“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
We've got an entrepreneurial superstar joining us on the show today! Our guest will reveal his secrets to:
- Creating products that people love
- Raising $1+ million through crowdfunding, and
- Generating multiple 7-figure exits.
That's right, he's done a LOT, despite still only being in his 30s.
Dr. Steve Sudell received his doctorate in Physical Therapy in 2009, and in an accomplished career he’s made it his mission to find non-invasive solutions to get people back to doing what they love.
In 2013, he opened Prehab2Perform, a sports clinic that bridges the gap between physical therapy and performance training. Since then, he’s helped (and continues to help) thousands of athletes and active adults get out of pain and get back in the game.
Just two years later, in 2015, he co-founded StretchLab, a revolutionary, assisted-stretching facility that helps individuals improve their overall flexibility and well-being through stretching. Steve created the full range of stretching protocols that are still in use today, and also trained hundreds of practitioners – known as “flexologists” – in the process.
With Steve’s expertise, StretchLab went from one location to more than 200 in less than four years. In 2019, Steve exited the company in a seven-figure deal.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Dr. Steve Sudell does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more ?
Despite these wins, Steve wasn’t done. After watching his younger sister battle leukemia and suffer from extreme pain, he knew there were a lot more people who needed help. In 2017, to help the millions of people who suffer from chronic neck pain, he created the Neck Hammock. It arrived as the most affordable, portable, and effective ‘at home’ neck pain solution on the market.
To fund the project, he launched two crowdfunding campaigns simultaneously that raised USD $1.6 million from 20,000+ backers, and landed in the top 1% of all Kickstarter campaigns. Since then, the Neck Hammock has been featured on The Dr. Oz Show, The Today Show, Forbes, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop.
After grossing more than USD $20 million in sales, Steve had another seven-figure exit in January 2021.
We cover a lot of ground in this episode! In addition to some extraordinary business lessons, you'll learn how to make your health a priority (no matter how hectic your schedule is), when it's time to exit your passion project, and exactly what it takes to run a successful business in 2021.
And remember, a little inspiration at the right time can completely change the trajectory of someone’s life, so if there’s a friend who needs to check out this interview, share it with them now.
Let’s WIN THE DAY with Dr. Steve Sudell!
Steve, great to see you and good to have you on the show.
Dr. Steve Sudell:
Great to be here, really excited.
To kick things off, why don’t you share a little bit about what your life was growing up and what career opportunities you felt were available to you at a young age?
I grew up in a pretty humble life. I feel fortunate in that I grew up on some land, so I got to spend a lot of time in my yard, which ignited that creativity and imagination. Growing up, I've always had this need to make things easier and better. Maybe that's my laziness kicking in, but there was always something that I wanted to do, to find different ideas and random solutions. While I did that at a very young age, it was only after I graduated college when I realized that I actually could put my ideas to work. The small town I grew up in was Jupiter, Florida, which isn't so small anymore.
I also played a lot of sports, like football, which would tie into some other products I would create later because I developed neck pain. I was very lucky to grow up as an active kid and I saw at a young age how much better that made me feel very early on. I had a ton of problems with allergies and I was given every single pharmaceutical under the sun. I was on antibiotics ever since at very young age. Now, I am pretty much immune to any allergy medication.
I realized that the solution was actually exercise.
I realized that the solution was actually exercise. Whenever I would exercise, that would completely eliminate all of my allergies. And so, at 15 years old, I realized how much movement is medicine, and that's what got me interested in pursuing things like athletic training, physical therapy, and personal training, because I really believe that by taking care of our bodies, we can have a really big impact on our overall quality of life.
You mentioned football. Were there any other sports that laid the foundation the physical training you do today?
Absolutely. So pre-football, I played a lot of soccer and baseball. So I would do baseball in the fall and soccer in the spring, and I got very lucky doing the two sports because both helped each other. I would develop speed from soccer and I would develop a little bit of hand-eye coordination from baseball. Then, when I got old enough, that's when my parents allowed me to play tackle football, but I was always pretty involved in anything. I was very lucky that my grandfather taught me how to play golf at a young age.
All of my hobbies revolved around recreation. I just remember that whenever I was playing sports, my grades were always better. I was always in obviously much better shape, and it just laid the foundation of how important that is.
Does it feel weird to hear people describe you as an ‘inventor’!? Is it a label you’re comfortable with?
