Seize Your Business: How to Market a Startup (Evan Gersonde)

​In this SeizeYourBusiness.com entrepreneur video, Evan Gersonde discusses strategies for marketing your startup including, print marketing, social media strategies and special promotions. 

Evan Gersonde

Drones Baseball Team

(262) 623-0581

how to market a startup

​In this SeizeYourBusiness.com entrepreneur video, Evan Gersonde discusses strategies for marketing your startup including, print marketing, social media strategies and special promotions. 

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Your guest today is Evan Gersonde, the general manager of the DuPage Drones -- a minor league baseball team in the area.  So I’m thrilled to have you here, Evan.  Thanks for being here.

EVAN GERSONDE: Yeah. I appreciate you having me. 

JIM WASZAK: Thank you for coming. ​

EVAN GERSONDE: Absolutely.  I’ve been looking forward to this since we put it on the calendar to be honest with you. ​JIM WASZAK: So tell us just a little bit about the Drones. ​​

EVAN GERSONDE: Sure.  Well, the DuPage Drones are a college summer league baseball team.  So the question we get a lot is are we affiliated with any major league team, and we’re not.  So all of our players are in college.  One of the stipulations is that they have to have NCAA eligibility remaining to play in this league.  So the main draw for them is just to get that -- just to keep playing in the summer as opposed to going home and getting a job or anything like that.  And their coaches from -- these kids are from all around the country.  We have kids from eastern Michigan, Florida, and we also have kids that are close to the home from U of I, Northwestern.  And their coaches really want them to keep playing, just to see different competition, and it’s -- staying in the show is different as opposed to just doing those individual workouts that they would normally be doing.  So that’s really the main draw for those kids to come here.  There’s 50 of these leagues throughout the United States, so it’s very prominent.  Talent-wise, number of players that we send to the draft -- we’re ranked number three actually behind the Cape Cod league out west, the North Woods league up north a little bit, then it’s us, the Prospect league.  So last year, for example, there were 31 players drafted in the major league draft from our league, which is a little bit over a 10th of the total players.  So, it’s a really great product on the field.  Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.  And we’re half way through our season already, which is it’s just flown by to be honest with you.  So…  

JIM WASZAK: I imagine for a family with younger children, it’s probably just as much fun for a fraction of the cost to go out to a Cubs or Sox game.  

EVAN GERSONDE: Exactly, right.  And that’s one of the -- Another big question we get is how do you market yourselves against -- you have the Kane County Cougars, the Joliet Slammers, the Schaumberg Boomers, and then the Cubs and the White Sox.  But our product is so on par with the Boomers, or the Slammer, or the Cougars that we can market that.  Our ticket prices are lower than that -- free parking, which is huge.  That’s one of the biggest things. So, yeah. Our ticket prices are $7.50, and when people ask about the cubs and the White Sox, we’re like, “Not even worried.  It’s a different market we’re going after.”  The family of four who’s going to go out to a game, they’d much rather spend $30 bucks on tickets. JIM WASZAK: Sure, than $300.

EVAN GERSONDE: And watch a two-and-a-half-hour game.  Exactly.  If you’re going to a Cubs and a White Sox, that’s taking your whole day.  So it’s a great family outing.  We’ve had a lot of group outings, a lot of non-for-profits that have really latched on to it.  And another great opportunity we have is our host family program for these families in the area, because this is such a baseball-rich area that it’s really -- We don’t pay the payers; they don’t pay us.  But they, like I said, they’re from all over the country.  So they stay with host families in the area, which we’re still looking for.  We came in a little bit late, but we’re still looking for a couple host families because we’re putting these kids up in hotels right now.  And it’s not good business on our end, and it’s really kind of taking away from their experience a little bit because that’s part of it.  They want to be in houses.  They want to be role models for these younger baseball players or stuff like that.  So that’s a really neat aspect of it that even the Cougars do the exact same thing.  So…  

JIM WASZAK: Do the host families tend to be baseball-oriented?  I would guess or…

EVAN GERSONDE:  A couple.  We have -- So, we have five or six total right now, and I would say three or four of them are.  They have younger ones that play baseball, so they really look at them as a role model.  The kids really look up to them, and the players -- they help out around the house; they go to these kids’ games.  They’re just like a big brother, if you will, in the house.  And that was a big drawing point for a lot of our host families that we have now.  So…

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: That’s a really cool program

EVAN GERSONDE: Yeah, it is.  It’s very neat.  It’s really cool.

JIM WASZAK: Let me ask you this from a business standpoint, since a lot of our audience has newer or smaller businesses:  So, I mean, how do you create some brand identity, brand awareness?  I mean, nobody -- I never heard of the Drones until I found out you were coming on this show.  What sort of works to get your message out there?

