When I meet people today and tell them that I was one of the co-founders of AND 1, they almost all – to a person – mention the mix tapes. The mix-tapes are still going today, decades after they started – they were a movement.
While many people know us for this ‘mix tape tour’, and this left a big imprint on popular culture, this likely only became as big as it was because we already had some presence as a brand. In fact, we were between $70,000,000 and $100,000,000 in annual revenues by the time it launched.
And it almost didn’t happen.
‘The Mixtape.’ A team of Streetball players traveling the country, making ‘tricks’ into an artform
How did it come about? We had been sent a ‘mix tape’ of the best highlights from a single player named Rafer Alston, aka Skip-to-my-lou, up at the ultimate playground park in New York City – Rucker Park.
That tape had sat in our office gathering dust for over a year. We had watched it, our company and management and employees and interns – all of us, and we had marveled at the wizardry.
This was the ‘highest level’ of what I had seen at Five Star Park and in playgrounds growing up, and what I had tried to teach myself dribbling each day in my basement as a kid.
But we didn’t know what to do with it. The internet was just emerging then. None of us thought seriously that an on-line campaign with it would matter. We couldn’t afford to turn it into a series of TV commercials. And we had bet a lot of our company’s future on Marbury and the best NBA players we could afford in the drafts that follow – drafts in which we landed Larry Hughes, but lost out on Vince Carter – and where it slowly became apparent, that we didn’t have the pocketbook to compete with the big boys.
We needed something new and different. I don’t know who first suggested it. I’ve heard it was Phin Barnes, who is now a partner at First Round Capital – but it might have been any of a dozen people – or several people all influencing each other.
But, the idea reached Jay and he listened. And he didn’t just listen, he shaped it into a powerful vision and recruited a team to act on that vision. There were two main pillars to this – we would get the best unseen playground footage we could find, if necessary putting on our own ‘underground games’ in key markets to drive excitement and increase the highlights – and we would get the best, unreleased music from up-and-coming urban artists.
Again, I don’t know all the details here, but it seemed to me that a man named Set Free was instrumental in making this all happen. He was networked in to Philly and New York clubs and the music scene and got the songs.
Jay got the footage and hired a team and put it all together. This was the first ‘mix tape.’ And we released it with a slip-on shoe I had designed with Dallas Stokes called the ‘To Chill’in.’ The idea was simple, for every purchase of a shoe, you would get a mix-tape.
The attitude and product had carried us to a point of real success where we were in all stores in most places in America and retailers were willing to be behind our footwear products with marketing support – and push their stores to do the same.
Both the slip-ons and the mixtape became “overnight” successes. Within 12 months we had sold roughly $60 MM of this new style of ‘slip on shoes.’ And the mix-tape had turned into a city-by-city urban tour with it’s own ‘stars’, and shows, and that was sold out.