Not all money is good money. This is an important aspect in all stages of a business. Just because an investor or financial institution is willing to invest in your company doesn’t mean you should take it. Alignment in the business, and in people are important factors to look at.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Altman, Co-Founder and CEO of Sportiqe. As co-founder and CEO of Sportiqe, Matt Altman is a Phoenix native who spent more than a decade as the director of merchandise for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks and NHL’s Arizona Coyotes where he oversaw all retail operations including buying, sourcing, designing, product development, inventory, sales and logistics for Talking Stick Arena and Chase Field. In 2006, Altman co-founded Sportiqe, a global, lifestyle apparel company, that is committed to delivering elevated basics using high-quality fabrics, innovative designs and on-trend fit that not only look and feel good, but provide superior comfort no matter the occasion. Sportiqe quickly became a household name amongst some of the most recognizable brands, athletes and celebrities in the world after landing a licensing deal with the NBA early on and being amongst the first apparel companies to bridge the gap between the sports fan and fashion world. To date, Sportiqe collaborates with global leaders like the NBA, Nintendo, Peloton, Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, Warner Bros. and the Dave Matthews Band, to name a few. Sportiqe has outfitted more than four-million people around the world since its inception. Altman has a lifelong passion for helping people — supporting them to live their dreams and be the best version of themselves. He serves on the board of The Prem Rawat Foundation, which addresses the fundamental human needs of food, water and peace. He is a member of Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) and serves on the board of the Arizona Chapter. Altman holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting and business from the University of Arizona. In his personal life, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter as well as practicing yoga, skiing, travelling and living his life with the goal of always learning.
Thank you for joining us! What is it about the position of CEO that most attracted you to it?
I was first attracted to the role of CEO when I first followed my inspiration and passion to start Sportiqe in the first place. It was always a dream of mine to one day have and be a part of a business and have the opportunity to create a product, culture and environment that matched my values and way of life.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO does, but in just a few words can you explain what a CEO does that is different from the responsibilities of the other executives?
I heard a keynote address from Jack Daly and he said the job of the CEO is to get the culture right, period. That was music to my ears as that was a driving force for me as a Co-Founder and CEO. It’s people that are driving the business, making decisions, and cultivating relationships and it’s important that values and behaviors are in alignment with the company’s mission. Thus, as important as it is to grow sales and profit, it is just as important to evolve the company’s culture.
The second main aspect of this position is to hold and share the vision of the company on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis. You have to look at what is best for the company not only today but five years down the line.
What were your biggest struggles throughout your professional life and how did you overcome them?
I have a quote on my desk that reads “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your mind off your goals.” So for me, it’s not so much about the struggle, but more so the amount of effort required to get certain things done. I tend to look at everything as learning opportunities and as we evolve, we get presented new opportunities to teach us and help us grow to the next level.
That said, the biggest challenge at the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey was learning what I did not know and was still figuring it all out. Even though I understood a number of things around business, sourcing, product, operations, etc., starting a business from scratch was a whole new ball game for me. From learning the cadence from revenue to cash flow to margin and profit whilst meeting customer demands, managing supply chain partners, and oh, did I mention payroll.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being a CEO?
One of the things I enjoy most about being a CEO is the diversity of the role. I get to be involved in many aspects of the business at all times. I can start my day in a sales meeting, followed by finance discussion, leading into a conference call to review digital marketing strategy, then proceed to work with the product development team and address issues around supply chain management. No day is the same and it allows me to look at things from many different perspectives and play with different levers on a daily basis.
What are the downsides of being a CEO?
The role as a CEO is never-ending. It’s not something you shut off at night or on the weekends. I love the constant movement and drive it requires but it can be stressful. The business requires consistent attention and support, whether I’m in the office, at home or traveling, Sportiqe is always a focus.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Years ago, our Director of Operations, Georgie Shafir, was once asked in a meeting by a vendor looking to work with us, “What is the Sportiqe environment like?” The question got my attention and I was eager to hear the response myself. Georgie went on to say, without blinking an eye, “It’s like a locker room.” I must admit when I first heard it, I was a bit surprised, as that was not the vision I necessarily set forth to create. So, I asked, “What do you mean by that?” to which she responded, “The locker room is a sacred and safe place. A place where you can be yourself and express yourself accordingly. We have our roles and we are part of a team. We have each other’s back and look after one another like a family.” Hearing this answer I was really touched. It was the first validation that what we set out to create with Sportiqe was happening.
A few days later, there were a number of football players in the Sportiqe office visiting. They were in Phoenix doing off-season training to prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft. They were all trying on different styles of Sportiqe, laughing, joking, and having fun. In observing this from afar Georgie turned to me and said, “See, a locker room!”
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When it comes to your business, mistakes are usually no laughing matter. On the printing side of our company it can take one small error being overlooked to set you back a full order. I remember a time an error was made on an order and the graphics came out crooked and funny looking. At the time, it was dis-heartening and funny as it was an order we had been printing for years and not something we should have overlooked. It taught us to treat every order unique and give it the proper attention it deserves, no matter how many times we’ve done it.
Specifically, what is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
The part of the business that surprised me the most was finding out how many details actually go on behind the scenes of a business. As a co-founder, I had to absorb those roles that were always executed by someone else, in a different department somewhere out of mind. When I managed the merchandising at the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks, there was an accounting department handling payroll, Human Resources dealing with staffing, the legal department setting up insurance, and the executives above me were making all the big-picture decisions. These were all things I had to learn along the way and account for in the business.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be a CEO, what specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful CEO and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be a CEO?
A successful CEO needs to nurture humility, have empathy, and cultivate a mindset focused on growth and continual learning. Vision is also important, not just having a clear vision for the company but also being able to connect everyone around you to that vision and inspire them to see it too.