It's a lot more comfortable now. At first, it was a little funky, but I actually had two inventions before Neck Hammock, and I'm very grateful that neither of them worked out, but they got me to start thinking very early on the process of creating a patent and what you actually need to do to sell the product. If I had the idea for Neck Hammock first, I don't think it would have been nearly as successful as it is today, and it may not even be around today.
With the earlier projects, I got to work out some of the kinks. Now, the hard part is limiting my ideas to things that can actually scale, because I have ideas left and right on how to make things better and easier, but you have to focus your attention on one thing at a time.
How did you end up in LA after growing up in Florida?
I spent my first 27 years in Florida, and I just felt like it's Groundhog Day. Every weekend was the same, every week was the same, and Florida is great, but there wasn't much variety like there is in California. My parents actually lived in California when I was born, and they would always talk about how great it was.
My wife is from farm country, Pennsylvania, in a town of 500 people. We both had talked about making the trip to the west coast. Three years into our working world, we took advantage of travel therapy jobs, and we found ourselves in LA. We've been here for nine years now.
I was about the same age. At 28 years old, I left my hometown to move to Boston – on the complete other side of the world, where I didn’t know a single person – and then to LA not long after that. It was the decision to move somewhere completely new, exposing me to so much, that I realized how much of a bubble I had been in. All the people from my hometown were amazing, but it was so comfortable, and there was an itch deep down that needed to be scratched.
How much has the environment of LA, including the people, spring-boarded your idea of what's possible for your life?
100%. For as many flaws as LA has, the one thing that I'd never been exposed to was the creative energy that's in LA, where there's so many people trying to do things. There's so much creativity, and there's just so many go-getters that it’s unlike any place I've ever been. Where I come from, everyone has a 9:00 to 5:00 job, which is fine, but in LA people are always thinking about what's the next best thing that you can do, and I was very lucky that I opened my physical therapy clinic in LA in 2013.
I would work very closely with people and have conversations, develop relationships, and the people that I met at my physical therapy clinic are the people who helped shape me as an entrepreneur and created connections and gave me ideas.
Had I just been a physical therapist in Florida, I don't think I would have accomplished anything close to what I've accomplished now, purely from the environment. So getting out of that bubble and into a new environment, was really, really important for me and crucial to the success that I've had.
Your mission is to find non-invasive solutions to get people back to doing what they love, which is great because it gets people away from using things like surgery as a first resort. After all, that magic bullet rarely (if ever) fixes the underlying issues.
Tell us about that mission and why it's so important to you.
People highly underestimate how intelligent the human body is and when you give it the right tools to succeed, it can absolutely thrive. In modern medicine we think that we're smarter than our bodies. But our bodies are such delicate ecosystems that we don't truly understand the impact of pharmaceuticals, or surgery, or all these things that can have really severe consequences. But if you focus on giving your body things like exercise, proper nutrition, sleep, water, and vitamin D, it absolutely can thrive.
In modern medicine we think that we're smarter than our bodies.
My mission is to basically create things to facilitate non-invasive solutions, because something like the Neck Hammock, for example, all it essentially does is create cervical traction, which takes the pressure off of your neck. The risk-versus-reward of using that, the risk is extremely low and the reward is extremely high, versus if you were to go get a cervical disc operation; you can have permanent consequences from that. Most decisions that I make in my life are doing that balance of risk versus reward, so that also ties into my mission of non-invasive.
We're in a TikTok world now where, if something doesn’t cure you in one-tenth of a second, people bounce to something else. Is it becoming more and more of a problem with people wanting things like surgery and tablets to fix this stuff, rather than seeing the right professionals who can get you thinking and moving so the human body can fix itself?
Totally, it's a really big problem. It's a problem that really concerns me because people just want things done yesterday, and dealing with any sort of pain or dysfunction, they immediately want a pill or a procedure. You really just have to give your body a little bit of patience and, again, give it the right tools to succeed.
All these invasive solutions have consequences.
One of the blessings of me having taken antibiotics at such a young age is that it basically destroyed my gut. So now every day I have to take probiotics and whatnot, but it also helped me learn solutions that I can take. For example, oregano oil, it's fantastic for sinus infections. As a kid, I would have sinus infections all the time, and the more antibiotics I took, I'm dealing with those consequences later on in life. Contrast that with a good holistic solution where you don't need pharmaceuticals to help you (A) get rid of the infection, and (B) keep you really healthy in the long run.
