If you pictured what a dominant D1 defensive tackle looked like, you'd probably think of someone like Kevin McReynolds--a 6'2", 300-pound beast who can push a sled with the best of them. And if I asked you to imagine what a man like that does in his spare time, what would you guess? That he works out? Hangs with his friends? Works a part-time job?
Those would all be safe bets, but the truth is something much more impressive. Kevin owns a successful event management and travel company called Highlyfe Entertainment and Highlyfe Xperience. Kevin is one of many American student-athletes who are using their opportunities as a starting point to become entrepreneurs. The only downside to the kind of effort Kevin puts in is that it makes everyone else look lazy in comparison.
A normal day for Kevin, who just finished up his final year of eligibility at Nevada after transferring from UCLA and is now pursuing his MBA, involves an earlier-than-you'd-like-to-imagine workout, class, more class, team meetings, practices, and then homework. And in between all of that, he's got to find the time to talk to promoters, rappers, venues, and the rest of his team to make sure that everything goes smoothly.
To be completely upfront and honest with you, we've worked with Kevin and Highlyfe on a couple of projects and have a few more great things coming. He was the one who put this party and video together.
That being said, we thought you all might enjoy reading about an up-and-coming businessman who embodies the college hustle: taking advantage of all the opportunities you're given, rolling with life's punches, and worrying about sleep when you're done. We sat on the phone with Kevin to talk about where he's at with the business, how he got there, and some advice he has for those of you looking to do more than just hit the books.
What was your first job?
Kevin: My first job--outside of working football campus for my high school--was working for a company called Extreme Greeks. That was when I got to college. I started with doing security for them, moved up to manager and then went up from there. Extreme Greeks was a great experience for me. That's where I learned about the structure of Greek Life, parties, and how other things of that nature worked. I definitely thank the owner, Dan Wilson, for everything he's taught me.
And then Highlyfe Entertainment? How did that come about?
I started Highlife Entertainment my sophomore year. I was one of those kids who was football, football, football, all the time. But then I got hurt, got a couple of concussions and couldn't play the rest of that season. I picked up little jobs any time I could, things like security, but then I kind of realized something. I thought to myself "Hey, I'm different. Hey, I'm better than this." That's when I knew I wanted to start something on my own.
So I started Highlife Entertainment. From there, I met a lot of great people--especially in the music and entertainment industry. When I did that, I took lessons from Extreme Greeks. I saw the structure of the company and what things didn't work and what things did work. What stuck out to me was how you treat people. That's a big thing, it's part of business that I've learned: treat people how you want them to treat you.
How do you manage your time?
It's all about putting good people around you. From the beginning, I've had good people around me and doing the things that I've wanted to do. It's all about setting a calendar and saying, "Hey, I have a lot." For me, football was the biggest thing. It paid for my education. So I had to set up calendar and say "I have to set time for my football." I have a specific schedule and I use Google Calendars, reminding me every step of the way. That's where I put all my academic things, how long it will take me to do homework, meet with tutors, etc.
From there, I schedule everything else in between.
As far as time management is concerned, the key is knowing where you have to be. There's not a lot of free time, but I figured that if I was busy it would take my mind off of what I had going on.
Kevin will admit that originally Highlyfe was more of a hobby than an actual business that required all of his free time. But as the season progressed, he realized that not only did he enjoy what he was doing, he had a promising business in front of him. Like every young entrepreneur just starting out, Kevin had to buckle down and figure out what was important to the business.
"Don't burn bridges."
Walk me through the evolution of Highlyfe Entertainment into Highlyfe Xperience.
Kevin: When I started Highlyfe, we were all over the place. That's not a way you want to run a company. You want to focus on things. You know, every opportunity that came at me, I wanted to jump at it. I think it took until midway through my junior year when I finally sat down and admitted that I really needed to think about what matters. What's going to be profitable? What's going to be sustainable? I have to thank my mentor, Gregg Colvin, for that. Making me realize I should focus on on the things that are going to be sustainable and scalable.
