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Soccerpreneur Chapter 4: Shine Your Own Shoes

From the upcoming book Soccerpreneur by Damir Perge (Download a PDF of This Chapter)

Chapter 4: Shine Your Own Shoes

The importance of mental preparation—a must for any game you play

When I was in high school I worked repairing roofs, during the hot Texas summers alongside my father and my brother Danny. We’d lived in America for five years and our family was still struggling financially. The American Dream seemed so far away. Danny and I worked with our dad in construction, hoping to eventually afford a decent pair of soccer shoes. Our family was definitely in the lower middle-class demographic. I wouldn’t exactly say we were poor, because my mother’s shrewd financial budgeting enabled us to live within reason. But it was embarrassing playing in plastic soccer shoes made in Taiwan.

My brother and I wore soccer shoes that cost $5. Our friends wore $60 to $80 soccer shoes and they couldn’t help but make fun of our shoes, bought at K-Mart during a “Blue Light Special” price promotion. It’s one thing to wear cheap, crappy soccer shoes in front of your soccer friends; it’s another thing for those shoes to screw up your feet. Danny didn’t have issues wearing those plastic soccer shoes because his feet were made of steel.

My feet were wider than my brother’s and I was flat-footed, so it was difficult for me to break those plastic shoes in for a comfortable level of play. Playing barefoot, I did develop muscles on the side of my feet that most people don’t possess. However, Danny’s feet were so much stronger that even a foot doctor once complimented him on his incredible foot physique to my parents. He exclaimed that in his entire professional medical career he had never seen stronger feet than my brother’s.

I frequently complained to my parents that the plastic shoes were hurting my feet. My father had no sympathy. He thought living in America had spoiled me. He would start reciting one of his long-winded stories of how he played soccer in Yugoslavia without shoes during World War II, and all they had was a ball made of rags. I’d heard the story dozens of times, so I would just walk away in frustration. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make him understand that because of my extremely wide feet, I got blisters on my heels trying to break-in the plastic soccer shoes.

It became a self-reinforced, feedback loop. Because the shoes were inferior quality, they fell apart just as I was finally breaking them in to be able to play without any pain. Our father would get us a new pair of $5 plastic soccer shoes and the painful process of breaking them in would start again. I often played in games with bloody heels, and in incredible pain, because of so many blisters caused by the damn plastic.

In the ninth grade, after playing in a three-day soccer tournament, with blisters on both heels, I promised myself I would work during the summer to earn enough money to buy myself a pair of decent soccer shoes—the same kind of quality soccer shoes that my friends wore.

My brother and I were lucky enough to get a job. That is if you call roofing and construction in the sizzling Texas summer heat “fortunate.” After our ninth grade year ended, we worked with our father all summer on some of the toughest roofing jobs you can imagine. The work was so hard that it reminded me of the hard labor stories our father told us about when, as a teenager, he worked re-building Yugoslavia after the war.

During our lunch hours, instead of resting in the summer shade, Danny and I played soccer anywhere we could find a patch of grass near the roofing job. And after working ten-to-twelve-hour days on the roofs, we would go home, have dinner and wait for the sun to get a little lower and for the heat to subside to below 100 degrees. Then we’d race across the street and practice soccer until after dark, and most of the time, beyond dark. Great athletes, no matter what sport, become great when they take it to the extreme and push themselves to practice harder, even if they have to practice in the dark.

Lucky for us, we lived right across the street from the Richardson Public Library, which had a soccer field on each side. Even our father, as tough as he was, tried to convince us to take it easy because of the amount of work we did on the roof. We heard none of it. For us, playing soccer, after a long day of working construction, was like going to a beach party to relax. And when it got too dark and we didn’t feel like we played enough, we would turn on the lights in our backyard and practice passing, kicking and dribbling.

Our father built a wooden wall that we used for kicking the ball. But it wasn’t the traditional style of kicking you might imagine. He made a ball full of rags that weighed eight times more than a traditional soccer ball. Even today I kick the ball at the end of the day against a wall as a form of relaxation after a long day of work.

