We are currently experiencing a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous situation first-hand. VUCA is the new normal, and Mark has a free webinar on How to overcome fear and stress and thrive in VUCA. You can access that webinar and 30 days of Unbeatable Mind training for free at https://Unbeatablemind.com\free-30
Chris Gronkowski (@chrisgronkowski) is a former NFL player and is part of the clan of Gronkowski brothers who all played professional sports. He is now an entrepreneur and the founder of the Ice Shaker brand of insulated bottles that were featured on Shark Tank. He is also the host of his own podcast Gronk’d Up. Today, he talks with Mark about how to thrive during these VUCA times.
Listen to this episode to hear how:
- Anybody can be an NFL Player or Navy SEAL given the raw material
- Defining moments and determination can take you to the next level
- Chris found new opportunities and embraced challenges during this crisis
Tune in to hear Gronkowski’s transition from sports to business and how he’s making even more changes today.
As you all know, Mark is a big fan of Neurohacker overall. He uses their products and is also an investor in the company. Their newest product is called Eternus. They spent years of research with some of the best scientists they have creating a formula to combat aging where it all begins; at the Cellular level. It’s a 38 ingredient formula containing the most researched and premium ingredients on earth for supporting cellular health, which is the key to combating the symptoms of aging.
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You’ve probably already heard Mark extolling the virtues of the PowerDot to help with recovery. They now have a version 2.0. The PowerDot is an electrical stimulation device that allows you to increase performance, speed up recovery and overall achieve a deeper mind/body connection. Many stim devices can be clumsy and hard to use, but the PowerDot 2.0 achieves simplicity and is very small so you can take it with you when you travel. It is being used by professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, Tour de France among others. It is also used by Special Operator Forces
Listeners to the podcast, can save by using the code UNBEATABLE at checkout for 20% off the regular price of the PowerDot system.
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Hey folks. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for joining me today. Super stoked to have my guest Chris Gronkowski on. I will introduce him a little bit more formally in a moment we’re going to have a heck of a fun conversation about all sorts of things that are going to be valuable to you.
I’m recording this on April 21st, so if you’re like me you’re sheltering in place. And hopefully having fun and thriving. And if you’re not, we’re going to give you some insights on how to thrive under pressure before I go further, I did a webinar a short while ago which I thought would be really valuable to share with you. And it was how to overcome fear and stress and to thrive in VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times.
Which are obviously at our doorstep. I think it’s always been here, but it’s been a little bit hidden behind this veneer of stability. But now it’s come out – peeked its head out – and so VUCA is the new normal. And so get ready for it – it’s not going away. So we need to train ourselves for the new normal to become stronger, better, more adaptable, more resilient, more courageous like a navy SEAL.
So anyways if you want to access that training that webinar is 45 minutes to an hour long. And also access the free training that we offer at the end of that which is 30 days of our Unbeatable Mind training for free. So that you can begin your Unbeatable Mind journey if you’re not on it already go to unbeatablemind.com/free30.
Okay, so Chris Gronkowski – you’ve probably heard the Gronkowski name – he’s part of kind of a famous football family – five brothers who all went in the NFL. Is that right Chris? All five of your brothers are in there?
Chris: All of them besides the oldest brother, Gordy. He actually uh is a little too scared to play football, so he ended up playing baseball instead.
Mark: Did he play professional baseball?
Chris: Yeah, he went to college and then he ended up getting drafted late – but he was in the minor leagues for a while. And was drafted.
Mark: What an incredible athletic team. I can’t wait to learn more about it.
So Chris, you played in the NFL I see for the Cowboys, the Broncs and the colts. And then you transitioned into entrepreneurship. And have developed a product and a business around that.
You were on the “Shark Tank,” so you’ve met one of my heroes, Mark Cuban. That guy’s a trip, and he’s been in the news a little bit lately. Kind of dinging the small business administration’s payroll protection plan. Rightfully so. I look forward to talking about all that.
But I tell you what. I’ve had a number of NFL players on this show. And I’ve also had a few NFL players in the past as coaches for my SEALFIT program. And the reason they work so well is because the mindset of the NFL player has similarities to the mindset of an elite warrior.
There are some differences – obviously, the risk level is a little bit higher – but the best of the NFL players are really like the best of the SEALs, right? And they’re just different. And it’s interesting to talk about that because one of my principles – and I don’t know if you share this – is that everybody can be an NFL player if you’re given the raw material, and anybody could be a navy SEAL, given the raw material.
It’s just what you do with your time and where do you put your focus? And how do you develop yourself? And how do you essentially create the conditions so that you’re worthy of even being looked at? And being given the shot, you know what I mean?
So it’s cool for people to recognize that all of us started somewhere, right? Even a navy SEAL started with his first set of push-ups.
And I’m sure that you had a similar thing, because you didn’t have to go into the NFL. You could have been a lazy shit and had no chance at the NFL. But you weren’t, right? And there’s a reason that you weren’t.
Anyway so let me get off my little soapbox there, and tell us about like the early years. What was it like growing up with four brothers and I think… was your father a football NFL guy too?
Chris: Yeah, my dad, he played in college uh he didn’t make it to the NFL level. He actually had us when he was young. Oldest brother he had when he was 23 years old. And I was the middle of five boys.
And we were five big boys and it was super competitive. Our parents, they wanted us to get outside. They just wanted us to get all that energy out, because it was a lot. It was a four bedroom house, five boys, bunk beds, the whole deal.
And we were also that house on the block that all of our friends came to. So it wasn’t just us…
Mark: Oh is that right? And this is buffalo, New York, right? Plus
Chris: Yeah. Plus two or three friends as well. So you know every day there’d be 10 to 15 kids over. And it was all about playing sports in the backyard, in the basement… and every day ended up in a fight as well.
Mark: (laughing) That’s awesome. These are buffalo, New York tough kids. You get through one of those winters – or you have to go through those winters every year man – you grew up pretty tough, I imagine.
