Q&A with the Founder of Warstic
New Kids in the Box – Q&A with the Founder of Warstic
By Eric Kaufman
If you haven’t heard of WARSTIC, the newest entry into the bat market, you will. Founder Ben Jenkins describes his company’s Major League roster as a “small, cool club,” a phrase which could just as easily apply to those who have discovered what Warstic brings to the plate. But that club is growing daily, as Warstic’s message, summed up by its mantra of “Battle,” becomes increasingly resonant with players and parents who value the company’s abject refusal to be anything other than what it is: a gritty, disruptive challenger determined to earn its share of the baseball bat market by teaching kids that hitting is not only about the stick you carry, but also the attitude you bring into the box.
You needn’t look any further than Jenkins to locate the guiding force behind Warstic’s implacable foray into the bat space. Equal parts athlete and artist, Jenkins designs every bat himself, imbuing each model with its own identity, its own spirit. The result is a stunning, unique blend of sculpture and weapon, a trusted ally to accompany hitters into the breach of every at-bat.
Last year, Warstic brought in two investors as authentic and visionary as the brand itself in Los Angeles Angels second basemen Ian Kinsler and iconic rock musician Jack White, both of whom, Jenkins says, embody the Warstic mindset. I recently spoke with Jenkins about how the company got started, where it stands now, and how he plans to make Warstic bats stand out in a crowded marketplace.
“The kids more than anybody need to understand it’s more important that they be themselves than to try to be like anybody else. Find what you love to do and then do the work to get good at it. And you’re not going to do it watching everybody else.”
Eric Kaufman: How did you get started? Take me from concept to product.
Ben Jenkins: The basic story is that I grew up playing baseball, and I played college baseball at Mississippi State University and then in the Phillies minor league system, so just like all your kids I lived the dream to a certain extent and then it flamed out.
The other thing that I did besides sports was I was really an artist growing up. I was always painting and drawing and that kind of stuff. In college, I studied graphic design, and when baseball ended I didn’t really fight it. I just jumped full bore into studying my creative talents and skills and developing that. And being an athlete helped me with that because I knew how to work, you know? I knew that your talent is one thing, and then how far you develop it is another.
About six years ago I just decided that I needed to do something where there wasn’t a client on the other end giving me their feedback. And so I created, honestly, several things, little entrepreneurial-type ventures that were just little experiences and getting outside of that and letting myself do that, and Warstic was one of those. And I think why it works is that, you know, you tend to kind of put more passion and drive into things you care about, and this was a great way for me to combine the two things that I really love to do, which is sports and baseball with design and creativity, so it started working.
EK: Where did the name Warstic come from?
BJ: It’s a little hard to explain other than I tend to draw on my own personal experience more than anything, and I think I started when I was a player at Mississippi State. I was a leadoff hitter, and my mentality was just kind of—I definitely would screw up, but you’d never get me to stop fighting back. I was pretty scrappy, and that was probably my main attribute, just to kind of really get in there and fight and compete. So I wanted the feeling of that in there because I related to that. And I’ve done a lot of work in Native America on my client side…so I’ve studied a good amount about sports in native culture and weaponry and stuff like that. So, there was some inclination of a war club in my mind, which, to a warrior, would be a very sacred-type weapon. Not just, “Hey, I’m going to pick up any war club. It would be more like “This is my war club right here, and it’s decorated to fit my personality.” So, I think it was kind of putting those two things together. Naming is probably the hardest thing I do, and the little things that make it work. Like, I didn’t call it “War Stick.” I took the “k” off and those little tricks make it completely original and really ownable. And kind of singularized the name so it doesn’t seem so much like two words stuck together as something that is just its own thing.
EK: How did the partnership with Ian Kinsler and Jack White come about?
BJ: To be honest, this is a part of it that I have to give credit to some kind of universal forces or something. I could’ve never planned it. I did get to the point where I knew I wanted investors. Through just kind of networking with past clients, I had told a buddy that I was looking for an investor, and he had happened to have dinner with a guy and Ian Kinsler a few weeks before. He kind of just asked me on a whim, “Would you want to meet Ian Kinsler?”
So, I had lunch with him and we talked for four hours and it was just like “Boom. Perfect.” It just was one of those when you meet a girl and it was like “This is the right fit. Let’s go.”
And then Jack White had actually reached out to us a few months before that just inquiring. He had found the bats online, and he loves design. He just wanted to make some cool, collaborative Third Man Records/Jack White bats for fun. He had no idea that we’d be open to anything or had never thought of investing in it.
I told that to Ian, and Ian said he’d met Jack a couple of times because he played in Detroit and Jack’s a huge Tigers fan. So, the fate thing was me looking at Ian and going—and maybe I was 99% kidding—hey, let’s reach out to Jack White to see if he wants to be a big investor. And Ian laughed and then we kind of looked at each other like “Why not?” Because what do you have to lose, and me and Ian definitely share that mentality of, you know, you don’t get if you don’t ask.
So, Ian emailed him and Jack instantly replied and said he’d definitely like to talk. So, two weeks later, we all got together, and it was just “Boom, let’s do this.” And they’ve been incredible partners. We’re constantly talking. They obviously have their occupations. Jack’s on tour this year with the new record. Ian’s newly with the Angels, hitting in front of Mike Trout. But they’re very involved and always talking and we have a blast.
EK: How do you approach marketing bats to youth players?
BJ: The common mentality I get from parents is “Which bat is going to help my kid hit the best?” And what they really mean is “Which bat is going to make it easiest for my kid to get hits?” And I tell them at the end of the day that’s not going to help their kid progress as a player—if that’s really what they care about doing. If they want to get to high school or college or the big leagues it’s really about them learning to do the work and becoming a good hitter by training in practice. I tell them I’m not going to give you a bat that’s just going to make it easy for your kid to hit. I’m not into doing that. That’s not what I’m trying to do. But I do want to give you a bat that will help your kid believe in himself a little bit more than he otherwise would. Confidence in a kid, whether he’s eight or ten or 15, is a massive part of being a good hitter, just that belief that you can do it. Our name alone and our “Battle” mantra and just the idea of thinking of yourself as a warrior. We have a little saying: “Fight the fight in front of you, not the one behind you. All of these things are good, positive lessons for kids, whether they play baseball or not.
Story by Eric Kaufman – Baseball Youth | Twitter: Baseball Youth