In 2008, Bellator MMA was nothing more than an idea in my head. After surveying the professional mixed martial arts landscape, I saw a huge opportunity for a legitimate, real sports format in an industry that had long been dominated by “matchmaking” near-scripted outcomes.
Five years later, we are seen in more than 140 countries worldwide, produce/promote more than 25 events per year in sold-out arenas and have the highest rated MMA programming on cable TV in the U.S.
But early on, the ability to overcome rejection was key to getting to the top.
Be ‘pleasantly relentless’
The greatest business ideas mean nothing without investment capital. Once my business plan was complete, I went on the proverbial “road show” to unearth that capital. I spent more than a year on the road in more than 60 meetings without a single bite. Flights on Southwest Airlines and cheap rental cars were standard fare while I tried to sell investor after investor who looked at me like I was speaking Mandarin.
Rejection after rejection was the norm.
Here’s what kept me going: I had true experience/expertise in the industry and knew my model was sound with a substantial EBITDA upside. I was pleasantly relentless and never once accepted an initial “no.”
I had unmitigated (some might say blind) confidence in my ability to make it happen. The vision and articulation of the vision was long term. And last, but surely not least, I was willing to risk everything.
Honestly, the thought of not being able to bring the dream to reality never crossed my mind.
Don’t fear rejection
Once capital was secured, overcoming rejection didn’t stop. Talent fuels our connection with consumers/viewers and our distribution platform allows those consumers to watch the brand and become loyal fans.
When we entered the space in 2009, there had been organizational failure after failure, so fighters and networks were gun-shy about committing to “another” new organization. All the principles of overcoming rejection still applied, but the willingness to risk everything played a much more substantial role.
Knowing that I had the financial resources to orchestrate the vision made overcoming rejection much easier. And it made my willingness to take great risk to entice talent and networks to work with us much more palatable. The rejection and hesitancy remained, but the ability to overcome was there as well.
I can honestly say those rejections make the success we have now that much more satisfying. They also serve as a constant reminder that anything is possible. Five years ago, the rejections seemed larger and more ominous.
But “no” is still part of the daily vocabulary I have to deal with. The difference is that today, when I hear no, when someone rejects an idea or initiative, it doesn’t impact my ability to make it happen.
It only impacts how quickly I’ll get to the desired result and exactly what road I’ll take to get there.