The dream began for Jay T. Warsh in the spring of 2000, in a nightclub where he worked as a promoter. As he tells us, he was hanging out with some close friends watching a video on the TV behind the bar. On the screen, Tito Ortiz, the reigning UFC Light Heavyweight Champion was laying a swinging kick hard into the body of his opponent. Warsh, an avid fan of the sport, turned to his friends and said, "One day I'm going to work with Tito. I'm going to be in business with him and all the top mixed martial arts athletes."
His friends all looked at him and laughed. Ortiz was a globetrotting athlete, the most recognized name in the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA). And Warsh was a twenty-year-old nightclub worker. What value could he offer Tito and other fighters? Warsh admits he didn't know; he just knew he wanted to get in the game. To his friends, it was a pipe dream, the kind of fantasy that a lot of young people have about the glamorous lives they hope to lead. But Warsh meant what he said.
The Laughter Stings
As Warsh went home that night, the laughter from his friends stuck with him, and he couldn't shake it mostly because he knew it wasn't going to be an easy dream to achieve. He had no connections to the UFC world. The sport wasn't even legal where he lived. The truth was, Ortiz lived in a different world. And really, what did Warsh have that these athletes would value?
Over the next few years, the worlds of the two men would seem to drift further and further apart. Warsh built a career in the nightclub industry and Ortiz would go on to defend his title a record five times, becoming a celebrity pursued by paparazzi. During these years, Warsh never let go of his dream, but he still couldn't see a path forward.
But then something happened. Ortiz went on a losing streak that lasted years. People on social media skewered him for the fall and for personal problems in his life that were fueling the losses. The backlash against a man he so admired angered Warsh. He saw it as injustice that people were kicking a man when he was down, especially someone who had been the face of the sport. He decided to do something about it--to try and right the wrong.
Warsh, who had left the nightclub scene by then and was building custom homes during the day, would spend his evenings devoted to creating a social media network for Ortiz that had a strictly positive message. He would create a Facebook fan page for Ortiz, YouTube videos defending him, and search Twitter for likeminded supporters, drawing them to the fan sites. Warsh thought that if he could resurrect Ortiz's image and build a fan base of supporters, he might, in some way, help revive the fighter's career.
Warsh thought not only about Ortiz's fate, but also the fate of other, lesser known UFC fighters who struggled to make a living in a sport that paid them a small fraction of the revenue generated by the fights. It hit Warsh that these fighters needed additional revenue streams--maybe even a union, like athletes in other sports. Maybe this is the way he could add value. It was a vague notion, and he was still so far from the MMA world, but maybe the work he was doing for Ortiz would somehow open the door for him.
So Warsh continued to pour his time into building a social media network for Ortiz, hoping to make a difference in Ortiz's life, and perhaps catch his attention. He worked every night for a year, during which he had many dark nights wondering whether his efforts would amount to anything, nights when it crossed his mind to quit. His friends thought he was wasting his time. But his admiration for Ortiz and his passion for the sport and the larger mission brewing inside him fueled him on. He wouldn't stop.
The Door Opens
Warsh would eventually draw hundreds, then thousands of fans to rally around Ortiz. And then, one night in the winter of 2011, his phone rang. It was Ortiz's manager. "Jay T.," he said, "the work you're doing for Tito is unbelievable, and you're not even getting paid. We want more of what you're doing and we want to pay you for it. We want you as part of our team."
Then Ortiz got on the line, and Warsh thought it had to be a joke. But it wasn't. From that moment, Warsh was in business with Ortiz--as his social media manager.
When he hung up the phone, tears came to his eyes. After years of dreaming, years of working in what felt like a bubble, he had finally opened the door to the world he had wanted to be a part of for so long.
A few months later, he was sitting in a club in Vegas beside Ortiz, celebrating the fighter's first win since 2006. Ortiz turned to him and said he'd like to go to Toronto and do some signings and seminars. The sport had recently been legalized in Toronto and the UFC's recent event there was the largest in the UFC's North American history. Ortiz's wish sparked a flurry of thoughts in Warsh because Warsh lived in Toronto. There was a huge fan base in the city now, and with his connections in the club scene, Warsh could easily arrange for VIP parties and signings for Ortiz and the other MMA fighters he was beginning to develop relationships with. For the fighters, it would be a revenue stream that didn't depend on getting punched in the face. And for Warsh, it would get him deeper into the world of MMA, where he could build his influence and ability to help the rest of the fighters.
The Inner Circle
After returning to Toronto from Vegas, Warsh spoke to a friend about turning his business idea into a reality. In 2012, he and his friend co-founded the Inner Circle Agency, which now counts eight of the biggest names in MMA as clients, including Ortiz, Ken Shamrock, and Alistair Overeem. The next step of Warsh's dream is to expand his business worldwide and create a union for the sport of MMA. Warsh knows that some people are laughing at this dream too--but just as the last time, he knows he'll prove them wrong.
The 3 Knockout Business Strategies
There are many lessons in Warsh's story. Here are three strategies from his experience that resonated with us:
1. Do things no one else is doing
Perhaps one of the less obvious keys to Warsh's success was simply that his ideas were outlandish and he did things nobody else was doing. If your ideas are commonplace, it means others have likely thought of them too, so you'll probably face fierce competition. In Warsh's case, nobody was building a massive social media network for Ortiz. And nobody was offering VIP services to mixed martial artists in Toronto. Most of the successful businesses we know started out as outlandish ideas. Wattpad's Allen Lau, whose stunning startup story we recently told in our Inc. column, is a perfect example. As the Lau and Warsh stories show, if your idea is a little harebrained, you may gain an advantage of time to build it, because others aren't trying to leap on the same opportunity.
2. Create value first--show execution
The core of any business is the creation of value. Warsh's dream to work with MMA fighters would have remained a dream if he couldn't first find a way to offer them value. In other words, what's in it for them? By investing his time into creating a social media network for Ortiz, he created value for the fighter. He didn't sell Ortiz an idea, but rather, he made a positive difference in Ortiz's life, and then got into business with him. Too many entrepreneurs make the mistake of believing their ideas have value, but ideas are a dime a dozen--it's demonstrating execution that's hard. Everyone has ideas, but not everyone can create something that has a positive impact on someone's life. Once you do that, the customers and clients will come.
3. Go on a mission--you have to care
The pursuit of profit is not enough to get a business going. There are too many dark nights, and when there's no sign of profit in sight, you're likely to give up. But if, like Warsh, you are driven by something larger--in his case, by the need to help MMA fighters--you'll keep going when there's no rational, fiscal sense to it. This last strategy is dear to our hearts, because without our own sense of mission at ClearFit--to create a world where the right people are in the right jobs--we would never have pushed through those early years when it seemed like we might never get off the ground.