EMyth Clients Scott Present and MJ Navara never expected to have their own events company. For years, party production was side work, a fun hobby that made them some extra money. But after college, both gravitated away from the corporate careers they’d prepared for and back to something they were passionate about—providing world-class celebratory entertainment for their Jewish community in New Jersey. When that side project became a full-time business that kept growing, Scott and MJ knew they needed accountability and the outside perspective of a skilled coach to take it to the next level.
When COVID-19 shut down all in-person events for the foreseeable future, the co-owners took the challenge to completely change their business model—nearly overnight. Only three months into their work with their EMyth Coach Christina Ellis, they’d already created their company vision and core values, and were committed to becoming the creative and resilient leaders their business needed at that moment.
We spoke to Scott, MJ and their Coach Christina to learn how they’ve managed to go from being a local events group to national industry experts in a span of three of the worst economic months in U.S. history. They also talked about how they’ve built a team of dedicated contract workers, which is hard at the best of times, but nearly impossible during a pandemic. The partners shared how they started, what made them seek help and how they envision their new direction for the future.
EMyth: So we know you as an amazing events company that specializes in bar and bat mitzvahs. Could you tell us more about what you do?
Scott Present: Sure. I founded the company back in 2004, but I've been doing this since I was around 12—and I'll be 40 next month. So it's really been a part of my entire life. [Our mission is] to bring the best party ever to our clients and everything really fits behind that. We've built up a team and the experience to provide amazing entertainment. Our team and the dancers, DJs and MCs bring it all together. We provide all the fun bells and whistles like photo booths, uplighting, TV screens, and indoor fireworks. You name it, we can do it. But again, it's all about just bringing the best possible party—no matter what it is.
EMyth: Tell me about the journey from starting a business to where Xtreme is today.
Scott: My sister was three years younger, so I was doing nine-year-old birthday parties for her and her friends. I was in middle school and I remember sitting in the lunchroom talking to friends and saying, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we started DJing?” It wasn’t really common at the time.
So throughout middle and high school, we were able to create a little business. I was 15 years old and generating probably $25-$30K doing parties. And it was just fun—it was never meant to be a career. I never thought it would be my life. We were doing bar and bat mitzvahs and sweet sixteens before I was even 16. And my first mitzvah was for a former quarterback of the New York Giants who magically connected with us. I was starting to do pretty high-profile stuff as a kid.
I learned a lot over that time and really started developing a company. I went to college and when I came out, I decided I still wanted to go back to doing what I was passionate about. I had a corporate job and I said, “If I do one party a month or a couple times a year, I'd be happy just to release and have some fun.” And then ultimately it kept on doubling and tripling and quadrupling.
My first daughter was born eight years ago, and I told my wife, “I think I want to leave my job and see if I can make this a career.” I knew we had backing behind us—we had money coming in and parties that were booked. So she encouraged me to do it. My parents thought I was absolutely nuts. They encouraged me not to, but my wife supported me. I wound up leaving my job, and honestly, I wish I’d done it sooner. I met MJ along that road and brought him into the business as a partner. He's been a great asset and help as well.
MJ Navara: I went to college thinking I was going to be a lawyer—and here I am, an owner of an entertainment company. So obviously it’s a completely different direction than what I anticipated.
I met Scott back in 2008 through a mutual friend. I [worked at] a couple events and really enjoyed it. It was a part-time thing for me, something I did in college a couple of times a month. After [college], I went into pharmaceutical sales and worked for some pretty big companies. In 2013, I bought into [Xtreme] and it's been a fun journey ever since.
A lot of our local competitors only know entertainment, whereas Scott and I bring a more corporate mindset. I absolutely love what I do. What I really enjoy is developing people. I was into it in my pharmaceutical and corporate sales career, so I wanted to bring that corporate mentality to the entertainment sector—particularly the private and social events and bar and bat mitzvahs. That's how I got involved and how I do what I truly love to do.
For us, people [issues] were the biggest thing. We're a part-time business, so how do you get people to really care? How do you get them to want to be all in when it's just a weekend job? How do you really capture and find the right people? In the beginning, Christina said, “Well, people only go to church once a week,” and that stuck with us.Scott Present, Owner, Xtreme Event Group
EMyth: Christina, tell me a little bit about when you started working with MJ and Scott.