That's what people don't understand. All these invasive solutions have consequences. They have side effects, and we may not even completely understand them now. They may come out 5-10 years down the road, but they all have consequences. And really if people were just a little bit more patient and focused on the basics, a lot of those problems can go away.
You and your wife, Lindsay, have worked with so many different people, of all walks of life, from regular folks to celebrities, entertainers, and athletes. Is there a particular transformation from your work that you're most proud of?
Luckily for me, there's so many cool transformations, but I remember in particular there was a gentleman who came to me, his daughter-in-law actually brought him. He was an old Chinese man. He spoke like 10 words in English, but he couldn't get out of the car and he was having a lot of issues like falling on the ground.
I worked with him twice a week for about six months, and at the end of the six months of working with him, we were doing full depth squats with a barbell on his back with 65 pounds on the bar in chains. He was doing sets of 10 reps. And he was so into it; he would always arrive early. The transformation of not being able to get out of a car to squatting full depth at 86 years old, no one can believe that's actually possible until they see it happen.
That was from seeing him twice a week. He wasn't really doing anything else besides coming in. Just that little bit of work, and focusing on what he really needs and those foundational movements – like a squat – it's extremely transformational. There are so many other stories just like it, but that's one that I'll always cherish.
You’re in a financial position now where you don’t need to continue the clinical side. Why do you continue to do it? Is it because of the satisfaction that comes from transformations like the one you just mentioned?
Yeah, I'm super passionate about my job. I know the ‘passion’ word gets thrown out there a lot, but it is something that every day I look forward to doing my job because every day I'm presented with a new challenge. And it's people like Mr. Chang, they just get you to think outside the box and constantly stay creative to grow.
It’s those growth opportunities that often lead to other opportunities. Things that I see in the clinic gives me ideas to create other things. Every successful project that I've worked on has come from me being an active physical therapist and doing things in the clinic. So, the longer I stay in the clinic doing what I love, the more ideas I’ll breed in the future.
Yeah, it's classic. It's like the CEO of a business who thinks that they can create the entire company strategy without talking to the people who are boots on the ground, right?
Exactly. You need to get your hands dirty and keep doing that grind every day to stay involved with what's going on.
You and I have both launched so many companies and products, and we’ve spoken privately many times about our entrepreneurial frustrations. To me, entrepreneurship is a constant tightrope between impact and burnout. I think about that every single day.
You seem to have more balance than most, but people don't see the frustrations, stress, and the very real costs that occur behind the scenes. What goes through your mind when I describe entrepreneurship as a constant tightrope between and impact? Is that something that you agree with?
That's spot on. And right now I'm much less stressed and I have much more balance because I did sell my other businesses. But when I was in the thick of running those different operations, along with my physical therapy clinic, I mean, I was teetering on the line of burnout all the time. And I probably did burnout a few times, and it takes a really long time to recover. That's part of the reason why I haven't jumped right into another project yet, because I still have a bit of a hangover from those other two things – as exciting and rewarding and as fun as they were.
In order to be really successful as an entrepreneur, you have to be all in with whatever you're doing.
In my opinion, in order to be really successful as an entrepreneur, you have to be all in with whatever you're doing. That requires sacrifice in other areas of your life. But in your head, you need to know that can't last forever. You can't sprint forever. It's more of a marathon, and eventually you have to add balance to the other aspects of your life. Otherwise burnout happens, and then that thing that you're working on becomes unsuccessful anyways.
Yeah, if people aren't looking after themselves in the process, they often begin to resent the very thing that they created in the first place because they were so passionate about it.
You're a super fit dude. You've competed at the CrossFit games, which is about as tough as a physical event can possibly be. You still train five days a week, which is amazing. How do you structure your day so you can make sure you get that training in five times a week?
It really has to do with discipline. I make it a priority to where I put my workouts into my schedule. When I was, again, more in depth in some of these other projects, I would let part of work take over to where it would impact my workouts. And I always found that I was far less productive when I was not working out. That sense of burnout came much faster when I was not focusing on the physical side of things.
For me, exercise is a keystone habit. When you do it, it makes everything else better. It makes your eating better, it makes your sleeping better, it makes your mental focus better. As a result, not doing that makes everything else harder. For me, it's so important to do that very early on in the day because it makes the rest of the day, no matter whatever happens, feel accomplished.
That’s why I train five days a week as an absolute priority, but I also give myself two rest days because you don't want to burn out on the physical side either.