EVAN GERSONDE: Well, so, we’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work a little bit.  Being our first year, we announced that this team was coming in November, and we really hit the ground running full force in February. So, with that being said, sponsorship dollars -- we missed a lot of budgets.  With that creating a brand and growing who we are, there were teams at Benedictine before.  There was the Hounds and the Dragons.  And people came in: “Why are you guys different?  Who are you in comparison to them?  And we had to be able to set ourselves apart.  And a way that we did that was going and -- we did a lot of face-to-face marketing.  I -- we’re part of every chamber we can be around here -- Naperville, Lisle.  And I go to every single event that I possibly can.  Just because we want to get in front of people and let people know who we are; we’re different than what’s been here before.  We’re going to make it work where they didn’t.  Another big avenue for us has been the social media aspect of it.  Being the drones, we’re technology-based, so it’s been a big capture for us to go after the social media.  We have -- Our Twitter and Facebook and been blowing up lately.  Since the season started, I think we’ve gained over 200 twitter followers and 150 Facebook likes or something like that, and it’s just been in a month.  So that’s been a huge thing for us.  A couple things we’ve also been working on are newspaper articles.  I mean, being a new start up, we have limited budgets for that kind of thing.  So we’ve been going around to the -- for example Positively Napervjlle.  They’ve been great to work with because they’ve been giving us great deals about our ad space, and it’s relatively cheap.  But it still reaches a good amount of eyes to show be able to show impact.  We also did a large mailer with a couple other companies in the beginning of May right before our opening day.  It was kind of a tri-postcard, if you will, with our schedule, our ticket prices.  And one of things that we regret not adding on there was some sort of ticket deal or food voucher or something, because it was more of an informational thing.  But at the same time, if we would have put a buy one, get one, if you will, we would have been able to track the return we saw on that.  And we think -- I personal think we would have seen a better return if there was a deal.  Because even though our ticket prices are $7.50, people still want to see that.  They still want to get that deal on top of it.  And if we would have thrown in a hot dog and chips, or something like that.  Just showing extra value would be huge for these people.  And that’s one of the things -- That’s another thing we do with our sponsorship packages.  We want to show as much value to these people as we possibly can.  Because that’s what people want to see.  They want to know how many impressions they’re going to see; they want to know how many people are going to come through our gates.  And with that, we just have to be able to pack our packages with as much as value as we possibly can.  

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So how do you go about creating these sponsorship packages.   What goes into that?   

EVAN GERSONDE: Sure.  We -- It’s been actually a wave up and down.  When we first started going into these meetings, we had these packages of what we wanted them to be and what we wanted them to entail, but that didn’t work out for us.  So we switched it up.  We had to be fluid.  We changed it to going in, hearing what they had to say first, and then retroactively going back and building a package for them.  

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So it customized --

EVAN GERSONDE: Exactly.  We customized every single thing because somebody may see more value in season tickets and no value in an outfield banner.  But other people may see value in that outfield banner and don’t want season tickets whatsoever.  So it was nice to be able to hear -- We lay out our assets, what we have.  We say, “Hey, where do you see value?  What can help you?” Because we don’t want it to be a one-way relationship.  We want to give back to the community as well, which is huge, especially in this area with the non-for-profits -- and the sense of community, which is DuPage as a whole.  So we wanted to really be able to give back and be able to show them value.  And a lot of time it’s nice -- If they’ll give me a price, I’ll pack it full of value with all of our assets that I possibly can in giving them that price.  So that’s the biggest thing -- One of the biggest things we had to change was just knowing that hey these preset packages aren’t working, so we need to switch it up and figure out what will work to entice these people to sign up with us. 

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Okay.  Tell me more about social media and what you -- because we talk a lot of social media on this show, and everyone’s got a different strategy; and everyone’s got a different thing that’s working for them and what’s not.  And I’m always interested to learn more about that.  

EVAN GERSONDE: Well, so, like I said, we announced this team in November, and with that being said, we did a name the team contest, just to get awareness out there, just start building that brand right there.  So in November the owner of the team, Josh Job, he announced a name the team contest.  So people could write in and give us what they wanted the team to be named.  And we had over -- It was like 372 unique ideas that came in.

JIM WASZAK: Wow.  

EVAN GERSONDE: So at that point we were just -- Yeah.  It was a lot to sift through.  Let me tell you.  So, we were just Lisle Baseball Partners at that point.  So we had our twitter.  And our vice president is actually in charge of most of our social media.  And he uses Hootsuite. 

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Oh, yeah.  We use that too. 

