Making Something From Nothing: Rob Martin of Icon Sports Management On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Less is often more. Don’t try to be everything to everyone or always try to perform every single service that your competitors offer. Instead, do everything you can to be the very best at what you do as people will come from far and wide to engage your services if you can truly give them that.

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Co-Founder and Managing Partner Rob Martin.

An MLB agent for more than 24 years, Co-Founder Robert (Rob) G Martin VI, Esq. of ICON Sports Management and Pastime With Purpose represents some of baseball’s premier talent. Martin has negotiated hundreds of MLB amateur draft contacts, dozens of MLB arbitration settlements, and numerous MLB free-agent deals. As the managing partner for an agency known for representing highly marketable athletes, Martin has negotiated some of the most innovative marketing and endorsement contracts in baseball’s history. Martin has been featured in numerous magazines from Slice to Boston College Law School magazine. He has also been a guest speaker at over a dozen Sports Law and Sports Marketing schools across the nation, a keynote panel member at the West Coast Sports Law Symposium and heard on several prominent radio shows including MLB Network Radio.

Rob Martin graduated Grinnell College with a Bachelors of Arts in Economics and worked for GSD&M Advertising in Austin, TX before co-founding ICON. After that, he graduated top of his class at Boston College Law School which is widely regarded as the #1 Sports Law school in the nation. Rob is also the father to three beautiful daughters.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

When I was six, my parents moved our family from Albuquerque, New Mexico to the family ranch in Southeastern Oklahoma. I grew up on a beautiful piece of land that had green pastures, evergreen forests, four ponds, and beautiful mountain views where we ran cattle and had horses. My dad had a portable sawmill and built our homestead himself and my mom became the librarian at the local public school. Soon thereafter my Nana, Dr. Mavis D. Martin, retired and my dad built her a home above one of our ponds about 200 yards from our house that was just down the lane. What brought us together was the love for the American game of baseball. This passion for baseball that our family had created and after watching Field of Dreams together, my dad built me a baseball field in our pasture. We spent countless hours honing the craft each afternoon. My family and the ranch way of life taught me the value of a strong work ethic and a hard days’ work.

When I was in 7th grade my teachers nominated me to write an essay for a college scholarship competition sponsored by Ruth Norman and the Norman Family Foundation. After an interview process, shockingly the Norman Foundation offered me a full-ride scholarship to whatever college I chose to attend. Ruth and Dave Norman showed my family and I how much impact it has when you take time to remember your roots, choose to give back and create opportunities for others. There is no doubt ICON owes its early genesis to the mentorship of my parents, my Nana and Ruth Norman.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“There are no self-made people… All of us are bits and pieces of those whose lives have touched ours.” ~Frosty Troy

I loved this quote since I read it early in my high school career. No doubt my dreams and aspirations were significantly impacted by those around me at a very early age and I became determined to stay humble and try to pay it forward to others that my life might touch someday.

This concept became foundational for ICON as the inception of our agency began my junior year of college when I wrote a mission statement for a sports agency. The differentiating factor was that it represented role-model athletes with a philanthropic focus and utilized a partner non-profit to more effectively activate those athletes in their communities. The vision of how connectivity and purpose can intertwine to motivate people to stretch themselves beyond conventional expectations defines ICON and certainly aided in our early success. I mean, I really had no business getting clients when I was a 22 year old recent college graduate with no experience, no company, no mentors, and nothing but the concept of helping athletes live out a more fulfilling career path. So, instead of selling our experience, our agency capabilities, our industry connections or our company’s resources, we had to sell the idea of inspired action motivating people to fully embrace the potential they have to impact other lives. Fourntately, we were able to find some like-minded prospects and their families who put their trust in us and once we were able to illustrate how our approach truly added value, the rest was history.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Start with Why by Simon Sinek. A leadership mentor of mine shared Simon’s viral Ted Talk with me and, concedingly, I devoured the book. So much of what he articulated by what is known as the Golden Circle, clearly defined what I envisioned when I wrote the mission statement for ICON all those years ago. It also helped explain some of our early successes in this competitive industry when we had very little experience and were still growing our reputation in the industry. The idea that it’s not WHAT you do, but WHY you do what you do, that is what motivates people. In the long run it is how we’ve been able to establish ourselves among the industry leaders without following in the usual business model for the typical elite sports agency.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

