Today, DotComMagazine welcomes Justin Blair, CEO of Friday Night Fights, a leading provider of high quality content in the mixed martial arts and boxing space.
1. How did you get started?
First off, thank you for having me. I used to box in High school and also when I attended the University of New Mexico. As a kid, I used to walk by the Times Square Boxing Gym in the middle of Times Square, long before it was what it has become today. 30+ years ago it was a scary place. The gym was on the second floor of a dilapidated 3 story building and when you walked in, the first thing that hit you in the face was the stench. Once you got past that, you would see loads of famous boxers, all training within the confines of this very small space- maybe 1500 square feet. The sounds of the coaches shouting instructions to their fighters over the constant hum of flawlessly hit speed bags created an intoxicating environment and I was hooked from the start. I continued to box finding a gym in downtown Albuquerque while attending the University of New Mexico and competed throughout my time there. After finishing up at school, I came back home to New York and followed my passion for boxing and opened up the Church Street Boxing Gym in Lower Manhattan in 1997. That same year, I started producing the Friday Night Fights series which has grown quite a bit.I sold the gym in 2014 and continued to pursue the events and content business.
2. What’s the biggest challenge in your space?
There are quite a few – however with regards to the events business, I think that the biggest challenge is the constant competition. Fortunately we have established ourselves and so have been able to hold our own and remain successful year over year – but the barrier for entry into the events business is very low. Anyone with a few dollars can give it a shot. While very few succeed, there is a lot of “dumb” money that comes into the industry every year which can inflate prices, reduce demand,etc. many people who have been successful in a corporate environment or in other areas of business such as finance, see the low barrier of entry and assume that because they were good in one area of business, that naturally they will succeed in combat sports.After 20+ years in this business, I can count on one hand the number of businesses in this field that actually operate at a profit, Fortunately we’re on pretty solid ground and have been able to weather whatever has come at us and actually grow.
With regards to the content space – that is an ever evolving industry where changes and massive deals seem to be occurring almost daily. For years we have all heard the saying about how the battle for viewers is between the cable box the internet. Well, with regards to sports content, the winner is clearly the internet. HBO and Showtime both announced they are getting out of the boxing business which comes on the heels of a series of record breaking deals done between content providers and broadcasters on the web. So, the biggest challenge in this space is making sure you continue to position yourself and your content in a manner that is relevant to the ever changing goal posts. Also, there are a lot of sharks in the content space who take advantage of people’s lack of experience or understanding of the industry which is why we have always represented our own content.
3. In one sentence, tell us what you do?
Can I say it in 2 sentences?
I produce the longest running Muay Thai event series in North America – Friday Night Fights which can be seen on the UFC’s Fight Pass Network
I work with other event organizers both in the US and abroad and work with them to produce their content to an international standard and broadcast it for them.
4. Where do you see the business in 3 years?
I see our business as a leader in the live sports content space sourcing and producing live content for all of the major distributors. We can say 3 years but I’m betting it happens long before then.
5. What books have you read that have motivated you to be a leader in the field and why?
I have quite a few but in the last year I would say the top three are The 48 Laws of Power, Chasing Excellence and Blink.
The 48 Laws of Power while a little bit dark, is really an unflinching, unapologetic look at the qualities required to be a strong leader. It’s a bit Machiavellian but some great lessons. The biggest one being the importance of having a vision. I think that at times I have been guilty of working hard, spending a lot of time being busy without a clear direction on where I wanted to end up.
Chasing Excellence was written by Ben Bergeron, a coach who has had more Crossfit Games Champions than any other. I always read with a highlighter but the entire book would have been highlighted. The take away from this one is the importance of being mindful and present and focusing on the process rather than the result. We can’t control the outcome, but we can control how hard we work today at this moment in time, on this specific task.
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell is one of my all time favorites. The main lesson is that human beings evolved to make quick decisions.Modern times, with all of the access to information and choices can overwhelm us and isn’t really how we as human beings were designed to formulate decisions. Go with your gut.
6. What is your why? What motivates you to get up in the morning.
As a husband and a father of two children (9 and 12 years old), they are a pretty big motivation for me. But, as mentioned above, I am working hard to focus more on what I can do today rather than the result. The result is of course something that I want, but to spend too much thinking about it really day dreaming.
I guess that my “why” is to my desire to create something that hasn’t been done before while being able to have a life that I am fully present in for those around me. We get one ride and there are no do overs!
7. What challenges do you think every startup entrepreneur faces? And any insight as a successful entrepreneur to help people starting out?
The punch that usually knocks you out is the one you don’t see coming. Find a balance between educating yourself, learning about your business and your market and just doing it.
George Patton said it best
“A good plan violently executed today is better than perfect plan executed next week”.
Two techniques I really find helpful are the OODA Loop and the Eisenhower Method. Left unchecked, I have a tendency to be all over the place. The OODA Loop is a method designed for rapid decision making created by Air Force Colonel John Boyd. OODA stands for Observe,Orient, Decide and Act. It is a constant cycle requiring us to continually be aware of changing circumstances and to adjust.
The Eisenhower method is another great tool for entrepreneurs or anyone who may have trouble prioritizing tasks. I’ve tried all sorts of apps and systems, but a white board over my desk using this system is all I really need to keep perspective and stay on track.
8. Can you tell us how the fighting space has evolved over the past 10 years?
Fighting is part of the human condition and an integral component of the human arch type. Fighting transcends culture, race and gender. So while the rules change slightly, its hasn’t changed that much. What has changed is the way that it is presented and delivered. Over the past 10 years, the way that people consume it has changed dramatically. The TV Top Cable Box Pay Per View model dying. It is a bloated, cumbersome, dated infrastructure that is a dinosaur that doesn’t know its a dinosaur. We are seeing more and more outlets which are well funded making big bets on combat sports because
A) it is a universally appreciated sport
B) It is relatively splintered industry made up primarily of free agents. Both factors give networks increased choice and control over larger leagues found in other sports.
9. Is there any new martial art on the horizon that people aren’t really aware of yet that is very exciting?
There are so many – I can’t say anything is “new”, but we’re in the process now of creating a group specifically intended to procure and distribute previously unseen sports content. So, I’d like to tell you what we have already signed but wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise.
10. Who is your favorite all time fighter, and what can an entrepreneur learn from their career?
I like Joe Frazier. He was a quiet, hard working guy who at his peak, was about as tough as they came and you could see that when he fought. He wasn’t the fastest, the tallest, the biggest, or he flashiest but he did an amazing job with nothing more than ordinary parts and a lot of grit. Anyone who has worked for themselves can appreciate that.