How Anthony Passalacqua used his love for basketball to pay off his student loans

Anthony Passalacqua

Anthony Passalacqua was given entrepreneurial guide book The 10% Entrepreneur by the parent of one of his students; it turned out he was already well on his way. A teacher and one-time Division I basketball player, Anthony found an opportunity with Shootin’ School to create a 10% that combined his passion for teaching with his love for the game. He found time between his 100% and his 10% to answer some questions about why he founded Shootin’ School, how he’s been able to grow it, and what he’s learned along the way. Anthony, take it away.

What is the name of your business and what do you do?  When did you start it?

My business is called Shootin’ School. It’s a basketball instruction business which provides youth basketball players with the tools necessary to become successful and skillful at the game that they love.

Can you tell us about how your business has done so far?

Shootin’ School has been a great success so far, and we are just getting started! We work with over a thousand youth players a year and many overseas professional basketball players come to us for their offseason workouts. Multiple players who train with us from a young age have received full scholarships to college. Recently, one of our trainees was named “Gatorade Player of the Year” in New York and Miss NY basketball. She also received a full scholarship to the University of Virginia (DI, ACC) for basketball (no easy feat).

Monetarily, Shootin’ School has allowed me to live comfortable. When I started training kids to play basketball I only wanted side money to spend on the weekends. As it turns out, Shootin’ School is helping me pay off my student loans. I’ve already paid half of my loan off in only 4 years.

What is your day job?  If you’ve left that job, for how long did you maintain both a day job and your 10% endeavor?

I am a teacher during the day. I’ve learned through my day job and at Shootin’ School to love the process of breaking things down and giving young people an opportunity to understand them.

What was your inspiration for launching your company?

Shootin’ School started because of ONE person!

Let me give a little background info first: I was a college basketball player myself. As a player, I was part of a Division I basketball team at Wagner College and a Division III team at Stevens Institute of Technology. I had a very good career. I broke all of the shooting records at Stevens Institute.

When my career ended, one of my father’s friends inquired about me training his daughter to shoot. Of course, I was eager to start! Once I got on the court with her, I knew I wanted to work with more players! I started with her in September and by December, I had 20 clients.

Why do you think your business is a good idea?

Shootin’ School is a good idea in general for one reason, and on Staten Island specifically for another. The first reason is that you cannot put a price on good instruction. The investment in your child’s athletic ability, skill development, leadership skills and social skills is not something you can attach a monetary value to. Also, on Staten Island gym time is scarce. It is extremely difficult to get into a gym to work on your game. Shootin’ School solves both problems. It allows players to get good instruction in a real basketball facility.

What convinced you that you could succeed – why were you the right person to start and manage this business?  What gave you the confidence to actually try and go for it?

I never thought twice about pursuing it, to be honest. Basketball is my passion. When I was young I always knew I wanted to train youth players. In my mind, there was no chance I would fail! Obviously, I spent hours and hours working. I sacrificed nights out with friends, dinner with family, parties, etc. You name it, I missed it. The one thing that I did not predict was how popular it would become! In addition, my degree in Business and Techonology from Stevens Institute prepared me well for Entrepreneurship.

How does this particular business idea fit with your life and who you are?

Since 3rd grade I’ve dedicated my life to basketball. My mother thought I was crazy when she spotted me sleeping with the basketball.  I heard that the best players in the world “eat and sleep” with a basketball, so I took it literally! Basketball has been part of my identity for a long time. Every person that has ever crossed my path knew it because I never stopped talking about it.

I’ll never forget my first boss at my first job: I was a bus boy at a restaurant and my boss was trying to explain something to me and I was a little confused. Well, in order to make me “understand,” he translated the situation into basketball terms.

Nowadays, instead of taking the traditional approach of coaching a team, where I would be limited to working with only 10-15 players, I get to work with thousands. For me, it’s much more enjoyable this way.

What have you invested in your company?

I’ve dedicated a lot of time to Shootin’ School. My goal has been to keep basketball in my life and I’ve done just that. From the beginning, I chose to dedicate tons of time to Shootin’ School because of my love for the sport.

Money-wise, I am consistently re-investing into Shootin’ School. 10% of Revenue goes to advertising and marketing, while about 5-8% a year goes to new equipment. Staying up to date with the latest technology and having quality training aids for the kids is ONE of the ways to show people that you are still sharp and on top of your game. It also proves that you care about staying up to date on the latest training techniques.

In what ways does this business play to your strengths – i.e. past business or education experience or network of contacts?

Once I came home from college, people asked me about my college career and I felt pretty disengaged. At the time, my younger sister played for the top girls’ basketball team on Staten Island and when I went to watch her play, I was right back in my comfort zone. Everyone knew me and I knew everyone. Sharing the news about the business was easy because I was already in the gym and on the court. I was able to re-build old relationships and start developing my clientele.

Do you have any partners?  What do they bring to the table that you do not?  Are they also 10%?

Thanks to reading The 10% Entrepreneur, I now have a business partner! In addition to Shootin’ School, I recently started another basketball instruction business called Because We Can for players with disabilities, and he’s helping me with it.

