Greg van den Dries loves competitive cycling. After getting injured during training he received kinesiology tape from his physical therapist and loved how it helped alleviate the pain while helping him remain active. The problem was that the tape wouldn’t stay on him while he was cycling- that’s when he had an epiphany, perhaps he could make a better product.
Alan: Welcome back, I'm visiting here today with Greg van den Dries, he is the founder of RockTape. Greg welcome to today's show.
Greg: Thank you.
Alan: So Greg for the listeners here and of course we're videotaping this, and this RockTape has really taken the industry by storm in terms of you're saying is, "go stronger longer" and helping to stabilize some of the muscle groups and again with sports figures. You often see it on basketball courts, the NFL and young people wearing the tape, but I want to get back into- how did you get started into starting RockTape and moving from the tech industry what was your background prior to that?
Greg: Sure well after I got out of prison I was on a work release program- I'm kidding.
Alan: I got it yeah
Greg: I am a 20 year tech vet here in Silicon Valley selling bits bods and bytes for many many years loved it but in probably 1999 I got exposed to kind of the confluence of technology and sports we had a start-up back in '99 called sport brain and it was the predecessor to what we now know as Fitbit. And we developed a internet-enabled pedometer and raised 19 million dollars and then promptly lost it all during the dot-com crash, but that product really helped me understand the opportunities associated with bringing technology into health and wellness and so that piqued my original interest in that that space. And then I did a couple of other gigs, I was a senior VP at Gateway computer if you remember them, did it turn around for a wireless company and then got involved with another wearable tech company back in 2007. We were making integrated heart rate monitoring technology that got woven into clothing. And at that time no one was doing that and one day a little company called Adidas, Americans call it Adidas but it's really Adidas came calling and they wanted the technology and they ended up buying the whole company in 2008 right before the GFC- the global financial crisis. And after that transaction I had a lot of time on my hands and I was a competitive cyclist at the time and training for a big race and I got injured, and so I went to my local PT and got taped with a similar product, absolutely loved it solved my injury. Problem was it wouldn't stick on me because I was riding a lot at the time and that's kind of when I had the epiphany that perhaps I could maybe make a better product.
Alan: So you ventured out into 2009 roughly?
Greg: Yeah well that's kind of when the concept hit me, we didn't really get started until about 2010.
Alan: Okay and then when you started out, was it just you or did you have a tip couple people?
Greg: Just me, me and my garage you know. I sat down did a lot of research and figured out how to make a better product.
Alan: And so when you started out, I guess initially- the RockTape most people are knowing it for- you see this all over the place but how long was it before you went from concept to actual product?
Greg: About a year, you know it took me about three months to really identify the properties that I was looking for in the new product, then it took me another good six months to identify a supplier who could make it the way that I wanted, having spent a lot of time in in tech I'd spent many many years on factory floors in China and the thing about China is you know it's just as easy to get a good deal as it is to get a bad deal. And when you're starting something the last thing you really want to be worried about is quality control. So while I looked for manufacturers in China I also looked for manufacturers in South Korea because I had spent a lot of time there. And long story short, Koreans are very quality conscious, you pay a little bit more obviously but you get a superior product and as an entrepreneur I knew that my time was spent better in the sales marketing side rather than on the manufacturing side so I went to Korea instead of China to find a contract manufacturer that could meet my specs.
Alan: How did you decide on the name RockTape?
Greg: Oh funny story so I made a list and at the top of the list where all the usual candidates you know: muscle tape, you know fit tape, and every single one when I did a URL search I found that it was taken, I got down to about number eight or nine on the list which was RockTape, and lo behold the URL was available, and I said, i guess that's an ok name. I wish I could say I was a marketing genius but it was simply luck.
Alan: So I'm visiting here today with Greg van den Dries and Greg I need to take a quick break and we'll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back I'm visiting here today with Greg van den Dries he is the founder of RockTape and in the first segment we talked about the inspiration to move into starting this new company but I want to start this segment with the question of what is exactly is kinesiology tape?
Greg: It's a great question and we get it all the time so kinesiology tape is it's an elastic therapeutic tape. What makes it different than probably all the other tape that you've ever used including white Coaches tape is that it stretches whereas white tape is rigid tape it does not stretch so typically in injuries you use white tape to immobilize an area, you restrain the movement right so if you sprain an ankle right your coach tapes you up and that provides stability on that joint. Kinesiology tape is exactly the opposite of that because it stretches, it allows mobility so you can still be active and that's why athletes love this so much. It still provides stability but it doesn't reduce range of motion, so that's one key component about kinesiology tape. The other key aspect is that it decompresses an area rather than compresses and so why is that important? So by decompressing the area where there's an injury, you actually promote fluid dynamics, in other words you can move fluid in and out of that area. So if you have a sprained ankle it tends to swell, what you want to do is remove that lymphatic fluid that's causing the swelling and get that dissipated. It also accelerates blood flow into that area which accelerates recovery and healing so those are the two key principles behind kinesiology tape. At the end of the day, it stabilizes but it also decompresses. The third and less important but interesting aspect of kinesiology tape is it provides proprioceptive cue. So that's a fancy way of saying when you put tape on skin it helps your body understand where it is in three-dimensional space right just like a high-top basketball shoe doesn't really prevent an ankle roll, what it does is it touches the athlete's skin on the ankle and gives them proprioceptive cue that they're about to roll their ankle so they can take preventative measures. So in our case when we take a, let's say a 13 year old girl who texts all day like this, you take a piece of tape, put it on the upper traps and it provides that proprioceptive cue to get back into that natural open position.
