Meet Kristi Herold, Founder of Sport & Social Group and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards RBC Momentum Finalist
Kristi Herold is a natural born entrepreneur whose passion for business and helping others led to the establishment of Sport & Social Group (SGG), an organization that helps people stay active, make friends, and build meaningful connections. With 45 full-time and over 250 part-time employees, the SSG now has over 130,000 participants playing sports annually.
My first job ever was… finding used golf balls at the golf course across the street from my house. I would find them in the woods, the ditch or in the pond — I would wade around barefoot and pick them up with my toes — then clean them off and sell them to the golfers at the second tee.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… my Dad was an entrepreneur who made family and lifestyle a priority. He was always home for family meals, he would watch me compete in sports and come to school events — even midday — as he was in charge of his own schedule. He ingrained a strong desire within me to be responsible for my own destiny and I aspired to create a similar lifestyle for myself.
My proudest accomplishment is… when in 2018 the Sport & Social Club had it’s 100,000th team sign up to play in our leagues. Hitting this mark meant the organization I had started in 1996 had positively impacted the lives of over 1.3 million participants. This was an exciting accomplishment knowing we are impacting the physical and mental health of so many individuals in such a positive way.
My biggest setback was… COVID-19. Over the last 3.5 years, we have completed 8 acquisitions, working to diversify our business across Canada and the US. In early March 2020 we were working on 2 significant sized acquisitions, that would have doubled the size of our organization when the pandemic hit. Due to the nature of our business we were hit extremely hard. The next 12-18 months will be challenging, but we will rebuild.
I overcame it by… taking swift action and cutting all costs possible, most painfully, the immediate layoffs of 26 of my staff — all back once the wage subsidy was announced. We stayed true to our purpose of ‘connecting people through play’ and pivoted to start a new revenue stream, offering fun remote events for corporations. While we have not fully ‘overcome’ the effect of COVID-19 on our business, after 24 years of running a profitable business, I know we will rebuild.
If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that laughing and spending time with people who make me laugh is my favourite pastime. I have a passion for family, travel and adventure. I learned how to play guitar in my 40s. I had a secret childhood dream to act on Broadway – instead I helped start a community musical theatre troupe for adults. I’ve helped produce and perform in 11 musical theatre productions and raised over half a million dollars for charity in the process.
When starting my business, I wish I knew… that a successful entrepreneur is best to not complain about problems, as business is the definition of problems. Better to recognize that the people who do best in business are not the ones with the least problems but rather those that have the most fun solving the problems in the most creative way with the best people.
My best advice for people looking to grow their business is… remember you cannot manage what you cannot measure. Focusing on topline revenue growth is important however it is important to do so smartly — a great key metric to keep a pulse on is revenue/employee. Further, word of mouth will always be the best form of advertising, so do your best to treat customers like gold.
A great leader is… someone who has a ‘never give up’ attitude – when at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. A great leader is not afraid to make mistakes and own them. As humans we learn the most from our mistakes. Great leaders set the example that we are better to try and fail than to not try at all, as long as we learn from our trials going forward.
The future excites me because… I believe that people need human connection and people need to play. While the COVID-19 pandemic has created a huge setback for my organization, after 24 years of running a profitable business, I’m confident that we will rebuild! I believe we have a strong team and I am excited to one day be able to say the Sport & Social Group is getting one million people off the couch and playing annually!
Success to me means… loving what I do so much that I’m excited to get up every day and get at it! I am incredibly grateful that my work is connecting people through play and reminding everyone of George Bernard Shaw’s famous quote, “We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” Success to me means leaving a legacy that has positively impacted millions of people’s physical and mental health.