We practiced kicking our “heavy ball” barefooted every night before going to sleep.[1] This is one reason why Danny developed a shot that could burn the fingers of any goalkeeper. With his stocky and muscular thighs, Danny developed an incredible power shot that I dreamed of being able to mimic. However, no matter how hard I kicked the “heavy ball” every night, my brother could hit it harder.

We continued this grueling process of working all day on roofs, with soccer training after—dreaming of becoming world class soccer players through the powerful sweat of preparation, desire and extreme practice. Repairing roofs was hard work but the pay was incredible for two teenagers. I promise we earned every penny of it.

My brother and I gave all of our hard-earned money from that summer roofing job to our parents, because every dollar brought into the household was important. Our frugal mother had been a banker and knew how to manage the money and stretch it far. Even asking to spend any of the money we earned, to buy decent soccer shoes, was a hardship because of our family’s financial situation. I was worried my father would disapprove of our intent to purchase new soccer shoes, so I went behind his back and asked my mother for the money. She readily agreed to drive us to a real soccer store. I didn’t care what kind of scolding I got from my father after I brought our new shoes home. I was willing to pay the price.

I don’t know why my mother agreed to my devious plan. I guess all the years I helped her do chores around the house without being asked—vacuuming the entire house, cleaning the kitchen, washing dishes every night after she cooked, and cleaning the bathroom, finally paid off.

While my father was occupied with watching Gunsmoke on television, my mother, brother and I slipped out of the house and went to the soccer store. We felt like kids in a candy store. We knew exactly the shoes we wanted. Danny chose Adidas, while I chose Puma—the same shoes our soccer idols wore. After playing for five years in $5 soccer shoes, we felt like we’d finally made it to the big leagues. Maybe the American Dream was within our grasp.

I was on top of the world wearing those new Puma Kings with six stud screws. With these awesome shoes, I could screw in various types of studs to address different weather conditions. These shoes were actually made out of kangaroo skin. I love kangaroos, so I felt badly about that. However, these Puma Kings gave me the best soccer feel you could get in soccer shoes and I turned away from my affection for the Australian rodents just that once. Those Pumas felt magical. They fit snugly around my wide feet without hurting my heels. Wearing them was a lot like playing barefooted. The only thing wrong with the shoes was the name. When I played in them, I didn’t feel like a puma. I felt like a cheetah, the world’s fastest land mammal.

Sadly, they don’t make Puma Kings like that anymore. Over the years, Puma’s soccer shoe quality had gone down substantially, so I later I shifted to Adidas and Diadora. Today I primarily wear Adidas.[2]

When we got home, I reluctantly showed my new Puma Kings to our father. I expected him to be furious and demand, “How much did you pay?” Instead, he gazed at my new soccer shoes with approval. He didn’t utter a word. He didn’t scold me for spending $80 on soccer shoes. I got the feeling he was proud for his sons to be able to finally play in “real” soccer shoes. I never got a chance to ask him how he felt when we showed him those expensive shoes—I guess he thought we had earned them after working ten to twelve hours every day on the roof under the blazing-hot Texas sun.[3]

I took care of those Puma King soccer shoes as if they were made of gold. After every practice and game, I made sure they were cleaned and polished. I wish I’d kept those shoes as a souvenir because I scored some wonderful goals. I took such good care of those Puma Kings that they lasted through every game of my high school and college soccer years.

The Puma Goal

One goal in particular stands out in my mind the most.

I was a junior at J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson. We were set to play against our biggest and most formidable rivals, the Richardson Eagles, at Greenville Stadium. In soccer terms, it was a “derby” and students from both schools made sure they were there to watch. The Eagles vs. Mustangs was every bit as intense as watching FC Barcelona against Real Madrid, Manchester United against Manchester City, Liverpool against Everton, A.C. Milan vs. Inter Milan, Boca Juniors against River Plate, or Red Star against Partizan.

