Bart Bradshaw: (00:32)
Hey builders on this podcast we’ve talked with a lot of e-commerce and SAS companies today. I’m excited to talk to someone in an industry we haven’t spent much time on. Drum roll please. Axe throwing. That’s right. James Anderson started an ax throwing venue that in three years has already started reeling in $1 million in revenue a year. Forged Axe Throwing is based in Whistler, Canada. They host upwards of 30,000 people a year in the venue as well as hosts mobile axe during events, sell merchandise and license axe throwing software. James, thanks for joining us today.
James Anderson: (01:09)
Thank you so much for having me, Bart. I am stoked to be on the podcast today.
Bart Bradshaw: (01:14)
Yeah, absolutely. And we’re excited to learn how you’ve made a living out of axe throwing, which is a lot of fun. Um, we did it. Yeah, we did it recently as a company here in, uh, here in Utah and it was, it was super fun. Um, and you know, it’s interesting with, with your company that you kind of have, you know, both this local venue as well as you’re selling a software for other axe throwing businesses. But before we get into all of that, um, let’s just start out with your story. I want to hear James, you know, where you’re coming from. How did you decide to get into an ax throwing business, uh, to start that yourself? You’re in Canada. Tell us a little bit about your background.
James Anderson: (01:59)
Yeah, absolutely. Bart. So I’m originally from Vancouver Island, a on the West coast of Canada city called Victoria. And when I was younger, you know, my jobs were, uh, you know, always outdoors. I taught snowboarding in the winter. I taught wind surfing in the summer. I was, you know, I love dealing with people and unfortunately it never translated into riches, but I would say that I had a really good time. I was never, never the best student or anything like that. It was definitely a struggle for me to get through school and make it to the summer. And that was sort of what I was always living for or make it to the winter so I could go skiing. And, uh, you know, when it was time for me to look at, you know, jobs, uh, I needed to pursue something. Um, my mom started actually after I graduated high school. She said, you know, you gotta you actually have to work like full time now. He can’t do seasonal jobs the whole time and just bum around the house or else you’re going to have to pay rent. And that was a rude awakening for me cause I said, you know, paying rent at my parents house like, uh, I gotta go do something. So I w I really wanted to do something adventurous. And, uh, this was, you know, back in, uh, 2001 or 2002 and there was a credit card processing company called pay systems and they had a a, they were one of the few credit card processors back there that was doing e-commerce and online sales and they had a job forum on there and it was just like eCommerce businesses looking to hire people. And I found a position in Costa Rica. Um, and I applied and I got in and they were going to pay me $600 US a month to do customer support.
James Anderson: (03:32)
I thought, great. And Costa Rica sounds awesome. So I got on a flight about a week after I graduated high school and I worked for an eCommerce business and that was sort of my first taste of, you know, small business first of all. And also the scalability of all my businesses and got me really excited about it. Uh, you know, you can’t, when you’re young, you can’t live as an ex pat forever. Not yet. You know, maybe that’s like a retirement plan, but not yet. There was other stuff I had to do. I started seeing friends of mine popping up on MySpace, uh, and they were going to university and I thought would I want that experience too. So I applied to school, I got in and, uh, I moved back to Canada. I went and studied actually, um, tourism and adventure guiding. So I got into whitewater rafting and, uh, you know, skiing and I, I was, you know, had this awesome sort of thing going on. And, uh, again I needed to find full time employment. And I did a, through my school I did an internship with the tourism marketing firm and I ended up in Victoria working for this tourism marketing firms. A great job full time, which was a great relief to my girlfriend at the time. And, uh, you know, it was like gave us a little bit more life stability. And while I was there, you know, one of our big clients was a Canadian tourism organization. And I got tasked with finding an emerging trend, uh, that we could sell to, you know, a millennial focused news website, like a Buzzfeed or something like that. And so I found all these things, you know, there’s like Canada’s big with beer tourism, Canada’s big with like mountains and rivers. And then I found this thing, I was like, Canada’s big with ax throwing.
James Anderson: (05:04)
And I was like, what? This is crazy. Like, Oh, that’s so cool. That’s already a little research into it. That would have been 2015. Um, two yeah, 2015 when I first heard it, I discovered the idea, sorry, 2014 and I found this one company that was doing it and I, I emailed them and I was like, Hey guys, like, love what you’re doing on the East coast. Can I buy a franchise? Like can I move it out West? And they were like, yeah, we’re not going to do that, but, uh, we’ll let you know if we ever come out West. And I thought, okay, so I shot my friend a message and I said, Hey man, like this is like a business. And you know, we always wanted to run our own business. We actually started some smaller projects. We did an event lighting business and things like that.
James Anderson: (05:49)
But I was like, Brett, you know, I went to tourism school with him and we rafted together and I was like, man, we could start this kind of business and our customers would love us. Remember all the smiles that our rafting clients had on their faces. Remember all the high fives we shared with them the amazing experience that we delivered. Imagine if we could do that in our own venue and start this, you know, like this new thing. And I’m going to be honest with you, Bart, I never saw axe throwing, getting as big as it has right now. I am pleasantly surprised and so excited with the growth of sport. And I think now I see a, a bigger vision of it. But at the time, you know, we were just going to host people to throw axes and show them how Canadian this activity can be.
