What will it take to get your new startup off the ground? How can you take advantage of amazing resources like crowdfunding for product validation? My guest today is professional athlete and innovator, Nate Lawrie. In our conversation, Nate opens up about what led him to create a startup around foam rollers, how he got his product up and running, why he went to Romania to get his product manufactured, what it was like to appear on Shark Tank and much more. You don’t want to miss a minute of this exciting and informative episode!

Using what you know can make a huge difference.

Have you ever wondered where some of the most innovative and exciting new products on the market come from? Everyone has a different approach when it comes to product research but sometimes it can be as simple as improving upon something you use every day. This was precisely the case for Nate Lawrie as he came up with the idea of improving an everyday item in his life, foam rollers. While the development process wasn’t easy, Nate’s credibility really shines through as a powerful asset on his journey of building a stable and thriving brand. To hear more about Nate’s journey creating the Brazyn roller, make sure to listen to this episode!

How crowdfunding can help you with product validation.

When it comes to consumer products, it can be tough to gauge what level of interest the general public will have. This is the very reason why many startup entrepreneurs are looking to crowdfunding to help with product validation. On this episode, Nate Lawrie explains why he started a campaign on Kickstarter and how it helped him with his product validation process. Nate says that his experience with crowdfunding was largely positive because it provided the influx of cash he needed to offset production costs, and he was able to accurately gauge market demand for his product. Make sure to listen to this episode as Nate expands on this important topic and much more!

Why travel to Romania for manufacturing?

As a new startup entrepreneur, it may sound a little out of left field to hear that Nate Lawrie had his product manufactured in Romania. Usually, such a move is something that experienced and connected business leaders make. So what was it that led Nate to Romania for product manufacturing? As it turns out, it was a family connection. Nate’s wife is originally from the country of Romania and her father runs a manufacturing facility there. Like any good entrepreneur, Nate was able to use his network to successfully launch his product. What can you learn from his story? Find out on this episode!

Is the Shark Tank experience really worth it?

Imagine getting the opportunity for your brand to be featured on Shark Tank, sounds like a dream come true right? What would you do to get that opportunity? How do you think you’d fare? On this episode, Nate Lawrie provides his inside look at how the Shark Tank experience played out and offers some advice for entrepreneurs who may have hopes of appearing on the show. Nate says that the best part of the Shark Tank experience was getting his brand on such a massive platform. The nice boost in sales was positive as well. To hear more about Nate’s Shark Tank experience, make sure to listen to this episode!

Key Takeaways

  • [1:05] Nate Lawrie joins the podcast and talks about why he loves using foam rollers.
  • [4:00] What was the process of creating the Brazyn roller?
  • [5:30] The biggest challenge during the development process.
  • [7:30] Nate talks about finding supplies and materials for the Brazyn roller.
  • [9:20] Why did Nate and his team choose the crowdfunding route?
  • [12:30] What was Nate’s experience appearing on Shark Tank like?
  • [16:30] Advice for entrepreneurs who want to appear on Shark Tank.
  • [17:30] Nate enters the Launch Round.
  • [20:00] What does the future of crowdfunding look like?
  • [21:30] How to connect with Brazyn.

Links

Connect With Brazyn

Sponsors

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backerkitArt of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by BackerKit. BackerKit makes software that crowdfunding project creators use to survey backers, organize data, raise additional funds with add-ons and manage orders for fulfillment, saving creators hundreds of hours. To learn more and get started, click here.

Connect With the Art Of The Kickstart team

Transcript

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Roy Morejon: Welcome to Art of the Kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host Roy Morejon, president of Enventys Partners, the top full service turnkey product development in crowdfunding marketing agency in the world. We have helped startups raise over $100 million for our clients since 2010. Each week, I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur, or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level with crowdfunding. Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by BackerKit and The Gadget Flow. BackerKit makes software that crowdfunding project creators use to survey backers, organize data, and manage orders for fulfillment by automating your operations and helping you print and ship faster. The Gadget Flow is a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. It is the ultimate buyers’ guide for luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Now, let’s get on with the show.

Roy Morejon: Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today I’m joined with Nate Lawrie with the Brazyn Life Morph Collapsible Foam Roller. Nate, thank you so much for joining us today.

Nate Lawrie: Thank you for having me here, Roy. I’m pumped to be here.

Roy Morejon: I’m excited to talk to you today. This is gonna be fun. So, you ended up creating a portable collapsible storable foam roller. This is a really interesting product. I’ve got a few foam rollers. My wife has her own foam rollers. So, what’s the background here? What’s the story for our audience?

