Growing up between Paris and the South of France on a little island called Corsica, Steve Lesnard struck a great balance between the pace, creativity, and diversity of one of the world’s capitals and the nature and outdoors lifestyle of Corsica. From a very early age, the combination of both of these worlds, although sometimes in opposition, shaped his interests.
In high school, he studied art, science, history, and languages (Latin, Greek, English, and Spanish) and used any opportunities to practice sports and enjoy the outdoors.
After high school, Lesnard had to make a career choice between sports education and business and choose to combine his love for sports and education with his passion for international business and entrepreneurship. He selected a business school in Paris that had a specific connection with Babson College, which is known for its entrepreneurship program, and got a scholarship for an MBA program right after earning his bachelor’s degree. Studying abroad reinforced his conviction that international business was his calling. He has worked and lived across the world ever since.
While doing an internship in Mexico City for an advertising agency, working on the Kellogg’s account, he built a plan to leverage the power of sports to promote a healthier lifestyle. It was the first time that he combined his passion for sports with a business objective, and the reaction was so well received that it opened doors to the sports industry, leading him to join the biggest athletic brand in the world.
The path to the athletic world was not linear, though, as Lesnard ended up taking on a different role after business school, joining a fashion luxury brand called Wolford. He was the company’s marketing director in North America as it began to open offices in the United States. After one year of working in the fashion industry, the sports world came knocking with an opportunity that was difficult to pass up. He has been in the sports industry ever since.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you?
My passion for business, brand building, and entrepreneurship, combined with my desire to make a positive impact in people’s lives, naturally led me to the sports industry. From a very early age, I experienced the power of sports. Sports unify communities, foster diversity, and promote inclusion while providing participants of all ages with an incredible sense of confidence and accomplishment.
So, when it came time to decide which industry I wanted to work in, the sports industry was an easy choice. The environment was so dynamic and the competitive landscape was so intense. Plus, the opportunity to promote sports was still so big across the world that it created a major runway to leverage.
My first experience was in sports marketing, signing and servicing athletes. This experience taught me a few invaluable lessons.
First, I learned the importance of knowing and obsessing over the needs of your consumers. In my case, my customers were elite athletes. I had to make sure to provide them with the best products and services to allow them to focus 100 percent of their attention on their game, removing any distractions and providing the best services to give them a competitive advantage. I have since applied this consumer-centric mindset to all of my endeavors.
Second, working with world class athletes taught me the value of preparation, the importance of training, the audacity of setting big goals, and the courage to go after them. I had the opportunity to work with some of the best athletes in the world and repeatedly witnessed them prepare, train, and fail only to refocus until they won. And then they would start all over again.
How do you make money?
How to grow your business is a question that one constantly has to wrestle with. From my experience, it is about continuing to offer relevant products and services to your target consumer. In the sports and lifestyle industry, it is constantly finding new ways to make sports relevant for consumers, and inspiring, innovating, and engaging people to live a healthier lifestyle.
There are numerous distractions that prevent people from committing to their active commitments, which forced me and my teams to constantly innovate and find new ways to inspire and invite people to move.
Creating an ecosystem around products, services, and events to engage consumers and building a community of active users have created a very profitable way to create long-term sustainable growth.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time when you doubted whether it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
As we ventured into new businesses and new ways to bring people into the world of sports, we sometimes created new experiences that had never been done before. For example, we organized 10 kilometer races around the world; we called it the Human Race, with the goal to get one million people to run on the same day. In some countries, participating in running events was only relevant for an elite few, and inviting new runners to their first race proved to be a big challenge. The power of local education and connection, along with consistent grassroots efforts and one-to-one connection, allowed us to create the largest coordinated event in the world.
Having a clear strategy, a consumer target, and an objective grounded in sound consumer and market research has always proven to be very helpful in moments of doubts or setbacks. These factors allowed us to reframe the situation within a bigger context. My advice is to ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing. Pondering that question has allowed me to push through difficult challenges over and over.
How did you get your first customer?
My first customers are always what I call super users, consumers that you know will really find value in the products or services that you offer. If you treat them well, they can also become your biggest advocate and help you spread brand awareness. I always focus on these first.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
From my experience, having a unique brand proposition or point of view is a unique way to differentiate yourself from the competition. So, it all starts with a sharp product or service proposition that makes you unique and distinctive. In addition, if you focus first on the target audience that will appreciate your products or services the most, you have the opportunity to establish a consumer and business base that you can build from.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
Passing on short-term opportunities to avoid distraction and focus on the bigger picture is always hard. Saying no to immediate opportunities that might jeopardize your ability to deliver on your true potential is an exercise that can be difficult.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
My relentless enthusiasm, optimism, and trust in the collective power of bringing big and ambitious ideas to life has helped me federate incredibly diverse and talented teams that work towards common goals. More often than not, these teams exceed the expectations placed upon them.
I feel like you have to embrace the creative and human process of any project, with its ups and downs, while always keeping an eye on your north star – the goal that you are collectively trying to achieve while enabling every team player to grow and flourish through the process.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
My most satisfying moments are always when we successfully close a milestone as a team, where each member feels an incredible sense of accomplishment, pride, and excitement for all of the work that they have individually and collectively delivered.
What business books have inspired you?
Most recently, I really enjoyed reading The Third Door by Alex Banayan, which eloquently speaks to the power of creativity and resilience to achieve a very bold and audacious goal.
What excites you most about the future?
The consumer landscape has never been so dynamic and fast changing. The power of combining clear brand and product strategy with the power of data to better identify what consumers really want opens a new world of personalization at scale that will change the way brands interact with consumers.
Living at the intersection of such a revolution will create infinite new opportunities for consumer-centric brands to personally engage with consumers.