Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Alex Bancila, CEO of Viking Athletics, located in Chicago, Illinois, United States.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We are the largest and best-known platform tennis products manufacturer and the market leader in that space. We have been in existence since 1995, and our name is synonymous with the sport.
Platform tennis is a derivative of tennis (think of a combination between tennis and squash - see this link for a clearer idea: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lt-1F8SKVfQ). With a relatively small but avid community of tournament and league players, casual players, coaches, websites, governing bodies, and tour calendars. Our customers range from the top players in the game to very beginners and everyone in between.
Tell us about yourself
I played tennis at a fairly high level (ITF Tour and NCAA Division 1). I first stepped on a platform tennis court in March of 2003 at a private club in New York, where I was coaching tennis and squash.
It felt "natural" from the get-go, and I have stuck with it ever since. Within six months, I got certified and started teaching it. Fast forward to today, and I am proud to say that as a player, I have accomplished pretty much everything in the sport except winning the Nationals.
I have used a Viking paddle from day one (I liked the name, awesome logo, and it just felt good in my hand). And since 2003, I have been very loyal to the Viking brand and an exclusive dealer through my Pro Shops in New York, Chicago, and now Cleveland. Mostly by chance, Chris Circo of Battle Sports offered me Viking's Director of Business Development in August 0f 2015.
Through hard work, learning a whole different side of the business, recruiting, and surrounding myself with the right people, and - last but not least - with a certain degree of luck, I became CEO of the company within two and a half years. In June of 2021, Matt Wierzel, Mike Chabraja, and I bought Viking, and ever since, Matt and I have run Viking together.
I have known Matt since he was 15, and this past September, I was the best man at his wedding. We have complementary skills, and to me, that makes a great partnership. What motivates me the most is continuing to create the best platform tennis products in the game. It's a great feeling when I see countless players across the country using products that John (Einemann - our graphic designer) and I have originated, designed, developed, and produced.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Without a doubt, successfully mitigating the unprecedented, uncertain, and template-less two-year Covid period. We doubled the size of our company during a time of global supply chain horror stories, shipping, and raw materials cost increases, and labor shortages.
Our success during this time came as a surprise to us since we did not really set up to grow the company - we just wanted to have the product in stock and meet the growing demand that stemmed from people not being able to travel nearly as much as in the past. Because of travel restrictions, people were around their homes and clubs a lot more, which has been very good for our business.
Before we knew it, we were one of the few manufacturers, if not the only one, to consistently have the product in stock. Meeting the marketplace demand led to increased demand, so things perpetuated that way in a good way.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
The same things that are hard to come to terms with are a high-level athlete: letting go and not worrying about things you cannot control. Worry about the things that you can control, but there's no need to stress yourself out about things that you cannot. Whether you stress yourself out about things outside of your control won't change those outcomes anyway, so you might as well not lose sleep over it. It's easier said than done, though.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Look to go into a field/business that you are passionate about.
- Partner up with someone you trust and who has complementary skills to yours.
- Hire the right people. Don't necessarily hire (only) the most qualified people. Hire the ones with the biggest upside and the most enthusiastic about the field/company/work.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Speaking for myself, having your own business and working for yourself gives you a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that does not compare with any other type of work other than maybe philanthropy.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Feel inspired to start, run or grow your own subscription business? Check out subkit.com and learn how you can turn "one day" into day one.