Nate Lawrie: That’s a good question. In my former life I was an NFL player. I played eight years of professional football, and while I was playing in the NFL I had actually a bad back injury, and through that recovery process I learned how to use a foam roller. I was using it all the time, but when I was traveling I wouldn’t take the foam roller with me, because they’re fixed volume, they’re a pain to put in a backpack, they’re a pain to put in a carry-on. So, I wouldn’t take it with me. I’d come back and I’d feel like I’d set myself back in my training, and I wanted to have something that I could use anytime; use it when I was on the road, use it at the gym, use it when I was going out for the track, and there was nothing that was convenient to do that. So, had this concept to make it collapsible so it would fit in any pack, and continue to play.

Nate Lawrie: Then when I retired I kind of tinkered with the idea a little bit, built it in, essentially the garage, a rough prototype. Just kind of left it for a while and then, as I was kind of building or rebuilding another business that I inherited when I retired, I got really passionate about taking this project on and building it and trying to help people take care of their bodies the way I wanted to while I was playing football. I needed to, actually, after I retired because I was still bruised and battered from my playing days, and really relying on foam rollers. That gave me the passion and the motivation to continue forward and to launch the product.

Roy Morejon: So, is this the first product you’ve ever created?

Nate Lawrie: Yeah, yeah. I was pretty, I guess, inventive as a child, creating different things. Always loved to tinker. Always loved to take things apart, see how they worked, put them back together. So, I’ve always had that kind of engineering mindset. Took some engineering classes when I was in college at Yale. So, I kind of had a background in it. Actually, it was in a new product development class while I was at Yale where I was our team’s lead product developer, and had always kind of loved doing projects like that. So, it’s not exactly the first product I’ve created but it’s the first product I’ve brought to market and something that … I found it’s something that I was truly passionate about, and something that would improve the products that were currently on offer. So, I went for it.

Roy Morejon: So, being a first-timer, when you were creating Morph, what was that process like? How did you go about deciding what features to include and the designs or what materials to use. Talk about that.

Nate Lawrie: Yeah. The good thing is I had a ton of experience with foam rollers. In the NFL we have access to all of the best equipment, mobility equipment, training tools, training [inaudible 00:04:05] tools, stuff that helps us take care of our bodies. So, I had experienced everything on the market and I knew what I wanted in the product. There was certain features that I wanted. I wanted it, to, one, obviously be collapsible, and portable. To do that it had to be lightweight, it had to be strong. It had to be strong enough to support, not only myself but I wanted it to be able to support the big 350-pound defensive linemen. So, it had to have a structure that can support that.

Nate Lawrie: Then, on top of that, I didn’t want to compromise the foam rolling experience, or the surface that you would get from a good foam roller. All other kind of quote unquote portable foam rollers before had essentially just made them either shorter or smaller in diameter, and what that does is it takes away a ton of the usability of a good foam roller. You want something that’s about five and a half to six inches in diameter. You want something that’s gonna expand your entire back. For me, the best foam roller is the one that you can use on a consistent basis, and the only way to do that is to have something that you can tote around without having to think twice about it.

Nate Lawrie: So, for all these different objectives we selected the design that we went for. And, like I said, that started with a rough prototype and idea in my head, went and bought some materials from Home Depot, and built a very rudimentary prototype in the garage. I got on it expecting it to just completely shatter, and it didn’t. It held me and that’s really gave me the motivation to continue forward from there.

Roy Morejon: Awesome. So, what was the biggest challenge you encountered when you were designing the product?

Nate Lawrie: We encountered a lot of problems and a lot of challenges. One was doing it while I had another business that I was running, and trying to grow, and just finding that time. That was kind of the first thing. Through the development process it was finding the right materials. We kind of designed the product from the start to be very easy to manufacturing without a lot of tooling. So, we wanted to create a product that we didn’t have to invest a quarter million dollars in tooling up front. We wanted to be able to assemble it, create some fixtures, and be able to build it from there while we’re growing the business, finding the demand for it, making sure that that was there. So, through that we’ve had to really develop good processes on the manufacturing side to be able to get the quality that we expect to be able to meet all the objectives that we held out there and to have a great-looking kind of design oriented product.

Nate Lawrie: So, there’s a lot of challenges. I mean, working with suppliers. We get supplies from all over the world, and we manufacture at our own facility in Romania. So, that means we have to source products from Asia, from Europe, from America. We get them all at our factory and then we assemble them. That’s a big undertaking to coordinate it all in real time while we have a growing business trying to project what our future demand is and trying to product in process and inventory. So, we can keep up with that. It’s a pretty challenging product to make and we’re looking at simplifying it as much as possible right now so that we can really take it to the next level.