Is there anything you do outside of physical training that's an essential part of your daily routine?
One of my favorite things is to take my dogs for a long walk where I wear a 30-pound weight vest, and I usually listen to audiobooks at the same time. I'm definitely an addict when it comes to that, but on my days off, I don't listen to anything and I just try to take in all of the environment, pay attention to them, and it's a really special moment for me to decompress and just think about my week that just happened, upcoming weeks. I think that moment of reflection, combined with a little bit of light exercise, is very important for me.
Is there anything that you do struggle to get done, even though you know you really need to do it? And, if so, how do you handle it?
I think in the area of sleep, that's really hard because I start at 7:00 – 7:30 AM, and then I don't finish until 7:00 PM. So when you get home, you'd have dinner and you want to do a certain degree of decompressing which might involve watching TV, and that pushes my sleep time back a little bit. My wife is also a night owl, so she keeps me usually a little bit longer than I want to be, but again, we don't get to spend much time with each other except for those small periods. So I think I have to do that.
But I usually will make up for it with 20-minute naps. I have lunch at midday and then force myself to either go in the bedroom or lie in the Neck Hammock for 20 minutes with an eye mask on. I don't do the typical meditation as most people prescribe, but just complete silence for 20-30 minutes a day really helps to recharge my batteries and get back after it. On the day days that I don't do that, I feel a huge impact to where I just don't think the same way, my head isn't as clear. I don't have as much energy to finish. So that's something that I don't always do well, but I really try to make it a priority.
You've had some amazing wins in the business world, so I'm excited to dig into all of that now. Let's start with Prehab 2 Perform. When you started the business, were you focus on applying what you learned as a physical therapist, or were you always focusing on the bigger picture, as in thinking about some unmet needs that you could possibly bring in as solutions for those people who you were working with?
When I first started my physical therapy career, I started in a physical therapy clinic that was insurance-based. I was seeing three to four people an hour and I burnt out after about a year-and-a-half because I felt so guilty because I loved my patients, but you can't possibly give them quality care when you're running around patient to patient every 15 minutes, like within the hour time. So I just felt really guilty about that and I promised myself that I would never work as a physical therapist unless I'm one-on-one again. So when I started Prehab 2 Perform back in 2013, I decided that I didn't want to deal with insurance and I was only going to see people one-on-one.
It took me a while to build that business up because it's an atypical model, but I wanted to focus on, again, giving people my one-on-one attention, but I also wanted to focus on not just physical therapy, but also athletic performance, because really the two are tied together. Not just getting people to get rid of their shoulder pain that they're coming in for, but also teaching them how to squat, teaching them how to do a deadlift.
I created this niche that I never really expected to where now, most of the people who come in and see me, they don't see me even for physical therapy. They see me for more personal training through the eyes of a physical therapist so that they don't get re-injured, but to keep excelling for the rest of their lives. I mean, I look at exercise, PT, and prehab as basically like brushing your teeth. It's just something you have to do every day for the rest of your life, and your body will be much happier for it.
Two years after you started Prehab 2 Perform, you co-founded StretchLab. Did you feel that that was a particularly big gamble at the time, and when did you know you were onto a winner?
Yeah, at first, I mean, my two partners, we had no idea what the hell we were doing. We just knew that we had this idea that no one had really tapped into before. And stretching is one of those things that people, they know that they need to do it and they always say that they're going to do it after the workout and they never do, which leads to like a lot of injuries and whatnot. So we're like, "Well, why don't we just do this for people?" After they go to the gym, they can just come here. They can just lie down and we do all the stretching for them, and then they're on with their day.
When we first started, I mean, it's comical. We trained people in physical therapy while the actual first location was being worked on. The people who I was training were hairstylists, bartenders, people who had no experience in that field at all. Because anyone who did have experience who was a massage therapist or healthcare practitioner, physical therapist, they didn't want to touch it because they didn't think that this was actually going to be successful. So we had to just take whoever we could.
As a result, when I created the stretching programs, I had to keep that in mind: how can I make these stretches simple enough that anyone can learn them, and do them at a level to where people want to actually pay for that service and continue to pay for the service?
It was a huge learning curve for me, to try and figure out all those intricacies. Were there better stretches that I could do for people? Maybe. But finding the balance of creating that simplicity where both the flexologist can do it really well – and the person who's actually getting the stretch gets a really good experience – so people want to come back. So it was a huge gamble, but we really believe that it could be something really big. I had no idea that it'd be as big as it is today.