Chris: Yes for us it was awesome. And when it was 40 degrees out, I was wearing shorts. And I thought it was warm out. And yeah our parents taught us hard work is really what it came down to.
A lot of people ask “how did you know four of you make it to the NFL? And then the fifth one also go on to also play professional?”
And it really it was “earn every single thing that you had.” Our parents never handed us anything.
Even when we got scholarships a lot of kids would get a free car or the parents would buy them a car and all that. Even at that point it was still “if you want a car, you’re buying a car. If you want to go to college, you’re paying for college. So you better get that scholarship. Unless you want to pay.”
So we were always kind of raised that we were going to get what we deserved. And that was it.
We weren’t going to ever have hand-me-outs no matter what. Even when my parents did have money.
My dad, he’s an entrepreneur as well. Worked two jobs when he was younger. But once they got to the point where they could give us whatever we wanted, it was still “you guys have to earn it. We’re not just handing you anything.”
And still to this day it’s the same way.
Mark: Did you have any like milestone moments or hardships that you think helped solidify that kind of attitude? Or your drive as a kid?
I mean I had a few moments that you know I’ve shared in some of my books – like, where I had like a run-in with cancer – and it wasn’t cancer it was a mistake – but I got misdiagnosed and told I had six months to live. So that was like a defining moment for me.
And I almost killed myself once by tripping over a garbage can and driving a wooden stick like through the roof of my mouth. You know, all these things that made me really strong as a Navy SEAL. Really influenced my childhood.
Chris: Yeah, I think my defining moment really was actually when my brothers went on and got scholarships – my older brother, Gordy, first, in baseball – and my other brother Dan. And at that point it was almost like “hey” – this was kind of a trend throughout my whole life – but at that point in high school it was, you know, ”these guys did it. Why can’t I do it?”
I was also the smallest – the shortest in the family – but I knew there was still a chance and they gave me hope. That was huge.
And that transferred later on in life as well, because they all got drafted. Up until the point that it was my turn – it was actually my younger brother rob who got drafted before me in the same draft. And I went undrafted. So at that point it was like “hey.” Same thing – in my life it was if you want determination, if you want to – in the back your mind you want to have a chip on your shoulder – let all three of your brothers – including one of them be your younger brother – get drafted before you and then you go undrafted to the NFL.
Mark: Interesting. Yeah, I could see how that would be motivating.
Mark: (laughing) Not wanting to be the only outcast.
Chris: Yeah. The one thing I didn’t want to hear for the rest of my life was “what happened to you? Why did the rest of your whole family make it and you didn’t? What was wrong?”
And that was the one question I didn’t want to hear over and over and over. It definitely drove me to a whole ‘nother level.
Mark: Yeah that’s pretty cool.
What was some of the internal dialogue that you developed as a young athlete, as a younger guy? And did it come from your father, or your mother, or was it just kind of part of who you were? You know, mindset is so driven by our self-talk, right?
Chris: Yeah. It was kind of the same way. Our parents always taught us hard work and that internal thing was that no one would ever outwork us. No matter how talented we were and I still remember this story because we were always the most talented on the teams. Uh dad always practiced with us, we were always competing with our older brothers.
So we were always the best player on the team. And I still remember to this day when I talked back to one of my coaches when my dad wasn’t there. And he just got on me about it and said “you don’t know who you’re talking to like that. You never disrespect anyone no matter what. They can come back and help you later on in life.”
So uh that was kind of a defining moment for me as well where I was like wow… I didn’t really realize what I was doing. I was disrespecting the coach that was there just to help me – and this guy wasn’t getting paid – he was there because this kid was there and he was trying to make me the best player that could be.
And my dad just hounded me for that. And that was really a time in my life where I was like “wow.” And that guy ended up being the athletic director at the University of Buffalo where I got my first scholarship offer.
So he was right. It just came full circle as well, which was so crazy about it.
Mark: That’s amazing now did you play for four years at buffalo?
Chris: Actually, I was gonna go to the University of Penn. I was going Ivy League. Buffalo… they were they were just developing. They just went division one.
So the program… it was rough. I mean they had no indoor, it was snowing out every day and they weren’t winning any games at all.
And for me too, I watched my older brothers you know leave town and have success, so I didn’t want to stay at home was the thing as well. So I was actually going to the University of Pennsylvania. I had been accepted into the Wharton business school which was actually a huge achievement that most people don’t get.
And at the last minute I actually got a scholarship offer to the University of Maryland. And my brother Dan was there. He was doing pretty well.
But at the end of the day, what’s funny about the whole story is, they pretty much offered me because they lost a bunch of guys that couldn’t pass and they were also about to go on academic probation. So they pretty much brought me in to bump up the grades.
So I tell people all the time “you might think that athletic talent is the most important thing for football and for a scholarship. But in my case, I actually got an athletic scholarship, because of my academics.”
Mark: Interesting. And this is at Maryland.
Chris: This is at Maryland, yeah. And I later went and ended up transferring after my second year and playing at Arizona with my brother rob. So got to play with my brother Dan first. And then transferred and played with my brother rob and finished my career at Arizona.
Mark: Wow. And you got out of the cold…
Chris: Yeah, I mean Maryland was a little warmer than buffalo. But, yeah, it was a little nicer in Arizona for sure.
Mark: You know, this is a complete aside but I’ve always wondered you know if there’s any stats on how west coast teams or whatever it is… like teams that are in warmer climates, how they fare when they go play in the cold, snow like in New England or Buffalo… is there any stats on that?
Chris: Yeah, I loved it. So once you get used to the heat, it’s a lot easier to go somewhere else and play. And this also happened when I was in Denver as well, where we got used to the elevation. And then we go play at sea level and you could just run all day.
But same way, I ended up playing for the cowboys too. And at that time it was actually the year after the indoor facility blew over. And a lot of guys got hurt. So we didn’t have an indoor, so we’re actually practicing in the heat.
