed, including hiring the services of a professional mentor.
When the general public thinks about entrepreneurs, they often think that they are individuals who take on excessive amounts of risk and somehow manage to succeed. Although Rian and Alyssa are entrepreneurs, I would venture to say that they are at the exact opposite end of the spectrum. On the contrary, the Heim’s have channeled their entrepreneurial spirits into thorough business plans, well thought-out investments, and calculated decision-making. Although Rian asserts that luck played a big part in the success of his franchise, I would argue that “well-managed risk” and educated decisions played an even bigger role. Rian approaches entrepreneurship as a science, not a guessing game. Yes, luck may play a role, but if all the pieces are properly put into place and backed by solid principles, then everything has been done to give the business the competitive edge it needs to succeed. For example, when asked about how he approaches the competition, Rian stated that he is always aware of what they do, but doesn’t need to dwell on it.
“I like to think that the competitors are looking to us to see how they can be a better organization.”
Moreover, the Heim’s mindset in approaching their business and managing their team is unlike any ordinary small business owner who is simply focused on the bottom line, and somehow manages to fit their employees into that puzzle. On the contrary, when asked about his management style, Rian said with confidence that at Soccer Shots, he and Alyssa don’t manage, but they lead. In the words of one of his mentors he explained,
“Leading, is finding the right people, agreeing where you want to go, then getting out of the way.”
This has been a successful model for the Heim’s given the structure of their company and their business model. In order for their business to succeed, Rian and Alyssa have hired individuals who are self-starters and are willing to take initiative and make decisions with the best interests of the company in mind.
The Los Angeles Soccer Shots franchise is an evolving organization, and moving forward Rian and Alyssa strive for strong yet sustainable growth. To the Heim family, Soccer Shots is more than just soccer, it is an opportunity to positively impact the lives of children at a young age and get them excited about school and learning.
“Our true passion is with education and kids, and less with soccer,” stated Rian
as he described the possibility of incorporating more of an education component to their programs or perhaps starting another business more focused on education. The key is to get involved in the lives of children at a young age in order to give them a strong foundation that will benefit them down the road.
As their one-year-old son Charlie grows up, the Heim’s feel that an opportunity may arise to get more involved with their son’s education and improve the learning environment for all children. Again, Rian expressed that he doesn’t know what that might entail, but expressed that the most important thing is
“knowing where we want to be, and along the way identifying those things that are going to help us get us there.”
To four year olds soccer might be a game, but to an entrepreneur it can be an avenue by which to do what you love while making a difference.