This week we had the honor to interview Mark French, CEO of X2 Performance. Mark is also a serial entrepreneur.
?Show Notes: Through this interview, we touched on his background as a serial entrepreneur (NBC Universal, Court Grip, Mission, X2 Performance), his company X2 Performance, as well as his relationship with Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers/NBA, Saquon Barkley, as well as Lavonte David of the Buccaneers (NFL). Then we talked about the energy drink market and how X2 Performance stands out from the crowd. Then lastly, we discussed the benefits for any teams or leagues to choose his products as well as his plans for the next 12 months.
?Best Quotes: Here’s some of the key discussion points and best quotes from our conversation with Mark:
- On how he created 2 startups within NBC Universal: “I’ve been very fortunate to have built startups within a big legacy company, that being NBC Universal. So I really got my entrepreneurial chops by building two different startups within the company. The one that without a doubt had the most success and is still going strong today is when I was the founder and general manager of NBC Everywhere. I was the idiot who came up with the idea to put the TVs in the back of taxi cabs and on gas pumps and eventually, at the checkout counter in supermarkets as well as at Walmart. So the thesis was… I was fortunate that I had done a lot of work with NBC Sports, selling a lot of sponsorships, multi-market integrations that gave me an audience with the right people. GE owned NBC at the time. My thesis was that we’re fighting for ratings points in prime time and that’s a battle that we’re going to continue to lose. Why don’t we try to find alternative ways to bring advertisers’ messages to audiences when they’re on the go? So we were trying to find captive environments where our content could bring value to the consumers and then also subsequently open up a whole new revenue stream, that being outdoor, out-of-home advertising. So what’s more captive than a taxi cab in the early 2000s? So this was really before the cell phone became what it is today. It started with one taxi cab, eventually ended up being thousands and thousands of taxi cabs not just in New York City, but across the country where you could watch Jimmy Fallon or local news as well as see promotions for our prime time shows, which brought a lot of value. But it also, again, unlocked advertising through those out-of-home ad budgets”.
- On Court Grip, his venture with NBA star Dwayne Wade: “The NBC Universal experience gave me the courage to try to solve another problem, which for me was very close to the heart in the game of basketball, was slipping and sliding on dusty courts, a problem that players like myself, but it also plagued some of the best players in the world who were playing with brand new sneakers on the best courts in the world. They’re still seen wiping the bottom of their sneakers. So without boring your audience, I hired a variety of chemical engineers and recruited some amazing partners including Dwyane Wade, and we eventually developed what became Court Grip. So if you watch any NBA game today, you’ll see our grey bottles on every scorer’s table that players are applying to the bottom of their sneakers, which is patented nano technology to help increase traction on dusty courts”.
- On his next venture called Mission: “So with that I merged my business with, at the time, a business called Mission Skincare who had distribution to a lot of sporting goods, retailers, and had manufacturing capabilities. So I joined as president to launch Court Grip. We launched that exclusively with Foot Locker, and had tremendous success. We also went to the NCAA as well as the NBA. After that, we launched over 20 products with MISSION. The one thing that really rocket shipped us was one of our innovations after Court Grip, which was the instant cooling towel. We launched that with Serena Williams and Drew Brees”.
- On the impact of COVID-19 on Mission’s business: “We have the gaiter pull-up mask, which was never really a big part of our go to market strategy with our cooling technology. But when we had success with the cooling technology, we immediately thought of what other skus we could create. So we created helmet liners for football players, arm sleeves, shooting sleeves, and so on. One of our employees was an avid hunter and said we should make these as gaiters. We were fortunate to have some inventory when COVID hit. Really, the team that’s been running the business did an incredible job just pivoting and getting that production in the market, and then it grew. So yeah, it was not its intended purpose, but I am glad that it was able to help a lot of people during a tough time”.
- On his experience as an investor: “Before X2 Performance, I really became an active investor in the sports, entertainment, and technology space. I’ve had a variety of different ventures where I’ve been an active board member. So Block Six Analytics, you might’ve seen. We recently were acquired by Excel Sports. We’re really fortunate to partner with Derek Jeter and team to launch the Player’s Tribune, which was a real nice combination of my experience in media with NBC and just where we’ve had some success of working with a lot of high profile athletes. The problem we were solving there was letting athletes talk directly to their consumers, getting unfiltered by the media, which was great. Then just a variety of other companies”.
- On how he took on the role as CEO of X2 Performance: “With X2, the largest investor is L Catterton, who’s the number one consumer of goods, private equity fund, so behind brands like Peloton, Tonal, Hydrow, etc. They approached me about taking the CEO role of one of their portfolio companies, which was X2 Performance, which was an all-natural, clean, pre-workout supplement line, as well as a natural, clean energy drink that’s NSF certified for sport, which is unique and differentiated that over 25 pro teams have been buying, but the general market had never heard of. I was flattered, but I couldn’t take the CEO role at the time. It was about two years ago. I agreed to take a board seat. So I joined the board of directors with some other really, really smart people in the sports world such as the general manager of the New York Jets, and then the Dolphins, and now ESPN insider, Mike Tannenbaum, a good friend and somebody who actually discovered the product in the Jets locker room. He was also an investor and somebody that I trusted. When he told me that the players were using it, that it had gravitated to teams that were winning Super Bowl after Super Bowl, I knew that hopefully, I could add a little bit of value in commercializing it”.
