The 32-Year-Old CEO Behind Sky Zone and the Growing Market of Play

In 2002, Jeff Platt and his dad had a wild and crazy idea to create a new professional team sport, played entirely on trampolines.

“We had this old, run-down warehouse in Las Vegas, which was our R&D center,” Jeff recalls. “We had some kids that would go to an indoor skate park [next door], and they’d see this massive trampoline court inside this warehouse. They looked at it and said, ‘We need to jump on that.’”

The Platts decided to let the kids in – for a price. “We told them the only condition of them jumping was that they had to pay $8.” Fair terms, the kids agreed. By 2004, Sky Zone, the world’s first indoor trampoline park, was open for business.

More than a decade later, Jeff is the 32-year-old CEO responsible for growing Sky Zone’s business, which posts annual revenues north of $240 million. “We certainly didn’t invent a trampoline,” says Jeff, who joined me for the latest episode of my podcast, Outside In. “We just figured out a new way to use them by linking them together.”

That new twist on an old concept is today an expanding global franchise business – from North America to Australia, the U.K., Saudi Arabia, and even Pakistan. Rapid progress from what started as a single location in Las Vegas 13 years ago.

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It’s obvious in talking to Jeff that Sky Zone is where the pure, youthful fun of jumping transcends regional and cultural differences. “There’s this amazing sense of freedom that comes from literally being free from gravity,” he says of why people are lured to his parks. “And so, when you’re in the air suspended, you’re totally present in the moment.” In a world where we are constantly glued to our phones and distracted by emails and status updates, “that’s a feeling I think people are constantly seeking out,” says Jeff. “When you come into our park, we offer you a new way to play, a new way to have fun and be active and get exercise.”

That message is central to Sky Zone’s mission. “We really believe in the power of play,” Jeff says. “Play is a very powerful thing. People today, they understand the benefits of play, but they don’t make enough time for [it],” he says.

It’s not just kids – Sky Zone’s primary customers – who reap the cognitive and physical rewards of play. Adults benefit, too. “Today, people play in a very sedentary way – it’s on iPads, it’s video games – which is causing a rise in obesity,” Jeff says. “We have to bring play back. That’s our challenge.”

Introducing Sky Zone’s particular brand of play to new markets isn’t without its challenges. To help overcome them, Jeff’s team relies upon the local knowledge of franchise partners, many of whom own other businesses and are therefore entwined with the needs of local customers. “When you bring in the right franchise owners, you have phenomenal partners and people who are truly, at their core, invested in the business,” he says.

“The key is having a culture that allows for best practice sharing and makes your franchise owners feel safe and invested in wanting to implement change” continues Jeff. “Failing is okay. If we’re not failing we’re not being creative – we’re not being innovative, we’re not taking risks. And I think as a business you constantly need to be doing that.”

Jeff also says that co-creating directly with customers is critical. “The whole company actually started by listening to customers...They point out problems. They show us where our opportunities are. We recognize that if we don’t really get to know them – what’s motivating them, the role we fill in their lives, why they’re coming to us – it’s going to be difficult for us to break through.”

As a CEO who’s new to the business world in the last decade, Jeff gives ample credit to the highly skilled team he has surrounded himself with. “My challenge is to make sure that they feel safe enough to be able to make decisions, and that they feel empowered to own those decisions.”

“It’s important at any age to recognize what you don’t know,” Jeff advises, pointing out that, for many new entrepreneurs, “stubbornness can be their greatest strength, but it can also be their greatest weakness.”

At the end of our conversation, I ask Jeff if he has any advice for budding entrepreneurs. His response is simple. “Everybody is going to tell you that you can’t do it,” he says. “It’s scary and it’s tough and it’s challenging.”

“Trust your gut, and just go for it.”

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