Running with My Head Down

running-with-head-down-book-coverFrank Fiume II is a pioneer in the youth sports industry and the founder of i9 Sports, the nation’s leading franchise of youth leagues and camps. Since 2003, i9 has generated more than $300 million in sales, with two  million participants in 900 communities across 30 states nationwide. His new book, Running with My Head Down: An Entrepreneur’s Story of Passion, Perseverance, and Purpose was just released, and as a huge sports fan who has a child heavily involved in youth softball, I was thrilled to get my hands on an advance copy. Frank really opened up in the book and let readers see exactly what he was thinking and experiencing during his career/life journey as an entrepreneur. Below are some thoughts Frank provided on what he learned along the way.

How does one build a solid relationship with employees without losing authority and not becoming isolated?

The most important lesson in building a solid relationship with anyone is showing them that you truly care, first and foremost. Taking the time to get to know them, help develop their skill set to be successful in their position, empower them to take the initiative and be a welcomed, valued voice in meetings are all ways of building a rock solid culture that people on the outside will marvel at. Yes, it’s really that simple when you’ve hired the right people. Help your employees win and when they believe in your vision, the trajectory of your success will be astounding.

What advice can you offer entrepreneurs when they are faced with a skeptical support network, and what should be done when their advice values, and judgments don’t match your own?

First off, welcome to the club! I don’t know a single entrepreneur in my three decades in business who hasn’t experienced doubters or naysayers in life. The fact is, despite our friends and family wanting us to be happy, they have their own fears and just want to keep us safe. It’s been said that people will advise you to do (or not do) something only if they can envision being able to do it themselves. With that said I believe you’ve been put on this earth to follow your dreams, not the dream other people have for you which will likely lead to a life of unfulfillment. You need to be your own #1 fan and believe wholeheartedly in your cause with every fiber of your being. For me, failure was not an option and I was confident that I knew more than my doubters did. It was their limiting beliefs that they were projecting on me, yet I was determined to persevere and succeed. That’s what it takes to win!

How did you know when it was time to franchise your business?

After growing my business in New York and successfully replicating the business in Florida, I knew we were on to something. That was just the start. However, I always tell people you need to be a student of your industry. Never stop learning. What I learned was that in my industry of amateur sports, competitors had the same opportunities and challenges no matter where they were (despite them thinking their area was unique). I had to seize the opportunity of expanding my business and the idea of mass hiring and opening locations nationwide was as daunting as it was going to be costly. However, franchising intrigued me because I could expand faster, using other people’s (franchisees) capital, and they would be responsible for all of their own hiring and managing the day-to-day under my winning system. It was a slam dunk decision for me and quite honestly there’s no way I would’ve grown my brand to 900+ locations across 30 states nationwide otherwise.

What do you consider your greatest challenge in creating i9 Sports?

Finding quality franchise owners that meet our standards has always been our biggest challenge because it’s somewhat self-inflicted due to our qualifications. I learned early on that you are only as good as your weakest link and having outstanding franchise ambassadors that are your local face to the consumer is critical to your success. Never compromise your standards by accepting a potential franchisee who you feel is not a right fit. Otherwise, you’ll pay a much bigger price if they don’t succeed. And, in that case, nobody wins.

How does one overcome the self-limiting belief that your identity is your business?

If you truly love your business, you give it what it needs. And often that means as the founder, you need to get out of your own way and hire leaders, specifically hiring to your weakness. You need to realize that your company is not about you. It was never about you. It is a breathing, living organism that needs to be nurtured and developed, not suffocated by a founder that is limited to his or her own skill set. I love my business i9 Sports so much that I was willing to give it whatever it needed and am so proud of what my team of staff and franchise owners have done to help make this brand the leader in our industry. Nobody gets to the top of the mountain by themselves and I’m certainly no exception.

In the book, you state “success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.” Please explain why you have such a strong opinion on this. 

Well for starters, I need to credit peak performance coach Tony Robbins for saying those very words that stopped me dead in my tracks because I was feeling guilty at one point about being successful, but no longer fulfilled. The problem was my vision for the business was complete. Yet, I felt torn, mistakenly believing that my business was my purpose in life. What I came to learn is that my business was merely one of many missions in my life. It was not my sole purpose. In fact, I believe that my purpose is to be fulfilled by using my creativity and enthusiasm to inspire others. That led me to gain the courage to sell a majority stake in the business, take some chips off the table, so to speak, and focus on writing my first book (to inspire others to pursue their passion and help them discover their purpose in life. Best of all, as a minority shareholder and board of directors member, I get to play the fun role of just founder and be involved in the business in a supportive role while admiring (and participating) in the company’s massive success.

Frank Fiume II is a pioneer in the youth sports industry and the founder of i9 Sports, the nation’s leading franchise of youth leagues and camps. Since 2003, i9 has generated more than $300 million in sales, with 2 million participants in 900 communities across 30 states nationwide. A native of Queens and graduate of St. John’s University in New York, Fiume now resides in the Tampa Bay area with his wife of 25 years and their two children. His new book, Running with My Head Down: An Entrepreneur’s Story of Passion, Perseverance, and Purpose, is available now. For more information, visit Fiume’s website. Connect with Fiume on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

William Flamme

William Flamme

William Flamme is ExecuNet's Associate Director of Content Marketing, where he develops engaging job search, career path, and leadership insight to build ExecuNet's brand recognition as the leader in senior-level executive job search and all matters career.

He delivers executive-level content across the various properties under the ExecuNet brand, amplifying the power of ExecuNet's expert voices and shaping the content strategy.

Prior to joining ExecuNet in 2008, Will earned a master's degree in education and taught fifth grade and sixth grade. As a teacher, he deepened his appreciation for the written word and mastered skills necessary for managing writers who sometimes view deadlines as homework. It is his training as an educator which allows Will to take complex ideas and make them simple for busy executives to understand and to execute.

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