Celebrating Success: Dugout Mugs


Crowdfunding

In this series, “Celebrating Success,” we’re speaking with innovators and entrepreneurs who walked the journey of taking a product from idea to reality. Today, we’re speaking with Randall Thompson, creator of Dugout Mugs. He’s taken his idea from concept to reality, creating a multimillion-dollar ecommerce business.

Tell us a little bit about your backstory? How did you get here?

So, I grew up in Orlando, Florida. I played high school ball, had an opportunity to play college baseball. I was supposed to get drafted as a junior, but I was really nervous, and then I didn’t really perform. As a senior, I went undrafted again, but about two weeks after the draft, I got an opportunity to sign with the Blue Jays. I played for about a season and a half and was released.

That’s when I did a little bit of soul searching. Not having baseball anymore, it was such a deep part of my identity. I knew I wanted to be creative, and I thought I wanted to stick around baseball, so I coached. Eventually, I realized that coaching wasn’t playing, and while I was under the direction of a head coach, I didn’t have the freedom to do what I wanted. So I took an unpaid internship at an advertising agency and I moved to St. Petersburg with like $300 and no job.

I had a moment of desperation where I went into my back pocket of things. I always wanted to start a business. I always had concepts for products and ideas. There was an idea that I had when I was coaching baseball to turn a bat barrel into a drinking mug. It seemed just simple enough that I could actually accomplish it.

A lot of entrepreneurs end up that way because life takes twists and turns, and they turn inward to figure out what will make them happy. Does that resonate with you?

Yeah. One of the expressions that I operate on is you do what you have to do, to do what you want to do. What I realized is that, in the beginning of all of this, that’s kind of the way it works. You do what you have to do to eventually do what you want to do. I always thought it was literally a day-by-day thing. I’m realizing that on the front side of anything you’re trying to pursue, you just do what you have to do. Then, as life plays itself out, you’ll eventually get to the place where you do what you want to do.

I think that we all kind of operate where there are all kinds of things speaking to us and then there’s a little whisper. I always say that it’s probably in your best interest to listen to and believe that whisper. And I was fortunate enough that I did. I could have definitely stayed in coaching, but I feel like there was something telling me that there was something else for me. And that was that whisper that I listened to.

What was the “aha” moment behind Dugout Mugs?

The hitting coach at Florida Tech created short bats, which was essentially just a bat without a barrel. I was in the dugout, and he would just take a handsaw and take one bat and cut it in half. There were loose bat barrels sitting around, and there’s a natural cupping to some bats where it goes down maybe a half an inch or so. I looked at it and I thought to myself that it would be interesting if I just continued that cup and turned it into a mug. I was willing to bet that people would think that’s pretty cool. So that’s where the idea came from.

Dugout Mugs

How did you go from the initial idea to launching the product?

Initially, I did nothing with it. That was kind of my MO. I would have these concepts and ideas. I feel like it’s kind of in everybody’s nature to be this way. Everybody has great ideas, but the execution, or bringing them to life, is their shortcoming. But yeah, initially I did nothing with [the idea].

So when I moved to St. Pete to take that ad agency internship, I moved into my sister’s backyard. It was a garage that was converted into a studio apartment. I was paying about $400 in rent each month, and I got to a point where I couldn’t even afford to pay her. So, that was pretty embarrassing. But then I got a random call about a job I’d applied to months before to drive a paint delivery van. At that point, any pride I had was gone, so I took the job and told myself I was going to drive it from 6 am to 2:30 and then use all the other time that I had open to try to figure out how to make a baseball bat into a drinking mug.

I knew nothing about the manufacturing business or prototyping. I went all over the place and just asked a bunch of questions. What I’ve realized in my pursuits is that when you transition your thought process to “you’ve got to know,” rather than “I don’t know,” stuff starts getting done. So that’s kind of how it came to be.

How did you decide to launch?

I started noticing T-shirts for sale based on my interests on Facebook. I realized that there were these print-on-demand T-shirts that were being made at a very niche level, and being sold to people that otherwise weren’t ever sold anything [based on] their interests. I found that really intriguing. There are tons of people that are baseball fans that are on social media. If you can put a relevant product in front of relevant eyes, it just feels like the path of least resistance.

How did your launch go?

