BigCommerce Black History Month Spotlight: Sam McGee of The Beer Bat
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Sam McGee, professor, entrepreneur, and inventor of The Beer Bat, is proof that success isn’t a straight line.
After graduating high school in 1990, McGee attended college in Georgia to be an aerospace engineer, but an experience on campus caused him to change gears.
“It was my third year at Georgia Tech,” he explained, “and one day I just decided that I wanted to do something else with my time. My parents thought it was great, no more paying for college,” he said with a laugh.
From there, McGee merged his two passions — cars and people — and became a car salesman.
“I got into car sales pretty quickly after that. I found out I could make a lot of money selling cars in Miami without a degree, selling BMWs, Land Rovers, you name it,” he said.
In 2009, McGee decided to return to school and earned his MBA with a focus on global marketing and entrepreneurship. He then earned a second master’s degree in accounting and taxation.
“No, it’s not for preparing taxes,” he joked. “Please don’t ask me to do your taxes.”
Then, Sam, I Am Group was born. This new company allowed McGee to iterate on his many different business ideas — one of which would become a hit, almost overnight.
The Beer Bat started off as a simple pitch to the owner of the Hartford Yard Goats, McGee’s hometown minor-league baseball team. McGee approached the owner with three different designs for commemorative drinkware to sell at the local ballpark. Naturally, the owner chose the hollowed-out baseball bat, and The Beer Bat was born.
On its first day, The Beer Bat was a home run, selling out before the game was even finished.
Since founding The Beer Bat in 2018, McGee has expanded his company into the major leagues, and even into other countries, including Canada, Japan, Mexico, and South Korea.
“In 2022, we sold 235,000 bats. This year, before the first pitch, we’ve sold 300,000,” he explained. “BigCommerce has been able to keep us scalable and moving quickly.”
McGee’s successes have afforded him many lessons — lessons that he now shares with his students at Hartford University in his course on Black entrepreneurship.
“About three years ago, I began teaching this course at Hartford University,” he said. “Me, I had people to look up to, to learn business from. Those were my parents. But for people who actually want to become entrepreneurs, it’s hard to actually envision it, to find that inspiration if you’ve never seen it before.
“If you think about it in the context of a freed slave, just imagine the world they were coming into, all these things happening around them. But there were people who found a market and found a product or service that could fit into. It’s inspirational,” he said.
“We talk about people like Ida B. Wells, Paul Kofi, these kinds of spotlight entrepreneurs that create these businesses and make money, but who also give back; my students, they can actually see it in reality,” continued McGee. “They can see themselves in these people, and see that there is no difference between them and the entrepreneur. They had a vision and they went for it, they kept it in focus, and they succeeded — even though they were living under these challenging experiences.”
The class began as a pilot program at the university, totalling two students. Now, only three years later, the class is completely booked — and has been for the last four semesters.
“I have 26 students in the class now,” McGee said. “It’s been such a success because it opens these people’s eyes to what’s out there, to the real world, seeing what people just like them have accomplished. It truly is amazing.”
Even though McGee himself is a successful entrepreneur, he still views the class as an opportunity to learn. When asked what his students have taught him, he laughs.
“They’ve taught me that multitasking is a real thing. They can be looking at their phones, have their computer open, and you’re talking to them, and they can know what’s going on in each different world. The students of this generation are so multi-talented and skilled.
“But they’ve also taught me that no matter where you are or who you are or what you know, that it’s important to have the ability to learn, or to want to learn,” he emphasized. “Even though they might think they know something or have heard it or seen it before, they are still there and still want to learn more. I respect that so much.”
McGee hopes that his success not only as an entrepreneur, but also as an educator, can help bring positive change to his world. As he looks back at history, he sees that knowledge has been the main factor in any individual’s success. Being able to share that knowledge and help aspiring business owners is something that he’s always wanted.
“To come up on your own and get to the top by yourself, that’s not the point. The point is to bring others up at the same time,” he said. “If you’ve found the path, it’s on you to tell others about that path.
“We don’t need more Jay Gatsbys in the world,” he laughed. “We need more entrepreneurs that make jobs, that help get people moving. That way, everybody wins. There’s no more haves and have nots. We all get a piece of something, and we all flourish. That’s the beauty of it. And with the diversity of thought and experience and humanity in this country, we can grow tremendously.”
Reed Hartman is a Content Marketing Manager at BigCommerce, where he uses his years of research, writing and marketing experience to help inform and educate business owners on all things ecommerce.