Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Matt Olen and I am a managing member and one-third co-founder of the Grip Spritz team! Athletic courts aren’t cleaned anymore. School gyms are used for gym classes, pep rallies, assemblies, and much more. Community gyms are used for just that, the community. When sports like basketball and volleyball are played there, the kids are left with a dusty, dirty court.
This sucks to play on because you’re constantly slipping and sliding and the chance for injury skyrockets. Grip Spritz helps players and entire basketball or volleyball teams get a game-long grip, even on dusty courts, without having to reapply over and over! This is how a golfer, a lawyer, and a 23-year-old decided to change the game of basketball in 2019.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was the 23-year-old. I had just graduated college in 2018 with a double major in finance and economics, so manufacturing a product to help improve grip on basketball shoes wasn’t my background but thankfully, it didn’t have to be!
Just before graduating, I had to call my mom and tell her I didn’t exactly want to do what I was about to have two degrees in. To my surprise, she was incredibly supportive and asked what I wanted to do. To which I replied “music”. I spent one year in choir in 4th grade and couldn’t play the recorder in elementary school music class, so this had to be a shock.
But, that’s what I did, I accepted a short-term position in Los Angeles doing tour management for up-and-coming hip-hop artists. A few weeks before leaving, my grandma, who I would describe as my second parent, got sick and I couldn’t leave. That’s when I was approached by ‘the golfer’.
Fall of 2019, Tom Rose approached me and asked, “what do you know about marketing?”. I had known Tom in passing, he was in his 60s and he would say “Hi” when he would walk his dog (and cat) past my house as I grew up, playing basketball in the driveway.
The most I knew about Tom was that he had invented something that would help golfers get a better grip on their golf grips.
Tom had grown up obsessed with golf and he was pretty good! Working as a caddy, repairing clubs, and even playing in a U.S. Open Qualifier, golf was his passion! He continued to play into adulthood until he had back surgery and had to take some time off. He was anxiously counting down the days until he could get back on the course but when the time came, his club grip felt off.
After months of waiting to play, he didn’t want to wait for his clubs to be regripped and figured something instant had to exist, but it didn’t, not yet anyway. That’s when he started Grip Spritz.
Tom took Grip Spritz throughout the golf world for a few years, he attended golf shows, had a few dozen ladies on the LPGA tour and almost got the product into the 2014 Ryder Cup!
In this interview from 2014, you can see some of the progress he had made but he was just missing that marketing piece of the puzzle!
Players loved the product, how quick and easy it was to use, and how it made their clubs feel, more people just needed to know!
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
Tom was a fourth-generation blacksmith. Before Grip Spritz, he owned American Ironworks, a Cleveland, Ohio-based metal fabrication shop. Through different jobs, he had crossed paths with a chemist. When Grip Spritz entered his mind, he knew the first call to make.
Together they had to create a product that would bring the tacky feel back to rubber without making it sticky, not using anything that would damage the rubber and of course, be safe to touch!
After a few months, they had done it. Tom ordered a few thousand bottles and hit the road, golf shows, courses, wherever he could spread the word! After a year or so, Tom had started to discover other uses for Grip Spritz, like baseball bat wraps and football gloves but nothing was catching on as quickly as he would have liked.
Then, one of the LPGA players he had worked with said, “what about the bottom of basketball shoes?”, that’s when everything changed!
Every single day the goal should be to be in business again tomorrow, if you can do that, you will succeed eventually.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Tom decided to take this basketball lead and run with it. It is a huge market, bigger than anything he had tried before. He looked at what currently existed for a better grip on the court, and knew the whole idea was wrong. He randomly showed up at a local basketball tournament and asked to speak with who was in charge, showed them the product and they loved the idea.
They told Tom to meet them in Louisville a few weeks later and let the players try it themselves. What Tom didn’t know, he was talking to Tucker Neale from Ohio Basketball and that “small tournament” in Louisville was the country’s largest girls’ basketball event, hosting over 1,700 teams.
Everything finally clicked, he had so much interest in those three days that he was almost overwhelmed and knew this was where Grip Spritz needed to be!
At this point, he and partner/lawyer Jeff Lutz started to ask, what’s next, how do we grow, how do we keep this spark going and grow it? They agreed to bootstrap it and take a grassroots approach to spread it throughout the basketball world! The obvious next steps were to get a website going and figure out social media.