James Anderson: (06:28)
And now, you know, there’s over 200 venues across North America and there’s competitions that are getting streamed on ESPN and TSM here in Canada that, you know, there’s massive competitions and we just can’t believe the growth has been so awesome. And you know, it’s a great, we’re very fortunate with a little bit of timing and, and hard work and luck that it all happened and we were able to yeah. Uh, establish ourselves in, uh, early 2017. So that was sort of right at the, the big start of axe throwing.
Bart Bradshaw: (06:58)
Well, you’re in a, you’re in a good location there in, in Whistler, Canada, where you’ve got a lot of, um, people coming all year round. Right.
James Anderson: (07:06)
You got it. So, yeah, with, there’s a four season destination and I wasn’t living in Whistler when we decided to make the business. I was living in Victoria, I was working at the marketing firm and when I messaged Brett, you know, I messaged him and I said, you know, Hey man, like, uh, you know, I’ve been researching this thing for my job.
James Anderson: (07:23)
It’s like ax throwing. It’s a tourism experience. And like literally the next message he sent me back, he was traveling and I think it was in Columbia at the time. Literally the next message was, Hey man, what do you think about these logos? I started drafting like, we can definitely do this. And he was so sold and bought in and I knew that, you know, he was going to be the perfect partner for it. And after that, you know, we’d go through a research phase of, okay, like is this feasible? Uh, what are the factors that are going to make it feasible? So, you know, you look at how much revenue we need to generate and then it comes down to like, how much revenue per square foot is that going to work? And then how much rent can we potentially pay for a space that’s gonna get us those, you know, in those economic conditions.
James Anderson: (08:01)
And then where is the spot that we want to be? And we saw, you know, what, uh, this other company was doing and they were in Toronto and Toronto is big city, right? And they were really focusing on that urban market. And you know, we thought with our experience in tourism, we really wanted to show this to visitors. We thought, you know, there’s nothing more Canadian that I can think of. Then coming to a former logging camp, which was sir, believe it or not, this was a logging a region. And that’s why these, a lot of the areas in British Columbia, uh, are actually populated now as from former logging camp. So what better way to show people a little taste of their, their location and place than doing this crazy traditional sport that is Axe throwing right down the street from us actually in Squamish a a town really close by.
James Anderson: (08:47)
They have the longest running timber sports festival in the world. And those festivals and events, ax throwing is always the most popular events. So, you know, we thought this was a great area with a huge tourism in flux and somewhere that we could make, you know, the math work and it was the obvious choice. So I, uh, I literally packed up my things in Victoria and moved here for the opportunity.
Bart Bradshaw: (09:09)
So how long did it take you guys to get the word out and actually make it into a profitable business?
James Anderson: (09:15)
Well, we’ve been, believe it or not, cashflow positive, uh, since we opened on day one of the business, uh, that, you know, that doesn’t mean we’re, we’re printing money from day one. We had a lot of debt to pay back. Uh, we invested all of our money from our previous, uh, business that we had, which was, uh, uh, you know, lighting design and installation, business, home service style.
James Anderson: (09:36)
Um, so we, we rolled our profits and from that we each invested $30,000 to get us off the ground and give us a little bit of runway. And Brett and I would work every shift, uh, while we were here. So it was a lot of blood, sweat and tears that went into those first few months. We also did a lot of construction ourselves, which saved us a lot of money. Um, you know, I had, I’d made the decision that, you know, I was going all in and I actually quit my job so that I could pursue the opportunity full time. We had enough cash as runway and we knew, you know, the math was there that if we could even meet, uh, very conservative revenue targets that we were going to be able to pair ourselves the, a small but livable sum of money to, to start living.
James Anderson: (10:17)
Um, but after that, you know, yeah. At about the six month mark, we started to get our feet under us and we started to look at, you know, Hey, this is working. How do we grow now? How do we expand? Right? So we’re, we’re very much of the mindset that, you know, we’re not in this for a quick buck. We’re in this to make a, a strong brand and a lasting business and one that provides incredible experiences to all of our guests. So, you know, the first chance that we had to expand was about six months in our neighbor. Just let us know like, Oh, Hey, we’re moving out. You know, maybe you want to take our desks or something like that. And we’re like, Whoa, Whoa, you’re moving. Like we, let’s call the landlord, like, we’ll take over your lease. And it was really that fast.
James Anderson: (10:54)
Uh, it was, uh, you know, they just let us know and we went, uh, we went in there, we looked at their space. We were like, Oh, we could put all these new lanes in here. We could build a bar over here. And it wasn’t long after that that we were throwing a sledgehammer through the wall, knocking down a wall and expanding our space. And we’ve done that another two times. So, you know, although we have been cashflow positive, we’ve reinvested a lot of the profits back into the business to, uh, to turn it into what it is now. And, and many other projects such as, you know, our ax throwing software, uh, and a new marketing and advertising campaigns and, and uh, contests and things like that that we’ve done along the way.
Bart Bradshaw: (11:28)
How did people find out about it at first, like the, those for six months? How did you kind of get it moving?