When I did that, I kind of went back to the drawing board. I realized some of these things, like only working with Greek life, aren't going to sustain you longterm because there's so much turnover. But if you can do something that's different, that sticks, in a niche market, it'll take you longterm.
After going back to the drawing board, Kevin eventually realized that his experience in event management; numerous artist contacts from his time in Los Angeles; and close proximity to Las Vegas, a desirable destination among college students and adults alike, were the keys to the future of HighLyfe. Along with his partners Jon Klein and Joe Scott, he had his vision.
As part of HighLyfe Experience, Kevin helps set up parties and deals that cater to what college students want: wild atmospheres, pool parties and concerts at a reasonable price.
"I think that, no matter where you go in life, someone can always teach you something, no matter what level."
What are some of the things you enjoy about your job?
I enjoy going to different cities. I love seeing friends all over. When I was playing football I didn't have the time and the free time to just go and travel and do what I do. Now, I'm in a different city every weekend. Any time you can make money and enjoy yourself, doing what you love, that's the key.
There are so many companies out there that look solely at the money. That's all that matters to them. But I enjoy bringing concerts and doing those things for colleges because that's what they enjoy and I enjoy doing it too. Hopefully, I never turn into a money-hungry person... You have to enjoy what you do and understand that money's going to come.
Is this a project you're taking as far as college and then moving on to something else?
I'd love for the company to make $100 million a year and do it full-time, but if the company didn't do that, I think that I would take my degree and go to another company to learn. My parents have instilled in me that you're never too young to learn.
I would love to go and maybe work in the front office of an NFL franchise. Or go to a Fortune 500 company and learn from them. That's the only way I can raise the bar for myself and my company.
I can always hire more people to help run my company; I'm not naive to understand I can't do it all by myself. I have a girl that works with me, Milan Zoe, who coordinates all sorts of things for me when I'm unavailable. She basically helps run all my artist booking and everything like that. During football season, while we were booking artists and doing concerts and stuff like that, I couldn't travel everywhere. I let Milan hire people and fly around to do those things for me. I trust her to make sure everything runs smoothly. I thank her a lot for doing that.
How have college sports influenced your ability to be an entrepreneur?
Football is a sport where you're going to learn something new everyday. It's a game that teaches lessons across all lines. I think that's what a lot of people don't realize. Any type of situation, be it waking up early, being accountable to others--those are the type of things football teaches.
Football is something that's also a huge network. In football, most of the time, you're going meet guys all over the place who will eventually do something great. There are a lot of companies that hire college athletes because they can juggle multiple things at one time. When you play at this level, you learn how to deal with people and situations. You learn to prioritize. You learn to wake up early. You may not want to do it, but you have to and you understand that commitment because you'll let your teammates down.
I really was kind of selfish growing up, but an important lesson I kind of learned. Coach Mora had this thing where, it was, the first time you mess up you're punishing yourself. The second time you mess up, you're punishing you and your position group. The third time you mess up, you're punishing your whole side of the ball. It makes you think, 'Hey, I have to be able to look out for other people besides myself. I have to be able to help and take the younger guys and help them and pull them along too.' I mean, those were lessons that football taught me. It's not all about yourself. That's the ultimate thing: there's a goal bigger than you.
What's some other advice that you've learned that you would suggest to upcoming businessmen and women?
Don't burn bridges. Realize that every person you encounter can teach you something.
Just because you make money does not make you entitled. There is always room for personal growth and improvement. Even though you're successful, you can still find ways to better yourself. I think that, no matter where you go in life, someone can always teach you something--no matter what level.
Oftentimes people look the other direction when they are uncomfortable. I had a coach--Coach Jim Mora--who always taught me to be uncomfortable. You're never going to get better, you're never going to learn unless you're okay with being uncomfortable.