What happens when three friends and Connecticut natives with an entrepreneurial spirit get together and decide to invent something fun? They come up with the idea for CROSSNET, a unique game that merges traditional volleyball with four square.
Co-Founder Chris Meade spoke to MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager about the ideating, creating, and manufacturing their product, which is now sold in well-known stores nationwide.
NAN PRICE: How did you and co-founders Greg Meade and Mike Delpapa come up with the idea for CROSSNET?
CHRIS MEADE: Back in May 2017, Greg, Mike, and I were brainstorming about inventing a product. We thought of almost 100 ideas before we came up with the idea for a four-way volleyball game you could play like four square, which was our favorite recess game. And we all love playing volleyball, too.
We did some online research to make sure it was a good idea, there was a need for this product, and no one else was out there making it. If any of those roadblocks came up, we knew we were probably just wasting our time. Once we were able to check those boxes, the next step was inventing and making the physical product. We bought two volleyball nets for about $20 each. We rigged them up and invited some friends over to play. Everyone loved it, so we knew were onto something.
NAN: What were the next steps?
CHRIS: Mike, who is our engineer, designed the prototype then we started finding manufacturers in China. We sent out a few non-disclosure agreements and sent samples to a few suppliers that were interested in the product. After about nine months, we finally had a product we were happy with.
NAN: Why so long?
CHRIS: During that nine-month period, we’d order the sample, wait 30 to 45 days to get it, unbox it, get super excited, and be let down—like the net wouldn’t stand up or there wouldn’t be enough tension in the strings. We realized that’s part of the process for any new company getting a product manufactured. Part of the time and cost were the waiting cycle to get revisions made and sent back to us.
During that time, we were busy building awareness about CROSSNET, building the website and customer database, creating marketing collateral, and working on the patent. We all had full-time jobs, which helped enable us to pool together enough money to buy the prototypes and buy our first 100 nets.
NAN: What makes your product innovative?
CHRIS: Growing up, when I was in elementary and middle school, I hated nothing more than standing in a line, hitting a ball, and getting it back. It wasn’t a fun way to learn volleyball. We’ve created a four-way net to keep everyone involved. It teaches awareness and hand eye coordination. Instructors can teach students how to serve, set, bump, and even spike in new way.
NAN: You talked about some startup challenges. What have you learned along the way? Any advice to others?
CHRIS: It helped that we researched other companies’ mistakes and reached out to other entrepreneurs who have invented products. We learned a lot from them.
Also, we were very frugal. We could’ve easily gone out and raised investment rounds and tried to get people to give us money to build our own product, but we would have given up a majority of our company. Instead, we were patient. Like I said, we bought 100 nets. I talked to some entrepreneurs who ordered 10,000 units of their product and they started their companies $100K in debt.
We started our company with a couple thousand bucks. We established first proof of concept, got people interested and excited about it, and then we doubled down once we started having those sales coming. So be patient. It’s a long game. If you want to make money quick, go to the casino. Otherwise, know that it takes a lot of time to build your brand up.
NAN: Aside from talking to other entrepreneurs, did you utilize any other business resources starting out?
CHRIS: Honestly, a lot was through social media. I’ve networked via Instagram and Twitter. Instagram is a great place to find people who are hustling with a new product and finding the next big thing. People love to talk about their brand and they love to network. It’s been helpful to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs, even if they’re not inventing a four-way volleyball net. If you learn one or two little tidbits from them, it could be the difference between making $200 in day and $2,000 in a day.
LinkedIn is another great resource, especially on the professional development side. I’ve had many buyers to reach out to me and I’ve reached out to them to create my partnerships. Most notable is S&S Worldwide, which distributes sporting goods products to the entire country. They’re based in Colchester and they have a primary focus in Connecticut.
NAN: I definitely want to talk about your Connecticut tie-in.
CHRIS: We all grew up in Woodstock and Pomfret, CT. Mike and my brother Greg played on the same soccer team together at Woodstock Academy. Our other tie-in to Connecticut is more than 2,00 schools across the United States are using CROSSNET—including dozens of Connecticut schools. For example, Pulaski Middle School in New Britain is using CROSSNET to teach the fundamentals of volleyball.
NAN: In addition to schools what other industries are in your marketing demographic?
CHRIS: We’re seeing a lot of interests in the 18-to-25-year-old demographic. And there’s been a lot of competitive interest. Our nets are being used in tournaments across the country. We’re planning one in the Hartford area for 2020, when the weather gets nicer.
Parents are another market. They’re purchasing the nets for their children because want to get their kids active and off their phones. We always say: The best memories are made without a phone in your hand.