- On how he brought on board NBA star Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers): “So from the board seat, I was able to, along with great partners, get Kawhi Leonard to join us, who is an active user of the product line. Also, he’s natural. We had conversations with Kawhi and his business partner, his Uncle Dennis, about the intrigue with what was in the product. We also had a conversation about how the product really helped him and how he had a lot of beverage companies looking to get him involved, but he wouldn’t work with those other beverages because he didn’t drink them. I found that really interesting and compelling and it made me want to work with him even more. Then after Kawhi got involved, we were able to launch nationally. Again, this was a brand that had no distribution. It was just seen in locker rooms, but CVS Pharmacy launched us across the country and they launched our powders, our shots. So think a much healthier version of 5-Hour Energy, it’s actually where the brand was incubated”.
- On how they launch during COVID-19: “We also launched our ready to drink cans. So we had our own dedicated end caps. The timing was tough. It was obviously at the beginning of COVID, but for the lack of a better term, it put us on the map. Then I was able to work with Subway to launch us in Los Angeles, where we could feature Kawhi Leonard in their windows as well as in their menu boards. We had a tremendous pilot program with them that they just agreed to expand us to the Mid-Atlantic. Then GNC also launched us. Then with that, L Catterton said, “Look, we want to double our investment” if I came to run the company through this critical growth phase. It was an opportunity that intrigued me, definitely a challenge. There are a lot of other energy drinks and pre-workout powders in the marketplace, but I was really adamant along with our partners. You mentioned Lavonte David’s Super Bowl champion. He, along with other teammates down there in Tampa were using the product and he wanted to invest. Then Saquon Barkley wanted to invest. When you have athletes of that caliber using your product, believing in your product, believing in the business vision. It just made me that more bullish. So I’ve leaned in as full-time CEO and board member. Step number one for me was recruiting the right team, so folks on the product development side, the brand side, the marketing side, distribution side. We’re building out the platform. We will be announcing some great new retail distributors and distribution partners. That’s what we’re doing right now”.
- On the X2 Performance’s competitive advantage: “Well, it’s just really the history. It’s the fact that you’ve got over 25 pro teams that buy it for their athletes. The only reason why they’re doing that is because A, it works, and B, it’s clean, and C, it doesn’t have any of the negative impacts that other energy drinks have, which are crash and jitters, which is the last thing you want as an athlete. That’s really where we differentiate. The way that I’m building the brand in my mind and how we’re starting to market it as tested and trusted by the pros, backed by elite athletes. So these are not endorsers. These are investors and partners. Now we’re bringing that healthy, clean energy to the everyday athlete. We’re not just an energy drink line. We are a pre-workout shot and an intra workout shot. That’s NSF certified for sport. That’s really where we differentiate. It’s always going to come down to the ingredients, again, natural, clean, healthy with no false stimulants. We’re not looking to jack people up on caffeine. We’re looking to provide the right amount of sustained energy. We’re about endurance. We’re not about that quick spike. That’s really where we differentiate. I can tell you the partners that we have see what’s happening in the marketplace. The trend is people are more cognizant of what they’re putting in their body than ever before”.
- On how X2 Performance is bringing new types of customers to the energy drink category: “These other brands that have been out there for a long time have a great audience. We’re really about bringing new customers to the category. A lot of our consumers were never drinking energy drinks beforehand. They’re much more health conscious. They’re label readers. Again, you might look to some of these pro athletes and say, “If she or he is actually drinking this on game day, I want to give it a try.” The people that have tried it are coming back and are big, big fans of the product offering.
- On the leagues that they are working with: “We have over 25 teams in the NFL, MLB, the NBA, and the NHL using our products. We’ve had a handful of soccer teams as well, but we’ve really seen growth with no promotion. You know this as well as anybody else. If something’s working for one team, other teams will look to adopt it, especially strength and conditioning coaches or nutritionists might go from one team to another. But we also have some NCAA teams also that have purchased for their athletes. I see a lot of growth for us potentially in baseball, more opportunity in the NFL and the NBA, but we want to make it available for any and everybody. For your listeners, if they’re interested, we’d love to send out some free samples for them to try. If they see the same results that these other teams are, we’d love to work with them”.
- On his plans for the next 12 months: “We are going to be launching in what’s called the DSD network, which is, you will start to see X2 available in convenience stores, in supermarkets. It’s a huge undertaking. We’re focused on making sure we nail that distribution plan with our partners. We’re also going to be rolling out some new products right around the Super Bowl weekend. We will be launching a zero sugar offering based on the request from some of our consumers, which we’re really, really excited about. That’ll be coming in in the near future”.