Roller derby leagues are resurging around the world, with the growth coming from the grassroots, entrepreneurial spirit of enthusiasts that view the sport as more than entertainment and exercise. ActSeed is proud to count one of the up-and-coming roller derby leagues as a member (member link) of the ActSeed Entrepreneur Community: the Orange County Roller Girls (“OCRG”), based in Huntington Beach, California.
The mission of OCRG is to make a positive difference in the lives of women. They are transforming roller derby into a catalyst for profound change and enrichment, promoting the value of the individual, the strength of the team, and the power of the female spirit. This is a far cry from the raw, entertainment-focused heritage of roller derby from the 1970’s, but retains some of the fun aspects of this legacy, like having each team and player skate under creative aliases using clever word-play.
History of OCRG
OC Roller Girls was founded in 2006 by Heather Shelton (aka “Disco Dervish”) to provide women with an environment that enhances personal growth and development through sport, and draws upon a diverse team of multi-talented women to compete and share dreams and victories on and off the track.
OCRG is a true bootstrapping entrepreneur success story. For Heather, OCRG has evolved from a hobby into a full time job, and now she is proudly employing others. OC Roller Girls now offers roller derby for adult women, juniors (age 10-17), a co-ed team, roller fitness classes, a brand new skate shop, and fantastic entertainment for spectators.
As Heather likes to say, “Roller derby is cool way to exercise and network: more interesting than kickboxing, more competitive than running for PTA president, more team building and networking opportunities than the local playground. Far from the typical “Newport Beach housewife” perception of Orange County, “The Wheel Housewives of OC” team provides an outlet to workout, network and is part hockey, part primal rage, and entirely entertaining.”
What’s next for the Orange County Roller Girls?
While there are over 400 roller derby leagues across the US, most of them use a flat track, which sits flat on the ground. A few of the more successful leagues are able to afford installing a banked track which provides more action and entertainment. The careful management of Heather and her leadership team (including her business partner “Dirty Deborah Harry”) has enabled OCRG to operate profitably this year and start the process of installing a banked track.
Creative and Innovative: Raising Capital in Non-Traditional Channels
Heather started her fund-raising only a few months ago and instead of chasing institutional investors or wealthy, accredited investors, she leveraged the loyal skaters in her league to help raise $10,000. They “pounded the pavement” to pull in donations and set up a crowd funding presence on IndieGoGo. Through these two initiatives, OCRG has already met their goal, although you too can still participate and receive some cool “swag” by contributing on IndieGoGo through December 20. Please visit ORCG’s crowdfunding page, send them a few bucks and get a cool perk like a t-shirt, sticker, signed calendar or tickets to a bout.
Below are highlights from a recent question and answer session with Heather where she talks about her experience as an entrepreneur and founder of OCRG.
Q. Describe your “Eureka Moment” that turned into a roller derby league.
A. I was watching it in Tucson and when I moved here, I didn’t know anyone, my day job at the Opera was boring, and I am restless if I am not working on projects. The closest league was in LA. I drove one time up there from OC and on the way back decided I had to do this in OC as I couldn’t commute up there to live the dream.
Q. How did you fund the company to its current state?
A. The company was funded by personal credit cards and loans, borrowing supplies and my working every lunch break, every weekend and every opportunity (not at regular job) to pass out fliers and faking it until we made it. I cut back on my personal expenses, my grandma gave me $25 for my roller skating club, I liened my car and maxed out my credit cards.
Q. ActSeed champions the need for solid planning and preparation from the very beginning. How important is planning and prep to your company’s success?
A. I have started or managed many companies and each provided insight or lessons that helped prepare me for this one. I spent the first two years of running OCRG, struggling on day to day finances and projects and only being able to plan a few months in advance. It is only now in the 5th season that I can start planning years in advance because we now have a solid support team in place, I am no longer personally funding it and we have a large group of dynamic women running it.
Q. How long did it take to get your idea into the market from initial concept to first customer?
A. I thought up the plan on June 27, I went home and put up a DIY website, put together the applications, fliers, handouts, wrote the craigslist ad, sent out press releases & filed paperwork. By July 23 we made the cover of a local magazine, had a coach and 10 skaters, the logo, and practice space. We didn’t know how to skate then.. but we faked it. Our first game was on November 11 and was attended by 800 people that had not seen roller derby in OC.
Q. What influence have the internet and new media had on the way you are marketing, selling and supporting your products/services?
A. We rely almost 95% on internet marketing with very little budget spent on what could be called traditional marketing.
Q. Describe the challenges you faced as you built your customer base, including defining the customer target, establishing the right price and pricing strategy and of course, closing the first few deals. Any wisdom to share with other entrepreneurs on this subject?
A. I was injured before the first game and had to fight to keep our league growing strong with integrity. The market and pricing structure was benchmarked against similar leagues in other markets and other entertainment and sports options in OC. When we had the first recruits show up, I had the polices and vision in place. I did most of the work myself until the group grew leaders. The biggest obstacle was earning respect.
Q. What techniques have you used to establish credibility in the eyes of customers, investors, partners, personnel and the general public?
A. The biggest obstacle was getting strong willed women to believe (and trust) in the fact that we were going to be a success. Even though they had never seen a game, we hadn’t yet shared victories, they didn’t know my management style, many didn’t have leadership opportunities until we empowered them – all the while I was trying to be both a peer and a leader.
Q. Have government, University, or other community / economic development programs been useful? If so, how?
A. No. Unless you consider that getting laid off from a failed opera company in 2008- moved the league from a hobby to a fulltime obsession. I was frustrated working for others that refused to get up to date on current marketing and media trends. I was anxious to help grow audiences and produce something creative – so guess I had to do it for myself.
Q. What is the most important thing people never tell you about joining or founding an early-stage company?
A. Be willing to do every job, take responsibility for everything and every decision made and then find people smarter than you to step up.
[Borrowed from “The Gambler”]
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
A. Roller Derby Girls are tough on & off the track: Take the hit- get back up! Work as a team. Win or lose- it is how you play the game.