How AMBITION Led Students To Success

Bob Deemer wasn’t using the ambition.org domain name. He was just holding on to it, or cybersquatting, as some might call it. And why not? A Web Developer at ESPN, Deemer was at the forefront of the dot com boom. He knew he would find buyers ready to spend upwards of $25,000 for ambition and some of the other words he had scooped up at a time when they could be bought for less than $50.

Carter Reum  (right)  guides the AMBITION students in negotiating with Bob Deemer  (left) .

Carter Reum (right) guides the AMBITION students in negotiating with Bob Deemer (left).

When Nancy Gale realized AMBITION was the perfect name for the non-profit youth empowerment organization she founded, she wasn’t surprised to discover the domain name was already taken. What did surprise her was the reply she received when she pursued it anyway. Thank you for your interest in ambition.org, the email read. The name can be purchased for $25,000.

At that point, most people would have moved on to alternative domain names that could be bought for next to nothing. They would have played with names like ambitioners.com or ourambition.com. Nancy, however, is not most people. Practically a Michigan native, she spent her college years in Arizona studying Business & Communications before moving to Los Angeles to follow her true calling -- a career in the luxury handbag industry, launching JAMAH in 2000. As the industry became impacted by the recession, Gale decided to step it up and take the brand to the height of upscale luxury, with a vision of JAMAH becoming synonymous with the first true American luxury design house. JAMAH caught the attention of the celebrity community and Gale became known for her creativity and resilience. The idea of walking away from pursuing the ambition web name didn’t even occur to her. Instead, she kicked into exploration mode and engaged the domain-owning stranger in conversation. Nancy knew the sooner the word “stranger” was eliminated from their relationship the better. Even if nothing came from their dialogue about the domain, networking on behalf of AMBITION was always of value.

Bob Deemer wasn’t thrilled to learn the query was coming from a non-profit. Although touched by their mission, he wasn’t interested in releasing the ambition domain name without capitalizing on its profit potential. Not only was Gale unfazed, but she also went on to share her philosophy about bringing “cause & commerce” together.

“Look, I have succeeded in an industry that one might argue is non-essential, luxury handbags. I have clients who spend thousands of dollars for my designs,” she told Deemer. “Our business successes should serve as examples for these students. You can be profitable and philanthropic and feel good about both sides of the equation,” she added.

When she was finished, Deemer posed a straightforward question. “What’s your budget?”

Gale’s response? “We don’t have one. High or low.”

After a long tongue-tied pause, she uttered, “I don’t know what I’m saying, but the students are going to figure out a way to get this domain from you.”

“Exactly how are you planning to do that?” Deemer asked.

“You don’t know me, but I actually don’t know what I’m saying,” Gale replied with a chuckle. “Give me a bit and I’ll get back to you.”

Deemer wasn’t sure what to expect next, but he knew there was more to come. He found himself thinking about the AMBITION students and weighing the pros and cons of keeping the conversation going. Within days, he received the first of two videos. The AMBITION students wanted to make sure Deemer had a picture of who they were and what they were all about. Gale wanted that too. Her second call didn’t come as a surprise to Deemer, but her approach did. Because he was prepared to be badgered into submission he had already crafted his response. Gale had barely said hello when he made his preemptive move.

“I believe in giving people a hand up, but not a hand out,” he declared.

 Gale was delighted. “That’s it. That’s exactly what AMBITION is all about,” she exclaimed.

At that moment, it all came together.  Gale would task her students with a real-world assignment. It would now be their job to negotiate with Mr. Deemer.

Gale knew the negotiations had to be in person. She was certain the distance between Deemer’s world in Connecticut and the students’ worlds in urban Los Angeles could be closed with one face-to-face interaction. Her next move was bold, but inevitable. “There will be a negotiation taking place,” she told Deemer and before he could respond she added, “and your presence in Los Angeles will be required.” Gale had even surprised herself, but for Deemer it was as good as done. He booked his flight and, just two weeks later, he was in front of the classroom.

Gale had already scheduled a pre-class dinner so she and Deemer could meet and she could brief him on what to expect. Prior to arriving, he had received a second video from the students. To his surprise, they came right out and asked for the domain.

“Remember I told you, I’m all about a hand-up not a hand-out,” he said to Gale.

She had a coy but purposeful response. “Well, where else would they start their negotiation?”

Deemer took in Gale’s bottom line business acumen and, as he gathered his thoughts, he asked her to provide some sort of budget parameters. Gale was accustomed to people expecting a high-school take on a real world experience. She knew Deemer wanted a budget so he could show compassion and be easy on these students, who he understood were “underprivileged.”

That was exactly what Gale didn’t want. She looked Deemer in the eye and said, “You tell me what this domain is worth to you. If you won’t budge from $25K then so be it. The kids will have to raise 25K.” She went on to underscore that she expected him to walk in the next morning and negotiate with the students as he would with any other business associates.

