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Start Your Business Success Stories

Bases Loaded: How One Entrepreneur Hit a Home Run Off a Bad Pitch

Bases Loaded: How One Entrepreneur Hit a Home Run Off a Bad Pitch Credit: ZogSports

I was standing in the Financial District, looking up at the black smoke billowing from the floor where my office was. I never heard the explosion of the second plane hitting the tower, but I still ran. Sixteen years later and the images of September 11, 2001 remain crystal clear.

My office was on the 96th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower. On that day, I was running behind schedule because I dropped off my laundry, picked up my mail and caught a local train. Being five minutes late saved my life as every one of my coworkers who were in the office, all 297 of them, were killed.

After three months of grief, I took a vacation and found myself on a beach with a drink in my hand, reflecting on 2001, a terrible year. I’d closed a company and laid off 30 people who reported to me. I was unemployed for four months and landed a job that wasn't a great fit. Then 9/11 happened.

As I stared at my glass, I realized it was exactly half full. I thought to myself, "Okay, well, what good things happened this year?" For starters, I met my wife while playing co-ed softball. I stopped traveling for work and began playing team sports again and found I loved the camaraderie of my teams. Plus, I witnessed the tremendous outpouring of compassion following the terrorist attacks.

I knew that life could be better if more people had real personal connections, caring communities and a sense of play. So, in 2002, I launched ZogSports, a charity-focused, co-ed social sports league. Since our first season of 26 touch football teams, we've grown into six cities, with over 100,000 players and over $3.4MM donated to charities chosen by winning teams. We just celebrated our 15-year anniversary, and I'm proud to say that we've grown every year. Plus, we've received multiple "Best Places to Work" awards and a B-Corp "Best For The World: Community" award. My job makes me want to come to work every day.

We have stayed focused on our core business while ensuring our leagues still feel like a community and our players experience the connections they need to live happier lives. We have neither accepted outside investment nor grown faster than we believed was sustainable.

About five years ago, we began receiving requests from corporate clients asking if we could organize field days, private tournaments and in-office activities to enhance their company culture. This coincided with conversations I’ve had with friends, many of whom held senior roles at impressive companies, who told me how much they hated their jobs. That was the spark for our second business, ZogCulture. The workplace is a great setting to focus on creating connections, community and a sense of play. In addition to ZogSports, ZogCulture partners with hundreds of companies, representing 10,000s of employees, to improve employee engagement and bring play into the workplace.

What started with tragedy has grown into an organization that is creating connections, community and play for hundreds of thousands of people every year. We believe that this will, in our small way, change the world.

About the author: Rob Herzog decided to build on the tremendous human charity he witnessed following 9/11 and to help foster community in New York by creating ZogSports, which encourages New Yorkers to maintain perspective and a more balanced lifestyle by having fun while also giving something back to the community. Robert holds an MBA in Entrepreneurial Management from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Economics from Brown University.