Roy Morejon: So, a lot of first time product developers are always interested in knowing how do you go about finding the materials, the factories? When you said you’re manufacturing in Romania, how does that come to be?

Nate Lawrie: Yeah, it’s a unique situation for us in particular. My wife’s father has a precision parts manufacturing company in Romania. So, kind of a quick backstory there, she was born in Romania. They fled under the communist regime, lived in refugee camps and then came to the United States when she was about seven. Then I met her at Yale. Her dad, after things changed in ’89, was looking to go back, and about a decade later he built a factory in Romania that does something completely different. They make precision hydraulic parts for some of the top companies in the world.

Nate Lawrie: But, at the same time he had some technical expertise there, obviously. I had some extra square footage there, and we were able to kind of co-utilize resources while we were doing the prototyping and prototype development over there. We had one engineer that really took the project to heart and besides me knew it as well as anyone. So, when it came to the decision of where do we manufacture this, knowing that there was a lot of knowledge that we had already gained by prototyping so much and thinking about production, and knowing it was going to be a [inaudible 00:08:32] product it made sense to start there so we could control the process early on. We could control the knowledge and a product as long as possible while we’re growing it and really dialing it in. With the long-term goal that we would outsource production when we got to full scale.

Nate Lawrie: So, we decided to start there. We had some extra square footage. We set up a production line. We expected to make 10,000 rollers there. We’re now closing in on 20,000 rollers there and still working to refine that process so that we can export it, and like I said, scale that production even more.

Roy Morejon: That’s awesome to hear the success on that.

Roy Morejon: Let’s jump back, you ended up doing a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. You got hundreds of backers, tens of thousands in funding. What made you decide that crowdfunding was the right path to launch the foam roller?

Nate Lawrie: From the start it was kind of always the idea. We wanted to validate the idea through that process, and for a lot of reasons the most entrepreneurs choose crowdfunding. One, it’s obviously, you get the money to go into production, so it really helps to offset some of that production cost. Most people underestimate how much they’re gonna need. We definitely did. But, at the same time it gives you a sense of where the demand in the market is if you do it correctly. And I would say that not everybody does it correctly and they may give up on their ideas because they didn’t get a good response from crowdfunding. Whereas, potentially they just don’t know the marketing side of it, or don’t know how to really work the crowdfunding game, and they don’t get the backing that they thought they would.

Nate Lawrie: We wanted to do that. We also liked the idea of generating a lot of buzz. We saw the PR generated from good crowdfunding campaigns, and we thought that was a good platform for us to start on. So, we went that route as a way to get started [inaudible 00:10:22].

Roy Morejon: So, what was the biggest surprise in running your first Kickstarter campaign?

Nate Lawrie: I had a little bit of experience marketing. We used a few tools to get started. We used like [inaudible 00:10:33] hacking Kickstarter, that was actually put together by Selma Water, I believe, and some of those really to generate buzz, PR, early backers, and we had pretty good success for that. I would say we had really good success on the PR side, because it is a compelling product and the compelling backstory. So, that was great, but what we underestimated is how important the digital marketing side of it is. We felt we knew what we were doing there. Then we started off our campaign, really for the first 15 to 20 days doing that part on our own, and we weren’t getting the traffic, even though we were getting decent PR. We weren’t getting the traffic that we really needed to really hit it out of the park.

Nate Lawrie: We brought on a company towards the end that really knew that piece of it. They helped us immensely through the end of our campaign to really take it to the next level. Had we started with them on that digital marketing side, I do think we would have hit maybe 200,000 in our campaign just by the numbers we were doing on a day to day basis towards the end of our campaign.

Nate Lawrie: So, that was a big learning process. Then, just the level of expectation. Kickstarter backers by and large are very understanding. They’ve been through it, the difficulties. We thought going in we had a good handle on what it would take to get into production, and then a lot of processes, a lot of components changed as we realized some of the parts weren’t up to our statfarad and would provide the longevity of the product that we demanded from it. It was a big learning process. I feel much smarter going into a future Kickstarter campaign than where I was in the beginning.

Roy Morejon: Nice. So, your campaign funded in December of 2015, a couple of years ago, and then this past October you made an appearance on Shark Tank for season nine, during where you got a deal with Lori and Sara. Let’s talk about that. So, we’ve had some experience getting our clients on Shark Tank and they always had some interesting feedback, of what gets shown and what doesn’t get shown. So, give our audience an idea of your experience getting on to the show and what it was like under the lights.

Nate Lawrie: It’s as nerve wracking as you would expect. You go on there and we all watch the show, right? It’s an amazing show. I think you can learn a lot as an entrepreneur from wanigan the show, and just the fact that the questions that they ask are very pointed and they’re really trying to get to the base of the business and figure out why it should work or why it shouldn’t work. And, understanding that is good questions to think about if you’re starting a business.

