5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became the CEO of SkyZone, With Jeff Platt
“I think the thing I am most proud of is the 10’s of millions of people every year we are getting to play, be active and move. There is nothing better than seeing the smile on someone’s face, dripping with sweat, after 90 mins of jumping or flying through a warrior course. We have our incredibly passionate team and network of franchise owners to thank for that — they are just awesome community leaders.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Platt, the CEO of Sky Zone, the world’s first indoor trampoline park. Since becoming CEO at the age of 21, he has grown the concept from 3 locations in the United States to 200 parks globally.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Sky Zone was initially started by my father, who had the intention of creating a new professional sport that involved athletes jumping through a suspended hoop, while holding a ball. When it didn’t take off, he saw the potential to reinvent the concept when neighborhood children expressed an immediate interest in using the space to jump on the trampolines. This idea was genius, as it ultimately lead to over 100,000 jumpers in the first year back in 2004!
In 2005, I was senior in college at Wash U and put a business plan together to open the 2nd Sky Zone in St. Louis, MO. I raised some cash from family and friends, found a location and signed a lease later that year. Our 2nd site opened right after I graduated in July of 2006 and I became the General Manger of that location. 6 weeks after our Grand Opening my mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer and my dad had to step back from the business a bit. I began to run the day to day of the company at the age of 21. We turned the success we had in St. Louis into a 3rd location in Rocklin, CA and we then recognized the brand’s true potential for growth and began franchising the concept; tripling the brand’s size and revenue year-over-year. We just opened our 200th location in Clearwater, FL and have gone global, with parks in 11 countries including Australia, Canada, Guatemala, India, Kuwait, Mexico, Norway, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the U.K. Sky Zone is currently the largest trampoline park chain in the $1.5 billion industry.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Appearing on Undercover Boss was an incredibly rewarding experience for me. I felt lucky and grateful to have the opportunity to give back to our team the way that we did. One of the funniest things that happened during the filming of Undercover Boss was almost being punched in the face when one of our team members found out I’d lied to him about who I was! I felt terrible about it, but it all worked out ok.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are leading the way in the experience economy. We know people are spending more money on experiences than they are things/products. We also know that health and wellness is becoming more mainstream than ever. Screens are taking over our lives and it is leading to a sedentary lifestyle. Play used to be active and now it involves sitting on a couch or in front of a computer screen. We are bringing active play back, getting people to move again and doing it in a highly social environment that involves sport, competition, entertainment and good ol’ fashion fun. We are on a mission to inspire people to play more.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Promoting play is at the core of everything that Sky Zone does and embodies. While Sky Zone started as strictly a trampoline park, we’ve recently launched several innovations and attractions that are unique to us, such as Warrior Courses that test speed, agility and strength, and Free Climb, which is a bouldering wall. Other attractions that many parks are beginning to feature include a SkyLine, on which guests must balance their way across a millimeters-thin raised slack line, SkyJoust, Warped Walls and parkour-style obstacle courses.
Inventing new ways to play is exciting and we are also looking to expand how we deliver our experience in some non-traditional ways. We can’t talk much about it, but I think you will soon be able to experience our brand outside of our typical 4-wall format.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Empower them. I think people can achieve much greater things than they may even realize. And, when they do, there is nothing more rewarding our fulfilling for, both, them and you. Set stretch goals for them, give them the resources they need to achieve those goals, enough latitude and space to get work done (don’t micro mange!), let them fail, build them back up, be a resource to them when needed and great results will follow. It is a beautiful thing to watch someone accomplish something they didn’t even think was possible.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes, there is. He doesn’t like the spotlight, so he would probably be mad that I am mentioning his name, but he played a major part in our business success. His name is Dick. Mentor doesn’t seem to cover half of what he was to me and I don’t think I could ever express enough gratitude for what he has done for me over the years, both, professionally and personally.
We talked every day for about 5 years straight.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I think the thing I am most proud of is the 10’s of millions of people every year we are getting to play, be active and move. There is nothing better than seeing the smile on someone’s face, dripping with sweat, after 90 mins of jumping or flying through a warrior course. I am also proud of the work we have done with organizations like Memorial Sloan Kettering and all the local communities we have given back to. We have donated more than $500k over the last couple of years. We have our incredibly passionate team and network of franchise owners to thank for that — they are just awesome community leaders.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Learn work-life balance: When I first took over Sky Zone, I was working 16-hour days, 7 days a week for over 2 years. I felt like I was missing out on all that life has to offer outside of work — I was tired and needed to slow down. It is so easy to fall into the trap of overdoing it, especially in the early days when cash flow is tight. I learned that you get more done quicker and more efficiently when you take time to yourself let your body re-charge. Today, I do this through working out, reading and spending time with my wonderful wife and dog.
Learn how to be resilient: Everyone seems to focus on how to be “Happy” but I wish we learned how to be more resilient. You are going to constantly get punched in the face; it’s how you respond that makes you a great leader.
Know you are never going to please everyone — and that is ok: As a CEO you have a lot of audiences to please. Shareholders, Board, Team Members, Franchise Owners (in Sky Zone’s case) and our Guests (customers). You may make a decision that is in the best interest of the company’s financial statement, but more expensive for the customer or vice versa. You must prioritize which audience is the most important and use that as a filter to make decisions. For us, we’ve decided it’s our guests that are the ultimate arbiter when making decisions.
Hire right: You can’t do it all as the CEO — and you aren’t supposed to have all the answers! You must hire people who have different expertise than you do and make sure they feel comfortable enough to challenge you as the CEO. That’s how good decisions are made, and problems are solved.
Trust and validate: We worked on a multi-million dollar technology project. I relied too heavily on my CTO to lead the project and trusted too much what he was telling me. I should have asked for more proof of progress on the development vs. taking his word for it. Had I, I’d have noticed problems long before they occurred — and probably could have saved a significant amount of money.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“People who succeed have momentum. The more they succeed, the more they want to succeed, and the more they find a way to succeed. Similarly, when someone is failing, the tendency is to get on a downward spiral that can even become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” — Tony Robbins
“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really: Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.” — Thomas J. Watson
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
Unfortunately, the person I’d love to sit down and have a private breakfast with is no longer with us — Steve Jobs. His ability to know what his customers want before they did and then motivate his teams to accomplish what was seemingly impossible is fascinating to me.
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.