The soccer rivalry between these two Richardson high schools is rich in tradition. The Eagles had dominated in soccer in the early 70s. But in 1975-1976 our Mustangs posted a perfect 9-0-0 record, thereby giving my school the district title for the first time. Since that time, the Mustangs had the upper hand and the rivalry between the two schools escalated year-to-year. We were coming off of an 18-0-0 season so the rivalry was at a fever pitch.

The Art of Preparation

My brother and I arrived at the soccer field an hour before the big game. Danny would kick the ball and stretch to prepare physically. I did just the opposite. I sat in the stands and spent the 30 minutes shining my Pumas before for the game. This had become part of my pre-game ritual. You could say that I was a fashionable soccer player. I hated starting a game with dirty shoes. In fact my entire uniform had to be in perfect condition. Cristiano Ronaldo would love my soccer-fashion attitude.

As I shined my shoes before each game, I rehearsed the game in my head. I imagined myself dribbling around players like a cheetah. Shining my Puma shoes made me feel good, and feeling good made me play even better. It was purely psychological. The shinier I made my Puma, the better the game I was about to play.

On that clear Friday night as the sun was setting above the empty soccer field; I made my Pumas extra shiny. They looked brand spanking new. They felt so “light and tight,” as if they were painted on my feet.

As the game started, the stadium was packed with rowdy high school fans. Even some of the American Football players from our high school, despite not knowing the soccer rules, came to watch this soccer derby. I stepped onto the soccer field as if walking on water. The field was in amazing shape despite having rained hard the night before.

The game was as tough, fast and rough as expected. The Richardson Eagles consisted of some of the top players from the North Texas Premier League. We had battled some of the same players in the club system for years.

Their most formidable player on the front line was Marty Buckheimer. He had the same size thighs as my brother Danny and his shot screamed. In the back, they had David James,[4] a high-school All-American who’d been recently drafted by the Dallas Tornado. He played sweeper for the high school and his club, the Dallas Flame. David was my nemesis throughout my teen years because I played attacking midfielder and forward. With his technical skill, quickness and speed, playing against him was like being back in Yugoslavia, playing against the best in my age group.

Our team was no slouch either. The Mustangs had some of the best players in Texas—if not the country. To combat the powerful play of Marty Buckheimer, my brother played two positions on our high school team depending on the competition: a sweeper or left wing. As a sweeper, he mowed down forwards as if riding around on a John Deere lawnmower. As a forward, he wreaked havoc with the opposing goalkeepers with his wicked shots. As a defender, with his technical ability to move upfront and take those long and powerful shots at the goal, he displayed the style of the great Brazilian defender, Carlos Alberto. As a left-winger, with his quickness and speed, he displayed the wizardry of the Brazilian legend, Garrincha.

Our defense was rock solid. Calvin Trim, Johnny Antonisse, Bryan Gaines and Jeff Gilliam, completed the defensive unit while Mike Chapman, Tom Durst and Mark Meeker were the workhorses of the team in the midfield. Doug Kalmbach, Dejan (Danny) Perge and I played forwards to finish off the line up. Jim Rountree and G.G. Guerrieri were our goalkeepers. And our bench could have started for any other high school team. It consisted of Adam Tibbets, Ralph Brusdeliens, Mike George, Fred McKamy and Dean Madden. We had a big task ahead of us. Our goal was to repeat the perfect 18-0-0 season of the previous year.

The game was brutal. It was still 0-0 with only ten minutes left on the clock. Suddenly, I anticipated a pass from one Eagles’ defender passing to David James in their backfield, and quickly intercepted it. I headed towards their goal with the ball closely stuck to my Pumas. With both defenders chasing after me and closing in from both sides, I kicked the ball in the opposite direction of the goalkeeper coming out to stop me.

I knew Todd Burnett, the Eagles’ goalkeeper,[5] extremely well from playing against him in the club system. He was expecting me to dribble around him because this is what I typically do when going one-on-one with the goalkeeper. But I did the unexpected. I hit the ball lightly in the opposite direction from about 20 yards out.

