Mascot Secret: Two Women One Vision
What is it that makes a startup successful? There always seems to be this mix of trial and error, grueling work ethic and a brilliant, yet simple idea. We’re seeing more and more college graduates with honors moving into the startup world despite the more conventional opportunities available to them through their degrees. Why is that? Jennifer Jeng and Donna Lee, co-founders of Mascot Secret—offer their own perspectives on these topics and more in our exclusive interview.
One thing that can be said about Jeng and Lee is that they are a couple of focused entrepreneurs who are determined to get things done and they make no excuses. They both have dynamic backgrounds that did not directly translate to their entrepreneurial career paths. Jeng also described Lee and herself as nerds and sports fans. Lee had graduated with a degree in political science through which she transitioned into a career in law, while Jeng received a degree in hospitality, which she used to establish a career in hotel clientele services. These very different backgrounds that were both fairly successful led to an entrepreneurial team to create an awesome startup.
How does that work? Lee explained that she never saw her law career as the end destination. She always envisioned herself doing something more independent from corporate strings in the future, and she did indeed try. She tried a few times in fact. Jeng and Lee have been working together for years. Their first startup together didn’t pan out too well. They were trying to establish an online reservation site for spa services, but the business simply failed. When asked about why that is, Lee responded by saying “We probably screwed up too many times in every little place,” to which Jeng reacted, “That’s when you learn to fail fast and move on.” Lee elaborated on their failure by saying, “Another problem was that we were working our other jobs full-time, so our attention was diverted. You just can’t go part-time on a startup.”
With Mascot Secret, Lee and Jeng came up with the solution to an all too common problem that sports fans experience, and they were willing to quit their full-time jobs to do something about it. The idea was conceived when they were at the NCAA 2012 Final in New Orleans. The issue was simple—when someone chooses to buy front row tickets for an event like the NCAA finals, they do so without knowing if their team will be in it or not. So what ends up happening is that a lot of front row seats will be purchased, but are abandoned at the final.
Jeng and Lee noticed those empty seats. They were desperate to get closer since their team did make it to the final. They were willing to do whatever it took to move up or upgrade whether that meant trying to sneak over or paying an additional fee. They failed. After recognizing this obvious problem and experiencing an all too common frustration as sports fans, they made it a plan to come up with a solution for this problem and help others. Jeng and Lee decided to create a mobile platform that would enable fans to upgrade their seats seamlessly on their smart phones.
Once they decided to dedicate themselves to solving this problem, they applied to several accelerators around the country. When asked about why they chose to apply around the country instead of locally, they explained that it was really important for them to explore all options; they strongly valued finding someone who genuinely believed in their product. Beyond that, it was important to them that they find people with the same core values in order to reach optimal success.
One of the accelerators Jeng and Lee were most attracted to was located in Cleveland. So, they drove to Cleveland in their Mini Cooper only to find out that Cleveland had a 97.98% occupancy, making it nearly impossible to find a place to stay. Jeng and Lee ended up having to spend about a month sleeping in their Mini Cooper and continued to work hard on their product at the accelerator. Jeng joked that people would leave the office late at night commenting on how they must be very hard workers to stay up so late in the accelerator, and although they were hard at work, the reality was that they just didn’t have anywhere else to go.
Jeng and Lee emphasized the importance of mentorship in their journey towards the end of our interview. Jeng put it this way: “As much experience as we have in our backgrounds, the fact is we don’t know everything. You always need more help and expertise in the areas you are not familiar with. It makes it so that we don’t have to waste our time making mistakes. When we tell a mentor who is an expert in their field about a plan that we have, they can shut it down immediately and force us to come up with a new plan if they know it’s very unlikely to work. So, that saves us a lot of time and makes progress happen faster. Also, as a startup you have so many ups and downs, and when you have a mentor who really believes in what you’re doing, they can help to pick you up when you’re experiencing those down times.”
Thanks to the connections they formed in Cleveland, Jeng and Lee were introduced to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team which picked up their concept quickly. As for now, Jeng and Lee are consistently striving to improve their product and add on additional features that connect teams with the fans; seat upgrading was only the beginning. Keep an eye out for Mascot Secret, they may be coming to a venue near you.