James Anderson: (11:35)
So we knew that the first six months were going to be critical to our success. A Whistler is a really interesting place because on paper there’s only 12,000 people who live in this town. Uh, but there’s over 3 million visitors a year who come, uh, to the region. And the people who come are, are looking to do something. And the people who those 12,000, the people who live here, I would call them like hardcore core locals. You know, they are very proud of their local status. Very proud of, uh, you know, that it says Whistler on their driver’s license. And we knew that we had to get our local community on board if we were gonna have a shred of success in this market, cause you need local champions to, to promote you. You know, it’s uh, you know, word of mouth does go a really long way.
James Anderson: (12:19)
So, you know, when we were, when we’re getting ready to open, one of the first things that we did is we got a really big banner. I just, uh, I made one on canva.com and I printed it at Vista print and it, you know, it said Forged Axe Throwing in huge letters, opening party, uh, was March 31st and then we put it up on our door facing the brewery next door to us. And you know, they had quite a lot of traffic for the ski season. So a lot of people saw that grand opening party thing. Uh, the next thing you know, we started a Facebook and an Instagram account. We were sharing a lot of our building photos and you know, once we got the targets on the wall, we do some slow-mo videos and things like that. We’d spent a couple of bucks promoting those, but we created an event on Facebook.
James Anderson: (13:01)
We invited every single one of our friends and then we printed off flyers and you know, I’ve heard somewhere, you know, he got to do things that don’t scale. This definitely doesn’t scale. But I printed off flyers and I went in personally to every single business that I thought could be a potential partner of ours in the region. And I went over to the concierge test. I looked him in the eye and said, like, you know, we’re starting this business, I’m really excited to work with you in the future, but this is our opening party. We’re having, you know, open house, free ax throwing, we’re going to have a cash bar. Come on down, uh, try it out. And I did that to, you know, probably 30 or 50 hotels. Like it was a, it was a big day and I was really nervous doing it cause we didn’t really even have a product yet.
James Anderson: (13:41)
Bar like we didn’t even know what we were selling yet. It was pretty scary. Right, exactly. And you know, you get met with some skepticism for sure. Like I, I remember giving it to someone and they were like, well couldn’t I just buy an axe and go into the woods and do this myself? And I guess the answer is yes, but you know, it’s kinda like, it’s kind of a funny thing cause it’s kinda like going to a race track, you know, it’s like well couldn’t I just do this on the street? Yeah, of course you can, you can do whatever you want man. But we provide like a hosted managed experience is going to be way more fun than you just doing it by herself in the woods. So, so we overcame a couple objections like that. And you know, on the on opening day, Brett and I, we had been so focused on this build cause we, we’re doing a lot of the construction ourselves and you know, Brett is really good at construction. But to be honest, neither of us are like construction professionals here, you know, like managing a a Gantt chart as far as like timing and project manage. It was not our specialty. So we were just sprinting, we’re trying to get things done as fast as possible. And up until about one minute before people showed up, we were spray painting lines on the floor, you know, putting final touches,
James Anderson: (14:52)
painting the walls, like we’re doing all these crazy last minute things. And I remember I was literally painting the floor and I turn around and these people are there. I’m like, Oh, is it, is it the opening party right now? And I was like, yeah, ah, Oh yeah, like one toe on his shirt. Like I put on one of my forge shirts we had made the day before and I turned around, I grabbed a couple of axes and you know, they were our first guests. And I taught them, you know, how to throw some axes. It, you know, it lasted maybe five to 10 minutes and they were having a great time and we sort of finished up, I, you know, as you’re welcome to throw some more axes guys. And uh, I sort of directed them over to the bar if they wanted to hang out a bit.
James Anderson: (15:28)
And I turned around and there were four new people there and that kept happening time and time and time again until we had a line up out the door. And you know, a Brett was still working, he was finishing stuff and I was like Brett, like I need your help man. Like things are getting really busy. And we had a lineup, like it was probably, you know, a couple hundred people deep at one point and we were, I guess so unprepared for that sort of feedback that we didn’t print off enough liability waivers, release liability waivers for the business. I think I printed 50 of them for the first day. And so I had to call my buddy Mattie, who works at a, an accounting firm or around the corner from us. And I was like, dude, like, sorry, mission critical please can you print off like 500 waivers?
James Anderson: (16:08)
Like I’ll pay you back. I’m really sorry. And he came over, he pulled through like, thank God, thank you Matt, if you’re listening to this app. It was a, it was definitely a group effort getting Forged off the ground on day one. But that opening party, uh, you know, I had people coming up to me at the party and you know, I had guys saying, Hey, I’m the concierge firm, you know, this and this hotel. Like, thanks for coming in. Really appreciate this was so much fun. I can’t wait to tell our guests about this. And like, do you have any packages? Like let’s work on a commission structure. And I thought, Oh, thank God like this, we really made it happen. And Bart. You know, funny enough, like that night we were so stressed about actually making it happen and making that party happen and getting construction finished that, you know, we were, we were wrapping things up at about three o’clock in the morning.