Christina Ellis: They were perfect for the role. It's so easy to work with business owners when their passion just exudes from them. And when we did the [EMyth process of defining your] Primary Aim, it was so aligned with what they were creating and the way they were doing it. From there they just shot off into the stratosphere.
EMyth: What was the moment when you both realized, ”We need a coach” or “We need something”?
Scott: Our business never had any issues or major problems. We were always fairly successful. We kept on growing, and [coaching] was really about trying to take it to the next level. How can we be a multimillion-dollar company? How can we keep growing?
I was going to group coaching with 30-40 other people. It was a great experience because I could talk to and engage with them, but I’d come back to the office and have to resell what I learned to MJ. It wasn't a collective; we weren't in it together.
And then we found out more about EMyth. I read EMyth well before I connected with [it] … the path that EMyth takes—having a systematic way—really sold us. It really made sense for us to be in it together, to be held accountable together, to be able to participate and take the steps we need to grow, and to have a pathway to get us there and learn. Obviously we don't know what we don't know, so having a great teacher allows us to understand what we need to do to get the end result we're looking for.
MJ: I’ve really enjoyed that Scott and I can both be part of [the coaching process] together. I wanted to learn how to build the business the right way. Obviously what we've done has been successful so far and it's been great—but you want to do it the right way. We want to instill everything that [we’re] passionate about [in] the right people. We want to get the right people on the bus to do the right thing. So I felt that having a coach would be the best opportunity to do that because when you're emotionally invested in something, sometimes you're not always thinking straight or properly. Having the outside perspective of someone who's been down this road before and has the track record of success was pretty paramount.
Christina: Scott, you once said it was important for you to find somebody outside of your industry as a coach. Could you expand more on that? Like what difference has that made for you?
Scott: I mean, we don't aspire to be the best entertainment company. Again, there are a million DJs and entertainers out there. We aspire to be the best company, [which requires] having someone that has more well-rounded experience, who’s been in different industries [and can help us] take insight, opportunities or processes that work somewhere else and implement them into our business to be as successful as possible.
EMyth: One of the real things that brought you to coaching was this vision for growth from a very stable foundation. Were there also challenges inside the business, or certain aspects that you knew were barriers to where you wanted to get?
Scott: [W]e weren't saying, “I can't do this anymore,” or feeling overwhelmed like I'm sure a lot of people are. For us, people [issues] were the biggest thing. We're a part-time business, so how do you get people to really care? How do you get them to want to be all in when it's just a weekend job? How do you really capture and find the right people? In the beginning, Christina said, “Well, people only go to church once a week,” and that stuck with us.
We generally knew what to do, but it's a matter of being held accountable and really taking it step by step on the path to get that end result. For me, coaching people is the biggest thing. I wanted to be a better leader. I want to understand different ways to find better people for the team and to be a good company that people want to work for—and allow clients to just be naturally drawn to that.
EMyth: What was it like to start working with a coach in a more intimate environment than group coaching?
Scott: It was exciting to be able to have someone who’s dedicated to give you advice and feedback, and who you can align with for an unbiased outside perspective. Obviously, if I'm challenged in the business and I talk to MJ or to my wife, it's biased. But [it helps] to have a coach who can really think from the outside, who knows the challenges and can give a little insight, little tips to help you and get you thinking differently. This whole process has allowed us to think outside of the box, be open minded and have a different mindset than was possible without coaching, especially in a time of a pandemic when our business is potentially nonexistent.
So it's really been a mindset piece, where Christina comes up with questions that make us think. And pivoting to where we are today was really based on [her] pushing us.
MJ: I think the accountability and the challenge are the biggest takeaways. The first time we spoke with Christina, we had an assignment that I called “homework” and she's like, “This isn't homework.” But I need to think about it like homework because that’s how I mentally process it and honestly get it done. It's really been great to hold myself to bigger accountability because when you have that entrepreneurial spirit, you have people that report to you, but you don't report to anybody else—you report to yourself. Christina has challenged us to hold ourselves more accountable than we probably did back in December. It’s been awesome to have that accountability. And when I do certain things, I think, “Is this my best foot forward? Or can I do this in a better way?”
Scott: And if we're talking about something—MJ brings up an idea or I bring up an idea—we ask, “What would Christina say?” [She’d] think about it and challenge us before we even take the next step.
EMyth: Christina, as their coach, what was it like for you in the beginning?