Phenomenal question. The first step is to identify your true passion and prioritize what matters to you the most. I believe so many people split their focus by not truly doing the tough work to prioritize what will bring them the most fulfillment. Then fully commit to doing the first thing first to make that dream a reality. This happens when you serve too many masters and try to be a jack of all trades. In my experience, and in researching my heroes, very few people have the genius to be phenomenal at everything. But the most truly impactful leaders became the very best at doing what they do and stopped at nothing until their vision became reality. Effectively you need to fully know yourself, identify your ultimate pursuit, and then fully commit to making it matter.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

If you see an opportunity gap it typically exists or, at a minimum, a more optimal service could be offered. So you research your industry, speak to those involved and also on the periphery, and then hone your value proposition. If, after that intentional preparation, look for your first and best opportunity to prove your concept. That first success is key because you’ll learn a ton in the execution and it will also serve as a seminal moment for your endeavor.

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

I recommend spending considerable time looking into decision sciences and examining how people make decisions. Reading books (like Blink and The Challenger Sale) and listening to podcasts on marketing and presentations would be extremely valuable. In addition, many of our attorneys here at ICON have significant IP experience. So if you’re not an attorney, getting to know one with copyright, trademark, and patent expertise will be incredibly valuable. Such attorneys not only know how to protect you legally, but can be incredibly insightful in helping you hone your vision and your activation strategy BEFORE you launch it.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why?

  1. Prioritize surrounding yourself with the right people first and then put them in the best positions to succeed within the organization. Cultural fit is more important than skill set or aptitude.
  2. Passion and purpose need to be woven into EVERYTHING you do and NOTHING should be allowed into your culture or your business model if it doesn’t further these two foundational principles.
  3. Aggressively seek out and ask for mentorship. You would be surprised how many successful people will be willing to lend advice and a listening ear if you just show dedication and respect in how you ask. This will accelerate your learning curve and often give you valuable allies in your industry. True leaders love seeing (and helping) others be successful as iron truly sharpens iron.
  4. Less is often more. Don’t try to be everything to everyone or always try to perform every single service that your competitors offer. Instead, do everything you can to be the very best at what you do as people will come from far and wide to engage your services if you can truly give them that.
  5. If something is not working, shut it down. Innovation and evolution is always alluring and can often be incredibly exciting, but if you try something, and it’s not working, shut it down and don’t waste incredible time chasing your tail. Time, afterall, is the most valuable resource you and your company have, so wasting it is a travesty!

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Research it online, contact an IP attorney and get an airtight NDA so you can protect yourself before sharing it with anyone that could possibly execute it faster or better than you. Again, time is the most valuable resource you and your company have.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

As I mentioned before, get a good IP attorney and take their advice. I cannot reiterate it enough. They will make everything easier and make sure that you will be able to succeed within your specified field.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

Making great decisions with entrepreneurial finance has been a critical skill set of the world’s most successful innovators. Sometimes, going at it alone is the best way to develop your vision without other influences. Other times, getting an influx of capital to expand within the market is the smartest thing to do. Here is where tireless research, sound strategy and great mentors can be invaluable in helping you decide whether to keep your entire endeavor or choose the proverbial benefit of the smaller piece of a much bigger pie!

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

ICON’s entire niche market is representing role-model athletes with a philanthropic focus. We’re also the only certified MLB agency with our own parallel run 501(c)3 Non-Profit (Pastime with Purpose), so giving back is imbued in everything we do. We have an incredible team here at ICON and all our agents and attorneys endeavor to break the mold of what people think of when they think of sports agents. Furthermore, all our athletes are hand-selected for their character, leadership and interest in giving back to their communities. Pastime helps execute all our charitable impact and activates our athletes in their communities. I am extremely humbled to be a part of these athlete’s professional careers and proud of the genuine impact they make on the lives around them. Our favorite quote is “A life is not important, except in the impact it has on other lives” by the luminary Jackie Robinson and asserting that as a core principle of why we do what we do. It has helped associate us with some of the game’s greatest people. That, and the change they catalyze, is truly the biggest success of my professional career.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Many of us are blessed beyond what we deserve. If we can truly embrace that gratitude we would all be more motivated to pay it forward. I’d love to see more companies truly make giving back a core tenant of their daily operations, but I also wish more people understood the impact they can have on other individuals just by looking for the opportunities they have to lend time, resources or a helping hand to someone who would not only truly appreciate it, but who would also choose to do the same for another someday.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Elon Musk. I believe his unique combination of innovator and risk taker is an outlier and has changed the trajectory of our way of life more than anyone since Steve Jobs. So getting even 5 minutes of his time would be a dream come true for me.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Making Something From Nothing: Rob Martin of Icon Sports Management On How To Go From Idea To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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