What has been the biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?

I consider my biggest problems to be good ones: expansion and growth. As more people sign up for basketball instruction, I’ve been working on improving my scheduling process and on finding high quality trainers to work with the kids.

When it comes to scheduling, it has become progressively more difficult as the business grows. I used to call clients back the day of and set up appointments over the phone; today, doing that is impossible! Now, we have an online system that allows people to select the time they want.  The request gets processed and the client receives a confirmation email. It’s so much easier!

Hiring quality trainers that deliver high quality service is something that cannot be overlooked. In fact, one of our top trainers is the Director of Trainer Development. His job is to meet with each trainer once a month and go through scenarios that may take place with young players. He also keeps our trainers in the loop with the latest teaching techniques and basketball tips. This is a position that started only about 8 months ago. The growth of the business required a position like this. It was definitely a good problem to have.

What are your top tips for managing time?

You must block out time for work. This is not optional. If you want to be successful, you have to put in the time. Create a “to-do” list and chip away at it. Try to always be learning about your industry. Think of the next step for your business and start paving the road to get there. Be disciplined about your time. There is always something to do. Don’t put it off!

My point is, if you allocate an hour a night to your business, make sure that you use it. Don’t sporadically decide that you are going to take the night off. Make your business a priority and be sure to always be moving forward! Someone once told me a quote and it still resonates with me to this day:  “You are either moving forward or you are going backwards. There is no standing still.” Whenever my mind or body wants to get lazy or procrastinate, I think of that quote.

Who have you gone to for advice and what you do when you need help?

I’m really fortunate in this area. Training kids at Shootin’ School has allowed me to meet with some really awesome parents! Some of the parents have seen great success in their lives and have been nice enough to sit down with me and either help me with issues that I’m having in my business or guide me in the right direction.

In fact, one of those AWESOME parents gave me the book The 10% Entrepreneur that ultimately landed me this BLOG spot.

In addition, I have to mention one of the biggest breaks Shootin’ School has ever had. In 2014, Shootin’ School was hosting a multi-day group event. We had about 60 players signed up. One parent stayed by the door and watched the first 30 minutes of the event, day after day, while all the other parents left. I decided that I would go over and greet him. I couldn’t be more thankful that I did. Not only did he become one of my dearest friends, but also this gentleman is responsible for single-handedly doubling Shootin’ School’s revenue from 2014 to 2015!

Surrounding yourself with great people and always listening is a great way to succeed. Sometimes great advice and help is found in places you would never imagine! I certainly never planned on making so many great connections with the parents of players I train.   

What do you see happening in the future?

The goal is to continue to grow. We now have a new program for basketball instruction that has been seeing a lot of success. It allows me to receive a recurring payment on a monthly basis. It allows the parents to get their kids instruction for the lowest rate possible. And it allows the players to get as much instruction as they want in a month, ultimately allowing them to see more results, in a shorter time period! I am hoping that this program becomes the backbone of Shootin’ School.

What books and blogs have you read and that have been helpful to you (if any)?

A book that I truly enjoyed is entitled “Pour your Heart Into it” by Howard Schultz. The book is about the ups and downs that Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks) had to face in order to get Starbucks to the point that it is at today. Initially, I was reading the book to understand the journey of franchising a business. However, I took away a lot more than that. It was amazing to see how many times Howard Schultz was in a tough spot. Many people assume that a great/successful business is the result of “luck” or “a great idea” or “being in the right place at the right time” or “having a lot of capital to start”… but “Pour Your Heart Into It” showed me that nothing is “easy”.  It takes a lot of time, effort and sacrifice! It took a lot of tweaking to make the Starbucks business model come to life.

Anything funny, crazy, particularly memorable you haven’t mentioned?

To further expand on my statement above…

Many people assume that a great/successful business is the result of “luck” or “a great idea” or “being in the right place at the right time” or “having a lot of capital to start.”

Shootin’ School was not an initial success.

  • It wasn’t a novel idea, since basketball instruction already existed.
  • I definitely wasn’t in the right place at the right time. In fact, the gym that I started training in is not even one of my locations anymore. I had to leave and find a new place to call home for Shootin’ School.
  • I absolutely didn’t have any capital. Truth be told, I had to split profits with my first location just because I didn’t want to take on any risk or pay for gym time.

I’ll never forget the first clinic I ran. I promoted for 3 months. I was only charging players $15 to register! It was a no-brainer. The gym was going to be filled with tons of players eager to learn. But only 3 players signed up! I was so embarrassed. That was a rough couple of days.

I was only in the business for 3 months at that time. I could’ve easily quit AND I won’t lie, it crossed my mind at the time. However, I stuck with it. I adjusted my strategies and I got back to work.

If I were in front of new Entrepreneurs, or 10% Entrepreneurs, I would just want to say that version 1 of your business doesn’t have to be perfect. The longer you participate in your industry the more you should learn. The more you learn, the more you have to adjust your business to what the customers want. Remember, nothing is easy, but nothing is impossible!

Good luck!

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