Entrepreneur Spotlight: John Bollinger

5 mins read

Act Now!
Family Flock Memberships for this season are already 97% SOLD OUT, so you better hurry!

A Community-Focused Company
The Larks Community FUNd was launched in 2022 with the focus to make a difference in the lives of youth through sports, scholarships and experiences.

Did You Know?
The Northwoods League has 22 teams across 7 states and 1 province.

Did You Know?
The Northwoods League began in 1994, with 2022 marking its 29th season!

Every business starts as an idea. These ideas come to life with the efforts made by entrepreneurs willing to take risks and grow their ideas into fully-formed business ventures. From baseball team CEOs to mobile bar owners, every person has a unique passion that they merged with the business landscape. While we couldn’t talk to every inspiring entrepreneur in the Bis-Man area, we talked to some of the many to hear about their unique journey on the road to success.

John Bollinger – CEO & Owner, Bismarck Larks and Funatix Events

John Bollinger, originally from St. Louis, Missouri, never quite imagined that he would end up in Bismarck. However, he hasn’t just found himself in the capital of the union’s 39th state, he has found himself making a difference there. Currently, he is entering his sixth season being the leading charge behind the Bismarck Larks, a Northwoods League collegiate summer baseball team. Bollinger joined us to reflect on his journey of launching a successful, family-oriented spectacle.

Bismarck Larks

At the time of writing, 277 Northwoods League alumni have made it to Major League Baseball. Some of the famed alumni include Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and Curtis Granderson.

What was your journey like for you to get to the position you’re at today?

I knew that I wanted to incorporate sports into my career somehow, so I went to college at Missouri State University and enrolled in an Entertainment Management degree. From there, my first job was an internship for the Springfield Cardinals, a AA baseball team. I realized that while minor league baseball was great, families came for the entertainment and I loved finding ways to make people happy! So I ended up going to graduate school at Ohio University, got my MBA and Masters in Sports Administration and ran a summer collegiate baseball team called the Southern Ohio Copperheads. After helping start a Northwoods League team in Kalamazoo, MI after graduation, I got the call to help lead the efforts on a new team in Bismarck, North Dakota!

Which parts of taking this risk will stick with you forever?

I had always dreamed of running a baseball team. I was thinking more like the St. Louis Cardinals, but when I was 22 years old, I got flown down to Florida to meet my (now) mentor Dick Radatz Jr. Dick is an alum of the Ohio University program and the Founder of the Northwoods League. He offered me a position to work alongside him with the promise of owning a baseball team someday if I did well. At the time, it sounded too good to be true. But getting flown down to Florida to discuss a pipe dream of mine actually coming to life is something that I’ll never forget.

What steps were the hardest when taking the leap to start your own business?

Definitely moving. I really wanted to make it in sports and it was just about taking that jump. I moved from Missouri to plenty of other places including Ohio, Kalamazoo and eventually Bismarck to get to where I’m at today. You build such strong relationships in each place you live so packing up and starting over is the hardest part. I’m glad that Bismarck is now officially home and the roots are planted!

What was a typical day in your life like when you were beginning your business?

Back in the beginning, it was nuts! We started with five full-time employees doing the jobs of 10-15 people. Just like most other entrepreneurs and business owners, it was a lot of long hours. Fortunately, we all were doing something we loved and knew would make a difference in people’s lives.

What would you have done differently if you could go back and start again, knowing what you know now?

I would have made sure our Family Flock Member jerseys didn’t say “Right Shoulder” on the sleeve before they arrived in Bismarck. While there are always small things we could have fixed, I honestly wouldn’t have changed a thing. As corny as it sounds, every decision I made and moment in my life brought me to where I’m at today. Between a combination of hard work and luck over the years, I landed my dream job much earlier than I would have ever thought possible and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

What advice do you have for readers considering taking this leap?

You just have to trust your gut and when you know something’s right, jump. You’re going to have fears and anxieties when taking any risk and if you don’t, then you’re not really taking the risks that you know you can. If you know it’s right for you and you know that it’s going to make a positive difference in the world, you just have to jump and see where you go. And if you don’t land right where you want to, you can say that you tried and got somewhere at the very least. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”

What is something you wish more people knew about your company?

That we are working towards becoming the “Amazon Prime of Family Entertainment” in Bismarck-Mandan. We put so much time into designing our Family and Corporate Flock Memberships to be a year-round entertainment value. Not only do Flock Members get the best seats at games, free food, a jersey and much more during the season, but they also get free and priority access to special member events and Larks events that we do year-round like a Movie Night, Clark’s Car Wash, and a bucket hat giveaway. Now with Funatix Events, Flock Members also receive exclusive deals and access to events like the Mandan Rodeo, Bismarck Marathon, Bismarck Santa Run as well as other festivals and events we’re planning. We want to help families and businesses put FUN first in their lives by organizing these events and creating a ton of value with their membership

What is a day in your life like for you now?

Nowadays, I’m fortunate to have an amazing team of 14 full-time employees I get to work with every day. My main responsibilities include overseeing our Vision Team, ensuring we’re living our values and focused on creating the best fan experience, and that for this season and in the future we are working towards using FUN to make a difference in people’s lives. I also still take on a pretty active role working with our sponsors and am really excited about some of our new opportunities such as a new non-profit called the Larks Community FUNd and our event company, Funatix Events.

What’s one thing the local business community could do to help you/your organization?

Join the Flock and become a Larks Corporate Flock Member. Corporate Flock Members not only get all-inclusive tickets in the best seats to reward their employees and customers, but they are truly investing in an organization that is continually investing it right back into more events and experiences for their employees and customers to enjoy throughout the year. The Larks believe so strongly that the secret to a happy life is spending quality time with those you love. Corporate Flock Memberships allow businesses to give that quality time to the people that matter most to them and make their business run. To learn more about becoming a Corporate Flock Member email us at info@ larksbaseball.com.

Are you looking to expand your business? If so, how?

Oh yes. We have some exciting announcements upcoming for the 2023 season and beyond including a rival Northwoods League team in North Dakota, some exciting new events, and more. If opportunities come that allow us to use FUN to make a difference in people’s lives and provide more value to Flock Members, you can bet we’ll be looking to make it happen.

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