Business Issue: An Interview with Brodie Smith

Even as a college player at the University of Florida, Brodie Smith was a household name in ultimate. A next-level athlete, he played big minutes on the Gators’ 2006 championship team and carried the team to a title in 2010. After he graduated, he went from being recognized at most tournaments to having global acclaim– and it wasn’t for his play, but for the YouTube videos he started putting out. Brodie’s early trick shot videos put him on a path to YouTube celebrity, and his brand and following spans millions of people over multiple networks.

High Release’s Elliot Trotter sat down with Brodie over Skype to learn more about his business approach.

High Release: This is Elliot Trotter, here for High Release. I have Brodie Smith here to talk about the Brodie Smith 21 business. Thanks for joining us.

Brodie: Thanks for having me.

High Release: You’ve done quite a lot of unique stuff for the sport of ultimate: promoting your brand, trick shots, and becoming a face behind professional ultimate. I don’t know that the way you went about it was your intention right away or if you meant to become what you have through the sport, but I’m certain that you picked it up along the way and now have a great understanding of your own business style. That’s what we’re talking about in this issue of High Release, and what we want to pick your brain. For starters, how did you get started in developing yourself as this public figure in ultimate?

Brodie: I started playing ultimate my freshman year of college at the University of Florida and just really fell in love with the game itself. I was always into sports growing up and for some reason ultimate just stuck. I started solely as a player, and I grew my game with help from Tim Gehert, Kurt Gibson, Bill MacQueen, and Cyle Van Auken. By the time my fifth year rolled around, I wanted to be the best I could be and lead my team to a national championship. Thankfully, we got the job done and won our second national championship for the University of Florida.

After my final college season I started putting out videos on how to throw a disc on YouTube. I thought if I could help just one kid learn how to throw better it would be well worth my time. People started to share my videos through Facebook and it was really exciting to see so many people commenting that my videos were helping them throw better. From there I just wanted to see more people interested in throwing a disc. My friends had suggested I make a trick shot video back when Dude Perfect first started doing them. I thought it was a great idea to get more eyeballs on Frisbees and so me and a couple teammates made my first trick shot video.  Things kind of took off from there so I began focusing more on making YouTube videos. I didn’t even have an idea what I was doing right away other than having fun with my buddies throwing the Frisbee around. After a few months, I was making enough money off of YouTube to pay my rent. At this point I was doing something I loved and could pay the bills so I went for it!

High Release: You talked about your background, you talked about how putting these videos together really just started as something fun; a way to celebrate and explore what you love about ultimate. Next thing you know, you’re making money off of ultimate. You’re starting to see the potential of doing something you love is also a way to keep you afloat. Make some rent money, and maybe down the line do more. So what was that next step? How did you realize you had to shift to more of a business mind? 

Brodie: I don’t think I had this master formula. I’ve made many, many mistakes along the way, but luckily have had a let of help from family members and friends. In the first year, year and half of me doing YouTube I had that mindset of ‘this is awesome’. Because of that mindset I made some poor business deals and let some companies take advantage of me. When I make business deals now, I try to negotiate for something that’s fair for both sides. If both sides can leave the room saying ‘this was a great deal for me,’ then that’s all I’ll care about. I don’t want to be an excellent businessman, I want to be a fair one. I try to focus my time on my craft and not on how I could be making more money. I love what I do and that is the most important thing in my business.

High Release: You said you didn’t come from this business background. You came from something that you liked doing, and people liked it, so you went, ‘well this is a great exchange, let’s keep doing this.’ Then you ran into some of these business potentials and agreements, and said ‘Okay, let’s see how I can keep doing what I love doing’ and then you come out, ‘Okay I’m still doing this for the love of it, but I want to make it fair’. And I think that’s at the core of what a good business does. Something that would be interesting: you’re talking about these lessons that you’ve learned. I’d love to hear the details about some of them.

Brodie: First, I think one of the lessons is to be true to yourself. A lot of people say that, but it’s true. Being comfortable and happy with what you’re doing is so important. Sometimes that’s difficult and sometimes you mess up. Well a lot of times you mess up, but as long as you pick yourself up and learn from your mistakes, you are headed in the right direction. You have to make the hard decisions: letting deals go that might be financially beneficial but just don’t match up with your core beliefs. Again, not always easy to do. I try and make a fair deal for me. I make connections and do business based on what’s going to match best with my core values and beliefs.

