When I finally stepped foot onto UGA’s campus as an eager freshman, I had two things on my mind.
I joined Kappa Sigma in large part due to this kick-ass inter-fraternity boxing event they were planning. I didn’t know if I wanted to fight, or if I wanted to help plan, but I did know that I wanted to be involved in some capacity. Halfway through my sophomore year, we had a date set and fighters signing up, but our fraternity was kicked off campus and our social calendar disappeared. While I was sincerely disappointed, I took it as an opportunity to get more involved in other organizations on campus, namely Student Government and UGA HEROs.
By junior year, I worked my way onto the executive board for HEROs and pitched this crazy charity-boxing idea that closely resembled the one my old fraternity president was planning. The HEROs leadership loved the idea and told me to get to work.
Six weeks later, I came back with a suitable venue, a million dollars of insurance and ten of my friends interested in getting punched in the face for charity. When I asked for the budget I needed, the leadership said, “maybe next year.”
I found myself at a crossroads. I could either throw in the towel and see this idea fail (again) with the slim chance of it actually coming to fruition my senior year, or I could find my own funding and just try to do the event myself.
I knew my overhead was steep, and as a 21 year old student with no experience planning events and no money, that scared me. Looking back, this is how I should have known that I was on the right track. When you’re scared, you’re outside your comfort zone.
I had to cover about $5,000 in overhead. I got a lot of in-kind sponsorships from amazing local businesses, but I also needed cash. All I could sell prospective sponsors was the potential for impressions with a desirable consumer demographic, UGA students. I went to housing companies, gyms and restaurants echoing the same pitch. I can sell to students because I am one, and I can cast your business in a positive, charitable light, which will be amplified by the best party UGA has ever seen.
My first sponsor was The OMNI Club of Athens, and I’ll never forget the meeting that sealed the deal. I walked in praying for the $1,000 package. When I sat down across from the General Manager, I learned that they were launching a new fitness program called Fight Club, and they wanted students to sign up. I walked out of OMNI with a $2,500 check and half of the Brawl’s overhead covered. I was floored. I locked in the date with The Georgia Theatre, an institution that I can never thank enough for taking a chance on me despite my greenness.
A furniture company contributed another $500, and with a couple of restaurants chipping in, I hit my goal of negating my overhead with sponsorships, so that every ticket we sold for the Brawl would be profit that we could donate to worthy causes.
The date of the first event was January 21, 2012. The week preceding it was one of the most challenging and stressful of my life. I was still recruiting brawlers, trying to get as many fights as possible. I was cutting everything I could from the budget to make the profit margin as large as possible, and this stinginess led to a moment that change my life forever.
The boxing ring needed to be set up the night before the event, but a concert occupied the Theatre’s stage until 2:30am. Instead of hiring some extra hourly workers to help set up the ring, I decided to stay up the entire night before the event to spend 4 hours setting up the ring with the owner, Chris. Exhausted, we finished around 6:30am.
Chris left to nap before the event. The Theatre’s staff hadn’t arrived yet. So, for about an hour, I was completely alone in the Georgia Theatre.
I made my way up onto the balcony and looked out. There was the stage with my boxing ring on it. Above it were sponsorship banners I earned surrounding the Bulldawg Brawl banner that we still use today.
There were boxes of t-shirts ready to be sold to people who were going to be lining up to buy tickets to an experience that I had conjured up in my head. My mind raced through faces of people that helped make this scene a reality. Behind me, in the stained-glass window above the back wall bar, the sunrise’s light peeked through.
With all of these things happening at once, blended with my extreme exhaustion and stress, I started sobbing. It was the realest moment of my life. It was the moment I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur – to build something great, and then do it again, and again, and again.
That day we sold 863 tickets. The Georgia Theatre cut me a five-figure check and offered me a job promoting for shows. We donated $6,000 to UGA HEROs, which was the largest single check ever donated to the organization by a student. The event landed front page, cover story on the Sunday edition of the Athens Banner Herald, and my mom called me crying when she saw me on TV the next day.
The event was over, and it had changed me. Then, a friend asked, “so when’s the next one?”
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