EVAN GERSONDE: I hadn’t been familiar with it, but I’ve gotten a little bit more experienced with it.  And that just -- We aren’t aimless to cast a wide net at that point -- just local stories, baseball stories, local stories, whatever it may be.  Just cast a wide net and get people into our pipe line.  So, before we even had a team name, we had 500 of 600 followers on this Lisle Baseball.  With that being said, once we decided on the Drones for the team nickname, we made a new twitter account, which is Drone’s baseball.  And it’s -- The challenge for us has been how do we get people who followed the Lisle Baseball and actually want to know more about the drones -- How can transition them over to the Drones Baseball twitter handle? And the it’s not an overnight thing that’s going to happen.  So we’ve slowly been trying to transition those people over there, sending out the tweets to be like, “Hey, Drones Baseball is officially moving to @DronesBaseball instead of the Lisle Baseball Partners.  So that -- it’s been a little bit dicey here and there, but at the same time it was great to get that foundation of 700 to 800 followers before we even had a team name, and then we can direct them now to the more centralized -- where they can actually get news about the Drones.  And that’s up to -- I want to say 700 or so now.  So we have done a good job of funneling over there.  So that’s just been a challenge.  And then with Facebook -- it’s just -- we’ve gone through ups and downs with that as well.  We started to promote our posts a little more just to get a little wider reach.  

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So the paid Facebook posts -- 

EVAN GERSONDE: Exactly.  Right.  And we weren’t doing that so much for the beginning, but for our bigger nights -- for example, fireworks on the Fourth of July -- we’ve blasted that out.  We want as many people as possible to know about this for obvious reasons.  So that’s been something that we’ve been seeing a good return on I would say, because Facebook is -- I’ve never been the admin of the page before, and the way they can break stuff down and show you impressions and all that stuff, it’s amazing.  So we go through every day and look what’s working, what’s not working.  And at the beginning of the season, to be honest, we were doing in-game updates on Facebook, which is a no-go we learned.  It’s just because your unique impressions go way down.  You’re like, “Well, only 10 people saw this, where as other posts got over 2,000 people who saw it.  So we’re like, “Okay.  We’ll do show the line ups on Facebook, then show a post-game.  And then twitter and where we’re going to do the in-game updates because that’s where people more so follow along for the minute-by-minute updates, as opposed to Facebook, which should be geared towards more of the bigger, culminating events that are happening.”   

JIM WASZAK: Hey, you know what? I got an idea for you.  What do you think of this? And I consider this because maybe it would apply to some of our viewers as well. And it probably has to be some type of an entertainment type venue.  So you have somebody -- maybe it’s a college student, intern, or something -- do video testimonials of the people at the game.  “Say, how do you like the game?” -- typical type of stuff. Then what you do is offer to your interviewee -- Say, “Hey, you know what?  If you post this on your Facebook page, we’ll give you something.” -- a free hot dog or something.  That way you could potentially have all these people.  They’re all going to be excited.  “Hey, I’m going to post this video they did at the game.”  Now you’re exposing yourself to all their contacts.  I don’t know if that would work, but it just popped in my head.  

EVAN GERSONDE:  We’ve done something along those lines -- share campaigns.  So we’ll be like, “Hey, we have fireworks this day.  For everybody who shares this, you get entered to win a party pack of 20 tickets” -- whatever it may be.  And we’ve seen great return on that.  So going off that, it’s just because -- It’s the people who are on there.  Because obviously they have hundreds of different contacts than we do.  So if we can get that shared to then their side of things, that opens up a door of possibilities.  Like you said, that’s -- Our biggest fight right now is people knowing that we’re around.  And so that’s why our share campaigns have been huge -- just to get in front of more people and let people know who we are.  So that’s a great idea, and then another thing -- Just going back to the social media, we’ve actually -- We’re on Instagram as well, which is slower.  That’s a slower process than a Twitter or a Facebook, and we’re actually on Snapchat, which is a lot of -- A ton of major leagues have that now, a couple minor league teams.  And we’ve been seeing a great return on that as well.  Because everybody watches the snap stories.  That’s a huge thing right now.  Everybody watches them, and we’ve just seen lots of followers, lots of people even snap back to us, which is very great. So…

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Oh, wow.  

EVAN GERSONDE: Yeah.  I know.  It’s very interesting.  

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: One thing that interested me that you said was you mentioned you make some types of Facebook posts like game updates, and they’d get 10 views and other types would get 2,000 views.  How do you figure out -- how do you construct a post that’s actually going to get the views that you’re looking for?  