James Anderson: (16:53)
We’d had a couple beers we were celebrating and you know, we finally get the last of our friends out the door. Like it was awesome that they all came to support us. We finally get them out the door and we’re like hanging out, sweeping up and like one of us sort of looks at each other. I can’t remember who said at first, but we’re like, Hey, uh, I guess we opened tomorrow. Hey, like we got to work here now. I was like, Oh shoot. Like I don’t have the energy for that. And so we made the decision to close on our first day of business, which is an incredibly shortsighted move on our part, but we hadn’t focused on, you know, like hiring at least one person to help us get over this hump or thinking about, you know, ourselves in that moment of like, Hey, I should probably get some sleep cause I gotta work in six hours. So we closed on our first day. Um, but luckily, you know, the phone was ringing off the hook. We were making bookings and it all did work out in the end. But um, yeah, it was in the, no, no walkins, we, we said we’re closed for private event, which was Bret I needing sleep.
Bart Bradshaw: (17:52)
Well, in a world of everything moving digital and mobile and I mean an event like this, like axe throwing, it’s just what we all need, right? We need experiences, we need to get out. And I can’t think of anything kind of more like get out and have something fun to do than axe throwing.
James Anderson: (18:13)
Preach. Yeah, that’s my language right there, man. You know, I did a lot of research on this and Brett and I looked at all these studies and with our background of rafting, you know, when we were rafting, we were like, man, we are, we are onto something here. People love this experience. And we loved showing it to them, you know, and, and it comes down to what we call experience design. You know, design is a, a bit of a buzzword right now. There’s so many different designers, especially in technology of things, but designing an experience is something, uh, it’s, uh, it’s very much a soft skill in a lot of ways. But if you can do it properly, it’s replicatable and scalable. And that’s what we’ve tried to do here. So, you know, in, in our opinion, you know, there’s adults are thirsty for things to do.
James Anderson: (18:57)
You know, when you’re a kid, you get recreation a time, like three times a day, you know, he got recess, you got lunch, you got afterschool activities, got all these things to keep you stimulated and excited. And then, you know, you go to high school and you, you know, you get into, if you’ve got any athletic proficiency, you get into some sort of sport or maybe a club or something like that. You, you do something with your community around you. And then in university if you’re really good, you know, you keep keep going on to a university level sports or college level sports, uh, or, or you just find your, your community, whatever it might be in something else. But then once you get in the workforce, you know, there’s a lot of people just completely retreat from there. The recreation endeavors, you know, maybe they get into a, you know, like going to the gym and fitness or stuff like that and maybe they get into marathons, but a lot of people end up getting a friend group and you just go to the bar or a restaurant with them.
James Anderson: (19:45)
And don’t get me wrong, I love going to the bar, I love going to restaurants. That’s super fun. But you know, having that as the one piece of glue that brings your friend group together, I think it’s missing something. And in my opinion it’s healthy recreation and good times competition, you know, friendly competition with your friends. You know, trying to best each other, trying to get better at something. That having a sense of accomplishment when you go out. Yeah you can have a beer and throw axes. Like I got nothing against drinking beer but like think of this incredible activity that you got around. You got it. You got adrenaline throwing, you got sweat beating down your face, you got the thrill of competition. You know, that’s what people are missing. That’s what people want. So when we were designing this experience, we’re like, you know what? This is a perfect activity for somewhere like Whistler, which has amazing skiing. It’s got amazing mountain biking, but you know, you can’t do that all day. What happens when the lift closes? You know what happens when your, you’ve been biking for three hours and you can’t feel your hands anymore cause there’s are so numb like you need something else to do and you don’t just want to sit in the bar the whole day. You know, you want to do something fun. And that’s where unexperienced like axon I think really comes in. It fills that void of adult recreation that I think some people are really, really thirsty for.
Bart Bradshaw: (20:58)
Certainly, you know, you’re a local business, a local event venue, and a lot of our builders are either thinking about or have already opened a local business of some sort. I want to get into a little bit about that. Like, have you had any competition in Whistler? How have you dealt with that? Have you had any insights around, you know, being a local business? You already talked a little bit about, you know, inviting people in and, and, and getting the word out in the beginning. What about in the longer run, you know, over the past three years, what kinds of things have you learned about either competition or, um, just even thriving, you know, locally?
James Anderson: (21:42)
Yeah, competition is one thing that it used to really, really, uh, scare me. I was always concerned that someone was gonna start a venue before I did, or that someone was gonna, you know, hear about what we’re doing and, and jump on it. And you know, there’s that, uh, there’s that thing where it’s like execution is everything. Right. And, you know, although ideas are very valuable, execution is a huge part of that plan. And, you know, there there was other acts or on venues that have come and gone in the time that we’ve been around. Uh, but you know, our execution has given us staying power. I actually kind of love competition now. It’s not, and we’re not competing with just acts or on venues. We’re competing for people’s recreational time. We’re competing with the movie theater or competing with the escape room. Uh, we’re competing with the zip line and yeah, we do compete with other [inaudible] venues.
James Anderson: (22:36)
Uh, in fact, one opened and closed, um, about a year ago, uh, close to us and they just, they couldn’t sustain the numbers and they couldn’t make their model work, so they closed. Uh, which was fine. I mean, I personally love having at least one competitor around because I love winning and you can’t win if you’re the only one around. So it’s really, really nice if there’s someone there to motivate you and keep you hungry and keep you sharp. Uh, you know, there’s a, it’s just like throwing axes. I’d throw a way better when I’m in competition with someone than when I’m just trying to practice. When I’m practicing, I’m like, my mind’s wandering, I’m all over the place. When I’m in tournament and competition, I’m sharp, I’m laser focused and I’m gonna win this thing. So, uh, you know, I, I’ve learned a lot from my competition.