And if you can get through that heat, you can play anywhere after that. So I think it’s actually a huge advantage to be able to play in the heat, and then go up north… and when you’re actually in the cold weather, you don’t feel it, because you have the adrenaline rush but also in the NFL you got those heat warming benches. I mean when you’re not actually on the field, they’re doing everything possible to keep you warm. So cold really isn’t that bad.
Mark: It just seems like the cold would be really hard to play in. Because your hands are going to be freezing and catching the ball… but that makes a lot of sense. Heat is actually more debilitating, I think. I think the human being – unless it’s long-term exposure to cold and it’s going to go hypothermic – kind of has a lot of strategies for how to handle it.
But the heat can take people out really quickly can’t it? Cause of the dehydration, right?
Chris: The cold… the only time it really affects you is the ball gets really hard. So if it’s cold and wet, it’s very challenging. But other than that the cold really wasn’t too bad.
Mark: So let’s talk about the transition from college football to NFL. You know, a lot of people are curious about that. NFL’s the elite and there’s a lot of energy around it in this country. What was that like for you?
You said you didn’t get drafted. You had to walk on and what was the process like and what were some of the big insights you had or lessons?
Chris: Yeah, so I went undrafted. Pretty much got a call within a minute after the draft. I played a position where really maybe two or three guys got drafted. On an NFL roster, they’re going to carry one fullback. In the whole entire NFL they’re probably going to have about 28 guys.
So, you know, really I was competing with 28 guys in the whole world to make a team. So I really knew this is one shot, one opportunity and that was my mindset at that time. I went undrafted to the cowboys in the previous 10 years they had never kept an undrafted free agent on the roster. So the odds were definitely against me at that point.
And so you go in and you’re with all the other rookies – you actually go in early and you train. It’s three months and my mindset was “I am just gonna do everything that I possibly can to make this team.”
So I was lucky. I went all out, I got healthy, I did everything I could – and when the time came my agent actually put me in a spot where the fullback that was there got into some trouble over the summer. And he was possibly on his way out because of what he did.
And so I really had this opportunity that if I could at least perform as good as him or better, I was going to have a really good chance of making this team. So, I knew that and really… I was a different person then. A whole different mindset – when you talk about mindset I was out there and I cared about one thing – it was making the team, and when I was on that field all I cared about was getting my job done no matter what. I was going to go until the whistle blew.
And whatever I could do to make myself look better, I was going to do it. So that was it, that was the mission. And I ended up getting the job done and I was on that roster the first game, and ended up starting the whole year for the cowboys.
Mark: That’s cool. So a few questions – this is really for me and I know a lot of listeners would be like “all right, mark. Come on. We know this stuff.” But I don’t know much about football. I’m one of the weirdos that doesn’t watch TV and so I’ll catch the Superbowl once in a while. That’s where I actually first heard your name when I saw your brother rob play last year with Tom Brady.
So anyways, being drafted does that mean the draftees automatically have a contract that is all defined with money and everything like that? And benefits?
And undrafted means you’ve got nothing, you just got to go prove yourself?
Chris: Yeah, actually most people don’t know this. So when you say you don’t know it – actually a lot of people don’t realize this either. On an NFL team you probably have 10 guys that make over a million dollars.
Mark: It’s interesting. Most people would think “wow, you guys are all rolling in the dough.”
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. My rookie year, I started for the cowboys, I played in every game – you know, I played in I think 400 plays. And that year I made $315 000. After taxes I probably had 170k in my bank account. After taxes and living expenses.
No so the contracts even when you’re drafted – unless you’re a first or second round pick – you know, that initial money that you get isn’t guaranteed. So a first round draft pick will get a big bonus, and it will extend into a couple more years.
But say someone like a fourth round pick – he might get a half a million dollars – but that’s given to him in year one and after that if he gets cut, he actually gets paid nothing. I went in and I got a $10 000 signing bonus.
That was my signing bonus. I could you know take it or leave it. And the cool thing about my position was I could actually pick what team I wanted to be on. Whereas someone who gets drafted… say you’re the second last draft pick, like my brother Dan was. He actually went to a team that took him because of value. And because of that he was behind four other tight-ends that were pretty good players that they were going to keep.
And so it kind of put him in a tough spot. So for me I actually got to pick which team that I wanted to go to, because I was undrafted. Which actually ended up being a pretty strategic benefit for me.
But at that point you signed this contract and I signed a three-year deal. And what they ultimately do especially for someone undrafted – is they’re going to give you the least amount possible, and try to lock you up for the longest time possible.
Mark: Of course, yeah. That’s negotiating 101, right?
Chris: Yep. So I signed this three-year deal and if I get cut on day one I get paid nothing. If I’m on the roster uh on Wednesday of game week, I get paid.
So then the next week if I’m on the roster on Wednesday I get paid again. But if the next week I get cut before Wednesday, I actually get paid absolutely nothing.
And then to actually get any benefits you have to play for at least three years in at least three games. So they call them credited seasons. So if you play in three games or you’re on the roster for the three games you get a credited season. If you get three credited seasons, you get all the benefits… so you’re gonna get pension, you’re gonna get retirement – 401k – all that.
But if you don’t… if you go two and a half years, you actually get nothing. Absolutely no retirement benefits. You’re on the street getting paid nothing. Unless you get called back.
Sorry about that. My wife also has a full-time business, as well, so she didn’t even see him slide right by.
Mark: (laughing) Geoff and I were just commenting about wondering how many babies are going to come out of this COVID shelter in place, and he said that IKEA is already like stocking up on all the stuff for nine months from now…
Chris: Are they really? That’s awesome. Yeah, I got another one coming end of May, so it’ll be interesting. Hopefully everything’s kind of cleared up by then.
Mark: Yeah, let’s hope so. Good luck with that.