The field was still muddy and wet from the rains the night before. Todd slipped slightly because of the soft ground. He was an excellent goalkeeper but luckily for our J.J. Pearce High School Mustangs, Todd wasn’t wearing Puma Kings. He couldn’t recover fast enough on the wet grass. The ball slowly trickled past him. It seemed like slow motion. You could have heard a pin drop as the ball rolled across the goal line and into the net. The entire crowd gasped. I learned in that moment that sometimes you don’t have to hit the ball hard to score a goal. You just have to wear the right soccer shoes with the right studs for the right kind of weather. This is where preparation meets luck amplified.

The entire Greenville stadium erupted with joy. It was like being at a Seattle Sounders or Portland Timbers game and watching the soccer fans go nuts. There were a thousand fans at the game that day, but it felt and sounded like thirty thousand soccer fanatics. It is one of the favorite goals I scored—even more so than when I scored for the U.S. Under 20 Youth National Team at the New Jersey Meadowlands stadium against the Italians.

Dirty Shoes. Horrible Presentations

Much can be learned from this simple high school soccer derby when applied to business. The big lesson I learned on the soccer field during that game is to take the time to prepare for any game you’re playing. Mental and physical preparation is your biggest friend.

You would be surprised how many entrepreneurs have pitched me to invest into their business without being effectively prepared to present their idea, product, dream or startup. Using the soccer analogy, they didn’t spend enough time shining their soccer shoes before the game. They didn’t visualize themselves presenting their company, product or service in the most effective way. If they were prepared, they would have received some of my venture capital dollars.[6]

I have a pet peeve about wearing, or seeing other people wearing, dirty shoes. If my Ferragamo shoes aren’t shined before I go into any business meeting, I feel naked and unprepared. But the shining your shoes effect goes beyond being clean and tidy. I know if I had taken the time to shine my shoes, I would have been rehearsing my presentation for that meeting.

Apply the “shine your own shoes” principle to all types of presentations including investor presentations, sales presentations, and product presentations. Make your presentations “shiny” enough to “wow” your audience. Even today, I’ll spend 40 to 80 hours on developing an investor presentation for the startups or growing companies we are launching, accelerating or scaling into the marketplace.

Make sure your shoes are shiny enough

If you ever meet me in person and I happen to look down at your shoes, you’ll know why. I want to see that you came prepared if you’re pitching me on your idea, product, startup, or growing business.[7]

“Shining your shoes” is a trigger to remind you of how important it is to prepare for any meeting, presentation—anything. It’s the little things like shining your shoes and mentally preparing for the game that can help you score on the soccer field or business when you need it the most.

Mental and physical preparation worked for me under those “Friday night lights” in the autumn while playing soccer. The Mustangs beat the Eagles on that one lone goal. It was a sweet victory considering the Richardson Eagles beat us in American football and basketball more times than I can even remember. The J.J. Pearce Mustang pride continued. We clipped the Eagles’ pride even if it was just a game of soccer.

How clean is your company’s restroom?

I received a soccer scholarship at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. There I took physical and mental preparation to another level by going to a nearby park to practice my technical ball exercises an hour before the actual SMU soccer practice. None of my teammates knew of my pre-practice. Not even my brother. I practiced before the team practice because I wanted to increase my technical mastery of the ball. You just don’t have that opportunity during team practice.

Not far from this practice field stands one of the greatest service-based companies in America. This company understands the power of being consistently prepared to produce superior customer service. This company is the Hillstone Group restaurants.

The power of preparation works in every part of the business process

Every tiny detail should be analyzed and improved. When I analyze any business, I look beyond the obvious business processes and elements such as speed of service, or quality of delivery. What do I do? I head straight for their restroom. You can tell a lot about the quality and type of service you will get as a consumer by visiting a business’s restroom.

When I go to a new restaurant, after being seated, I often check out the restroom to see the level of cleanliness. Who gave me the authority to become a restaurant restroom inspector? My mother did. As a teenager growing up in America I cleaned our bathrooms regularly to make her life easier. Because of that, I am qualified to inspect any restroom—and within microseconds I can tell you whether it meets my high standards.

