New take on volleyball turns into net win

Adam Durso July 27, 2021

The three founders of CROSSNET standing together with a volleyball

As people savor the summer weather, they’re looking for new ways to spend time with their friends and family. Chris Meade '14 is part of a team that created CROSSNET, a four-square volleyball game whose popularity has soared across America’s beaches and backyards.

“We’re selling hundreds a day,” said Chris Meade ’14, the co-founder and chief marketing officer of CROSSNET. “The stores can’t keep them in stock.”

From Walmart and DICK’S Sporting Goods to Wegmans and SCHEELS, the demand just keeps growing. After clearing $87,000 in sales in 2018, CROSSNET quickly sold exponentially more units. In 2019, sales rose to $2.25 million. Last year, CROSSNET exceeded $10 million in sales.

“We became the second-largest backyard game product in America,” Meade said.

Not to mention, the million-dollar idea entrepreneurs dream of.

The story of CROSSNET began in 2017 when Meade lived in Stamford, Connecticut, and worked as an account executive for UBER in New York City. As a graduate of the film, television and media arts program in the School of Communications, Meade always imagined himself calling the shots from a director's chair, not sitting behind a desk making cold calls.

The daily grind of corporate America began to wear on him. “I started thinking, ‘Is this all that I’m going to do with my life?’” Meade said.

During spring break in 2017, Meade met up with his brother, Greg, and a friend, Mike Delpapa, in their hometown of Woodstock, Connecticut. Eager to leave their “real jobs” behind, the trio spent an entire night brainstorming startup ideas.

In CROSSNET, a game that blends the traditional rules of volleyball with the playground game of four square, they knew they’d found a winner. "We Googled it and almost couldn’t believe that no one had invented this already,” Meade said.

The three rigged two badminton nets together and called a group of friends over to take their new game for a test drive. The positive response gave them the confidence to push forward. Delpapa, an engineer by trade, drafted a proper prototype in AutoCAD.

With only $20,000 to invest, the group pitched CROSSNET to several manufacturers on Alibaba, the Chinese multinational e-commerce company. But eventually, one factory owner agreed to manufacture the first 100 CROSSNETS in the fall of 2017.

“We’re currently the biggest company represented in this lady’s factory,” Meade said. “But back then, we really had to convince her that this would be worth her while.”

Back home, Meade and his partners converted an old record store in Willimantic, Connecticut, into their warehouse and makeshift headquarters. They traveled to South Beach in Miami and other volleyball havens to promote CROSSNET. Each day, they’d attract new groups of players.

“No one had ever seen this before,” Meade said. “We’d start out with four people and by the end of the day, we had 50.”

Meade captured these moments in video and photography to use on social media, while his brother built the company’s website. All along, they reinvested their profits into the creation of the next batch of CROSSNET games. Their goal was get as many out into the world as quickly — and economically — as possible.

“No one had ever seen this before,” Meade said. “We’d start out with four people and by the end of the day, we had 50.”

Meade captured these moments in video and photography to use on social media, while his brother built the company’s website. All along, they reinvested their profits into the creation of the next batch of CROSSNET games. Their goal was get as many out into the world as quickly — and economically — as possible.

An action shot of four people using CROSSNET on the beachCROSSNET has become one of the most popular beach games this summer.

“Handling so much ourselves enabled us to launch with a lean budget,” Meade explained. The strategy paid off.

One of the most surreal moments in Meade’s journey came last November. He woke up to an e-mail informing him that he’d just been named to “Forbes 30 Under 30,” an elite list reserved for accomplished business innovators and industry figures under the age of 30.

“This is what every young entrepreneur wants,” Meade said. “It opens up a lot of doors and helps you connect with people that you normally couldn’t."

Those connections include professional volleyball player and USA gold medalist Ryan Millar and other professional athletes. CROSSNET also partnered with Wilson Sporting Goods to produce a professional-quality game ball, which will be featured on ESPN in August when the network airs the first CROSSNET tournament.

Meade envisions more competitions like this, and even, professional CROSSNET leagues forming around the world. Last summer, the company introduced CROSSNET H20, a version meant for swimming pools.

CROSSNET has also benefited from exposure on “Good Morning America” and Barstool Sports, among other outlets.

“Our biggest challenge right now is to make this sport the future,” he said. “We want this to be something kids learn in school and then play as adults.”

The company is well on its way to achieving that goal. Meade estimated that CROSSNET is played in 10,000 public schools and on 100 college campuses. In 2020, his company donated 1,000 CROSSNET sets to underfunded schools across the country.

“Some of these schools have next to no gym equipment,” Meade said, “and giving them something to do with their kids was very meaningful for me.”

Today, CROSSNET has three warehouses, including a 5,000-square-foot facility in Escondido, California, along with its corporate headquarters in Miami and a growing roster of full-time employees. As worldwide demand for CROSSNET increases and several new products come down the pipeline, Meade and his partners are motivated by the same, inexhaustible sense of optimism and hustle that helped launch their company four years ago.

“We’re not taking our foot off the gas,” he said. “We have the energy, marketing and the infrastructure in place to keep this going.”

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