Something a CEO is not, is selfish or “me” driven. I feel in my role anything that goes right, or is positive, is because the team succeeded and anything that goes wrong is my fault. You have to be able to put ego aside and give praise to the entirety of the company. Ultimately every decision needs to be about what’s best for the company and from that standpoint it would be good for everyone.
Who inspired/inspires you and why?
Someone who inspired me to always push myself to be better was a swim coach I had from when I was 6 to 14-years-old. He was not only my coach but my gym teacher in high school as well. One specific day, everyone in class had to run a mile in 6 minutes and 30 seconds in order to get an A. Because of our long history, he always pushed me harder than the others. He would correct me in front of the class and always use me as an example whether it was good or bad. This particular day, I ran what I felt was my best and finished in 6 minutes and 40 seconds — 10 seconds from getting an A. I was exhausted, and as I was catching my breath my coach came to me and said simply “Run it again.” I thought there was no way I had it in me to run a mile, let alone beat my time, but he insisted. I ran the mile in 6 minutes and 15 second. This was a lesson I have kept with me all these years that I am capable of achieving more than what I think I can. That day, my mind was limiting me and it was a freeing experience to break that barrier. It taught me to look at everything I do and see how I can keep improving.
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?
So many people helped me get to where I am today. It takes a village, always. I would firstly say my partners Jason, Dave, Bruce and the entire Sportiqe family helped me achieve the success I have today. All in their unique ways they help me with confidence, inspiration, decision making and pushing me to be the best version of myself.
However, the particular person I am infinitely grateful towards is my wife, Clara. She consistently embodies love in all she does and gives. She is my #1 cheerleader, yet challenges me and gives me the space to be me. My world is exponentially a better place because she is in it.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
With my success I have been able to define our companies social impact by helping kids in crisis and making people feel a little more comfortable. We have been able to provide product and resources to children around the world, whether it be through education, health or simply comfort in a challenging time. That is something that I am grateful to be able to do.
This is an area in my life that I feel like my work and effort will forever be ongoing, I can always be doing more, and then more than that, to help others. Overall, I feel that something I can practice at all times is volunteering as much of my time to others as I can. This can be as simple as lending a helping hand or ear to someone during my day. Sometimes it’s small moments that can make a huge impact. I know for me the time people have given to me has been some of the valuable moments and learning in my life.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Not all money is good money. This is an important aspect in all stages of a business. Just because an investor or financial institution is willing to invest in your company doesn’t mean you should take it. Alignment in the business, and in people are important factors to look at.
2. Not all sales are good sales. Similar to my first point, when a large account wants to give you an order but the margins are unstable or having a market segment where you can generate sales but the profitability of serving that segment is not sustainable — it’s not always worth it.
3. How to balance time. Figuring out how to balance my time has been a constant battle. “Work, life balance” right? One of my open space goals is to be able to do more with less. Focusing on quality over quantity. Finding time for strategic thinking, spending time on projects and certain areas of the business, cultivating relationships, spending time with family, exercise and taking care of myself is a lot to juggle. A good friend and mentor once told me that work-life balance doesn’t exist, it’s an illusion. However, you as a human being can be centered. You can feel balanced from within and with that you will know what you need to do and when. So this is one of my daily practices.
4. What it takes to be profitable. In the beginning, you come to find out that a million dollars in sales does not translate to a million dollars in your pocket. It takes time, learning from mistakes, analyzing the business and knowing your numbers to ensure that you are maintaining profitability.
5. How to transition from a co-founder/company startup to a CEO. Evolving and growing with your company is essential, and at times, it wasn’t the smoothest transition. Building something from an idea into an expanding, functioning company is full of big changes and challenges. I had to redefine my role over and over again to evolve and fit into what the company needed to succeed.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I believe our greatest purpose in life is to be happy. Not just once in our lifetime but all the time. A movement that could change the world is if we all shifted the way we look at humanity, life and the pursuit of happiness. Essentially the movement would look to flip the equation from looking outside yourself to look within yourself. The movement would inspire people to look at each person as a human being first and foremost. Understand our similarities that fundamentally we are all striving for the same things in life; To be happy, to have food, water, shelter. To have security for our family, to be free yet connected to a community. To learn, teach and do meaningful work. To travel and have great experiences.
However, the human dilemma is we look at our differences first. We look at race, ethnicity, religion, color, gender or sexual orientation first as barriers, lesser than and in some cases even as enemies. What would happen if we understood our similarities and celebrate our differences? The movement would educate people to understand happiness starts with you. The reality is you are the source of our own happiness. It’s not in your job, spouse/partner, friends. money, accomplishment, degrees, house or things we have.
What would happen if the equation was changed ? Would we be happier? Would it change the way we treat others? It would probably be called the Know Thyself Movement. Sportiqe would make the shirts for it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love this question, I actually begin every one of our monthly team meetings with a quote. I am constantly finding new quotes to inspire and share with others around me. As you can imagine, it was very hard to pick just one but this is one of my favorites.
“What you practice the most, you get good at.”
To me, this quote means that as much attention and focus I give to something, the more achievable it becomes. Even the act of being happy requires practice and with practice you get better at it. Nothing in life comes easy. I look to this quote as a reminder to continually put focus on things I want to get better at.
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 with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I think I would like to have a private lunch with Seth Godin. I think he is an inspiration in not only marketing/branding but education, entrepreneurship, writing and public speaking. Numerous times in listening to him on podcasts, whether others or his own, I have shared a similar view and would want to further the dialog with him from a different point of view. Plus he wrote the book called Purple Cow and I’d like to bring him a Red Buffalo.
Thank you for all of these great insights!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.