An assist from a friend helps founder of swag company get in the sports game

A tip from an old friend helped Harry Ein's swag company get off the bench.

Ein started Perfection Promo in 2010 to distribute the free stuff, like shirts, pens and buttons, that companies give to fans, employees, new customers and users of rewards programs. He got some business with technology companies but didn't know where to focus, so he couldn't build up a specialty or area of strength.

Then Ein got some help from a friend while catching up over beers and telling him about his new company. His friend offered a connection: he knew someone who worked for the NBA's Sacramento Kings.

Ein loves sports and wanted to enter the field, but was pessimistic because of the competition. "It's a tough market to get involved in and it's a tough market to get the business," he says. "I thought I had no shot."

Still, he called his new contact and asked the Kings' brand development office for the chance to make one bid.

It worked. In early 2011 the Kings ordered a small number of plush teddy bears and gave them away at a community group event. Then the team ordered more than $100,000 in merchandise from Perfection Promo that year.

After that, Ein felt he could compete in the sports field. He started cold-calling other teams and got recommendations from customers. He was always looking for clients and even met one at a bachelor party.

San Francisco-based Perfection Promo's orders have included wristbands and buttons for the Oakland Athletics' LGBT Pride Night, a "Star Wars" t-shirt for the Los Angeles Dodgers and a banner marking a division title for the Golden State Warriors.

Its revenue rose from $700,000 in 2010 to $4 million in 2014.

His advice? Make time for your friends. And it's OK to ask them for help with your career.

"Never be afraid to ask your friends for referrals," he says in an email. "Never be offended if they can't help, because usually they can't, but sometimes they can. So always ask."