Nate Lawrie: So, I’ve watched the show for years, and it’s intimidating because you see people go on and just get slammed. I had no expectation that that would happen because we’ve seen success in our product before. We know that it has … and we’re further along than some of the companies that come on just too early. But still, there’s the possibility. So, you go up and you stand in front of the sharks, and you have to be on point. And it’s real time. I always assumed, I guess, years ago, that going on to Shark Tank meant, like, you got to meet the entrepreneurs of the sharks prior to and you got to tell them your idea and then it was kind of like a formality thing where you’re going on.

Nate Lawrie: But it’s not. The sharks don’t know anything about your product. They don’t know you before you go up there. So, what you see is real. The pitches are quite a bit longer than what gets cut down and they get to the meat of the pitch. It’s kind of a crazy process and Shark Tank has been amazing for us. It’s given us a real platform to talk about our product, to talk about our mission, and so we’ve been thrilled with the outcome.

Roy Morejon: So, once you knew you were gonna be on Shark Tank, what did you do to prepare for that experience?

Nate Lawrie: Yeah, that’s the tough thing is, you shoot, and then it’s a couple months and you don’t actually know when you’re gonna go on. You work through the due diligence after the show. So, you kind of have to juggle some different things to be prepared for it. We had a good feeling that we would be on after we shot, so we started to make plans to get inventory. That mean we had to fund a big inventory purchase and get it going. That took longer than expected. Then they let you know that you’re gonna air a pretty short amount of time before you actually air. So, there’s not a lot you can do to really prepare for that. We try to be as prepared as possible.

Nate Lawrie: The show went on, and our sales blew up. We get a ton of backorders, and we’re watching it and we’re super excited and we’re looking at what does this mean for production? We’re so far behind. We actually sold out our last piece of inventory in stock, like, a couple of hours before the show went live. So, we didn’t have any inventory when the show started. So, we’re looking at that and just wanigan it and knowing what our production schedule is like.

Nate Lawrie: We’re still working through it now. We’re actually still on backorder from Shark Tank. They heard us on October 29th and then they re-aired us again on December 29th, which was another big boost. So, we’re still working through all those backorders now. The great thing is, it’s given us such a good handle on our production scale-up on the really, kind of redefining the processes and knowing how many rollers you can make per month and how we have to grow it, what parts we need to re-engineer and for the long-term viability of our business and this product in particular. It’s been a big learning curve that’s been challenging at times to keep people patient, which is a good sign that they’re very excited to get it. But we’re doing everything we can to get through our backorder status, and kind of get back to the place where we can really start promoting the product again and talking about what we’re excited about.

Roy Morejon: So, what advice would you have for another entrepreneur hoping to get on Shark Tank after a successful Kickstarter campaign?

Nate Lawrie: One is, we kind of had an interesting process to get selected for the show. I was introduced to one of the producers who really liked the story. We had maybe a different route of getting involved with Shark Tank. While I think it’s important, one, to be ready for it, to actually get on the show there’s a process there and it takes a lot of work. You have to be able to present yourself well. They’re looking for people that have compelling stories and products but also people that would be good on TV. So, you have to bring a lot of energy. I would encourage anybody to go for it. It’s such an amazing show, really for entrepreneurs, for companies that get selected, but even just for people that are watching and inspired by what people are doing. So, I would just encourage them to give it a shot, be ready for a long process and a lot of work to get actually on the show.

Roy Morejon: Nice. All right, Nate, this gets us into our [inaudible 00:17:20], where I’m gonna rapid fire a few questions at you. You good to go?

Nate Lawrie: I’m good. Yeah, let’s do it.

Roy Morejon: So, what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?

Nate Lawrie: I would say that I’m more of a learned entrepreneur. Yeah, I wasn’t a born entrepreneur like some people seem to be. I think through my NFL days I really learned what it meant to be an entrepreneur. That’s a factor of a couple of things. When you’re on a NFL team I really liken it to being kind of a sole proprietor. So, your body is your business. The product that you put on the field is your business. Good companies, as they grow, the team grows. You add new people. In the NFL it’s very much a zero sum game. It’s very competitive. If the team is winning, they’re not adding new players, you know what I mean? So, from that standpoint it’s very competitive, and you have to be … and be better than the guys that are competing for your spot.