High Release: What about from a marketing standpoint? What are some of the tools you’ve learned to help you share your brand? You’re great with social media. You’re on Twitter all the time interacting with people, and you’re active on Facebook and YouTube too. You’ve just been figuring out great ways to promote your work through those channels. What are some of the things you picked up to be so active and successful there?

Brodie: I think you have to realize what people want on each different social media. For example, I use Twitter to interact with my fans, answer their questions or just talk to them about sports and other current events. Facebook is great for posting frisbee pictures and new products, or sharing my latest YouTube videos. Instagram is where I post single trick shot videos and pictures from my daily life. Don’t follow me if you hate selfies. I think letting your fans know what to expect on each social media outlet makes their decision on following you a lot easier. Social media is a great tool to get closer with your fans and let them know a little bit more about you on a personal level.

High Release: That’s a sweet insight in how you use those systems, and how people see them in their own way. It’s very interesting how human beings have segmented in their minds, ‘oh, this is how you use Instagram because that’s how the tool works.’ And once you can tap into that, you can figure out a great way to connect with people.

How would you define what you’re doing– business within ultimate– and its potential future? As a great example as someone who is in the business and has seen the success, the bigger question for you is where do you see everything going and what are your goals? What do you think the goals of business in ultimate in general should be?

Brodie: I think there’s a lot of business to be had in the ultimate scene. I can remember in college, there was RSD, the Huddle, and some of the ultimate clothing companies. Over the last couple of years we have had this big influx of people putting time and effort into creating a business within the ultimate community. Their focus is also more on sustainability so they can continue to be around producing great content and products for the ultimate community. Having these companies around is only going to help the sport grow and give more value to those playing it already. You guys have a lot of great content out there, and I think a lot of other companies do a great job of enhancing the sport even more off the field. I hope it continues.

I think businesses that are solely based on Ultimate Frisbee are realizing that they need to get sponsorships to sustain themselves. If you only go after the ultimate community to support you, I think over time it’s going to be very difficult to stay afloat. The ultimate community does a great job supporting these companies, but with more ultimate companies being created the piece of pie is starting to get smaller. It’s awesome to see some ultimate companions landing sponsorship deals. I hope this continues.

High Release: Where do you see yourself going in all this? What are some of your goals? Being true to yourself is great, and a pinnacle point to what you do. But surely you have places you want to be and things you want to accomplish.

Brodie: I want to continue to give back to those that have supported me and to my community. I want to continue to give content to those that enjoy watching. I want to continue to try and spread the sport worldwide. I want to inspire people to live life to its fullest.

I’d love to set something up to start giving Frisbees to those that need them. I know a lot of schools struggle to get enough Frisbees for their teams. Being able to provide them with what they need would be great. I also plan on doing mission work in Africa and introducing them to Ultimate Frisbee. I’m always open to ideas and suggestions for community service and charities so please contact me if you have any.

On the business side of things, I’d be great to continue to grow, to get a larger audience to share my passion with. Maybe do something on TV. I’ve got a couple things in the works that could bring a lot more attention to Ultimate Frisbee. I want to keep being creative and innovative. I don’t have a five year plan like most companies, but for me it’s all about living in the moment and enjoying every second.

High Release: It’s funny, I remember some conversations from the Ultimate Coaches and Players Conference where we were talking about some of this stuff, and I think you weren’t necessarily sure at that point what the future holds. What you were saying back then was that you were going to ride it out for now and see where it goes but you weren’t sure if that was a future for you. Now you sound so optimistic about it all. It sounds like you’re really encouraged by the work you’ve done to grow your brands and how that might create a future for you.  

Brodie: Well I try and be optimistic about everything. And if something doesn’t work out, then something else was supposed to happen. Maybe I can continue to do this when I’m an old man, but if tomorrow comes and it’s all gone, that’s okay. What I have been doing the last couple of years has been centered around the love and passion I have for Ultimate Frisbee. That will never go away. Some people do things because they want to be rich and famous. For me it was never about that. I’m just a kid that loves to throw the Frisbee. And one day I hope I’m lucky enough to have a family and teach my kids how to throw a Frisbee in our back yard. I can’t wait for that day.

Thanks for having me and if anybody has any questions, please feel free to ask. @BrodieSmith21