Alan: You know it's interesting that this is such a simple concept but it took the industry a while to figure out this concept of how it could revolutionize the industry. Now how does your tape, RockTape differentiate from the competitors out there?
Greg: Sure, great question and we get it all the time. So the short answer is we're stretchier, stickier and just way cooler. So we stretch about 180 percent versus 130 percent which is most of what the competition and does and we're about twice as sticky, so we actually stay on the skin for a much longer period of time which is the original problem that you know I was trying to solve. The important aspect of that is if you have a tape that's very very sticky but doesn't stretch you can induce skin irritation and that's not good. So being able to get the balance between stickiness and stretchiness is kind of our secret sauce that's what makes us very very unique. Last part is we're just way cooler. We make it in probably 70 different styles and colors, we've licensed the MLB teams so you can get it you can get the Red Sox you can get the White Sox you can get the Dodgers boo... you can get the Giants and it comes in just a bunch of fun different patterns and styles.
Alan: I imagine that when you're getting started out trying to get the right channels for distribution- I mean it was a strategic decision but you mentioned earlier that you're looking at now moving stronger into the retail markets?
Greg: Yes so we are primarily a medical company, about 75% of our revenue comes out of the medical channel so we sell to doctors, hospitals, clinics, physiotherapists, chiropractors that type of thing, but healthcare is an interesting beast. The cool thing about RockTape- and this is true for all kinesiology tape- is is it's very cost effective. So what we have found is that there is a very large market on the retail side of the business for self care. So you may get injured, you may go to your chiropractor or physical therapists for a lower back issue and they'll work with you to get you through this continuum of care where they give you some corrective exercises and then they might tape you to help support the corrective exercises that they've given to you. Taping is fairly simple, so what we've determined in conjunction with our medical professional channel is that there is a great opportunity for consumers who have gone and seen a professional and started their rehab journey to be able to go to CBS or an REI or a Dick's Sporting Goods and pick up a roll and self pay.
Alan: I'm visiting here today with Greg van den Dries, and Greg we need to take another break and we'll be right back after these messages to talk more about RockTape.
Alan: Welcome back I'm visiting here today with Greg van den Dries, he's the founder of RockTape, and Greg in the earlier segments we talked about you getting into the concept of RockTape launched and how it has evolved into the company that it is today. But are there other non-athletic uses for the tape that that are focused in on?
Greg: Sure, as I mentioned previously 75% of our businesses through medical channels so I think one out of four Americans suffer from lower back issues. It is a pretty pervasive injury/illness and it ranges from overuse to degenerative discs to you name it. So in our medical channel we have about 35,000 medical pros throughout the world that use our products every day for therapeutic applications and they can range from again lower back to achilles tendonitis, runner's knee, plantar fasciitis, rotator cuff injuries, the ACL, MCL you name it. We've developed a application for pregnancy taping, so when you're pregnant you add about 20 pounds out into the front of the body which destroys your posture which leads to lower back issues so we've developed basically a baby belt taping application that off loads that additional weight back to larger muscle groups to resolve those kinds of issues, mentioned postural correction, the list goes on and on. RockTape is really kind of like duct tape for the human body.
Alan: So when um what are some of the other products, you mentioned about the pregnancy tape and also a lot of- 75% for medical uses- but when you're looking at into the future what are the markets right now that that are out there that you haven't ventured into yet?
Greg: Sure well we have a lot of blue ocean to cover with tape. There's 13 international RockTape offices now that cover about 60 countries and they're all in various stages of development, but between the medical community and the retail community we have a lot of opportunity to sell more tape but we also make a lot of other products. We like to think of ourselves as a movement company not as a tape company. So in addition to tape we also sell protective apparel so we're kind of big in the CrossFit industry. So we make a variety of products from knee sleeves and gloves and wrist wraps for that particular market we also sell a line of topical analgesics. So these are things like kind of like Bengay, but Bengay on crack, they're really really powerful and they're designed to work in conjunction with the tape so you can actually lay tape on the injured area then hit it with the analgesic, keeps that structure nice and warm. We sell a lot of mobility products we also sell over a million dollars a year worth of education. So not only do we sell products to the medical professionals, but we also teach them how to use it and that's a wonderful thing because the medical profession has to obtain 16 hours of continuing education credits every year to keep their license current, so they're often looking for innovative and interesting classes to attend to satisfy that requirement and so that's turned out to be a very big business for us as well.
