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Karma’s A Pitch

Craig Karmazin 97B negotiated his first business deal on a pay phone in the Goizueta Business School lobby. Just three months later, he bought a radio station that would launch the Good Karma Brands empire.

By Elizabeth Cobb Durel
Craig Karmazin at an ESPN Panel

ESPN hosted Monday Night Countdown from the backyard of the Tundra Trio. From left: Steve Young, Randy Moss, Craig Karmazin 97B, Matt Hasselbeck, Suzy Kolber, and Charles Woodson

All it took was one great vacation. It was senior year and Craig Karmazin 97B was on fall break, visiting high school friends at the University of Wisconsin. “It was a great weekend,” says Karmazin. “One thing—and one drink—leads to another. All of a sudden we decided the Midwest would be a great place to start a radio station.”

And that was it.

Karmazin spent most of his last semester at Emory missing class and talking on a pay phone in the Goizueta Business School lobby. While he was working to set up what would soon become Good Karma Brands, he was also earning his last eight credits through Goizueta’s entrepreneurship studies program. “There were no cell phones then,” says Karmazin. “So I was negotiating and working the deal on the pay phones at the business school.” The day after graduation, he flew out to meet his friends and see a radio station for sale. They closed on it in August, three months after graduation. And over the next few years, five of Karmazin’s best friends joined the company, all of whom are still there.

Karmazin, who took home a 2018 Emory Entrepreneur Award in the media and entertainment category, talked with EmoryWire recently about Good Karma Brands, his experiences, and what drives him.

Tell me about Good Karma Brands in layman’s terms.

Our core businesses are our ESPN-branded radio stations, which are news and talk and sports radio stations, and our ESPN digital business. We have a partnership with the Boca Raton Bowl. We have the Tundra Trio, three houses at Lambeau Field where we host luxury entertainment around Green Bay Packers games. We own Verizon Wireless stores and an interior design business.

 

Craig Karmazin hosts an ESPN panel

Craig Karmazin (right) hosts a panel discussion for ESPN Milwaukee’s Outside the Lines series. From left: Matt Lepay (radio play-by-play voice for Wisconsin Badgers football and basketball), Wayne Larrivee (radio play-by-play voice for Green Bay Packers), Steve “Homer” True (radio play-by-play voice for Marquette basketball), and Brian Anderson (television play-by-play voice for Milwaukee Brewers).

That is a long list and diverse, too.

I am as passionate about each one as I am about our core media properties. I really just enjoy seeing our team be successful, seeing our fans enjoying our products, and seeing our partners be successful.

How are you adjusting your business to keep up with the ever-changing media landscape?

We're fortunate because ESPN is not about just about radio. People want to consume the product. If you're a podcast person, you can listen to our podcasts. If you want to stream it, ESPN has its networks available. We're really agnostic to how people consume. We just make sure we have the best content and that it’s available, whether on social, traditional media, or new media.

Out of all the businesses, are the sports your favorite?

I've always loved sports. I was always competitive, but sports brings people together in so many different ways. I play basketball and tennis and am an investor in the Milwaukee Bucks. But my favorite sport to watch is my nine-year-old daughter dance.

 

Craig Karmazin poses with two basketball moguls

Craig Karmazin (center) with Woody Johnson (left, owner of the New York Jets) and Wes Edens (right, co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks) at an event at the Tundra Trio.

You work with your best friends. Does that make business harder or easier?

At the end of the day, it’s easier. Sure, sometimes there is hard stuff, but you have the loyalty, the talents, the passion, the camaraderie, the love; it far outweighs any negatives. 

How did you decide on Emory?

My neighbor had gone to Emory, and I had a great time when I visited. Atlanta had great weather, and the Olympics were coming. And it was a market where my dad had an office, so I knew I'd see him. Those are the things that put it over the top.

Did you get to see any of the Olympics?

Yes, and it was incredible, interacting with so many people from all over the world and just getting to go through the full range of emotions. It was a life-changing two weeks.

When you think about your time at Emory, what's the one word or phrase that comes to mind?

Video games. We spent all the time away from class, in a dorm or in an apartment, playing a lot of video games and growing up so much, not just in the classroom, but outside of the classroom.

What drives you?

People have trusted in me by putting their careers and families in my hands. They have trusted in my vision and put their talents to work for our company. It’s an incredible honor and such a responsibility. So I feel like if those teammates are willing to do that for me, then the least I can do is over deliver on any promise I made to them.

Editor's Note: Craig Karmazin is a 2018 Emory Entrepreneur Award winner, sponsored by Emory Entrepreneur Network. Find out how you can meet alumni entrepreneurs like him.


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