Quitter to Winner

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

INTERVIEW: Serendipity and sports cars with Robin Hood Rally's Kevin Sweeney

Kevin Sweeney, VP of Business Development with The Robin Hood Rally always loved motor racing. He never dreamed a casual business lunch would lead to a partnership with a road racing reality show. Kevin shares the how and why behind his involvement with a startup as well as tips to help others follow their out-of-the-blue opportunity.

What were you doing before Robin Hood Rally?

After graduating college, I joined an entertainment company as a tax accountant. Within six months I was miserable. I decided to do some temp work. What was supposed to be a three-week assignment turned into an eight-year career in finance at Cadbury Schweppes. I then joined a marketing division of CBS as their lone finance guy. It was exciting to be a part of a major television network. Our whole department had TVs in our cubicles so we could watch “our product” during the day.

After two years there the company was purchased by Viacom. I left to join a regional recruiting firm in lower Connecticut to do something much more entrepreneurial – headhunting! I am still at the firm after 12 years. On the side I’m one of the co-creators of the Robin Hood Rally along with Stephan Condodemetraky, (Creator and Exec. Producer, Michael Ferrier, CFO, and Steven Higley, VP of Operations).

Why did you decide to help build Robin Hood Rally?

I have been passionate about motor racing since I was a kid. I grew up in the Toronto, Ontario area, and my Dad was an avid racing fan. My parents are British and my Dad spent a lot of his youth watching many motorsports legends race in England, including Juan Fangio, John Surtees and Mike Hawthorne. Needless to say, I was brainwashed early in life and have amazing memories going to F1, Can Am and many other road racing series at Mosport racing circuit near Toronto. I always wanted to get into the motorsports business at some level. I had an opportunity to work for Skip Barber in sales, but the salary was prohibitive and would have required relocation. I sought other opportunities along the way, but nothing panned out. However, I didn’t lose my belief that something good would happen if I kept looking.

About two years ago, I received an automated email from Stephan about The Lime Rock Club, a motor sports project he had helped build. I called him and we decided to meet for lunch. He shared his idea about the Robin Hood Rally and I was hooked. I knew I could help build this and it was the entrepreneurial opportunity I had dreamed about. We believed from day one that we could make it work. We knew that nobody had ever tried, nor succeeded, in pulling off a concept like this in the U.S.

Would you consider your current job a career reinvention?

I would certainly classify this venture as a major career change, but also an extension of who I am. I have always had an entrepreneurial spark and knew I could not let this opportunity pass by without putting my heart and soul into it. Stephan, Michael and Steven never wavered in making this idea become reality and I truly feel blessed to have such incredible business partners and friends. We have poured thousands and thousands of hours to make this happen and have been unrelenting in our execution and belief.

Creating and funding a reality show in shaky times is pretty risky to say the least. Despite the obvious stress, why would you rather be doing what you’re doing instead of a corporate gig?

I have done the “corporate gig” for many years. It was a great experience and I learned a lot about what it takes to successfully build and maintain a business and relationships. I have always wanted my own business, but so many of the business models via franchising, etc. were pre-built by someone else with their own vision and passion. I wanted to help create something that has never been done before. We have had many naysayers along the way, which only pushed us harder to succeed. I knew this my shot and I was going to make it work with my business partners no matter what. I have sacrificed a lot of time with my wife and son over the past couple of years, but now that the show is taking hold, they have been able to spend a lot more time with me and be a big part of the excitement. My wife has a good business mind and has also helped keep me grounded throughout this process. My family has been so supportive and I’m very grateful.

Looking back on your transition, what would you have done differently?

Since this is our first foray into producing a TV show, everything was new. We learned so much OTF (one of my newly acquired acronyms in the TV world) “on the fly.” Not only were we involved in production meetings, camera shoots, interviews and the creative process, we also had to contend with the massive logistical issues of getting 55 participants with their racing trailers, families, etc. to each of our racing sites. We planned and executed as best as we could, given our very small team. It really is hard to say what we would have done differently since everything was new to us.

Many of my readers/followers are contemplating an entrepreneurial venture. Business development will be a necessary component to their work. Can you offer any tips/best practices when it comes to drumming up business?

After 12+ years in the headhunting business identifying top finance talent for my clients, one must have a system that works for them to bring in new business. I would recommend “relentless consistency” as one my keys to gaining new business. There are millions of written gems that one can use to motivate themselves and others. I like what John D. Rockefeller said, “the secret to success is to do the common things uncommonly well.” You must embrace networking and gaining new contacts because you never know who might know someone that can help you. You also have to be willing to help others throughout your journey. I believe that is one of the primary reasons we are on this earth.

Speaking of business development, what’s next for Robin Hood Rally?

We have come a very long way in a very short period of time, and gained some incredible relationships and learning. This has allowed us to take our project to the next level and engage with some big players in the entertainment industry. We are feeling even more confident that our show and concept will make it to a major TV network. We also have a number of other projects in the pipeline that will work well with our business model. We have now become growing production company and have a better handle on how to incubate new projects. We’ve built a foundation that gives us greater flexibility and the ability move much faster and efficiently with new ideas.

Be sure to read our earlier interview with The Robin Hood Rally's Michael Ferrier.

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