Mark: So we were talking about the draft and the contract… like, that that all makes sense. So you’re not really guaranteed or anything, and they pay you week by week is what you said which is pretty interesting. So that keeps the pressure on.
And I’m curious though, what’s the longevity of the average NFL player? Is it past three years, or is it in that kind of three-year window? Is there a reason they put that three-year window…?
Chris: Oh yeah. Of course. It’s actually about two and a half years. So it’s actually purposely set at three, because most guys don’t make it there. So for me when I made it to my third year, that was a huge achievement for me.
Now I was a guy that actually thought I would never play at that level. I was always told one in a million… for me I wasn’t even the best player in my own family. I wasn’t even the second best player in my own family. So you know that that shot for me I thought would never be there.
So when I got three years – I got the pension, I got all that – that was that was huge for me. I was able to then go on and actually get a fourth year. And what happened was I actually got hurt in camp, but if you get hurt and released they have to pay you until you’re healthy again.
And for me it was a high ankle sprain. Took me about three months to come back and so they had to – at that time they told me it’s three weeks and they paid me for three game checks – so I actually got another season, but ended up taking me three months to actually recover and get back from it.
Mark: So you played for three teams in four years?
Chris: Yeah, I ended up playing three different teams and then my fourth year I went to the chargers, and I got hurt in camp. So never actually played a game for them. But was in camp with them.
Mark: Wow like I guess I have this… like most SEALs stay in and have a 20-year career. I think our attrition rate is really low, so the retention rate is really high in regards to career prospects. And it’s pretty rough on our bodies, just like it is in the NFL. And we’re not clashing with bodies all the time, but we are slinging bullets downrange and getting shot at. And jumping out of airplanes. And spending time underwater.
So there’s a lot of… it’s rough on the bodies. At least we can think like anywhere… most people go in and think “okay, at a minimum, I’m going to have a six year career. And likely I’ll end up over 10 or 20.” And then we don’t vest any retirement until 20 though. It’s a whole different mindset.
You guys go in literally almost like surviving week to week. And then it’s year to year. And most people don’t make it to even year three. That’s really stunning to me even though it might be common knowledge out there, that’s stunning.
How long has your brother Rob been playing?
Chris: So my brother rob played nine years – he actually announced today that he’s getting traded to the Buccaneers and he’ll be coming back for a tenth season.
Mark: New England must be reeling to lose both your brother and Tom Brady. And they were a great team together weren’t they?
Chris: Oh yeah. Him and Tom Brady…
Mark: Was that why…? Did Tom coax him down there? Or how did that come about?
Chris: I think he did. I don’t have the full details and my brother actually didn’t even tell our family until today. So I had an idea because you know he said he was training for life is kind of what he was explaining to us when we saw him doing these crazy workouts. And I couldn’t tell if that was really the case or not because I still train like I would be playing a game. It’s kind of just in our blood. It’s something we’ve done after lives.
And so to see him training hard wasn’t really like a huge flag. And he also then started catching passes and stuff like that on the weekend. And got a little more suspicious with it. And he ended up telling us today that he thinks he has another year in him, so…
Mark: Good for him. That’ll put him at 10 years right?
Mark: Tom was in the news today too, because people were criticizing him for practicing in a park that was closed due to the COVID virus.
Chris: Oh man.
Mark: Where else is he going to practice? In his basement? Come on. We don’t have to get into all that stuff right now, but maybe later.
So you mentioned I was going to ask you what your training looked like when you were in the NFL, but actually I’m more curious of what it is right now.
You mentioned you train hard. I love training, not a day goes by where I don’t do something hard and functional. And also integrate my yoga and martial arts training. It really is the center post of my day.
So what is yours like? How do you train every day now?
Chris: Absolutely. My training has changed a lot just because of all the quarantine, and the lockdowns and for me it was always I was going to wake up at 4 30. I was going to go to the gym and I would usually lift weights.
And then I would actually play basketball with a group of guys. So we played Monday through Thursday. And that was really that competitive nature and it really was a stress reliever for me as well…
So when all this went down and I couldn’t go to the gym anymore, it was tough at first for me. It was a huge adjustment. I’d wake up at 4 30, but I couldn’t do anything at 4 30, so my whole schedule just got completely thrown off.
And I struggled for about a week and then I said “man, I need to just take a piece of paper and write down exactly what I’m going to do each day. And get it done.” Because once I got thrown off at 4 30, it was hard for me to then come back and try to get a workout in say at about one o’clock or whenever the kids were taking a nap. And it was changing all the time.
So that was one of the hardest things for me. But now I kind of have it down. I’m going to do an at-home workout. What I’ve been doing actually is waking up and I’ve been running. I’ve never been a runner, I’ve always hated running. I had a pair of running shoes I was given because we actually sponsored a charity team for the Boston marathon. And they sent me out a pair of shoes.
And I’m like, “I’m never going to use these things. I don’t even know what the point is keeping them.” So when I cleaned my house out during this whole quarantine, I actually put the shoes in the garbage. That day, I went and took them back out and said, “Let’s see what these things are all about.”
And I started running and I like it, because it’s now that competitive challenge that I’m kind of missing from the lifting and from playing basketball. So I now challenge myself to run and it’s hard.
And it’s mostly mental when it comes down to it, so that’s why I really like it. And after that I feel good and I’m ready to attack the day. And I’m gonna get that stressed out…
Mark: What’s your running protocol? Do you do short-medium-long or do you just like to go out and jog? Or how do you…?
Chris: So what I’ve been doing is… I was terrible at first, I couldn’t even run a mile…
Mark: That’s unbelievable to hear from an NFL player. Cause don’t you have to run on the field as a fullback? I mean, what’s that look like? Or are those short sprints?
Chris: Absolutely. Everything has always been interval training for me. And even in the NFL, when we ride bikes it would be 15 seconds as fast as you can, and then 45 seconds, you coast. And that’s exactly how NFL play was.