EVAN GERSONDE: Sure.  It’s interesting, because our best post to date is -- My assistant general manager, he had his old music teacher come in and sing the national anthem on Thursday I think it was.  And all of his students -- or all of his students and parents that knew him shared this post, and it is blowing up right now.  It’s amazing.  It’s the thing -- and we didn’t construct it that way.  And so to answer that question, it’s tough.  You want to phrase things correctly; you want to make it appealing to people; you want to make right.  But at the same time it’s little thing that you don’t know are going to blow up.  So I think the main key to it is packing it with information and just getting as much information in as short of a small area as you possibly can.  Just because at that point people will be like -- for example, we had six games in five days the other day, and we had a Facebook post that was like Sunday’s Princess and Heroes, Tuesday’s $3.00 Tickets, Wednesday’s High School Night, and Thursday is Thirsty Thursday for $3.00 Miller Light.  And with all those different aspects of it, that one part of it might appeal to somebody, and then they’ll share it.  But what appeals to the Princess and Hero person may not appeal to the Thirsty Thursday night, but that still catches both of them in the same post, which will hopefully have them share it, like it, comment on it, whatever it may be.  To answer your question, I think just putting as much information in the post as you possibly can that is relevant to people that like your page.   At least when I post -- Because we have three people that can post on our Facebook page, and when I post, that’s what I try to do as much as possible just to really get it out there and let people know what’s coming up.   

JIM WASZAK: So, if you knew, let’s say an attorney, who hosts a podcast who has a band on the side and sings, you could probably invite a guy like him to sing the national anthem, and the place will be chock-filled to the gills.  There’s a guy right here that does that.  

EVAN GERSONDE: Yeah, right.  That would be perfect.  

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Yeah, I don’t think you want me singing the nation anthem like that.

EVAN GERSONDE: Yeah, there we go. 

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Thank you, Jim.   

JIM WASZAK: Or maybe it would be really funny because you’d screw it up, and it would go viral.  And then -- 

EVAN GERSONDE: Yeah, right.  There you go.  No publicity is bad publicity.     

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: That’s the best post you can get.   

JIM WASZAK: That’s right.  That’s right.  That’s right.  

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So how do you manage your marketing efforts, because you’ve got all these different irons in the fire, and you’re trying to back a ballpark full of people, which is a lot more volume than most people have to do in their marketing.  How do you manage your day and decide how you’re going to allocate your time?

EVAN GERSONDE: Sure.  With social media, it’s quick.  So, I mean, we were spending a lot more time on it in the beginning.  But now that we’re in the season, we have many other things to deal with.  Putting on the actual show of a game takes precedent over what we’re going to post on Twitter.  So, I would say in a normal day, we devote maybe 20 minutes to a half hour on our social media.  Just because we have our people in our funnel that we -- They’re already there, and we need to go out and find other people.  For example, one of my interns is at the Lisle metro station handing out our schedule cards today.  So it’s just -- Our marketing efforts right now -- It’s really, like I said earlier, just getting out there, getting in front of people as humanly possible to let people know that we’re around.  We had -- Shaw Media came in and did a nice piece on the owner.  So that will be out there.  And, like I said, the Positively Naperville -- we’re going to be in there again.  The WGN -- the gentleman’s name is Scott Kitun.  He works with technology, but he was at the game on Thursday.  And he did a little podcast with the vice president.  So, like you said, we have a lot of different irons in the fire right now.  And it’s tough to manage them all, but we’re trying to allocate.  And it’s a learning process.  Being our first year, we’re still learning what’s working, where we need to devote our time, and what we just need to completely scrap.  With the social media, we’ve really taken -- not a step back, but we’re not spending as much time on it as we used to.  And then we’re going more towards the old media, if you will -- back to the newspapers, back to the grass roots, handing stuff out.  It’s just -- That’s the best way to do it.  A lot of our fans, they’re not going to be on social media.  They don’t know to look for us.  So if we can get out to people and be like, “Hey, we’re here.  Look for us on social media,” that’ll get that person in the pipeline.  And then they can start reading our posts on social media.  So, right now it’s about getting in front of people, letting people know we’re around, and always being branded.     

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Anything else you want to share?  Any commercials you want to make for upcoming events or anything like that? 

EVAN GERSONDE: Well, we do have -- we are the only fireworks display in Lisle on the actual Fourth of July, which we are coming to find out.  Because we have Eyes to the Skies Friday Saturday, Sunday, but yeah… 

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: That will be big for you then.

​EVAN GERSONDE:  Hey, that’s what we’re hoping.  That’s why we’re pumping that on Facebook so much.  So we have fireworks every Friday and Saturday, and then on the Fourth, which is great.  And we also have game Thursday, Thirsty Thursday.  Miller Lights are $3.00.  So it’s a great deal.  We’ve actually seen -- Since we implemented that, we’ve seen a lot of more people coming in, just because, like I said before, they want to see that extra deal when they’re coming out to the ballpark. 

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how to market a startup
In our weekly business podcast & videocast Bryan McDonald of On Purpose Growth and Kevin O"Flaherty of O’Flaherty Law delve into the mind of a successful business owner to discuss lessons that he or she has learned in the course of business so that our viewers and listeners can gain from his or hear experience. 
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