James Anderson: (23:24)
You know, there’s all kinds of great things you can do. Like look at all their Facebook ads, try and figure out what’s working. Uh, you can look at, uh, their, their offline advertising. You can go into their venues. So go say hi, I’m friendly with all my competitors. I’m know, like, and walk in, see, see what great ideas they might have. And I’m not saying you should rip people off 100%, but you also don’t want to reinvent the wheel. If you see something that’s working really well, you think, Oh man, would that work in our venue? Would that work for our flow? Or business is that, is that better than the way we’re doing it? So you constantly got to question yourself, your business, and look for ways to, to improve yourself. Um, you obviously don’t want to copy someone 100% because then you’re just going to be running their business.
James Anderson: (24:03)
You want to be running a better business. That’s the goal of competition, right? So you really gotta make sure that you’re, you’re besting everything that you do. Um, but you know, as far as all the other businesses around, you know, the, the escape rooms, the other recreational activities, you know, my advice, uh, to anyone who’s in a position like that and they’re concerned about, you know, people stealing a share of someone’s time or energy or, or wallet, right, is to see if there’s partnership opportunities available with those partners because, you know, their customers might become your customers and vice versa. If you’re in the same market, you’re competing for the same people. How can we package these things and make them work together? You know, it’s like, uh, if, if you’re coming to Whistler in the fall, uh, right now, uh, you know, it’s, it’s a little bit rainy outside the biking’s not great.
James Anderson: (24:47)
It’s not skiing season yet. If you come here, you can definitely wine and dine and have a great time doing that. But what if we created a package for like the ultimate fall experience where you do three things that are weather, that aren’t weather dependent, right? You can come ax throwing, we got an indoor range here, you do the escape room and see a movie that night and all of the partners can maybe knock five or $10 off their price to create a package and we can all benefit from that. There’s a lot that you can learn from your competitors and there’s a lot of opportunities to, to, to um, to work on marketing cross promotion as well.
Bart Bradshaw: (25:18)
Yeah, I really liked that. So it sounds like from a competition perspective, you like, uh, you know, that it kinda keeps you hungry. Um, it helps you be laser focused and stay sharp and connected to that, you know, a way to thrive. It sounds like what you’re saying is, you know, not only to help with the competition and don’t even think of them always as competition, maybe partners and create some partnerships and some packaged deals, but also just like think about it as an ecosystem. Like, I mean, we’ve talked about this with um, other guests. Like if you have a local business, you’re part of a local ecosystem. And being a part of that and thriving over time really requires you to kind of get out and get to know others and support and help each other as it makes sense. Is, is that accurate for you?
James Anderson: (26:12)
Absolutely accurate. Bart. Uh, you know, one of the, uh, one of the, uh, sayings my former, um, boss had when I was working in marketing, she would always say, you know, like 90% of the job is just showing up. And that really rings true for us for all local events. You know, if you go to a chamber of commerce meeting, I’m going to be there. If you go to, uh, you know, the transportation committee hearing, I’ll be there. If you go to a tourism Wister, spring social, I’ll be there. You know, being part of the local community is extremely important to us and there’s a common, I think misconception with people that competition is like is like an enemy and it’s not like that competition is great. Um, you know, I set up before but what you can learn so much from them and it’s built in market research.
James Anderson: (26:59)
If there’s a market for indoor activities in Wisser already, I know that I can like shave off a piece of that or grow that market. Um, for myself. You know, if, if I was coming here and there was absolutely zero, uh, indoor recreation activities already, I might double guess myself and be like, man, is this, is this really where we want to be? Like if, if no one is willing to pay for anything in doors, is this, is this a bad market? Like if someone already made this mistake before, am I just wasting money? So, you know, it’s a, it’s an ecosystem for sure. I really liked that. What you’re saying and getting involved with it, becoming a part of it. Becoming a trusted member of your community I think is absolutely huge. And you know what, like if it’s a rainy day and people go to the movie theater and they ask, you know, the person working there, Hey, what else can I do when it rains? They’re definitely going gonna recommend us cause we have a great relationship with that competitor. We’re friends with them, we send them business, they’ll send us business and you know, rising tide raises all ships. Like we can all benefit from these partnerships. It’s, it doesn’t have to be a winner. Take all mentality. We can grow the market together.
Bart Bradshaw: (28:04)
Yeah. I love that. So, you know, I want to also talk about the software that you guys have created. Tell us a little bit more about, um, like where did that come from? Um, was no one else doing a software for ax throwing businesses. How did you decide to like, you know, build it for one build, build something that’s specific to your business and then to, you know, expand and, and uh, sell it to others?
James Anderson: (28:31)
Well, forest had been going for about a year at that point. And that was about the time that we had the most local acts or, and competitors show up and they, they built their venue like right down the street from us. And it was, it was a a moment for us to pause for concern of like, Oh man, like what, what is going to differentiate our business here? And it was part of a chain that started there and you know, so we were looking for ways to grow the business. You know, we’ve already expanded to three new units in our building, but you know, we’re trying to think like, okay, what’s next? Like, do we, do we try and push into the States? We could put one of these in Seattle and like go all the way down like the West coast or do we go like, uh, East across Canada and like make this a thing.
