Beer Pong, www.BPONG.com is the self-proclaimed, “center of the beer pong universe.” This site was created by beer pong players with a love of the sport of beer pong for the purpose of serving the needs of players and the beer pong community at large. BPong.com hosts The World Series of Beer Pong, WSOBP Satellite Tournaments and sells BPONG tables, cups and balls.
I have always been a beer pong fan, so I jumped at the chance to interview 27-year-old BPONG co-founders Billy Gaines and Duncan Carroll.
YOUNG MONEY: How did www.BPONG.com get started?
BPONG: It has always been for the love of the game. In 1999 after Billy and I got to Carnegie Mellon, we were on the swim team together, and a central part of the swimmer house tradition was beer pong. Neither of us had ever played before, and I remember beating a few of the upper classmen one night and thinking, wow, this is really fun, it’s a game everyone can play, it doesn’t require much setup, and even if you’re not that good, you can still have the thrill of beating someone in a competition. I had always wanted to start my own business, but never really felt like I had a solid niche to tap, but after a few months of beer pong, I was fairly certain that this was going to be it. Billy did some startup capital and he started selling t-shirts and managing the website. We didn’t exactly know how we were going to go from selling t-shirts to giving away $50,000 in Las Vegas every year, but we were confident that if we worked hard at it, and really came at it from the perspective of “this is a sport, not just some drinking game”, that it would pay off, and it has.
Our goals were to basically organize the sport of beer pong, create a web presence that would become the center-point for the social media aspect of the sport and to basically take a sport that we love to play, and capitalize on it.
YM: How do you market your company?
BP: We happen to be one of the first hits for “beer pong” on Google, which is not too shabby. We are also on MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. We also run Satellite Tournaments at bars across the country, which helps spread our name and products. Our website is also on most if not all of our products. In the beginning, before we were large, the single best thing we did was to create an addictive online game which included links to our products and website. If you write a good game, it gets picked up and circulated very quickly (in today’s lingo, it goes viral), so that is what happened and before long we went from doing a couple orders a week, to a couple orders a day, and now on a good day we’ll do a couple orders an hour.
We’ve done college campus leafleting, we’ve done bar coasters, and in the beginning I even did some “bumvertising”, which involves cleaning up a bum and having him hand out flyers. This works best on the West Coast where on average the bums are not as bitter as those on the East Coast, but regardless…
Probably our best program thus far has been our Satellite Tournaments, because people tell their friends about them, and the bars also advertise them, so word gets around.
YM: Tell us about the World Series of Beer Pong.
BP: The World Series of Beer Pong is the largest national beer pong tournament in the world, with the largest grand prize. It is held every January 1-5 in Las Vegas, and we offer a $50,000 grand prize to the winning team. This year we did it at The Flamingo, and we drew in almost 1,000 players from nearly every state in the US and several Canadian provinces. The bulk of the competitors are between 21 and 25, but we get a number of outliers, people in their mid 30’s and 40’s, that are coming out to have a good time.
It’s incredible to witness—Rick Reilly, the famous sportswriter, came out this year to write an article for ESPN, and he described it as “The next great American pastime.” Every year there is a large amount of interest from press—the first year we had Playboy come out with a Playmate, and she played some games while they filmed, and this year we had Bruce Buffer, the UFC Championship announcer, come out to kick off the $50,000 game. It’s intense, fun, and right in the middle of Vegas. It’s pretty phenomenal and I’m very proud to be a part of it.
Would you say that this is an actual sport?
As one of our good friends once quipped, “It’s a sport. It just happens to involve alcohol.” And I would agree—it’s not a sport in the sense that you have to be athletic, but the level of competition is so heated and so fierce, and the skill level is so high when you get to, say, the top 32 teams at The WSOBP, that I can’t in good conscience call it a game. Another thing is that there are enough tournaments these days that we have players who are starting to actually play professionally, for example Ron Hamilton. There are a bunch of bars around him that do weekly $1,000 tournaments, and then this past January he won The WSOBP and he and his partner took home $50,000. So it’s reaching the level where aside from the athleticism and the drinking (which is optional), it’s on par with any other organized sport.
YM: What tips and advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
BP: It’s not easy! I’m just going to list things in the order they come to mind:
- You need legal advice and legal protection. Step one should be to enlist the help of a lawyer, or to read up on subjects relevant to your business, such as copyright, trademark, and patent law, matters of incorporation, LLC’s, accounting and taxes. If you don’t protect yourself proactively there is a good chance someone may come along and usurp your hard work.
- You need revenue, period. Don’t assume that you are going to be able to hype up a company that has no business model and sell it for millions. If you don’t have something that someone is willing to pull out their wallet for (whether that is a product, a service, a soapbox, whatever), your business is not viable.
- If you are looking for money to start a business, you don’t always have to go to a bank or to family and friends. Today there are services such as Prosper.com which allow private lending.
- Remember to make time for the other relationships in your life. Your business may be your baby, but don’t forget that people need people and no one is an island.
- If you believe in your idea and believe in yourself, you will succeed if you put in the effort. But it is no ordinary effort, it’s a super-effort. Billy and I both worked two full-time jobs (one during the day, and beer pong at night), for 6 years. We were chronically sleep-deprived, we forgot what weekends were like, and our significant others got completely exasperated with us, but we believed in what we were doing, and now beer pong is our full-time job. When you’re in your mid-twenties, living in the big city with your friends who want to go out and live it up, it’s not always easy to say no. But to be successful you have to be willing to make those kinds of sacrifices.
Photo Credit: Andy Aupperlee