I obviously can’t speak about the cleanliness of women’s restrooms, but it never ceases to amaze me how pathetic the male gender is about leaving a restroom clean. I still can’t figure out why most men are incapable of flushing the damn toilet. If women saw some of the “gentlemen’s” restrooms I’ve seen, they would be a lot more selective about mating with our kind.

The Restroom Theory

From a branding perspective, if you’re a restaurant, or any startup that deals with retail customers, keep your restrooms clean—at all times. When I see a restroom that looks clean enough to eat off the floor, then I know the restaurant’s food will be superb.

Hillstone Group restaurants, with properties including Hillstone, Houston’s, R+D Kitchen, Los Altos Grill, Banderas, etc., always provide superior customer service, an amazing selection of fine menu items, and the restrooms are always immaculate. If you have never dined at any of these restaurants, bless your heart, you’re missing out. In the 20+ years I’ve patronized these restaurants, I have never, ever, seen their restrooms dirty.

“Hillstone is one of the greatest service organizations in America because of its superb consistency of execution.”

I frequently visit the Hillstone Restaurant in Highland Park, near SMU. You should see the way they run it—any startup, growing business or even military organization can learn a lesson from their superior performance.

From an industrial engineering perspective, Hillstone runs a sophisticated operation using principles from the Toyota Production System. Every one of their restaurants delivers superior service, real-time, just-in-time and all-the-time, with efficient delivery procedures. They use teamwork to provide customer service just when the customer needs it. I don’t know if they are aware they are using some of the same principles as Toyota, but they truly understand how to produce an incredible customer experience.

The general manager of the Highland Park location, Chris Florczak, runs the restaurant flawlessly, as if he was the soccer coach of Barcelona. Even when they make small errors with the customers, which is extremely rare, they overcompensate with their incredible customer service. Hillstone is one of the greatest service organizations in America because of its superb consistency of execution. And I have been proven right. Bon Appétit magazine named Hillstone “America’s favorite restaurant” for 2016.[8]

I have dined at Hillstone’s restaurants thousands of times, and they might have made an error once. What was the error? I don’t remember—so that tells you that whatever it was, they more than overcompensated in making good on it.

A Lesson to All Entrepreneurs: Keep Your Restrooms Clean

Take a lesson from Hillstone restaurants. As a venture capitalist, I enjoyed meeting entrepreneurs in their startup offices to get a taste of their company’s culture. My investor theory is simple: If the startup’s restroom is clean, it is a good sign. If it is dirty, this is a red flag. Clean restrooms are an indication of the entrepreneur’s personality and the startup’s culture. The level of restroom cleanliness provides you with an internal insight into how detailed the founders are in running their business.

In Silicon Valley, the look and feel of the office is a key element to the formation of a company’s culture. And with the incredible amount of funding provided by venture capitalists, it becomes a case of “keeping up with the Joneses” in who has a cooler and better looking office. But the key question for me always is whether their restrooms are clean. I realize startups and growing companies may not afford the time to keep their restrooms up to my cleanliness standards, but looking like a pigsty doesn’t win any investor brownie points with me.

Most horrifying to me is when a startup, that can’t even keep its restrooms clean, plans to sell a service or product directly to consumer. Keeping the restroom clean is the easiest way to impress a customer and get them to come back. It’s simple for me: If a restaurant doesn’t keep its restroom clean, I don’t come back. If it can’t keep its restrooms clean, how clean is the kitchen?

Hillstone should be your restroom metric. Hillstone should be your customer service metric. I could write a book on Hillstone’s legendary service and quality of food, but if you really want to understand their incredible business model and superior customer experience, just visit one of their restaurants. You can’t go wrong. I have enjoyed pretty much every dish on the menu and I can’t tell you which is the better of the great.  But don’t forget to order the key lime pie.

In making your presentations and marketing “shiny,” to keeping the restrooms clean, you can discover simple business fundamentals that are often overlooked. If you don’t believe me, go check out your company’s restroom. This applies to any type of business.