What was the price point per hour when you first launched?
We had a few different tiers. I believe we had 30 minutes. We've changed so many times, but a 30-minute stretch was like $25, then a 45-minute stretch was maybe $45. So super low price point, just enough to basically pay the bills. Then as our people got better, we progressively increased the price point, and we increased the time domains because there were some people who wanted a 90-minute stretch. We adapted along the way, but luckily we had a very good baseline to start with.
At StretchLab you had business partners, investors, hundreds of physical locations, thousands of staff to train, and so many moving parts. How challenging was it to manage your stress levels with all of those dynamics in play?
Extremely challenging. Time management just became extremely crucial. I had to put everything into the calendar and check it every single day, and the day before, to make sure that things synced up perfectly. Many times they didn't, and many times I was really stressed out and I overextended myself, but I was lucky to have done this in my 20s and early 30s where I had energy to do that. I think when pursuing these types of things, it’s really important to do it as early as you can so you can bring that energy.
It was certainly a learning experience in figuring out how to balance everything. There's a quote that I like, "If you need something done, give it to the busiest person that you know." When you get in that groove and you get in that cycle, you're basically working all day, but you don't think about it. It's just okay, onto the next, onto the next, onto the next. You're not worried about what you have to do. You just do it.
Yeah. It's so true. You eventually exited StretchLab in a seven-figure deal. How did you know it was time to move on from something that was obviously such a big part of your life and something that you'd put so much work and effort into?
It just got to a point where the partners who basically purchased a large percentage of the business at the time, we just began to have differences of opinions on where we wanted the business to go and how we wanted it to operate. And sales were really good – they were selling franchises like crazy. We just felt it was a good opportunity to exit on top because we didn't know what the market would look like in the next few years. Thank goodness we did because we sold basically a few months before this virus hit and it would have been absolutely catastrophic for us.
Yeah, a physical contact business during a pandemic. Maybe not the most profitable business to run!
Yeah, so to hold all those leases and whatnot, it would have been just really terrible, so we got really lucky. And another quote that I really like, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." When we had a good enough offer to where it certainly could change our lives, why not take it? It also gave me another opportunity to work on my next thing.
In 2017, your life changed again when you invented the Neck Hammock. What was the process of taking that from idea to prototype?
One day I was working out in the gym and I tweaked my neck doing handstand push-ups. I was extremely frustrated because this has happened multiple times before. And the one thing that I learned in physical therapy school was cervical traction. Whenever my neck would hurt, cervical traction would always help me, but the machines were always big and bulky and super expensive. So in my head I was like, "Well, how can I recreate the cervical traction right now that I don't need a machine?"
I just grabbed a thick resistance band, wrapped around a pole, wrapped around the back of my head, and I lay down. Ten minutes later, my neck pain was gone. I knew then that I was onto something, but I had to find an industrial designer – and thank goodness for the internet to let me know that that's what I needed! A guy who I worked with on a project in Florida for other inventions that I started already had a contact, so I basically gave him my general ideas.
Going back to the environment thing, a buddy of mine introduced me to another guy in town who had hookups with suppliers and other industrial designers that he swore by. It was just this slow process over time where we started with an idea and test / retest, test / retest. Again, as a physical therapist, with every single one of my patients, at the end of their session I would say, "Oh, I just created this thing. Why don't you try it out for 10 minutes and let me know what you think?"
So I had hundreds of data of feedback on: "The foam is too uncomfortable” and “The bands are too flexible," that type of thing. I had all this data that was coming in from people who luckily were very honest with me. I just kept making changes based on all those things. And so it was a process that took much, much longer than I ever thought it would, but it ended up working out.
Yeah, the research you did yourself was much better than any focus group that you could pay to go and get it done with a bunch of randoms!
The crowdfunding campaign was obviously instrumental in your success. What were the two or three main things that you did to make sure all those crowdfunding campaigns were so successful?
There's a guy Perry Marshall who became a mentor to me. I went to a conference of his and we sat down for lunch, and I had just had the idea of the Neck Hammock. He told me the most important thing that you can do is create a video where, in 10 seconds, the user completely understands what you've created, how it can bring them value, and why they should buy it – all within 10 seconds. Something that would create an emotional response. Even if you saw it and you didn't exactly know what the product does or why it works, but you knew that you liked it.
