Pivot: From Professional Hockey to Startup
“Those fucking refs!”
Slouched in a locker room reeking of sweat in Trondheim, Norway, I sat there numb. Something that had dominated almost a quarter century of my life had abruptly ended in a split second, and it was all my fault.
It was overtime in Game 4 of the Get-Legaen playoffs and we were trailing 3-0 in the series against the Stavanger Oilers, the best and wealthiest team in the league. To say that Rosenborg IHK was an underdog would be an understatement, but that night we had a chance.
Thanks to a questionable call, I put my fate in the hands of the enemy. It couldn’t have been more anti-climactic. I had to sit on the bench and watch some kid skate down the rink like Charlie Conway on a penalty shot and seal my fate. I knew my career would eventually end, but I never thought it would be like this.
“What the hell do I know?”
It was as if my girlfriend of almost 25 years had just broken up with me, and I had to re-enter the dating pool. The only problem was I didn’t know how to date and I needed a new devotion - software sales. In 2015, Forbes had VMTurbo at the #52 spot of the most promising companies. I lasted 2 weeks and 3.5 days.
Every single day I would wake up at 5 am, jump on the T, pretend I was still an athlete for 30 minutes at Boston Sports Club, and then cold call CTO’s until 6pm. The competition and effort among my colleagues within the office was fierce and familiar, and I had the utmost respect for every single person in the office. Unlike hockey where I mastered my skill over decades of dedication, I had to learn this skill set in a week. This lack of preparation turned a once tough hockey player into a scared kid on his first day of school.
“Take me off your list!”
Hands sweating and heart pounding, every time I made a dial, I thought I was going into cardiac arrest. Angry frustrated people, who hated their jobs, would demand me to remove them from our list. I went from getting hit through the boards on the ice to getting verbally assaulted by random people on a daily basis. At least in hockey you can take a cold tub, but for this, I had yet to find a remedy for my damaged self-esteem and ego.
After getting home at around 10pm one night, my mother asked how my day went (yes, I was a 25 year old former pro athlete living at home with my parents). After giving my pitch she replied, “I would hang up on you too.” I had walked into that job cocky and expecting a big paycheck; however, I walked out with a reality check.
“Entrepreneur or unemployed?”
At that moment, I decided that I was never going to have a boss again, and that I was going to define my own path. I hated school, despised the 9-5, and was not a fan of authority. With grad school, another corporate job or having a boss out of the question, I only had one choice: channel my passion towards entrepreneurship.
Throughout my young life, I have always had two passions. One included blades and sticks while the other included imagination and innovation. For as long as I can remember, inventors have intrigued me. My heroes are guys like Richard Branson and Elon Musk. These innovators are self-made men who put everything on the line in order to bring their ‘crazy’ ideas to life. Much like athletes, they are driven by a never say die attitude and a work ethic that borders obsession. I dreamed of being the next ‘great one.’
“We have a problem.”
Ever since high school, I had kept a list of my ideas in my dad’s office that I believed had some potential. One concept stood out among the rest. It was an idea that could merge my two passions of athletics and entrepreneurship.
As an athlete, I noticed teammates would drink coffee, gels, and energy shots before games to boost focus, however they would also complain about the jitters and crashes. In addition, these guys would drink watered down sports drinks and lugged around briefcases full of vitamins. I knew there had to be a better way.
“It’s all about the guy next to you.”
As any ‘real’ entrepreneur knows, an idea is just an idea. It all comes down to execution and putting thought into action. After my short stint in sales, I decided it was time to take my chance. After getting shut down by dozens of accelerators, I realized I needed a team, so I reached out to a former Belmont Hill classmate and fellow entrepreneur, Robert Avakian. He was a former division 1 rower at Boston University and had previously started a chemical adhesives company. He believed in the mission and jumped on board as the CMO.
Our first stop was Startup52. I figured an accelerator essentially meant that we were going to accelerate to becoming millionaires. I was wrong. It was a pilot accelerator in NYC that gave us a great opportunity to go at the business full-time. Without funding, we lived in Harlem and still had to rely on personal savings. I slept on the couch, and Robert slept on a mattress on the floor. With no air conditioning for July and August, the living situation was less than optimal, but with their help, we still pushed forward.
“Living at the office.”
With the accelerator coming to a close and the business driving my personal funds to empty, we needed investment badly. With a stroke of luck, we got a message from Food-X, a premier international food & beverage accelerator in NYC. I had actually applied to their second cohort, but was denied. Thankfully, they kept us in the system. After an awesome meeting with their founders, we were accepted into the program and secured a small investment from their VC fund, SOSV.
After being accepted, we decided it was time to strengthen team TRU. Continuing with our mantra of ‘for athletes by athletes’, we brought on Ryan Foss-Skiftesvik, a current Fordham University senior and former IMG Academy soccer player. He was previously a part of a beverage company and had startup experience. We also brought on three part-time team members: Mathias Kaufmann, Kara Kearns, and Raymond McSpirit.
Upon arrival, reality hit. As we walked through the open floor office in the financial district of NYC, we noticed we were no longer in the minor leagues. Food tech companies like Cook Mood, Booster, Fika, and Forkyoo were already beginning to gain traction on a large scale, while Wakati, was changing thee world. In other words, the pressure was on.
“Sink or swim.”
Eventually, there comes a time when you have to present your product to the people, and they are going to love it or hate it. It is as simple as that. It is an exciting time, but also terrifying for fear of disapproval. Despite the fact that we have received some positive reviews of our formula from athletes and working professionals, the nerves still quake. You want people to enjoy your product so much that they need it. As entrepreneurs, we all have this deep-seeded belief that we have built a better wheel, and that we have the greatest product in the world for our industry, but when will we feel truly validated?
Traction is the key to success and every company must eventually take the plunge to prove their concept. Our true test is the launch of a presale campaign for our first product on November 17th through Kickstarter. Geared towards athletes and active lifestyle individuals, TRUEnergy is a green tea caffeinated sport shot infused with more electrolytes than a Gatorade and more vitamins than a Vitamin Water to help you feel good and perform better.
Our test is now. See our progress on Kickstarter.
Thank you for reading our story.