SDSI Welcomes Steve Stoloff of VAVi Sport and Social Club to the Advisory Board - A story of giving back and bringing fun to life
By Chuck Scott
Sitting still is just about the last thing you would expect from the CEO of a company that thrives on getting people to be more active.
So it’s fitting that sitting still is just about the last thing on the mind of Steve Stoloff, CEO and co-owner of VAVi Sport and Social Club, which brings together young adults who want to have fun through sports leagues, social events and volunteer opportunities.
Stoloff says that although VAVi’s profitability is at an all-time high, the 10-year-old company has some aggressive plans to ramp up its events department in the next few months.
“We’re preparing to launch a national race series called ‘The Electric Run,’” Stoloff says. “This is a night-time ‘glow’ run with an illuminated course, spectacular light show and sound/music throughout. … We’re also continuing to expand our Ridiculous Obstacle Challenge in May.”
Another element to Stoloff’s not-standing-still strategy is joining the board of SD Sport Innovators, the sports arm of CONNECT that offers programs, mentoring and other services to foster the growth of sports-related companies of all sizes in Southern California.
“One of our core values is ‘giving back,’ and we view SDSI as an opportunity to get involved with local sports innovators and ‘give back’ knowledge and time to help our greater community,” says Stoloff, who first became involved with the organization in 2008.
An example of that “give-back” philosophy – and of the benefits of SDSI – is VAVi’s work with the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
“We met CAF through SDSI and we’re now doing our third fund-raiser with them,” Stoloff says. “So far we’ve raised almost $35,000 in a little less than a year for CAF. We hope to do more as time goes on.”
To Stoloff, VAVi’s mission – to ‘bring fun to life’ by organizing sports leagues, social events and volunteer opportunities for San Diego’s young professionals – is in exact alignment with SDSI’s goals.
“We are constantly innovating new ways to ‘bring fun to life,’ whether it be a new sport like Inner Tube Water Polo or a new race series like the Electric Run,” he says.
“Since our innovation involves sports and our paths often cross with other sports innovators looking to reach our audience, it’s a perfect fit.”
SDSI Executive Chairman Bill Walton calls VAVi a “classic example of a San Diego success story.”
“They connect and drive San Diego’s youth culture through social events and leagues, making sure everyone is having fun and staying active in the process,” Walton says. “What could be better?”
Indeed, Stoloff’s successful record “bootstrapping” a start-up speaks to the heart of SDSI’s mission. In 2011 VAVi ran more than 500 leagues with 75,000 participants.
“My background and experience is in marketing and product management, as well as small business finance and management,” Stoloff says. “VAVi has been one of San Diego’s fastest 100 growing companies (as designated by the San Diego Business Journal). I am excited to bring that background and expertise to the SDSI board.”
Stoloff also points to his experience leading the formation of the Sports and Social Industry Association. “I am very familiar with the challenges facing a small industry trade organization,” he says. “I look forward to bringing my expertise to the table and helping SDSI succeed in becoming a top-flight industry association.”
Before starting VAVi, Stoloff was the Vice President of Strategic Planning at RealAge. He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a degree in marketing and technology in 1999.
His advice for any emerging growth company? Don’t give up.
“The term ‘growing pains’ applies no matter what the size,” Stoloff says. “When the team is small and dollars are tight, it’s stressful but decisions are easy. You only have a few dollars to spend, so you make them count. Focus is easy because it’s necessary for survival.
“You may think revenue growth will solve the problem,” he adds, “but that means more staff, more customers and more opportunity to get distracted from your core business.
“Celebrate the successes along the way and be sure to focus on the positive! Great things don’t happen overnight. Stick with it and make sure you stick to your well-thought out strategy.”