James Anderson: (29:14)
Go down to Vancouver and Calgary. Edmonton either of those would have worked. But if we were to go that route of franchising or expanding, uh, our own owned units, first of all, we’d have to take a mountain of financing. Uh, you know, most commercial rents are gonna want like a 10 year commitment. Some, some you can do five years for sure, but it’s a hefty, uh, some, so let’s just say like each one is going to cost you a hundred grand a year to rent because you need a big venue. Or you could even go half of that, like 50 grand. If you got a scoop them deal, let’s say just just for example sake, 50 grand a year, over a 10 years or up to half a million. If we want to put 20 locations in, it starts to add up real quick. And I was like, man, that is a huge debt load to carry.
James Anderson: (30:00)
I don’t love carrying a lot of debt. We obviously use financing, but I was like, man, there’s already two or three other acts or on venues out there that are aggressively expanding and they’re franchising and they’ve taken investment. You know, one of them took 12 million bucks. I was like, damn, like these guys are, they’re hungry. And they got teams of uh, you know, real T team that’s going all across the U S they’re going state by state finding out local regulations and, and municipality zoning laws. And they are going in there. It’s a land grab right now. So we’re like, okay, what do we want to do? Like a, we could, we’d try and pitch this and get a huge investor like an angel or, or you know, if we, if we were um, looking that Relic like a VC maybe like we could try that. It’s, you know, VCs don’t love this kind of business cause it’s a huge debt load as we just found out with we work.
James Anderson: (30:45)
Right. Um, but we were trying to find another way to expand basically. And I was like, you know what? Like I bet we could improve our experience if we had like a way to lock people in. A lot of people, it’s the wrong word, but provide people value within a software ecosystem. And so like first of all it would help the players because they can see their scores over time. Like Astoria is a very stats driven activity. You’re getting, you’re getting five points going to six points, three points, one point and it’s at a certain throw a in a certain game against a certain person. Like there’s a lot of statistical information there and once you get really into it, people want to know like, Hey, how am I performing on my third throw? Like, Oh like where am I dropping bull’s eyes? Like what is my average score over the past three seasons of our league?
James Anderson: (31:32)
So originally we designed it, it was just released and it was just for our lead players were like, okay, well we’ll just make it for our venue cause we wanted something that we think would, would separate us from all the other competitors around. I, I posted it online on a forum. I said, you know, I’m looking for someone to help me make a statistically driven sports management suite. Uh, and I got inundated with design firms. Like some were telling me like I could probably build this for like a hundred dollars. And I’m like, okay, I don’t think you understand what I want them. Like this is way more than a hundred dollars project that I’m looking for. And you know, we probably got like a hundred applications to this thing and there was so much stuff that we had to weed through. And there were other people who are like, yeah, you know, I could probably build you something for like $1 million.
James Anderson: (32:16)
I’m like, okay. Again, like don’t have that kind of budget to work with because I didn’t want to take investment. I wanted to own the project. We ended up with a, an amazing program, super stoked with them. We had a great relationship, work with us for uh, you know, just over a year on the project getting off the ground. We’ve since expanded it with three programmers working on the project now and a dedicated support, uh, staff. And uh, it started to go back to your original question, Bart. The reason we wanted to get into it was to improve our experience. And we quickly realized that we actually had the best ag strong software in the world and we were pretty excited by that prospect. There was a one, one other or two other, uh, software applications out there, but, you know, we designed ours to be really gamified.
James Anderson: (33:01)
We had achievements in there. We had, you know, profile photos. We had teams that you could join and things like that. And it just provided a really great experience for our users. Like we really tried to gamify it, um, along with giving people the heavy stats information that they were looking for. And we ended up partnering with one of those companies that was aggressively expanding across the United States, and they put our software into every single one of their venues. Uh, so, you know, and we’re proud to say that along, you know, with their venues and all of the other venues that have joined us since then, we’re sitting at about 210 venues across North America and Europe and Asia that are using our axon software now. It’s called the Yo Referee. And uh, yeah, we are the largest ax throwing software provider in the world. It’s crazy.
James Anderson: (33:50)
That crazy to say and, and super, super excited, uh, about the project and the value that it’s sorta delivered to the community. Do you see there being a lot of, uh, additional growth in that market? XRM itself is still growing for sure. Uh, you know, we, we see new venues popping up every day on Instagram and uh, you know, I started a course to just help people start throwing venue. I do want to see people succeed in this market. Um, obviously I’ve invested interest cause I want them to use our software and compete with us. I think that would be amazing. And by compete, I mean throw in all the tournaments and create an amazing acts or on community around it so that we can, we can really find out who’s the best player of that. Um, if your listeners want to join us at axethrowing.com it’s totally free.