Christina: To tell you the truth, they came into the Welcome Call and I kicked their butts. [laughs] At the end they were like, “Oh yeah, this is why we wanted this—this is it. This is where we're going.” It was fun to have them so engaged and so ready to work.
They didn't feel overwhelmed, so we started from a place [of] fun. They’re engaged. They ask a ton of questions. They’re open to me asking, “What if it didn't actually have to be that way?” And they don't get frustrated. [They say,] “Okay, let's go back and think about this.” And then I'll usually get a long, thoughtful email saying, “Here's what we're going to do.”
We've become better leaders by letting our people become better leaders, by giving them an opportunity to develop themselves and giving them responsibility as well.MJ Navara, Owner, Xtreme Event Group
EMyth: Tell me about how the pandemic has affected your business—you’ve done some pretty impressive pivots.
Scott: Just after March 11th or 12th—when the president gave a speech—all of a sudden the phone was ringing nonstop with people kind of frantic, not knowing what to do. And it was intimidating not knowing what the future held. That weekend, we had four or five events scheduled and only one actually happened. The rest canceled. And we thought this may be a couple-week thing, so I rescheduled with a very short window, never really understanding the scope. And as the scope started to expand, we tried to figure out what to do. And for us, almost instantly, it was trying to be transparent [with our clients].
At the beginning, our conversations with Christina were about how we should talk to our clients. How do we become more engaging? And she pushed us. In that first week, we put out an email with what we were doing, what we were trying to achieve, how [our clients] fit into this and what the challenges were—just being completely transparent. We've had that same model really ever since.
We've also been really proactive in talking to our team. We have a video call every two weeks so our team is aware—because obviously they're not working and are unaware of what's happening behind the scenes. So we've learned pretty quickly to be as proactive and transparent as possible. And we've created a process for our clients to be more at ease and not be stressed, that we’ll work with them, no matter what it takes. If they have to cancel, we're not holding them to the terms of our contract. No questions asked. Everyone's in the same boat. So unlike some other events companies—who are being forceful or not being as accommodating—we're taking the opposite approach and just making it as easy as possible for everyone to navigate through.
EMyth: What's changed in your business, fundamentally?
Scott: So obviously we're not doing live and in-person events—that’s number one. Right before the coronavirus really [hit], MJ and I were talking about other business ideas that we could capitalize on in the events industry. We talked about doing a montage business, creating slideshows for people or doing a photo booth company. In talking to Christina about those other ideas, she said, “Why don't you just talk to some clients and figure out what they really want?”
I talked to a client that I've always relied on about our photo montage idea and what we're trying to achieve. She said, “I don't know if I'm going to have my child's bar mitzvah in October, but it might be cool if we showed a montage to everyone.” We could still do the service, show a montage and all the other things we do to celebrate them—in a virtual setting.
Within two days, we took that idea and built the website. I recorded some videos, and quickly we started talking to people and marketing it on social media. It was slow to start because people didn't really grasp what we were doing yet, but soon we were getting leads and doing virtual parties.
We’ve quickly become almost experts on a national level. We did a seminar last week and we had 125 people actively engaged in the call for over an hour, asking questions nonstop. We’ve realized that we're probably not going back to live in-person events soon, and virtual events for the future became the forefront. We've always been focused on a little geographical area, a little New Jersey footprint. And now we're doing events in California, in Florida, Chicago—everywhere. It's been great having the honor to talk to them because they’d never have been clients before. So that's been exciting, but has also made it seem that we could achieve success on a national level more easily than we’d have thought.
It really goes back to mindset. A lot of other businesses have really taken the time to be almost doom and gloom—thinking they're going out of business. They're just trying to find ways to survive. But we took the other side, being very open minded about what we've been dealing with and trying to best manage.
EMyth: What do you think allowed you guys to pivot so quickly and effectively?
MJ: We honestly embrace change. Like I said, I came from the pharmaceutical sales sector and the slogan was always, “The only constant is change.” In the events industry, there's always changing on the fly. We can plan the perfect party, which is what we do, but we don't know what's going to happen the day of the event because change is just constant. So we looked at this pandemic—after you get over the initial shock of it—as just another change.
It’s having the open-mindedness to say, “This is what it is. Let's embrace this opportunity. Let's figure out how to lean into our core values, to care and make an impact, and see how we can reach those Jewish families and make a difference right now.”
Scott: And if we didn't have strategy time to talk through ideas and share our thoughts, we probably wouldn’t have come up with several of them. So again, if you're just in the moment and just acting in the business and not on the business, those opportunities will never exist or show themselves.
