Contributor: Clayton Gelfand, 2020 JD/MBA Candidate
For those who don’t know, Baseballism is a premium lifestyle brand that pays homage to the class, tradition, and history of baseball. What makes Baseballism’s story interesting is before ever releasing a product, the founders focused on building a community around Baseball on Facebook. They posted baseball-oriented and branded content that connected to everyday baseball fans and built a community that now has 942,000+ likes. This strategic decision was supplemental to initial growth because they developed a market to advertise directly, and it aided in obtaining actionable insights from consumers.
Baseballism, based in Portland, Oregon, started in a garage-like every entrepreneurial success story, but now has stores throughout the country, and just recently opened a 9th brick-and-mortar location in Irvine, California with a 10th location set to open at the Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville, Iowa. In a time where companies are closing their brick-and-mortar stores, Baseballism is opening them. This company has redefined the retail space, and it was an amazing experience being a small part of their success.
In May of 2017, I graduated from California State University, Chico, where I played baseball for four years and studied business management. I loved school so much that I could not even take three months off before starting law school at Michigan State in August of 2017 (I forgot to mention I minored in sarcasm). Nonetheless, law school was always the dream and something I aspired to do since I was young. However, It only took getting through one semester in law school before I realized I was more passionate about business, so I jumped at the opportunity to apply for dual the J.D. – MBA program. Despite being told my lack of full-time work experience would be a detriment to an MBA admission, I got accepted into the program. I felt fortunate for the opportunity and believe it was my athletic background, my passion for growth, and my drive to use my J.D. to build a career in business were key factors that contributed to my admittance.
With this newfound opportunity, I realized the future I anticipated for myself just a year prior would completely change. I spent the summer after my first year of law school in Los Angeles at the California Association of REALTORS, working as a corporate legal intern. It was during this internship I spent a lot of time thinking about my future, and what I needed to do to work in an area I was truly passionate about after graduation. Based on my graduation timeline, I had two summers to complete MBA level internships, so I started reaching out to as many people, companies, and sports teams as I could to learn about what potential formal or non-formal opportunities were out there that would provide me a well-rounded experience.
That leads me to how my internship as a Brand Strategy & Operations Internship at Baseballism came to fruition. Baseballism is a small company compared to most that offer MBA level internships, so there was no formal internship program in place. Despite this, I decided I wanted to try and create an opportunity specific to the value I bring and the needs Baseballism had. I knew they were growing and thought it would provide a great opportunity to learn the business from a holistic perspective.
I reached out to Baseballism’s customer service email that I found on their website and inquired about potential internship opportunities, briefly touching on my background, and explained my intense willingness to learn and work hard. Within a couple of days, I received a response from Kalin Boodman, Founder & CLO, who echoed their interest in discussing more. From there, we set up a meeting for when I was back home after the summer in Los Angeles for an informal interview; I forgot to mention I am from a town right outside of Portland, called West Linn, so I was only a 25-minute drive from the HQ. I ended up meeting Kalin for about 15 minutes to discuss my resume, my interest areas, and their internal and ongoing needs. We decided that over the next few months, we would stay in touch regarding the opportunity to make sure there was alignment on both ends. It was important to Kalin that I was getting maximum value if I became an intern, so he wanted to make sure there would have projects based on the areas I wanted to get experience in.
There were three main areas I wanted to get experience in. First, being that my MBA focus area is brand management and a large part of Baseballism’s marketing strategy is social media-based, I wanted to work on a social media initiative that would help increase brand awareness, improve perception, and contribute to sales. Second, since Kalin was the Chief Logistics Officer and all distribution was done at the HQ, so I wanted to get some experience on the supply chain and fulfillment side of this business. Third, Kalin was also a military lawyer before Baseballism, so I wanted to learn from his extensive experience with various contract types. However, there were also other needs that they had that would be my responsibility as well. In baseball terms, my internship role would be similar to the role of a utility player.
I accepted the internship in October, and sometime within the following months, I reached back out to Kalin and told him I was interested in working with influencers or brand ambassadors on social media, specifically Instagram. At the time, Baseballism had nearly 310,000 followers and growing, but influencer marketing was a trending marketing strategy and thought it would be a good opportunity to understand how to engage potential consumers and current customers on social media using ambassadors. He let me know that this was something they were looking at implementing and would be something I could facilitate in the summer. I spent the next few months researching influencers that aligned with the Baseballism strategy so that I would be going into the summer with a strong foundation and understanding of one of my main projects.
