When I saw Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson wearing a retro Mike Tyson T-shirt at the gym on Instagram
I was pumped! I reached out to Jesse Katz
who is co-founder of Roots of Figh
t which is a clothing brand that’s gone viral. I wanted to learn about the vision of the brand and potential lessons entrepreneurs could learn from his journey.
“When The Rock first tweeted wearing one of our shirts my phone almost exploded. We couldn't plan that,” said Katz. The Rock’s post had a measurable social media impact. That single post garnered over a half million likes and within two years they’ve racked up 168,000 organic followers on Instagram
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The Rock's Instagram[/caption]
The brand has licensing deals for clothing with legendary fighters including Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Joe Frazier and Bruce Lee. Roots of Fight shines a light on athletes who paved the way for the contemporary fighters that came before them.
Jesse’s business partner, Richard Lawley, is the creative genius. The duo have extraordinary access, they’re literally sitting at Bruce Lee’s desk sifting through images and video archives. They’re able to use these assets and translate these moments into an aesthetic that captures moments in time and the ethos behind them. They’ve also crafted short documentaries with the timeless footage which is available on their YouTube channel
Jesse’s background was a unique recipe for the brand he’s so passionate about. His work ethic was cemented at a young age helping his father prepare tax returns after school. Then he pitched in helping his brother with his T-shirt printing company and later assisted with the financials.
Jesse later took the model of the clothing company and created a full service marketing agency. His clients were breweries which he helped forge sports marketing partnerships with leagues like the NHL and the NBA. That experience helped him establish relationships in the sporting world.
The tipping point was when Fox
struck a deal with UFC that would bring the fight world to mainstream audiences on network television. By this time Jesse and his partner had a proof of concept and Jesse had many connections in the UFC and in the fight world. His past experience in clothing retail, branding and sports marketing would come full circle.
Jesse and his team have a great rolodex of people that are supportive of their brand and have big audiences. You can catch Dana White, president of the UFC, wearing the Roots of Fight clothing during weigh-ins and at fights. Others celebrities wearing the gear are Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Ronda Rousey and Theo Rossi. Incredibly, none of them are paid for endorsements.
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Jesse’s advice to any entrepreneur is to first focus on building a brand and not maximizing profitability initially. In addition to awareness you need distribution, marketing, and great products. You need to have a full array of business in order for social to have an impact on ROI. By the time The Rock got wind of Roots of Fight they had an arsenal of 40 athletes signed with the foundation of the business in motion.
As Jesse articulates, “We built the company on the philosophy of hitting singles. We don't try to hit home runs or make a billion dollars. We're trying to grow something great while staying true to the integrity of what we're trying to build.”
In a world where brands are looking for shortcuts, Roots of Fight is paying homage to legendary fighters while carefully scaling the business at their own pace.
“We laugh when we see brands talk about technical fabrics like the new shoe weighing one ounce less,” Katz exclaimed. “We play footage of Muhammad Ali running in unlaced combat boots, thick heavy sweatshirts and a cotton towel around his neck. The greatest athletes of all time trained in the absolute minimum. It was all about effort, they were motivated in a different way.”
When I’m wearing my Tyson shirt in the gym I’m inspired with an extra shot of adrenaline because I’m reminded of Katz’s lesson from the champion:
“Mike Tyson would jog at 4 a.m. because he knew his opponent wasn’t doing that. You’re wearing the clothing of someone who trained harder than you can imagine.”
Interested in hearing the entire interview? Click this link for the podcast episode on iTunes.