Gerome Sapp tackles the business world.
A lot of things can happen in life to change your course or put you on the path to your true calling. For Houston native Gerome Sapp, it was being an All- American high school football star — the number-one player in his state — and earning a full scholarship to Notre Dame University.
Raised by a single mother who always put education first, Sapp knew that the NFL would soon be calling. “I always had a feeling that I would play for the NFL one day,” he said, “and I understood that I would have to take my education seriously if the NFL thing didn’t work out.”
So he majored in finance at Notre Dame, and interned at Merrill Lynch in the summer months during his college years. Sapp’s intuition was correct: he was drafted into the NFL and he played for such teams as the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts from 2003 to 2008.
After retiring from football Sapp enrolled in Harvard Business School. “I remember while in football team meetings going over plays, I would scribble down business concepts and the other players would be looking on,” he said. “I didn’t know how to make them into reality at the time, but shared ideas with my teammates — thinking if I couldn’t execute the idea, maybe they could.”
Fate seemed to come full circle for Sapp at Harvard when his entrepreneurial instructor asked the students to take an hour break and then come back to class with a business concept.
“During that hour, I was very hungry and didn’t want to eat the food from the vending machine. I started thinking, and that is when I knew I wanted to come up with a business concept that combined nutrition and convenience,” he said. “I remember in high school how I helped design a ‘grab & go’ system, where students could get fresh sandwiches and go back to class. What’s ironic is, while in that entrepreneurial class break that is where the concept for Health Binge originated — and I didn’t know that would ultimately be the business I am in today.”
Sapp graduated from Harvard, and tried his hand at various other businesses before taking the Healthy Binge plunge.
“It was almost like my internal clock was ticking and I wanted to get out and spread my wings into something else — and business was that thing,” he said. “My first venture was in the apparel business that I started with a buddy from Notre Dame. We were all retired football players and our business was the first 100% American Made Apparel. It was made in North Carolina back in 2009, and was made out of recycled plastic bottles. I was the CEO for the company and my first major sale was to the U.S. Navy Seals. This was the first time I realized I could create something from nothing. I eventually sold my shares back to my business partners.”
Sapp experienced anxious feelings and some depression after moving back to his
hometown in Houston.
“A lot of retired NFL players experience depression after they retire from the game,” he said. “Initially, I didn’t feel those emotions because I immediately went into business after I retired. So my mind was occupied. But I remember the first time I felt the depression was when I sold my shares in the apparel business and not having anything to do daily. It was my birthday and I went to the mailbox and I pulled out an issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. My aunt had gotten me a subscription for my birthday. That magazine opened up the whole world to me, and I was like a sponge. I couldn’t get enough of it. I couldn’t wait to receive my issue each month. I was learning something new each time in the world of business.”
Sapp soon took notice of how technology was not just giving athletes and celebrities a platform, but also the general population.
“I started a technology company which was the reason I came to Las Vegas,” he said. “I always thought you had to be either an athlete or a celebrity to be valued by consumers in the area of social media. If an athlete or celebrity spoke of a product or experience from a product, only they could inspire social media users to do the same. Well, I noticed and researched that was not the case — it was the regular public who was driving brands considerably by their own personal stories about a particular product. The public who weren’t paid to do so, but believed in a product and genuinely drove others to do the same. My technology business model wasn’t about just monitoring one’s followers — because people could buy followers. I wanted to see how many people were influenced to use a product that was either tweeted about or written about via social media outlets and how many repetitive shares did it generate. I was thinking that there was no tracking system in place to measure the ripple effects for a consumer brand. … I didn’t think anyone was influential to anything and people were confusing popularity with influence. You can be popular but that doesn’t necessarily translate into being influential. So, I help to create influencers’ scores that I called, ‘Fluencr.’ This score rated things that really mean something to brands because of the social media consumer ripple effects created.”
Pitching his technology business concept to Zappos mogul Tony Hsieh, proved to be a great meeting — but investment financing was denied.
According to Sapp, “I was made for business, because the NFL prepares you for rejection. I remember when I attended my meeting with Tony Hsieh representatives they loved the business concept and me as the company’s CEO, but said I had too many holes in the business model. I understood because I didn’t have my own internal tech team and there were a lot of things that I had to clean up. So, they had to pass. I walked out of that meeting and then I turned around and went back into their office and asked, ‘You said you liked the concept?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ And I asked, ‘You said you like me?’ They replied, ‘Yes.’ That was literally all I needed to know to make my product better, and I told them I would be back in a year to see them. That year was really the toughest year of my life, but I found the tech team I needed and our first customer was Under Armour the apparel and footwear company. We launched the company in Austin, Texas, and one day I ran into Andy White — the previous head of Vegas Tech Fund. I eventually received the funding for the technology company that had me relocate to Downtown Las Vegas — which was a requirement for the financing, But the company was still under-financed, and I had to shut it down.”
Perseverance was the order of the day for Sapp, and he had his own self-motivated backup plan if his technology business didn’t make it.
“You have to fail sometimes to understand how to succeed,” he said. But I always told myself if the technology company didn’t work out, the first thing I was going to do was the Health Binge business concept. I knew Vegas would be the perfect place for it because the customer service industry contractually demands workers to maintain a great and healthy physical appearance. I love healthy food and I found the best chef to help formulate a great menu. I studied all that I could about Las Vegas demographics and also conducted my own business feasibility to see if people would buy my healthy food. I rented a commercial kitchen and served food from the back door to about 200 cocktail waitresses and bartenders before opening my retail outlet. People love the food and rarely know that they are eating food that is healthy for them. People love the food and now we have opened Health Binge at 6040 West Badura Ave. in Las Vegas. We are also partnering with EOS Fitness and seventeen Health Binge food outlets will be going inside of the health facilities in Vegas and Arizona.”