James Anderson: (34:35)
Uh, I just got so many questions. I needed to write it down once and say like, here you go. It’s all in that course. I, I can’t answer all the emails we’re getting, but you know, I do see a lot of growth there. But you know, it’s, once we created that software, we realized that, you know, it’s ax throwing is one thing, but, uh, there’s a lot of other, uh, target based sports that are looking for a solution like this. So we recently started working with a knife throwing organization. Uh, we’ve been talking with archery organizations. Um, there’s, I mean, there’s all kinds of target based activities out there that require something like this and whether we exhausted target sports completely or, you know, have to pivot into something else. I think the lesson there, you know, for your listeners is like, if you have a physical business, and this is such a cliche, but if you have a physical business, like what is your, your pain point?
James Anderson: (35:24)
And if you find one, like we did that, we think like, Oh, we just don’t have good software. It’s like help manage groups and record sets like that. That was a pain point and we didn’t even realize how big the itch was at first. Uh, for everyone else in the industry. Uh, you know, the nice thing about software obviously is that unlike Elise, uh, we can scale it much easier. Uh, so without having a hundred leases or 200 leases out there, uh, that I was talking about for real estate, we can have our software and 200 venues. And if we have to scale down is quite an easy move for us or scale up is quite easy as well. I shouldn’t say easy. It’s hard to find programmers and good stuff to work on it. But, uh, so far we’ve been able to meet.
Bart Bradshaw: (36:03)
Yeah, software is definitely more scalable in, in many ways.
James Anderson: (36:06)
But in, you know, I, I do want to caution people though, if you’re like me and you don’t have any experience in software, I wouldn’t start a software business without a preexisting business where you can prove it to yourself. We started the software originally without the idea, you know, uh, you know, it would have been a dream to achieve what we’ve achieved so far with our software back when we first started it, when we first started, we were literally just building it for ourselves. How can we improve our experience to make ourselves better than the competitor down the street? That was why we started it. And, you know, we’re so lucky that other people noticed it. You know, we, we did post a couple of screenshots on forums and stuff like that. People were excited, they emailed us, they wanted to use it, and we’re like, Oh, okay, this, the need is bigger than just us. And we were able to grow like that. So, you know, I would caution people, if you’re a nontechnical founder and you really want to get in a software like, uh, you know, I would, I would make sure you have a preexisting business first that you can rely on, uh, before you start dumping time and resources into, uh, an unproven, a market.
Bart Bradshaw: (37:08)
Yeah. Yeah. I mean even technical founders, like everybody needs a real, you know, place to pilot something. So maybe it’s not that you have to own your own, um, company and use the software for yourself, but maybe even just like a pilot partner, you know, some partner that’s really hungry for a software and is willing to go through the kind of ups and downs of trying it out and asking for this feature and that feature and, but, but yeah, really good advice
James Anderson: (37:38)
but we didn’t understand how important that testing part was either. Um, I’ve read posts, uh, you know, I, I like frequently we’ll go on uh, the Reddit entrepreneurship forums or startup forums or um, you know, all the other growth hacker or whatever is, you know, online and read people’s stuff. And I often see posts from non technical people asking for advice on, on how to start these things and you know, the advantage of having that pilot partner or in our case our on business to test the software. I kept getting feedback from our, you know, our lead developer and he was like, man, it’s so great working on this project. Cause we get the stats every night. We’re beta testing every night. You know, we are, we are using the software. So many developers and programmers with pilot projects struggle getting those first few users because it’s, it’s a slog man.
James Anderson: (38:26)
Like the software sucks at first. It’s really hard to use and there’s bugs you just can’t foresee. And it’s virtually unusable to everyone else except the developer who’s like, who’s noses is right up next to it and understands everything perfectly. But those beta tests in those pilot projects are what really got it off the ground. And it was so exciting for our developer to work with us. He kept giving us great feedback being like, thank you so much for providing the community that can use this tool. Like it was so exciting. So you know, that I think right there, uh, his, his, his vote of confidence for finding those partners early on that are willing to use the product and provide that valuable for you.
Bart Bradshaw: (39:03)
Yeah, I really liked that. Um, so I have two last questions for you. You know, I’ve enjoyed, uh, your story a lot, you know, from 600 a month in Costa Rica to, you know, owning your own business with a co founder and, um, making it an awesome local business. Uh, providing a lot of fun too and, and experiences like we talked about to tourists and even the local, uh, um, folks there in Whistler as well as this, uh, software. You know, it’s, it’s a very cool story and, and you’ve given us a instruction as well. Um, some things to think about from, you know, a competition and partnership perspective from a, you know, software and how to, how to go about creating software and how to think about it. Like a lot of good stuff here. As you think about builders and maybe even yourself in the past, like what kind of advice do you give regularly or would you give to our builders that’s just like, you know, what youth see, thinking back through the years and then the challenges you faced as kind of the most priceless advice you could give.
James Anderson: (40:12)
I think all builders and founders, um, struggle from a pretty bad case of imposter syndrome. At least I do. And I know Brett, my co founder does. And you know, most people I talk to, you seem to share that, uh, common trait of, you know, why would people buy from me? Well, when they could buy from the bigger guy, why would, why would they trust me to fulfill that service? Or why would they use my tool? Um, or, or, you know, that you can think of a million reasons why I want the, why would the bank give me alone? You know, I think everyone suffers from this. And no matter how good you create your product or, or, or whatever the situation is, it’s very hard to overcome that. Um, entrepreneurship can be a very lonely endeavor and you’re gonna make a million mistakes. And we’ve, Brett and I always joke about it that, you know, we’ve fallen into the, you know, the pit of sorrow.