So for me, creating a really good video for the Neck Hammock was imperative, and I was a huge stickler on it. I hated the first few iterations of it and it was fairly low quality type video, but the great irony is the video clips that we still use in ads today are the worst quality! Like filmed on this disgusting carpet, but it demonstrated the value of people using it and feeling good. So having a really good video was number one.
Number two was having a really good unique selling proposition. The finally creating a price point to where it was almost an impulse purchase, so people would say, "Yeah, I'll give this thing a try. It's worth it. It's a whole lot cheaper than me going to see my physio, the doctor's office or getting surgery.” Those three things combined is what I think made it a truly a large success.
Is that how you came up with a pricing strategy, by evaluating the alternative solutions that people might pursue for their problem?
That, plus I did a lot of research, which I highly recommend to anyone who launches any product. You need to do months, if not years, of research on other similar products – or even products that aren't necessarily similar, but would be about same price point – because through my research and seeing other products, other neck-type products, posture-type products, I saw what they priced it at and I saw who was the most successful doing it.
Based on that data and research, that's what helped mold our specific price points for what we wanted to sell.
If you didn't have the resources at your disposal right now, all you had was your knowledge, and you were able to invent a new device, would you still go down the crowdfunding route in 2021? And what are the biggest reasons that crowdfunds fail today?
The number one problem that I ran into very early with crowdfunding was, two weeks in, I started seeing videos of my product on other websites knocking me off. The great thing about crowdfunding is it creates a lot of attention. The bad thing about crowdfunding is it creates a lot of attention from bad players.
There's a lot of people now in other countries who have businesses where that's all they do – they wait for the next Kickstarter to blow up, and immediately knock it off and start selling counterfeit products. It's one of those things that if you have a product that's very simple, like mine was, and it's very, very easy for someone to see it and immediately knock it off, then I don't know that crowdfunding is the way to go.
The great thing about crowdfunding is it creates a lot of attention. The bad thing about crowdfunding is it creates a lot of attention from bad players.
However, if you have something that's a little bit more complex that someone would not be able to just look at it and replicate it, then crowdfunding probably is the way to go. Because nowadays, with Instagram advertising, Google, you can bootstrap it and create ads at a very low level and it gives you a great way to test what videos work, don't work, and you can tweak and refine at a very low level and then ramp up when you have that down.
With Kickstarter, you're really taking a gamble. If you don't have the right images, the right creatives, the right video, and you spend all this money to create a good Kickstarter campaign, it may fail. And it may fail not because it's bad product, but because everything else was just not ready yet.
So people have lack a little bit of patience in that they want to have that million-dollar campaign. They want to raise all this money. But the other thing is that you got to have that product ready to ship pretty soon after you're done, because those backers they get pretty impatient. And if you don't actually have a ready product in like three to six months, they're going to start asking for their money back and that's also not a fun process to go through.
Do the crowdfunding campaigns honor that request if they do want to refund?
So it's tricky. Kickstarter will refund them their money if they request it. And luckily, most people who are on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, they're pretty cool about that. They'll give you a little bit leeway, but if you tell them that you're going to ship the product in three to six months, and that product is not shipped in three to six months, they get very antsy and then they start looking elsewhere.
Then again, it goes with the whole counterfeiting issue where if the counterfeiter takes your product, they immediately sell it on Amazon or on their website, the person will cancel the order with you and go buy the knock-off. So it's this delicate balance of needing to have a business ready too, not just the idea.
Was there a specific moment with Neck Hammock where you thought, "Wow, this thing is going to be huge"?
Yeah, on the first day that we launched, we hit all of our backers and we raised, I think, $50,000, and I was like, "Holy crap!" The fact that someone wants to buy my product. It's a really special feeling that you've created something that people want. But then we went a few days where then it dropped down to $3,000 a day in sales and I was like, "Okay, maybe people don't want this."
What happened is that my videos got picked up by news outlets and they went viral. I mean, there was one video that had 20+ million views on it. So our sales just completely skyrocketed where it was like 50,000 a day every day for a few weeks. That's when I knew, "Okay, if this many people see it and they like it, I think I'm on to something."
Especially when you're getting picked up by Dr. Oz, Forbes, Gwyneth Paltrow and everything else!