EMyth: Christina, what's this been like from your vantage point—the big pivots, the shift you've seen as MJ and Scott have made time to work on it?
Christina: When they came in, they were very focused on New Jersey. They had this community— they were the mitzvah guys. And I watched them shift. We’d finished the leadership model just as the virus hit. They were in a perfect position. They were thinking strategically. They took the challenge. When everybody else was running, Scott and MJ stood up and said, “No, we're going to lead this industry because we know there's a better way.”
Not only did they fall into this leadership role in their company—they're now the go-to for the industry on how we do this, how we get through this. So I've seen them grow from what they thought they were going to be to this much bigger picture. And all the while, I watched them grow more together. So many strengths have come from this—as partners, they've gotten stronger.
EMyth: Managing people and being a leader for people is such a core component. How did you bring your team along to embrace all those changes?
MJ: I appreciate that question. If we look back six months ago, we were definitely Technicians. We were doing a lot of the stuff that, as owners of the business, we probably shouldn't have done. And as we've worked more with Christina and through the EMyth Process, we've realized to let go of the little pieces to make the plane fly better. We've given away more responsibility. We've seen people step up that I personally never really thought would step up. We're fortunate to have a team full of passionate individuals who really care about our clients, who want to achieve success and truly see our vision. We've seen our company become a well-oiled machine. We've become better leaders by letting our people become better leaders, by giving them an opportunity to develop themselves and giving them responsibility as well. I'm proud of letting go a bit and seeing the growth of our team accelerate.
Scott: And during this time, we also hired another position that we're in the process of training. She's going to come on board in a true full-time position soon.
EMyth: Is this your first full-time new hire?
Scott: Correct. It's as a Client Care Coordinator. Prior to joining EMyth, I was doing a lot of the grunt work, and we realized that it’s really important to have someone to handle the day-to-day with the clients. So over several months, we learned what this position should look like and who the perfect person should be. We took our time in making a decision but found someone that has been training for the last five weeks. She fits our culture, fits everything. We've been instilling the core values and our strategic objective, so it's funny when she references those things. It's so important to us. We now know how to instill that in our team and it's great.
Christina: Did you hear what Scott said there? Did you see what they did? So when most businesses would say, “Oh my gosh, we can't hire anyone during this time because it's a pandemic, these guys said, “Oh, this isn't going to last forever. Eventually this is going to change. And, there are [great] people out of work. How do we get them?” And they went out and found someone who was a perfect fit for them. They came up with a plan to train her over the course of this time so that she could get to know them—so that the minute they hit go, she's up and ready. These guys are way in front of the ball. They've immersed her in their culture without having to come into the office. That's how strong it is.
EMyth: Christina, any coaching pearls on what really helped that quick shift?
Christina: Here's the remarkable part—these are also contract employees, right? So many times you hear, “Oh I have all contract employees so they don't care about the business.” That's a bunch of bologna. Scott and MJ have built something bigger than themselves that these people want to be a part of. And that's what has accelerated them. So through their company values, through their strategic objective, through their brand promise, all of their people truly care about Scott and MJ's business.
EMyth: One of the things that really strikes me is that this pivot is going to change your direction as a company. What's your future vision for the company now that wasn't even on your radar in January?
Scott: We have some cool ideas on being more national. We have the capabilities to be the experts in our niche, which is bar and bar mitzvahs, because we know what [this client community] wants and how they want it. So now we’re talking about physical products that we could potentially market, more opportunities with these clients, … thinking outside of being just an entertainment company. There's only so much money you could [make] as a DJ. No matter how big [it gets], it’s never going to be a $100M or $1B company.
And now that we're more open minded, I think the options are really endless. There are so many potential opportunities that we could take advantage of … to take the current situation and expand it to what we think the future is going to be two, three, four years from now. In entertainment alone, there's definitely going to be a blend of virtual and in-person events.
EMyth: This has just been really great to connect with you guys. Is there anything else you’d like to share, things that you've done that would help other business owners?
Scott: One big picture thing: It's important to take risks. If you don't take a risk, you don't know what could possibly happen. We had no idea if our virtual component would be successful or well-received. But it allowed us to put stuff out there. Some things will be rewarded, some things might not—but every risk we took, no matter how it's received, has taught us a lesson about what we should do in the future.