And then very similar to basketball as well – where it was kind of like this 15 second burst and then you kind of relax a little bit. So we actually started doing this course called “Stadium Blitz” where we run through stadiums and this obstacle course. And at the very end of it – it’s about a 35-minute race – I was still sprinting up the stairs and then I’ll kind of jump over and jog back down. And the guys that were running it were like “I’ve never seen somebody run a stadium like this.”
And I’m like, “yeah. It’s just that I’ve always trained…”
Mark: That’s the way you’ve trained, yeah.
Chris: For me to go and do long distance, it was a challenge. It was hard for me to continue to do it. I could run fast and then I would just kind of coast after that.
So it was more mental block than anything though. And that’s what I realized really quick was once I had enough just motivation to go and run a whole mile, it really wasn’t that hard. And then the next day I ran two, and the next day I ran three… and then I said “wow, I can actually do it.”
But in my mind every second – especially at the beginning – I was just telling myself “stop,” you know “keep stopping.” I finally had to start saying to myself “why are you stopping? What’s making you stop? And what actually hurts?”
And at the end of the day, it was nothing. It was just my mind, it was having to be stronger than my mind. And once I did that then I was able to run further and further and further.
Mark: I love that. You know anyone listening who’s thinking “man, you know, I’m not sure if I really can run long distance, or get out there…”
Well, you got an NFL player who struggled to run a mile. And then two, and then three.
And it all really is in the mindset. You’re right. Because I mean these legs and these bodies were built for running. Now, if you’ve treated yourself poorly you might have some remedial work to do to get into the condition to run. But anybody can start.
Start with a fast-paced walk, and then jog, and then your first mile, and then your second. But it’s what goes on up here that counts, right? Up in the head.
Mark: You know, the self-talk and just those milestones. And chunking it out into bite-sized chunks like you did.
That’s great. So you found a new skill. And I think that that essentially is one of my common themes that I’ve been talking a lot about. Both my team and family and also on these podcasts is man what a great opportunity this is.
So instead of sitting down and gnashing our teeth at having to shelter in place or deal with this whole kind of reaction to this COVID-19, what can we do different? What can we do better? And how can we come through this stronger? And more focused, and actually maybe even have a new vision for the future. I think we can all ask better questions, and come through this stronger. Both individually – our teams, and even culture at large, right?
And on that note – what are some of the things that that you will do different after this? Obviously it sounds like you’ll keep running.
Chris: Yeah, it’s something I never thought I’d do. And I’m actually excited that I started because we do compete in the “stadium blitz” with all of our brothers, and I was the champ…
Mark: Oh that’s cool.
Chris: My brother started to get a lot better and train as well and really started catching up to me. In the last race, my other brother beat me by one second. And so to go out there and run, I’m pretty excited about it, because I know I’m going to be able to really do well the next time we go against each other.
Mark: Are your brothers all down there in Texas now with you?
Chris: So my youngest brother is. My oldest brother’s in the New England area. Second oldest is in buffalo with my dad, and running my family business. My dad’s been in the fitness industry for over 30 years, selling fitness equipment. My brother rob looks like he’s heading to Tampa. It’s interesting.
Mark: So how do you compete in the “stadium blitz” then? Is it virtual?
Chris: No, so it’s actually an obstacle course race with 15 obstacles through an NFL or a college stadium. So we ran two of them last year…
Mark: So do you compare on time, or do you actually run together in the same day, against each other?
Chris: Yeah, so it’s actually a point system based on time. So if you complete an obstacle you get points. You can also skip it if you want, but you don’t get those points. And then you also get a point for every second that you beat the clock by under 40 minutes. So it kind of gamifies it, where you could skip an obstacle if you want, but if you can get through that obstacle fast, you actually have a huge advantage on somebody that can’t do it.
So pretty cool concept and there’s also obstacles that you can fail… so say like the balance beam’s worth 200 points, which is 200 seconds, which is two minutes and 40 seconds in points. Well, if you fall off the balance beam because you’re going too fast, you don’t get to go back and retry it. You just lose out on those opportunities for points. So it’s gamified and so it’s exciting.
So you fall off the balance beam, you gotta really just… you better start running. And start running fast, because you gotta make up two minutes and forty seconds on somebody. Most of the other obstacles – you’re hanging from ropes and stuff like that. And if you fall off that you can restart. But if you restart on a longer obstacle like that, you’re losing a lot of time as well.
So sometimes it’s better to just go. Especially if you’re really tired and aren’t going to be able to do it.
So it’s something that we started last year. We did two of them in two NFL stadiums. We had a whole tour built out for 2020. We were able to do two of them and then the rest have got cancelled so far.
Mark: Right. So this is a concept that that you came up… I’m good friends with Joe De Sena of Spartan and their obstacle company has completely come to a standstill right now as well. And they had events all over the world…
But the concept is so cool and I love that. That concept sounds really scalable, because there’s stadiums all over the place. And they’re going to be you know underutilized going forward in my opinion, right?
Chris: Absolutely. Especially the college stadiums. They really use it for games, and that’s pretty much… which they only play eight games at home – maybe – a year. So other than that, they’re almost never used.
So it’s kind of like free inventory. And it’s a cool partnership as well, because you can partner up with this built-in fan base pretty much. With the university and they’re going to help, because we’re doing split revenues with them.
Mark: That’s cool. What do you call the concept again? Stadium racing?
Chris: It’s called “stadium blitz.”
Mark: “stadium blitz.”
Chris: Yep. And it is very similar to Spartan. They also do run through stadiums… they’re more geared towards a little more hardcore… you’re gonna go out there, you’re gonna run through mud…
And we’re really geared more towards fans. So we’re trying to give people an experience of coming on the field. It’s going to be at night, the lights are going to be on. And you’re going on your favorite field where your favorite players have played. And a lot of times in most of the events our family’s there as well. So you get to meet you know an actual player as well.
Mark: Oh, that’s cool.
