TitleFounder & CEO
CompanyBedrocket Media Ventures, Classic Sports Network

For Brian Bedol, the founder and CEO of Bedrocket Media Ventures, entrepreneurship was deeply engrained from his childhood in Cleveland. Bedol’s father founded a successful small housewares manufacturing and metal stamping business and passed on his entrepreneurial spirit to Bedol. “My father was an entrepreneur and we were all involved in his business and very proud of it,” Bedol recalled. Before he turned ten years old, Bedol would accompany his father to big trade shows in Chicago and reveled in being out on the convention floor. The thrill of running a business got into his blood. “All I knew was that life,” he said.

With that foundation, it was no surprise that Bedol became a successful entrepreneur himself. After graduating from Boston University with a degree in communications, Bedol became an advertising copywriter and then landed a job as a producer for the launch of what became MTV. He got his MBA from HBS in 1985 and then plunged into a career in the entertainment industry. Working with people like Bob Pittman, the founder of MTV, Bedol immersed himself in a series of development projects as part of Time Warner Enterprises, that company’s entrepreneurial ventures unit. While there, among many assignments, he took over the marketing and promotion of the Six Flags Theme parks and drove revenues and attendance to an all-time high.

But Bedol had long harbored an urge to start his own business and create a classic sports television channel. On a cross-country plane flight during the mid-1990s, he had an epiphany. Flying from New York to Los Angeles, Bedol watched a Bud Greenspan documentary about the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Mesmerized by the dazzling photography and riveting storytelling, Bedolwas moved by a vignette about the gold medal-winning performance by gymnast Mary Lou Retton. The moment was emotional and compelling and Bedol realized that tears were running down his face. Embarrassed, he looked around the plane and noticed that everyone watching the film were also in tears. As he always believed, great sports moments were timeless and powerful. Bedol knew right then that he had to act on his concept for a classic sports network.

In 1995, Bedol partnered with Steve Greenberg, former deputy commissioner of Major League Baseball, to create Classic Sports Networks, a successful venture that they eventually sold to ESPN for $175 million. A few years later, Bedol returned to the cable industry with a new venture, College Sports Television. CSTV was acquired by CBS in 2006 for $325 million.

Ever the innovator, Bedol would not rest on his laurels. In 2012, he launched Bedrocket, a media company that creates, curates and distributes high quality programming aimed at multiple digital platforms. It rests at the intersection of technology and new programming. He shared his insights about his start-up experiences with the Rock Center.

You’ve had a pretty amazing run as an entrepreneur. How would you characterize yourself?

I would say I’m persistent and lucky. I’ve been fortunate to build a career in a field I really enjoy and find stimulating in a business that continues to morph and evolve. Every adventure has had both new problems and new opportunities.

Is it tougher to be an entrepreneur in the entertainment industry?

Every industry has different characteristics. In the entertainment business there are a lot more entrepreneurs who aren’t called entrepreneurs. These are the television and film producers. They are called producers but every project is really a mini business of which you are the entrepreneur. My training as a producer made it a natural transition to actually running a business in the entertainment and media industry without having to learn from scratch. You are coordinating the set, the writers, the editing, the distribution, the marketing; all of the different things that go into making a production successful. It’s really a microcosm of running a business.

You are also a big believer in serendipity.

I think serendipity plays a huge role in all success. I’m not sure luck and serendipity are always interchangeable but being able to recognize it when it comes along and take advantage of it is often the difference between success and failure.

Like seeing Mary Lou Retton on a plane?

Yes. I realized that this was not just “used sports,” as one of our cable operators called them. These were little stories with incredible dramatic arcs. I thought if we could just somehow get the films and the footage, it would be impossible not to have that kind of emotional reaction to it. I thought, “I need to try this.”

Were there other serendipitous moments that jump out at you?

We were having a very difficult time getting the Classic Sports channel distributed. It wasn’t easy being an independent operator in the cable programming business. We were especially concerned about getting carried in New York City where most of the advertisers are. They told us if you want to be taken seriously, you need to be on in New York. We were very distraught over this and then one night, I was sitting in the office at around 8 pm and the phone rang. It was a woman with a pretty strong accent who asked for the director of programming. Since my partner and I wore every hat, I said, “I’m the director of programming. How can I help you?”

She told me she was looking for programming to fill up the late night hours for a TV station a client had bought in New York City. She said the company was supposed to launch its programming later that year and they weren’t ready. She needed at least six months of programming to fill all that air time. I asked her if she even knew what our programming was. She said “Not really.” So I explained that it was great moments in sports history and she said, “Oh you mean old games you already know the score of?” I replied, “I guess that’s one way of putting it.” She said, “It sounds perfect.” I asked her, “Why does it sound perfect?” And she said, “Well, when we take it off the air, it doesn’t sound like something people will miss very much.”

I asked her how she came across Classic Sports and she said, “Well, I tried A&E and they weren’t interested. I tried BET and they weren’t interested. So I’m up to the C’s.”

That’s pretty amazing.

Yes. But the best part was that the company, ITT, had purchased Channel 68 from the city of New York and was privatizing it. But because it was owned by the city, it was actually on Channel 3, which was the default channel on whatever cable box you used. When you turned on your TV, it went to that default channel and literally overnight, we went from total obscurity to complete good fortune. Everybody was watching it. That really put Classic Sports on the map. It was pure serendipity that she was up to the letter C and I was there to answer the phone.

You’ve had several successful new ventures. What drives you do it again and again?

I don’t think it’s necessarily conscious for me as the need to do it again as much as it’s what do I do to be productive. What do I do to keep busy and stimulated? I’m fortunate enough to be pretty good at something that keeps me interested. So it’s not necessarily as much a burning need to do it as much as that I enjoy the challenge. There’s nothing wrong with cashing out and going sailing. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had time to recharge after selling a business. I’ve not always controlled the timing of getting back involved in new things. It’s not a button you push that says “Okay, I’m going to start again.” Often you just get sucked into it. And every time I say, “Never again!”

Any advice for early stage entrepreneurs?

It’s a matter of finding that balance between believing and being self-critical and recognizing that all successes are really hyphenate: being focused, yet being flexible; being idealistic yet being realistic. When things inevitably go wrong or things happen that weren’t anticipated, it’s having the ability to respond and change very quickly but not so quickly that you are all over the place and lose your focus. It’s having those balances, remembering to force yourself to look at things from 30,000 feet because it’s easy to get caught in the weeds, and to recognize that it is about being disciplined and undisciplined, structured and creative, all at the same time.