When Matt Ames ’07, Colin Mihm ’11 and Stuart Lombardo ’13 first discovered bubble soccer – a game that was already popular in Australia – the three entrepreneurs and lifelong friends did some quick research and discovered that it wasn’t yet available to play in the U.S. The game, also known as zorb football, involves teams playing soccer while wearing inflated bubbles that cover their upper bodies and heads.
Here’s what the game looks like in action:
“As soon as we saw it we said, ‘Let’s buy some suits and have some fun,” Mihm said. “So we got a bunch of people together and played by Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis and had a blast. While we were playing, people kept coming up to us wanting to know how they could play and that’s when we knew there would be a demand for it.”
The friends, who grew up together in Lakeville, Minnesota, decided to make running bubble soccer, operating under the name Knocker Squad, the first business of the 15 they’ve promised to start together over the next 15 years, adding a new one each year. “Why start one business per year?” Lombardo said. “We love working together as a team. Working with Matt and Colin is entertaining and rewarding. In the long term, working side-by-side as partners allows us to realize our goal of building an incredible relationship with each other and sharing in life changing experiences together.”
The three approach starting businesses with a sense of play, searching out ideas that are new, different and, above all, give people memorable experiences. Ames, who also owns MN Pro Paintball and Escape, Inc., views entertainment as the second most important job in the world behind health care. “I take having fun very seriously,” he said. “Today, people don’t get a lot of free time, so when they do have some they shouldn’t waste it. Do something awesome! Something you will remember.”
To get Knocker Squad underway, they quickly divided up the tasks, building a website, developing their social media presence, marketing, securing insurance and finding locations where they could play. Currently, they operate in a city park in St. Louis Park where they lease space as well as in a privately-held space in Lakeville. They can facilitate groups of six to 20 people, providing bubble suits and a referee. The business is also mobile, traveling to corporate events and private parties around the Twin Cities. In summer of 2015, their first in operation, they sold 94% of their capacity. “We found that entertainment experiences as a vastly untapped market in Minnesota,” Mihm said.
The fun, gaming aspect of their business is a perfect fit for the group, who enjoy blurring the lines between work and play. Every quarter, the partners take a trip together as a way to take time out from their busy lives to focus on business strategy. One person decides the location and activities for the trip, which is kept secret from the other two until they arrive at the airport. Whoever is in charge of planning the trip tells the other two what to pack for a four-day trip. So far they’ve been to Seattle, Toronto and Colorado.
“We basically thrive on excitement,” Mihm said. “It’s a new way of doing business. We all travel all the time and have other pursuits but we don’t have to be in the same place to be a team and get things done. It’s really energizing.”