Business after Football
Mark: Now this isn’t your first entrepreneurial venture. Tell us about the transition from NFL into entrepreneurship.
And I know you were on the “Shark Tank.” What was that like? What were some of the biggest lessons you learned in that trend…?
Chris: Yeah, for sure. This is kind of a cool story. It actually starts with a whole different business that my wife started. I went to four teams in four years and counting college, we moved five times in four years.
So at that point after year three my wife said “hey, I am not finding another job. This is getting ridiculous.”
Chris: And she actually said “I’m gonna find a way to work from home.” And to me at that time – I was making good money, and I just said “that’s great. Like, if you could do something and at least keep yourself busy and make a little side money, that’s awesome.”
So she started hand painting wine glasses. And I came home and she was baking them in the oven. And I was just like “you got to be kidding me. This is what you came up with?”
And I kind of laughed it off but she liked it and they started to sell… and they started to sell so much that she couldn’t keep up with it.
And then at that point I was like “wow, that’s actually pretty interesting. I can’t believe you’re able to sell these.”
And she put together a whole business LLC and she had to find a way to scale it. So her mom started helping her, but that wasn’t enough… so she had to go from hand painting to actually using outdoor vinyl. And at that point she kind of realized that the wedding industry is perfect for this.
And started using websites like Etsy that had a built-in customer base. And the next thing I knew, this thing was just exploding.
So at that time it was after my third year, I was looking for a new contract… I ended up signing with the chargers but in the meantime I started looking into it and said “wow. Like, there really is this great opportunity here for personalized gifts.”
The only company out there at the time was called “things remembered.” And it was really expensive, took a long time – one to two weeks to order something online and get it turned around – or you had to go to the mall. And you’re paying some good money for this.
So I ended up coming back and we put a lot of my NFL money into commercial grade laser engravers and we started this business. And within a year we actually started making more money than I was making playing football. So super profitable.
It was crazy, we were working out of our house. We had a three-car garage full of just product. I had a spare bedroom that we actually had these laser engraver fans, because when you laser engrave you actually you burn it. So you’re burning the wood and you’re creating smoke so you have to actually vent it.
And we’re venting it out of our in our guest bedroom in our house, and it was crazy, but it really was kind of like the American dream. And it was just me in this room and then pretty soon it was our brother-in-law was in there. And then pretty soon – after a year – we had to finally get out of the house and you know get a store and a warehouse – but that was always my wife’s passion.
So you know, I loved it, made a ton of money… I put my heart into it.
Mark: You still own the business? Or did that…?
Chris: Yeah, we still own it. It’s still growing today. It’s called “everything decorated” and it does really well. Still on Etsy – it’s one of the biggest shops on there – has a website as well…
Mark: What’s the most popular product?
Chris: So the most popular is actually a pocket knife. A pocketknife – we engrave them with, you know… it’ll be anything from “I love you” to um something like you know “groomsman.” And the date on it.
And what’s cool about a pocket knife is people actually use them. So you give them a gift that’s personalized that they don’t just throw in the garbage. It’s a nice pocket knife that they end up using for the rest of their life. And so it’s done really well for us.
Really anything… she has robes, she has… really anything for the wedding industry. Bridesmaid, groomsman gifts…
And it’s actually something that we never thought would go away, but during this time right now, weddings are actually canceled. So it is something that we had to pivot on and she actually started making gift boxes for birthdays and stuff like that. She showed me one today, it was something about “happy birthday from a social distance.”
Mark: (laughing) Right. I love that. You gotta pivot, right? You gotta move fast. Gotta be agile. What’s the name of the company again?
Chris: It’s called “everything decorated.” So it’s everythingdecorated.com.
Yeah, she just showed me a box and she said look at all these sales and I think she had 40 sales and she just put it up a couple hours ago today.
But it is. It’s something that you have to pivot. You have to find a way to get through it, and she is and we’ve been blessed that the sales are still coming in. Because I thought they would completely stop once people couldn’t have a wedding anymore.
So that’s where we were with that. And I still help on that as well, today. And she helps me on certain things as well, so it’s a really cool relationship and a lot of our employees will actually help out when certain events happen as well… when one person, one business has just has too much on their plate. We’re actually able to help each other out.
So that’s been good, but for me, I was continuing to work out every day. And I was at the gym and I was here in Texas. And that’s when this idea hit me for “ice shaker.” Which ultimately got on “Shark Tank” four.
But I was at the gym, I was using a plastic shaker – you know, they’ve been around forever – I had a cabinet full of them. And when I went to the gym, by the time I got there, the ice had melted. I was making these little sweat rings on the ground at the gym. And every time I did a set I put it down and it’d make a sweat ring. And I took a sip of it and it tasted awful. And I just said “man, there’s got to be something out there that I can go buy that will at least keep my drink cold.”
And I still also needed it to be pretty easy to fill and mix stuff in, and then easy to clean. So went home that day and there really was nothing out there. I mean there was insulated bottles… you know, thermos had made bottles for years… but there really just wasn’t that bottle for everything. That bottle that you could easily fill with powder, shake it up, and then easily clean it. And also keep your drink cold.
And so I went and on a journey really at that point to make the best insulated bottle that I could. And the idea really wasn’t just to make it for the gym. The idea was “let’s make one bottle for everything.” So I could bring it to the gym, but I could also bring it to work. Could bring it in the airplane, I could bring in the car.
Instead of having five bottles or cups in my sink at the end of the day, I really just wanted to have one. And so that’s what I did.
I was able to get about $80 000 in sales in the first three months… I’m sorry, six months… and I was able to get on “Shark Tank” and at that point I felt that I had just enough sales to at least convince them that it was something that people wanted.
Mark: So how did you do that? Did you do you contact “Shark Tank” and submit an application? Or they track you down, or…?