There was a period that you and I have spoken constantly where I would see in my social media newsfeeds “Neck Hammock, Neck Hammock, Neck Hammock.” And it never occurred to me that these were rip-off companies that had stolen your brand and essentially your business. Then they would put millions of dollars behind social media ads, blatantly copying your exact product, branding – even the name – and entice people to buy their counterfeit equivalent.
Were you aware that would happen? And how did that affect your mindset seeing that happen over and over again?
I thought it was something that could potentially happen months down the road, but I never anticipated that it would happen as fast as it did and then the scale that it did. I mean, it was overwhelming how many people were knocking it off and it's not like you can just call the police and be like, "Hey they're stealing my idea." Who do you call!? Who do you contact?
Again, through the environment thing, I would put messages out on Facebook. I'd reach out to people who were in the tech world on what I could do. I learned about DMCA take down, but for the most part it’s extremely time intensive and inefficient. So then I basically had to find intellectual property police out there who would find these knockoffs and do the take-downs for me. Thank God I had patents, copyrights, and trademarks, because had I not had all that they could just sell away and then Shopify and Facebook wouldn't do anything about it.
There was a podcast that I used to listen to all the time called ‘How I Built This.’ A buddy sent me this very specific episode (because he knew what I was going through) and it was with the TRX guy who dealt with massive knockoff issues. What resonated with me the most is that they're stealing your mojo because you're doing everything in your power to make a really kick-ass product. You've done all the right things, and these counterfeiters just completely steal that mojo from you because you just feel completely helpless. You feel like there's nothing that you can do to resolve the problem.
I knew there was going to be problems. I knew there's going to be competition along the way. I had no idea that it was going to be this type of problem, so that was something I had to adapt with.
Knowing what you know, how can the little guy protect themselves against some of these shady companies when you have things like very expensive legal fees to get rid of these companies, and how can you even be aware of these companies!? You were only aware because your product was such a big hit that it blanketed social media everywhere. There might be companies out there that founders just never even see.
The cheapest way to protect yourself on the internet is getting a trademark and copyrights on all the videos, photos, and things like that. It costs like $25 to copyright an image. To get a patent, you're talking a few thousand dollars and patents are arguable. Unless what they're selling looks identical to the design patent that you have, utility patents only work when it comes to DMC takedowns. So if you're going to do something, it has to be a design patent to use as ammunition against people like Amazon.
You can't be completely ready for the knockoffs, because you have to have a successful product first.
But trademarks and copyrights, those are the easiest first two things that you can do. It's like this delicate balance though, because you got to make sure that you have enough money to put in the product to market it. You can't be completely ready for the knockoffs, because you have to have a successful product first.
Then once you have a successful product, then you need to invest in the IP. Because the other thing about IP is that it doesn't police itself. You have to spend money on litigation to then go after these people. So it's not just the patent itself that's enough. Look at triple, quadruple the costs to get a legal team to then hunt these people down and bring them to court if that's where you decided to go. With anything, start small and then grow it from there, but just always in the back of your head, be prepared for that next level of protection.
Yeah. you don't want to have $20 million in sales and $30 million in legal fees.
So are you saying you had to go and copyright every single video and image that you were posting on social media?
Wow, that's crazy.
Again, getting $25 copyrights for pictures and videos is not nearly as expensive as getting a bunch of design and utility patents. It's a super cheap way that you can really protect yourself.
Manufacturing can be one of the toughest things to set up, since you’ve got minim order quantities, foreign countries, and cashflow dangers. How smooth was your experience on the manufacturing side?
It was tough at first because who the hell do you know that has factories in China!? And how do you know that they're not ripping you off?
Yeah, the whole experience would make you super paranoid about everything.
Exactly. You're just paranoid about everything. It started with word of mouth that brought me one guy who would go over to China and he'd find different factories and figure out who could source it. Once we had the first iterations of the Neck Hammock, it would cost me anywhere between $9 - $10 per unit to manufacture. And then again, through word of mouth, I found someone else who got it down to $7.
Then, one of Lindsay's clients was actually friends with a woman who was on Shark Tank. And I asked if I could be introduced, because I was a huge fan. After speaking with her, she introduced me to a guy who she worked with to help source, and he absolutely was a game changer for Neck Hammock.
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There was multiple times where I thought I was going to go bankrupt where I was going to have to close up shop and it wasn't going to work. And he helped me bring the cost of goods down. He had relationships over there so he brought the cost of goods down from $10 to $5 per unit, and that's a big deal.