At 8am, as happens every Wednesday in the world of AMBITION, the students, mentors and Gale gathered for their weekly session. It was September and the school year had just begun. Deemer arrived promptly at 7:45 and was introduced as the first order of business. As he shared his personal story with the group, a story that includes poverty, perseverance and triumph, the group realized they were witnessing a “me too” moment. “There’s Always a Me Too” is AMBITION’s signature entrepreneurial problem-solving exercise in which the speaker shares a personal journey with AMBITION’s trademark power-not-pity approach. The result is a collaborative experience that reveals what we share as people.

Before telling his story, Deemer was just another successful business guy with a domain for sale. As his story unfolded, it became obvious to everyone in the room that his road to success wasn’t easy and he had experienced many of the same struggles as the AMBITION students. By the time he was finished, it was clear he had made an impact on everyone.

The next step was to roll up sleeves and get down to the business of negotiating. Three large groups were formed, each with students and mentors alike, in order to brainstorm the best ways to compel Deemer to drop his price. Two of the mentors took the lead as the teams went from brainstorm to actual business negotiation; Carter Reum, an entrepreneur, innovator, investor, author and Co-Founder of M13 Company, and Brent Freeman, an entrepreneur, startup advisor and Founder of Stealth Venture Labs. As the session came to a close, the price of the domain dropped to $15K but everyone, including Deemer, knew the journey had just begun. The AMBITION students were fired up by the challenge. Only one mentor pushed back on the process, suggesting that Deemer should just give the domain away. Gale was quick to shift this mentor’s thinking by shining a light on the true gift to the students —real world negotiating experience.

A few months later, during which time more brainstorming had occurred, the group felt ready to put their best foot forward. Reum, once again, represented the students and mentors and engaged Deemer via Skype as everyone participated in Round 2. The strategy was based on articulating the value of the domain to AMBITION’s current students as well as future generations. The case being made was powerful and at the conclusion of the Skype session the domain price was reduced to 10K. The students were pleased, but still knew the finish line had not been reached. Applying newly learned strategic tactics, they set the next step in motion, inviting Deemer to participate in what would hopefully bring the negotiation to a close.

In mid-June, on the last day of class, a Skype session took place. One of the students, Ahmia Carter, was chosen as spokesperson. Ahmia had earned the respect of her classmates and mentors as she transformed from the “girl most likely to burn down the building,” to the “girl most likely to succeed.” It was Ahmia who brought the negotiation home. She began by laying out some expectations surrounding the domain transition.

“As a web master,” she stated, “the students will expect you to lend your expertise and provide technical assistance as needed.”

Deemer was in agreement. Reum continued with the students’ proposal.

“We are offering you $5,000 for the Ambition.org domain. Our first payment will be $1,000. Our subsequent payments, for which we will raise funds, will all be held in what will now be called AMBITION’s Bob Deemer Scholarship Fund, which will live for the life of the program. With this fund, you will be helping kids like us well into the future,” Reum concluded.

Deemer was speechless and his eyes welled up with tears. At that very moment, the familiar “ding” of an email broke the silence and, without even looking, the mentors and students knew they were now the owners of the Ambition.org domain.

Acquiring the site was thrilling, not only because of the success of the negotiation, but also because of what the domain represented for the organization’s future. AMBITION could now establish the platform that matched the strength of its mission and move into a new phase by establishing and amplifying the identity of the brand. Working together, the students and mentors strategized, developed and designed AMBITION’s new look and voice and, as this term comes to a close, they are on the verge of sharing it with the world.

Bob Deemer and Nancy Gale remain in contact to this day. After his time as a Web Developer at ESPN and a Software Engineer for Major League Baseball, Deemer became a Software Engineer at The Walt Disney Company. His ambitious goals continue to be a source of inspiration to Gale and the students. When the two met, Deemer’s sights were set on running the six World Marathon Majors. Tokyo, London, Chicago and New York were already behind him and he was focused on Boston and Berlin. He was also four continents into a seven continent goal, having run North America, Asia, Europe and Australia. As Deemer turned his ambitions into realities, he knew the AMBITION students were strengthening the muscles they would need to realize their dreams. What he didn’t know was that the students would adopt his dreams as their next critical assignment. They set their sights high. Getting Deemer into the Boston Marathon became their mission, knowing full well that the requirements for entry were among the toughest in the world. The students analyzed the situation and discovered that obtaining a charity bib, while very difficult, was going to be their only viable option. Because the AMBITION students are fearless, they took on the task and the fundraising began. In a matter of months, the students had raised enough to present Dave McGillivray, Race Director of the Boston Marathon, with a donation for the Joseph Middlemiss Big Heart Foundation. This donation secured Bob’s spot in the 2018 race, which he ran and finished in spite of torrential rains.

The story of Bob Deemer is shared with every class and continues to be a source of learning, not only about negotiation, but also about purpose and persistence. Gale’s belief in “the ask” is a core AMBITION philosophy as students are taught that “no” is not an obstacle.

AMBITION is a non-profit entrepreneurial program for underserved youth that fosters innovation, solution-driven thinking, confidence and a positive work ethic. Established in 2010 by Nancy Gale, founder of luxury handbag brand JAMAH, AMBITION promotes collaborative hands-on participation, real-world business experience and powerful, consistent connections with mentors and special guests, including Sir Richard Branson and President Bill Clinton. AMBITION is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. www.ambition.org.