Fast forward, May 13th, day 1 of the internship. My supervisor gave me a document with a list of projects that I would be working on for the summer. There were probably 8-10 deliverables listed, some more complex than others, but all of them needed to be completed by summers end. I was determined to work hard, be consistent, bring positive energy, and produce quality results to build a reliable reputation amongst the founders. I learned to have this type of mindset from baseball. When you are the new kid on the block, it is best just to put your head down, be a yes man, and go to work. I maintained this mindset because I knew that if I could build trust, I would have the autonomy to handle the bigger projects with minimal oversight.
Throughout the summer, I wore many hats, which is somewhat different than traditional MBA internships. This was a great opportunity for me because I was able to get a comprehensive experience working cross-functionally, which helped me understand how each business unit synergized with one another to deliver the ultimate customer experience. Although I worked on a variety of different projects, small and big, there are three I want to touch on. First, I was tasked with determining which KPI’s we should measure to enhance internal distribution competencies. Second, develop a brand ambassador program from ideation to implementation. And third, in my last week, I wanted to leave a lasting mark, so I took on the task of designing the new conference room.
First, The first job I ever had with Baseballism was working as a warehouse associate when I was home on winter break. Baseballism does all of its distribution in-house, which allowed me to get a hands-on-experience with receiving, stocking, inventory counts, fulfillment, shipping, returns, exchanges, and at that time we worked right next to the customer service team, so I was able to see the entire product journey. With this experience, I was able to work on a project that focused on figuring out which KPI’s we can start measuring internally to improve the current processes. Although this was not a complex project, being at a company where I could experience warehouse and distribution processes by directly talking to the warehouse associates, the warehouse manager Grant, and picking and packing myself, gave me an informed perspective on the product and customer life cycle. As someone who wanted to build an early professional career in brand strategy, knowing this process is important to understand how to provide customers a memorable experience and create a strong brand perception.
Second, Ned Williamson (an undergraduate intern who is a sophomore aerospace engineer at Princeton) and I ideated, developed, pitched, negotiated, and implemented Baseballism’s first brand ambassador program. We determined the posting requirements, package details, incentive plan, drafted the formal agreement, and even implemented the program into action before our internships concluding. Working with influencer marketing was something we have not done before, but our main focus was finding ambassadors that aligned with Baseballism’s current marketing strategy, had an organic interest in baseball, or was a current customer of the brand. We felt these ambassadors would provide good content and more content than what we required because of their love for the game or the brand. We had ambassadors that charge $200 or more for one post or story and they were posting multiple times every couple months for a package of about $150 worth of Baseballism apparel, which was sunk costs at that point. A week after we implemented this program, the internship came to an end, but because of the front-end work and relationships I built with the ambassadors, I managed the 6-month program remotely from school. Working with ambassadors provided me deep insight into influencer marketing and how it affects awareness and sales for a brand.
Third, during my last week, I thought I would leave a lasting mark on Baseballism by working with Ashley Raxter, to turn the conference room into a comfortable and cool place to work. We did this by adding new couches, a flat-screen, and branded one side of the room with Baseballism branded boxes and the flagman that we painted on the center of the wall. Designing the conference room was not a thought-provoking or complex project, but it was one that allowed me to be creative in an artsy way instead of strategic. The best part about this project was seeing people’s reaction to me painting the Flagman and seeing the shock on their face when they saw the finished work. It was clear the work had an impact on morale, which to me, is just as important and meaningful as the other work I completed during the summer.
To conclude, there are three things I want readers to take away from my experience. First, if no formal opportunities come your way, work to create a mutually beneficially opportunity for yourself with a small business that you could see yourself motivated to work hard for. You can do this through LinkedIn or support emails, but be persistent. There is an internship out there, formal or not, that will be perfect for the value you bring to the table. Second, don’t focus on the name of the company or the title of the internship, focus on the role responsibilities because employers want to know what you did and not who you worked for. Don’t be just another intern; be a key part of business operations for three months. And third, don’t let your ego get in the way from personal growth. I was given tasks that many would say I was overqualified for, but that is not how I looked at it. I just looked at it like everyone has a part on this team, and every task had to be completed, so if I was asked to do something, like make 120+ frequent flyer accounts, I did it without hesitation. I feel grateful for Baseballism and the chance they took to bring me in for the summer.
Connect with Clay on Linkedin.