Chris: So it’s actually a pretty cool story. So in 2013, when I was still playing in the NFL, I had this email come through from my agent. And my agent he sent an email to everyone and said “hey, the producers at ‘Shark Tank’ are looking for any former or current players that would like to come on the show.”
And so at that time I was like, “wow, I love this show. I wish I could go on there…“
Mark: So they want a story around the founder as well as just the concept. I guess, the show is…
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. They want to drive traffiChris:
Mark: There’s always some interesting…
Chris: Right, right. It’s all about entertainment at the end of the day. And about ratings. And so they knew that if they can get a pretty good player, they were gonna be able to pull a new audience in that might not necessarily watch the show.
So I reached back out at that point… I actually contacted the girl in the email and she hit me back and said “I no longer work there.”
I thought “oh man. Come on.”
And so I then got an email shortly after. It said, “I did find out who works there now. And she put me in touch with her. So at that point… I think it was the producer at the time… hit me up and just said “hey, please submit a video. And here are the guidelines, and make it the best you can. Because this is kind of your one shot to impress everyone.”
So I made this video and it was it was ridiculous. I didn’t know how to edit so, you know, I was trying my best, but I shot some video footage and I was ripping my shirt off. And I was throwing in like clips catching football passes and touchdowns. And it was crazy, but at the same time it was entertaining.
I’m like, “all right, I hope this works. And I sent it in and… it’s probably a couple minutes long… and just figured like “don’t make it too crazy, don’t make it too long. But make it entertaining.”
And I got an email back the next day. And they said, “Hey, we absolutely loved it and now here’s about 500 sheets of paper that you can fill out.”
Mark: (laughing) Right. What’s your business plan, right? Make sure you come with it.
Chris: Yeah, they just hit you with really everything to protect themselves. But it’s a lot of paperwork and then still a lot of work from there. It’s still about a three month process to actually get in front of the sharks and actually pitch.
And what’s crazy about it and what most people don’t know is that even if you pitch, you might not air. And even if you get to the hotel, you might not even have a chance to pitch. So when I got there, there was actually people from the year before that were invited there that didn’t get to pitch. So what they actually do is they’ll book six people a day – and if the first five are really good – they’ll push the sixth one back to the next day.
And then the same thing and what they’re counting on is that, you know, someone’s probably really bad. That they’re not going to use. Or someone’s not going to show up. Or something’s going to happen.
So they want to overshoot, and they want to have extra people there so even when you get there you don’t know if you’re actually going to pitch. And then after you pitch, you don’t know if you’re going to air. And you don’t know when you’re going to air.
So I always thought it was super-interesting that companies would run out of inventory… this once in a lifetime opportunity was coming and why wouldn’t you have inventory? Well, once I got there I realized that you’re actually taking a gamble if you stock up on inventory. When you stock up on inventory, you can actually sit on it for… it’s almost a year long, so if you’re the first one it’s October. If you’re not, you can go you know next year all the way I think up until June, before you actually air. So you’re taking a big gamble – especially as a young company – stocking up on inventory.
Mark: Right, right. That’s fascinating.
How many companies have actually succeeded as a result of being on “Shark Tank” do you think? Or really gave them a leg up? Sounds like it helped you out.
Chris: That’s cool too, and kind of crazy what people don’t know is that when you get offered on “Shark Tank” it doesn’t close either. You know, you still have to go through the due diligence. And it’s a real deal.
So at the end of the day it’s a little bit over 50% actually close the deal. So the other, you know – more than 40% of people don’t actually close the deal, don’t actually get the money.
Mark: Even if they’re offered it on air. Like, that’s… they want to invest. That’s what happens… they’ll either pass on your deal, or one or more of the sharks will make an offer.
Chris: Yeah, so even if they make an offer you shake hands on the show. If the sharks come in after and do the due diligence and maybe you kind of didn’t tell the truth or something happened… or even if they change their mind… or you change your mind, you can you can walk away from the deal still.
So I think it’s about 55% of them actually closed. We did end up closing. But either way, if you air on that show… the exposure is huge and it is everything that they say it is. You know, you’re going on, they have no idea who you are. They knew nothing about me.
I mean, it’s the real deal, it’s the real thing. And the exposure from it is real, and the sales are real. And the money that they put into my account, came into my account.
And I took that money and we just invested it into more products. At that time I had one bottle one size and that was it. I knew this was a great opportunity for me to really build the line, and we now have over 150 different SKUs now, in our product catalog.
Mark: That’s great. So it’s kind of like life before, and then life after “Shark Tank.” Do they take the same equity or is every deal a little bit different?
Chris: So every deal is different. I went in asking for $100,000 for 10%. I ended up getting 150k for 15%. So I still had a million dollar valuation. At that time, I only had 80,000 in sales, but I was so new, so it was hard to put a value on it.
Looking back, I wish I went in higher, but it is what it is. And it’s great. I mean, without them I wouldn’t have had that proof…
Mark: Have they supported you afterwards? I mean have they become advisors or offered, you know…?
Chris: Yeah, so mark has been absolutely amazing. So he built out a team. He’s been doing it for 10 years, and he has over 100 different Shark Tank companies. So he has a full team.
I have an advisor that’s assigned to me. I actually talked to him today. And so he’ll help with everything.
The best part that comes out of it really is connections, networking, and just help as well. For some of the big questions.
But at the end of the day – what people don’t understand – is that it’s still me running the whole show. They’re not coming in and just taking over. I’m not sitting on a beach just enjoying it…
Mark: No, they don’t want that because they’re on the Shark Tank. They’re not going to run your business.
Chris: Absolutely. Really the only thing that changed is that you know our sales… easily 10 times overnight… but our work also 10 times overnight as well. All the phone calls, all the customer service. I mean all the packing, everything… that also increased 10 times overnight as well.
And I was lucky enough at that time that my wife had you know a bunch of employees that were able to help us, because it was pretty much just me at that point when we first aired and it would have been a tough road.
