For entrepreneurs seeking to differentiate their start-up in a crowded marketplace, the ability to make an unusual connection is everything.
Case in point: Unless "went horribly wrong" is also involved, here are two words you never expect to appear in the same sentence: "Date" and "guns." (Unless you live where I do: Some local high schools actually excuse students who don't attend on the first day of hunting season.)
Yet Date Night is a hugely successful program for former Navy SEAL Larry Yatch, the CEO of Sealed Mindset, the personal safety and family security firm based in Minnesota he co-founded in 2012 with his wife Anne, the director of operations. Yatch says the business is on track to reach $1 million in revenue by the end of the year.
On a typical Date Night, which costs $125 per person, four to eight couples enjoy a gourmet dinner while Larry's team talks about the fundamentals of personal and family safety. From there the experience is hands-on as participants are taught, using laser guns, the fundamentals of shooting. (Over 80 percent of their firearms classes are conducted in a classroom setting with realistic tools instead of the high stress environment of a shooting range: Stress is the arch-enemy of learning.)
Couples then go to the shooting range where they compete in a live-fire competition using real guns and ammunition.
Afterwards they have dessert and talk about the experience, a discussion that often involves the wives gloating about having out-shot the men: Typically people who are the most intimidated by or unfamiliar with firearms wind up shooting the best, and almost universally the wives pay closer attention to the training both because they have fewer preconceptions and are more willing to be taught what is, generally speaking, considered to be a more "manly" pursuit. (Hey, I'm from the south, so I can say that.)
"The main focus is not necessarily on developing firearm skills," Larry says. "The goal is for people to have a great time and leave with knowledge that can keep them safer. We've had over 1,000 people in the program and only one person didn't do the live-fire portion; she just decided she wasn't ready."
If you enjoyed Date Night--and why wouldn't you, since any date that involves a little "action" is always more fun?--Sealed Mindset offers a number of other programs: Offensive and Evasive Driving (four to five cars get smashed up in the process), Family Home Safety (kids can attend), Defensive Flashlight (two more words I never expected to see together), and Sky Dive with the SEALs (hey, if I have to jump out of a plane, by all means tether me to a SEAL).
They also offer corporate teambuilding sessions, travel safety training, and recently developed a leadership training program for middle school children.
Why the Idea Works
"Our company is based on education," Larry says, "because knowledge eliminates unnecessary fears and helps people live fuller lives. So instead of focusing primarily on specific skills like shooting or fighting, we first teach people how to stay safe--then we teach specific skills."
Originally Larry assumed the majority of clients would be "enthusiasts," but he soon found that most seek personal growth while learning to take better care of their loved ones. And, as you might have assumed, they don't enroll because they're fearful; instead the average client simply wants to conquer new challenges and learn new skills.
And some just want to enjoy the most unusual Date Night ever.