Nate Lawrie: So, through that process, working out of the [inaudible 00:18:17] season training, eating right, knowing what it took to stay healthy and to take care of my body using tools like a great foam roller, all those things led me to like that lifestyle of, hey, I’m gonna be in control of my own destiny. I know that I can create something that’s great, put it out into the world or put it out on the field, having that control and being able to do something that’s hard but do something that really helps or inspires people or entertains people. I just love all that. So, that’s kind of how I came to entrepreneurism.

Roy Morejon: So, going back to your NFL days, if you could work out with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?

Nate Lawrie: That’s a great question. I would probably choose the current entrepreneur, Elon Musk. I’m inspired by his mission to save humanity, if you will, to change things, and then also have some products, some kind of big mega world-changing projects that are pitched to him.

Roy Morejon: So, he needs a foam roller seat in the Tesla?

Nate Lawrie: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, Teslas are driving themselves now, so maybe just take out the seats, put in a little pad back there, and as you’re on the road you can kill two birds with one stone. With one foam roller.

Roy Morejon: [crosstalk 00:19:32].

Nate Lawrie: I like it. I like what you’re thinking.

Roy Morejon: So, any book you would recommend to our audience?

Nate Lawrie: Yeah. I recommend the book “Shoe Dog” to pretty much everyone I meet. I love the way it was written. It feels like a novel. If you don’t know, it’s about Phil Knight, his journey starting and creating Nike. It’s pretty inspirational, because he really lays out all the challenges he faced throughout the growth of Nike and all the doubts he had, and it’s just so well written. So, I tell everyone to read that one.

Roy Morejon: Yeah, that is an incredible story. I think I’ve listened to it now like four times on Audible.

Nate Lawrie: I’m the same way. Yeah, I’m two or three times in for sure.

Roy Morejon: Nate, last question, what does the future of crowdfunding look like?

Nate Lawrie: Some of the things that I’ve noticed in crowdfunding is that, I think it’s getting more and more professional. I think when Kickstarter or Indiegogo started it was a lot of people doing halfway decent videos, posting it and kind of letting that organic nature take over and getting projects funded. Now, you see a lot more professionals that are creating projects and doing the Kickstarter campaign, so it’s kind of an arms race in a way where you have to use professionals that have been there before to really get noticed, and to get your project funded.

Nate Lawrie: There’s still amazing platforms in the terms of you get to product test an idea. I would say you have to spend a little bit more now than maybe you used to, to get that traction, just because you do have to be able to cut through the noise. You have to do a ton of work up front. It’s not like you can just put something on and just cross your fingers and hope it hits.

Nate Lawrie: I see that as a big change. Some of the other things that we look at is the equity crowdfunding platforms, and what that means for entrepreneurs. They’re still growing. It’s been interesting to see what’s going on there. But, I think those can be really powerful platforms for early stage companies that have big missions, that can be communicated well, where you can go out and bring on investors.

Nate Lawrie: So, yeah, those are the kind of the two things that I look at when I think of crowdfunding.

Roy Morejon: Awesome. Well, Nate, this has been awesome. Please give our audience your pitch. Tell them what you’re all about, where people should go, and why they should check you out.

Nate Lawrie: Sure. At Brazyn, we like to say that we make gear for the modern dream chaser, and that’s providing tools to help people move better, be more active, live healthier lives, and not compromise when and how they do that. Our launch product is the Morph Collapsible Foam Roller. It’ll fit in any backpack, carry-on, gym bag, golf bag, you name it. That’ll slip right in there. When you need it, it’s there on demand so you can take care of your body anytime and anywhere. You can find us at brazynlife.com. That’s Brazyn with a Y, so it’s B-R-A-Z-Y-N-L-I-F-E dot com. You can find us there, you can learn about our mission, the hashtag is #brazynlife for the socials, and you can always reach out to us. We love to answer any questions, and tell you why foam rolling and taking care of your body for the longterm is an important thing.

Roy Morejon: Indeed. Nate, thank you so much for being on the show. Audience, thank you again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for all the notes, the transcript, and links to everything we talked about today. And of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, the Gadget Flow and BackerKit. And, if you loved this episode as much as I did, make sure to leave us a review on iTunes.

Roy Morejon: Nate, thank you so much for being on the show today.

Nate Lawrie: Thank you so much, Roy, it was fun.

Roy Morejon: Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a business, world, and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, awesome. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com and tell us all about it. There, you’ll find additional information about past episodes or Kickstarter Guide to Crushing It. And of course, if you loved this episode a lot, leave us a review at artofthekickstart.com/itunes. It helps more inventors, entrepreneurs, and startups find this show and helps us get better guests to help you build a better business. If you need more hands-on crowdfunding strategy advice, please feel free to request a quote on enventyspartners.com.

Roy Morejon: Thanks again for tuning in, and we’ll see you again next week.