But he also created these other relationships that I had no idea who to even talk too. He introduced me to my legal team that I use today who are absolute rock stars; they saved me a lot of money and also are great on the enforcement side. Having the right people in your corner is so incredibly important. And you're probably not going to find them in the first or second or even third time. But when you get that right person, you just hang onto them forever.
Was there a particularly dark day along that entrepreneurial journey that stands out to you?
Yeah, I mean, there were a few dark days where I remember sitting on the floor in my bathroom, thinking, "How am I going to tell my wife that I lost all the money with this and we're going to go out of business?"
There were a few times where I had ordered too much inventory because I was expecting a lot of sales and then all of a sudden sales completely plummeted, or Facebook changed their algorithm to where they were making it really hard for health and wellness brands. So we went from getting $500K a month in sales down to like $50K. And so I'm like, "What am I going to do with all this inventory? How am I going to afford to pay these different people?" They're expecting to get paid.
I remember sitting on the floor in my bathroom, thinking, "How am I going to tell my wife that I lost all the money with this and we're going to go out of business?"
Somehow, some way, I found a way to scratch my way out of the bottom and figure it out. But you just have all these different moving pieces going on and you feel like you're in it all alone. That there were so many of those dark days where I just didn't sleep, but you somehow figure it out. Just keep working, just keep moving forward.
I like to think that on our strongest days – when we're at our happiest and our most productive selves – there could be a note, a reminder, that we could observe on our darkest days to keep us moving forward and put things into perspective. Thinking to your strongest day, what message would you write on a flashcard to show yourself on your darkest day?
Keep moving forward. Just keep moving. The second you stop and you start sulking and you start feeling bad about yourself, that's when you're in big trouble. If there's one thing I always did that sometimes got me in trouble with my relationship, it would be using work as my way to get out of things. I could always just get up early, answer emails, answer customer service, and just figure out a way to keep moving.
When you keep moving, it creates momentum. And so I think on the card, I would say, “Just keep moving.”
In January 2021, you exited Neck Hammock, which was your second seven figure exit. How did you know that that was the right time to exit the business?
Covid was a really good year for us, believe it or not, because a lot of people were at home, and a lot of businesses stopped advertising on Instagram and Facebook, which brought the overall costs of advertising way down. We were really able to capitalize on that and we had really strong sales as a result.
Like with the StretchLab exit, it just felt really good to be proud of something and to actually get paid for it. For me, while sales are really good, I would like to exit on top. It’s a buy low / sell high type mentality so that I then could take advantage of any other opportunities that would manifest, whether it's this year or next year, I can be ready for them.
For many years I haven't really had the cash available to take advantage of certain opportunities, but that's what I wanted was to now be ready for the next stage of my life – to go from inventor to investor.
You have had so many different experiences, you've worked with tens of thousands of people now through StretchLab, through Prehab 2 Perform, through the Neck Hammock. Are there any lessons that stand out on consumer behavior that you will take forward with future business endeavors?
People just want to feel good. Ultimately, at the end of the day, people just want to feel good and if you provide that to them, you're always going to have some sort of success. And the way that I make people feel good is actually making them work. With StretchLab that was a bit different. But with what I do now it’s making people feel good about themselves when they look in the mirror. That's what brings people back in. And so if you want to keep it simple, it's just that.
What part of your career are you most proud of? Would it be the transformations that you have in the clinic day-to-day? Would it be the big business success that you've had playing on the world stage?
Honestly, I think that with the Neck Hammock, one thing that really stands out is a lot of the testimonials that I've received, from people who were in debilitating pain, and they wrote me just thanking me from the bottom of their heart on how the Neck Hammock helped get them out of a migraine to where they couldn't eat for two days or they couldn't sleep, or this or that.
And knowing that of the hundreds of thousands of units we've shipped, that we're able to make such an impact on people at a large scale and make their lives better, for me, that's something I'm really proud of. I feel like everyone wants to figure out how they can leave this world a better place. Even something as simple as the Neck Hammock, a simple solution to your neck pain without drugs. That's one of my ways to give back.
It must be surreal reading those messages, but obviously very well deserved for all the effort and work that you've put into it in the first place.
Final question, what's one thing you do to win the day?
Win the morning.
Resources / links mentioned:
⚡ Prehab 2 Perform website.
📷 Prehab 2 Perform on Instagram.
📝 Prehab 2 Perform on Facebook.
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