And so I was able to kind of lean on her get through that wave. And then after the wave hits, that’s when business really starts. That’s when you kind of have to figure out “hey, this is done – this is over with. How do I keep it going?”
Mark: Right, right. And start building out your processes and marketing strategies. That’s cool.
We probably should start thinking about wrapping up, because we could go forever. This has been fascinating.
But I’m curious… like, we talked a little bit about your wife’s company and how she’s had to pivot – the two of you had to pivot that. How has this shutdown affected your company?
Chris: So far, very similar to her. At first it hurt and we had to step back and say “you know, what can we do in this time?”
Because with any down time, anytime we’re slow it’s kind of an opportunity for everyone… it’s an opportunity for us to get better.
So we immediately started pushing out content that was going to help people. Like I said, it was tough for me early on – the first couple weeks, to kind of figure out my groove. And I knew other people were feeling the same exact way.
So we used the opportunity to start putting out healthy meals – at home recipes that you could do. And then at home workouts as well.
And really started giving people stuff that they could actually do – actually use. And they responded really well to it.
And, you know, it’s not just fluff. This is stuff that I’m really doing. It’s workouts that I’m doing with my kids, that I’m posting and we’re sharing it with people.
And we also used the opportunity to start testing stuff. To make what we thought was good, let’s make it even better.
So we started going through our website and we said “hey, this page does really well for us, it’s also getting the most traffiChris: Like how can we take that and make it better?”
So we started testing our copy, right? We started testing our images. It was impressive how much we learned and how much it actually increased our sales, our add to carts… all that. Just by changing the way that we wrote the information on the page.
And this was all stuff that we were comfortable with, but now that we had extra time we said “hey, let’s dig deep and really figure out how we can get better at every aspect.”
And then lastly one of the best things I think that came out of this was what we’re doing right now. This was something that we weren’t doing. You know, our podcast ourselves we upped it to two a week and then we were able to get guests that we never brought on before. Because I always wanted to do it in person. I thought the audio was better, I thought the connection was better and so I just felt personally I felt like “hey, if we’re gonna do a podcast with a guest, I want to be with them.”
And once this all hit we started to realize that we can’t do it. I couldn’t even do it with my co-host, so we had to start doing it over the internet, and we realized that this is actually a great opportunity to reach out to other people that don’t have as much to do right now. And it would actually bring on people with value.
So we started bringing on people like nutritionists… we started bringing on diet coaches… we started bringing on just, you know, people like you that are going to come and help people with a mindset or just different habits that you could teach them to be better during this time.
So we use it as a great opportunity to bring people in that could help people through tough times like right now. And it’s been absolutely huge for us, so this is stuff that we’re gonna absolutely continue to do probably for the rest of our careers. And for the rest of the business life.
Mark: That’s awesome. Yeah, that just reinforces what I’m saying – there’s an opportunity here in the crisis to think differently, to change some things, pivot and all of that can make it stronger. Make us stronger, make our company stronger, our team stronger…
And then also you have to consider what to let go of, right? And that’s hard, right? That’s been hard for me is like “what can I let go of?” We do an awful lot of things that maybe are old business model things that trail behind us, because it’s just hard to say goodbye. So we have to think about that too.
Have you had to let go of anything? I guess like letting go of having the mindset of in-person podcasts. That’s one thing you let go of.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah and there’s it’s been another thing.
(laughing) And I think it’s kind of funny, because I’m actually wearing the headset to my video games that I let go of 10 years ago. But we even started to get into new markets with our product and reach new demographics. And one of them actually is the video gamer.
Mark: Yeah, it’s a sport after all. It’s kind of hard for us to wrap our head around that.
Chris: It’s a sport, but we also realize that most people are sitting at home right now gaming. And we actually make a bottle that it doesn’t sweat so your hands are going to stay dry while you’re gaming. They’re not going to get cold. It’s actually super-easy to open, and it’s not going to spill and it also blends these powders that all these gamers are using now for energy and focus.
So it’s almost like the perfect bottle for gaming. And another thing that we kind of just stumbled upon, because we had this extra time and we said “hey, what is everybody doing right now?”
And what they were doing was they’re gaming and they’re watching TV and different movies. So we tried to figure out a way to reach that demographic, and so far we’ve been pretty successful with it.
Mark: That’s pretty awesome.
Well, Chris it’s been an absolute joy to talk to you. What a lot of fun. I love your mindset, and I love what you’re doing… and I appreciate you taking the time today.
Chris: Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me on.
Mark: Yeah. (laughing) I’m glad we got to meet your kid.
Chris: (laughing) Yeah, one of two for now.
Mark: One or two for now. And yeah, congratulations on the next one due in. Next one standing in the breach, so to speak…
Chris: Yeah, it’s gonna be interesting.
Mark: What’s the due date? May?
Chris: May 28th right now, so it’s pretty late and hopefully this is all blown over by then so we have nothing to worry about.
Mark: Yeah, let’s hope so. Cool.
Well thanks again and stay focused. And I look forward to being on your podcast soon.
Chris: Absolutely. Thanks so much Mark.
Mark: Yeah, thank you buddy.
All right everybody that’s Chris Gronkowski. His podcast is “Gronk’d Up” and his um his business with his wife is everythingdecorated.com. And his business is ice shake, right?
Chris: Yep. Iceshaker.com.
Mark: Anything else you want to put out there in terms of social media or websites?
Chris: That’s it @iceshakerbottle is our handle on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook… yeah, that’s another cool thing that we’ve been doing as well. Is even Pinterest, Tik Tok, LinkedIn – different platforms that we’ve been starting to hit because of, you know, all the extra time that we have.
Mark: Right. (laughing) Soon you’re gonna wonder where all the time went.
Chris: I know. My day goes by pretty quick, actually.
Mark: No doubt. All right, thanks again. And thanks everybody for listening. This is Mark Divine, the Unbeatable Mind podcast. We’ll see you next time. Stay focused.