Alan: You know I've noticed in the industry of the wearables, a lot of companies have struggled moving into the industry but you've pushed through all those obstacles and are one of the few that have really found success with that, so in the question of when you're looking at with 20/20 hindsight, what you did right, and then if you had to go back and do it again, would you do things differently?
Greg: Well that's a tough one. I can tell you that as an entrepreneur I get this this question frequently which is, I got a day job but I got this idea and I want to get it started but I can't justify quitting my day job and making a full-time commitment to this new thing that I want to get going and I was in that same place. Even though I've done seven startups, failure is scary. And every entrepreneur sits there and struggles with this. I struggled with it too I struggled with it for probably a good year before I finally convinced myself that this was the right thing to do. So if I could do anything over, I would have probably jumped in a lot sooner.
Alan: And so when you're looking at the company today, you've done this pretty much by yourself. I mean you haven't taken outside money, is that correct?
Greg: That is correct, it's all self funded.
Alan: And that must be, I guess you had experience in the first in the first seven companies that you did of not going that direction, so how is life for you?
Greg: Life's good, I think over my career I've probably raised fifty to sixty million dollars in venture capital for a variety of entities and it's not good, it's not bad, it's a way to do it. Obviously if everyone could roll their own and self fund, people would do that but there's certain industries and classes of products that just are capital intensive and so you need outside capital to get those things started. Tape was a very interesting project for me. I can remember the day that I placed my first order and I can remember the day that I received that first order, it was a whopping 1 pallet of product and I had it shipped to my garage and there I stood looking at this big pile of product and I was like- now I got to figure out how to sell this stuff. So I was very fortunate in that I was able to figure that out without having to go out and raise a bunch of capital, the bottom line is it's all about hustle. You know, if you're a good hustler you can figure things out.
Alan: How much technology played into this with the internet and you know that being able to use that have used that heavily?
Greg: You know if I had started this business 20 years ago I'd be sending you a roll of tape in the mail along with a VHS cassette deck right? A completely different kind of business model and I probably would have had to raise a bunch of money. With power of the Internet we've been a digital first brand meaning that we've been able to go out and develop our customer base primarily through social media. Social media is an incredibly powerful marketing tool and we utilize it extensively. In addition I can deliver- I think we probably have the largest kinesiology taping video library in the world now, there's probably over 200 online videos that you can watch in HD, I wouldn't have been able to do that without the internet so it's played a significant part.
Alan: How the heck did you navigate this minefield and moving through your business and continue doing 100 percent of it and get where you are today?
Greg: It's a great question and we could probably talk for hours on this but when I get asked this question it's typically from a entrepreneur who's thinking about starting their own business right, and the first thing I ask them is what problem are you solving and they either know where they don't. And if they don't, I tell them go back to the drawing board because if you don't understand who your customer is and the problem that you're trying to solve, you're bound to fail so job number one is really understanding the problem and then developing the solution that really resonates with that consumer or customer. So after that, then it's about how you get sales and marketing, how do you figure out logistics, you know manufacturing, there's a plethora of issues that any entrepreneur will face. It's all about leverage at the end of the day, if you are solving a true business problem for a consumer or customer then the next big challenge is how do you appear to be this larger company than you actually are when you're starting because if you're trying to go out and close a ten million dollar deal on a b2b side, typically customers don't want to buy from some young whippersnapper who's just you know trying to figure things out. So you really have to create a presence around yourself and around your company and you do that or at least I've done that by leveraging the power of the internet. It's a wonderful way to go out and create not only a brand but a presence that consumers and businesses can then find discover and then interact with. You have to be spot-on with social media and your ability to interact with those enquiries as they come because in today's environment when someone sends you an email or sends you an Instagram direct message you got to be able to be in a position to respond immediately or you've lost a golden opportunity.
Alan: It seems like the more technology advances, it's that quickness say for execution that becomes so critical.
Greg: Yeah speed is life. It always has been in the startup world and always will be in an established business. There are many competitors in my industry and in every industry that are waiting for you to pause to take a breath so they can jump on that opportunity and steal market share. You cannot afford to rest.
Alan: How do you stay ahead of the competition?
I don't sleep. Every night I think about you know what is my competition going to do tomorrow right and the next day and the next day, so we try never to rest on our laurels. We've achieved great success but that's in the past, you got to think about what's coming down the pipe and get ready for it.
Alan: So you're thirteen countries, sixty offices?
Alan: And they in the US presence what is your scale here?
Greg: Oh we're small, we're a small business. We employed twenty three people here in the United States, we use a lot of contractors obviously to help us both domestically and internationally, but we try to keep our footprint small, not because of cost but because we have to remain nimble. If I had four hundred and fifty employees we'd be having a very different conversation.
Alan: It just speaks to the effect that if you use technology right you can-
Greg: Absolutely, absolutely.
Alan: For more information on RockTape, where would a person go?
Alan: I've been visiting here today with Greg van den Dries, the founder of RockTape, Greg I appreciate you being on today's how.
Greg: Thank you