Philip Kafka hung up his racket at the age of 23, merely months into a professional tennis career. His reason? He felt he wasn’t good enough, and decided to smash his way into being an entrepreneur instead. Today, he’s the founder of Prince Media Company, which deals with leasing out-of-home advertising spaces in New York such as building walls to advertisers.
After graduating from Northwestern University in May of 2009 with a degree in philosophy, Philip wanted to be a professional tennis player. He set a target for himself be amongst the top 1,000 professional tennis players in the circuit after six months; however, after seven months in the circuit, his ranking was just 1420. “People often do not realize that playing a sport professionally is a job,” says Philip. “Pro tennis, for me, was a start-up company. I saw a potential opportunity, raised capital, set goals for myself, and re-evaluated my goals after being in business for six months.”
“Bottom line, I didn’t achieve my goals, and like with any business-minded person, I had to cut my losses,” he candidly admits.
Philip Kafka then looked at turned to his father’s 28 year-old company Impact Outdoor Advertising, a privately-held billboard company in Dallas, Texas, and began learning the business by helping his father with day-to-day operations and projects. Earlier this year, while in New York City for a series of job interviews, he realized that his knowledge learnt from his father’s business gave him an eye in scouting out potential sites in the Big Apple for outdoor advertising. By the end of his two-week trip, Philip had secured three wallscape locations – which he attributes to “a lot of work but a lot more luck” – and started Prince Media Company.
Today Prince Media Company operates ten locations in New York but continues to look at acquiring other “marketable walls for advertising”. It works with advertisers like Guess Jeans, MoMA, and Corona, to boutique designers and artists, and one of its latest projects is “What makes an Icon?”, the first large-scale installation by Brooklyn-based artist Charles Lutz in New York.
“Even though some might wonder how a Texan with a Philosophy degree, and almost no work experience could end up running a company in New York, it’s simple – New York is the best place to conduct business in the world, it calls everyone’s name,” Philip says, adding that his father grew up in Brooklyn so he’s not too unfamiliar with the city.
Bringing On An A-Game
In fact, Philip attributes a lot of his inspiration to his father – the most important lesson he’s learnt from senior Kafka was a quote that goes “Philip, you ain’t got nothin’ ’til you got everything”. “In other words, you can’t count on anyone or anything until you get the signature on the dotted line,” he explains.
Philip is the first to agree that he’s not the first – or “even the tenth” – person to try his hand at this industry. He also admits that one of the biggest challenges in running his own business is actually motivation. It can be a grind, for example, when as a one-man show he can work for weeks and nothing comes out of it. “I can make thousands of calls, and research hundreds of properties, and there is no guarantee that anything will come of it.”
But there are upsides in being in his own business as well, especially as a former athlete. ” I love the competition! I am competing with other independents, and with large public companies as well,” Philip declares. “On a day-to-day basis I am competing for advertising space, and for advertising contracts.”
“This competition forces me bring my A-game to every single meeting. If I want to succeed, I have to bring an energy, and instill a confidence in clients and property owners that no other company ever has.”
Not Quite Freedom
Philip takes a very philosphical view when considering the essence of an entrepreneur. “Intelligence and idea generation are accidental, hustle and focus are what make a man an entrepreneur,” he says.
He also makes an interesting observation about entrepreneurs. “Although we are physically free from the office, we are mentally bound to our work,” he muses. “People always talk about how much freedom I have – I can travel, work from anywhere, and can make my own hours.”
“(But) mentally, we are constantly bound to our work… no matter where I go, or what I am doing, I am always thinking about Prince.”