Facebook has incredibly clean restrooms

It’s no accident that Facebook’s corporate campus restrooms are shiny and clean. And their kitchens are amazing too. Their food is not Hillstone quality, but Facebook is not in the restaurant business. It is no accident that Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook into a $100 billion+ business. Mark Zuckerberg knows how to keep his company’s restrooms clean. You can almost eat off the floor.

It is no accident either why Starbucks is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Howard Schultz has mastered the art of coffee preparation and marketing, but he also made sure that Starbucks restrooms are exceptionally clean. I have visited Starbucks all over the world, and their store appearance and product offerings may vary due to local taste, but one common theme is great coffee and clean restrooms.

Focusing on cleanliness is an analogy to striving for perfection in every part of your business. You will never reach perfection in your business, just like you will never reach perfection in your soccer play. There is always room for improvement. And what you will learn in the next chapter will make you understand why size doesn’t matter in life, soccer or in business.

Questions:

  1. How much time do you spend rehearsing your presentation in your mind and in front of someone else who can give constructive feedback? Do you mentally rehearse the night before the presentation and the day of the presentation?
  2. Can you see yourself presenting successfully? Can you see yourself playing awesome on the soccer field?
  3. Have you looked at other entrepreneurs’ presentations that were successful to understand what elements you need to incorporate in your presentation?
  4. Are you developing the presentation yourself or contracting it out? Hint: It is better to do the presentation yourself and I show you how to develop fundable presentations. Please see the Appendix.
  5. After the presentation or soccer game, do you analyze what went right, what could have been better and what you need to change?
  6. By the way, how clean is your restroom?

[1] Kicking the soccer ball with the “heavy ball” is extremely dangerous unless you have been properly instructed to kick. If not done properly, you could injure your feet, ankles and/or your knees. So use extreme caution.

[2] However, I could change my mind if I get one of those high-paying sports product endorsements from Nike, Adidas, Puma, Under Armour or Diadora. Yes, just like any other soccer player, sponsorship dollars can influence me to wear soccer shoes by other sports manufacturers even if it they are not my favorite sports brand. But obviously, if a company is paying me serious money to endorse their brand, I will do it with passion, commitment and style. In other words, I can be bought at the right price.

[3] I suspect my father knew of our plan to sneak out of the house to buy some real soccer shoes; and perhaps he actually planned it with our mother, since he didn’t look surprised at all when I showed him my Pumas.

[4] Besides playing one-on-one against my brother and my teammates such as Brian Gaines, Johnny Antonisse, Jeff Gilliam and Kelly Weadock in weekly practices, David James, Gilbert Perez and Tim Schroeder were my biggest nemeses on the soccer field. They were good enough to play on any youth professional clubs in Europe. The competitive intensity from these players made me a better player.

[5] Todd Burnett played with me at Southern Methodist University after high school. He was an excellent goalkeeper and even a nicer human being.

[6] Over the years, I became so frustrated with the inconsistency and lack of preparation of entrepreneurs when presenting their ideas and companies for investment consideration that I decided to do something about it: please review my videos series, Secrets of the Startup Investor Pitch on udemy.com

[7] Warning. Don’t pitch me to invest into your business wearing dirty shoes. If I form a negative opinion about you before you’ve even had the chance to present your super, awesome idea that will revolutionize the world, you have a limited chance.

[8]Welcome to Hillstone, America's Favorite Restaurant,” by Andrew Knowlton, Bon Appétit, March 24, 2016

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by Damir Perge

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Damir Perge, author of Entrepreneur Myths: The Startup Reality, is the founder of entrepreneurdex, a startup studio using complexity science to fund, launch, accelerate and scale startups and growing businesses.

An entrepreneur and investor, with more than 25 years experience, he's worked with ventures in the technology, internet, media and publishing, entertainment, energy, and manufacturing sectors raising more than $300 million in capital for various companies and investing more than $50 million into startup and emerging ventures. He's sat on the boards of 11 companies, served as editor-in-chief of Futuredex, a private equity magazine. Follow 

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