It all kind of blurs together for me. I probably sold one or two mugs that first day and it’s probably to my friend and my dad. I really didn’t know what I was doing on the social media side of things. When I look back on it, six months of business did roughly $60,000 or $70,000 in sales without me really having any idea what I was doing. I guess I look back on it and I say, it’s pretty damn good.

Mariano Rivera Dugout Mugs

Did you at any point, or do you still, have moments of fear or insecurity?

Yeah, every day. I have to wake up and convince myself that everything’s gonna be alright. I don’t like to read [business] books because I feel like it’s a way of progressive procrastination. But also, I think in some ways they’re designed to make you doubt that your business is going to succeed. So when I start reading a book that’s supposed to be “business savvy” and they talk about the success rate of businesses, I immediately go ‘okay, I don’t want to read this.’ I don’t want to pollute my mind thinking that everything’s gonna fall apart. I already think that enough.

How do you define success?

Inner peace. When I was working at the paint store, one of my buddies got promoted and he came up to me and was like, “I’m living my dream, man.” I think about that, and I think to myself, here I am, waking up, biting my nails worried about this multimillion-dollar business just melting. My friend at the paint store has peace. In my pure definition of success, he’s more successful than I am.

Do you consider Dugout Mugs to be a success, thus far?

From the optics of it, yes. Somebody on the outside looking in would definitely look at it and say that’s a really successful business. If this were a baseball game, we’re probably in the seventh or eighth inning. I feel like we’re getting really close to kind of just closing the game out and I’ll have a little more peace of mind. I feel like we’re figuring more and more things out to where there’s not going to be such a worry over the highs and lows. There’s always all sorts of testing that’s going on on a constant basis that makes it hard to get settled.

I think we’re close to being able to be identified as a successful company. We’re also just in year five of the business. We’ve found pretty, good profitability in 2019 and 2020. If we show consistent years of profitability, I feel like that would come with a little more peace of mind on my side.

In May, you hit a million dollars in sales. What was that moment like?

I don’t want to sound like a pessimist here, but it ended up not being that great. When we looked at the numbers on June 1, it seemed like we broke even. Revenue is vanity for me and profit is sanity.

I can say that in November and December of 2020, we had two great months. I think both of them were over a million-dollar months, and they were incredibly profitable. But May was a little rough, from a profit standpoint.

Why is that?

We burned way too much cash on advertising. Specifically, the last 10 days of the month, we were trending really well and then we got too aggressive with the ramp-up. That ended up burning cash.

Dugout Mugs Yankees

What has been the most gratifying part of your journey so far?

There’s an expression: it’s tough to read the label when you’re in the bottle. I really feel like for five years I’ve been in such “go” mode that I haven’t really stepped back and looked at everything.

One pretty cool moment that I think about is: When I grew up I was a huge Chipper Jones fan. I was a huge, huge Braves fan. The year that Chipper Jones got inducted into the Hall of Fame, the Braves reached out to us and asked for 3,500 Dugout Mugs with Chipper Jones’ signature on them to pair with a ticket package. So my dad, my mom, my wife, and all sorts of people ended up going up to what was SunTrust Park for that particular game. Just being at the stadium and then watching 3,500 different people lined up to get the mug and then walking around the stadium with them, I thought that was a pretty cool moment.

What do you wish you would have known before starting Dugout Mugs?

To get out of my own way. I still battle with that today, but I’m much better than I was. When you’re operating out of a place of fear, it tends to slow you down, and it slows everybody else down too. There’s a certain threshold in which the market tells you that [your idea is] going to work, and we’re at that threshold.

My goal in 2021 was to get out of my own way and allow people to do the things that they do best, and let’s do it at scale because we know we can bet on ourselves.

What business advice would you give someone just starting out?

I can only speak from the seat that I sit in, but I would “say stop seeking advice.” It’s just a form of fear. At least it was for me. I felt like I needed to get everybody’s advice on things. I was just delaying what was actually essential, and that was taking action, putting your head down and learning to crawl, or army crawl, and then walk and then run. Eventually, you end up looking up and there’s a bunch of people running with you.

So the advice I would say is: if you’re reading this article and reading articles like this… stop. Just start taking action and stop seeking other people’s advice. Keep things really, really simple. Show it to the market. And if there’s a demand for it, then go with it. If there’s not, then just sweep it under the rug and go to the next thing. I think it’s important that people learn not to fall in love with their own ideas of what should work. I really believe that the market will tell you really quickly whether [people] want it or not.

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