James Anderson: (41:01)
Like it just, when things go bad, it feels like they’re never gonna get better. And when things get are good, you know, it never feels like as good as you think it will when things are bad. Um, but I, I recently heard this incredible quote from, I think it’s the founder of Spotify and he said that, you know, the value of a company is the sum of all the problems that they’ve solved. So, you know, I really, really love that because you know, there’s no perfect business out there that has never had a problem what your problem is right now, whether you can’t get financing from the bank, like they’ve turned you down, uh, your contractors overcharged you or uh, you know, your toilet explodes or whatever. The thing is, whatever’s happening, you can solve this problem. Like every problem can be solved. There are options out there and the value that you are injecting into this company, what you are building is the, the, those problem solving skills and the problems that you’ve been able to overcome, the knowledge that you’ve been able to gain along the way.
James Anderson: (42:01)
So, you know, when things are tough, you know, don’t beat yourself up. Find ways out of it. We got turned down for uh, so many loans at first cause we were trying to give this unproven business model. You know, no one had heard of axon. Everyone thought we were crazy, including my parents apparently still do. But, uh, you know, you can overcome these problems. You can find partners who are willing to trust you. It’ll, it might take tons and tons of door knocking. It might take tons and tons of applications. You know, it might take three or four business plans, uh, you know, maybe, maybe 30 or 40 business plans. Like, you know, there’s all kinds of work that you have to do to overcome these problems, but you can do it. So I would say that, you know, work hard and, and solve problems if you’re, if you’re running into problems, it probably means at some point, you know, you’re doing something right. Everyone has to solve problems and so pursue the things that are hard to do.
Bart Bradshaw: (42:53)
I really liked that and I like, one of the things I like about it is that it’s not just about luck and what opportunities come your way. A lot of it’s like actually in all of our control, it’s our willingness to solve problems, find problems and solve them. So that’s really good. Really good advice.
James Anderson: (43:13)
Lux. Definitely part of it. I’m not going to lie, we’ve had our fair share, but I always also like to say that, you know, luck is where hard work and opportunity collide. Right? If we hadn’t been, uh, working our butts off and we hadn’t worked to find the opportunity, we would have never had the luck that people see now. Like, ah, it’s so lucky that you guys started acts during and you know, when it was first starting, ah, it’s so lucky you guys like, uh, have the accelerant software. Oh, you’re so lucky that this or that or the other thing. It’s like, dude, no. Like you got to make your own luck, man. Like, yeah. Yeah. It looks lucky, but it wouldn’t have been lucky if we hadn’t worked hard to get to all those things. Like, yeah,
Bart Bradshaw: (43:52)
yeah, let’s certainly a part of it, but we weren’t tired. Don’t forget it. Um, so, so my last question, what’s next for you? What’s next for forge decks.
James Anderson: (44:02)
We’ve got tons of things on the go bar. Like our venue here is still growing, which is amazing. We’re, we’re constantly looking for, you know, great new people that we can work with to bring on a staff or to, uh, to, uh, to improve the experience. We’re, we’re just finishing like another set of renovations, improving, uh, our venue downstairs, which is, you know, so awesome. We’re so excited. We can finally, this is the vision that I think we had on day one. We’re finally able to execute and see our players competing at a international championships all around the world. Like keep an eye out for Ford shirts. You’ll see them. Um, as far as our software goes, that’s growing at a rapid clip. Uh, we’ve, we just expanded our team the last month. Um, so, you know, we’re, we’re, we’re growing that side. We’re, we’re finally able to invest in some of the new projects on our software that, you know, we’ve never been able to, uh, to look at before, such as expanding into those different organizations and things like that.
James Anderson: (45:00)
And you know, I would say like next for us is, is reaching that point where we can treat this as a mature business instead of a startup that we’re constantly investing in. Um, we’ve reached a level where we’re able to, uh, put processes, uh, consistent processes in place without having to change it every month. Um, as we, as we grow, which is a great, great place to be, enter to reach service stage of maturity. And I think our, our activities in Whistler are not done. We will be looking at many more recreational opportunities that we could offer to the local.
Bart Bradshaw: (45:34)
That’s very cool. Um, and I’m excited to visit Whistler. I haven’t yet, but I’ve heard it’s amazing. Um, so thanks for joining us. James. Tell us also like if our builders are interested in opening their own ax throwing venue, what’s that? An online course again? Where’s the link? Yeah, if you want it,
James Anderson: (45:53)
do the online course. It’s www.axecourse.com. That’s www.axecourse.com if you want to check out our venue, it’s forgedaxe.ca or you can just Google us. I guarantee that you’re going to find us. And uh, yeah. Uh, I really love an email. If you guys do sign up from acts course, uh, I shoot it out for my personal email, shoot me a note. I’d love to hear from you. Tell me what you’re thinking and what you’re looking to build.
Bart Bradshaw: (46:18)
Perfect. Um, and builders will have links to all of that in our show notes, as well as exclusive content on [inaudible] dot com next week on built to stay.