This is where I became more involved. After Tom asked me about marketing, he gave me a bottle to try on my shoes. I was skeptical at first but tried it anyway. I immediately knew he was on to something. I also knew that I wasn’t passing this opportunity on to anyone else. I didn’t know much about marketing, and I didn’t know a thing about building a website but I did know basketball, and being 23, social media was a major part of my life.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
It took a few months for the three of us to gel and start to get the hang of things. We were learning to sell something that had a huge learning curve being such a new idea. No one had ever put traction in a bottle before. They didn’t understand that you didn’t need a huge sticky board and that it was just for them and it would fit in their backpack.
I had to learn how to make a website from scratch. I was the head of marketing and didn’t know a thing about creating ads, SEO, email marketing, or anything!
We spend the majority of our time customer-focused, then on product improvement and streamlining production.
We kept hitting youth events every weekend, learning the market, how to sell it, and getting feedback, until one day, we had to pivot. Kids loved the product, and so did their coaches and parents, the only issue was they were too lazy to spray their shoes. Tom got to work and created a team traction mat, same idea, same product, just faster and easier!
This dirty, green, and white piece of fabric was the start of our second product line, Grip Spritz for teams.
We would prototype this a few times before patenting it in March 2020. We spent one weekend selling it before the world shut down. What 2020 gave us was time to learn, time to get online and network and understand how big this basketball world was. We made a handful of really great partnerships with youth leagues, semi-pro leagues, and, camps. Being backed by so many groups, we started to earn some credibility.
Now that we had a fix for players and teams, our marketing was able to open itself up! TikTok became a second language to me. Structuring videos that would go viral became more and more attainable.
When things resumed in the fall of 2021, we were ready. Our website was to our liking, we had the start of a real customer base, social media was growing, reviews were great and word of mouth began ringing through gyms.
We found out about statewide high school basketball coaching clinics, we could show hundreds of coaches our traction mat and get into a couple of dozen different high schools in one weekend. We finally felt like we had real momentum and proof of concept both from players and coaches.
We knew exactly how to get our product in front of athletes from ages 7-22 and how to show high school and college coaches that they can save money and get better traction for their athletes.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The Fall of 2022 was when things exploded. It was a culmination of all the small steps we had taken over the previous 2.5 years. In the first three quarters, we quadrupled down on what we learned in 2021. We knew how to market our product, we knew how to kill social media, we knew how to run ads, and we knew we had to do all of it, just way more.
We partnered with Phenom Basketball, a nationwide basketball camp. We went to the Final Four, we went to 15 state coaching clinics, 3 state athletic director clinics, and 3 national events. Covering almost 30 states in about 10 weeks. You can read more about this crazy time frame here.
Amazon was our next big step. Back in 2017, Grip Spritz was miscategorized into gardening, which didn’t lead to many sales. In September we were able to properly list Grip Spritz and by Christmas, we were Amazon’s hottest new arrival in the ‘Basketball’ category.
Amazon has been great for us. It made getting our product way easier for people already familiar with us and introduced Grip Spritz to a whole new group of consumers just searching the internet for a fix for slippery basketball shoes.
Outside of our website and Amazon, we’ve been added to a few sporting goods magazines, such as Anthem Sports, Toledo PE Supplies, and, HoopsKing.com. We were also picked up by our first sporting goods store, Basin Sports in Utah just this week. These all lead to an increase in credibility and brand awareness, two of the biggest things I think every new brand needs.
We’re all excited for 2023. Knowing you’re taking the correct steps, you want to turn those steps into a full-on sprint.
We finally moved out of our garages and basements and into a full shop where we can mass produce, build up inventory, and, start working on new products we have in mind!
Our team is split up right now, Tom is in Cleveland, producing and going to events in the Midwest while I’m out in Southern California working on making more connections on the west coast. We plan to hit over 25 state clinics this year, 6 or so national events and we’re expanding into volleyball. Volleyball is our next big hurdle, learning more about it and the people/events involved! We’re starting exactly how we did in basketball, setting up shop at weekend events with the kids and growing from there.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Like any business, we’ve had our fair share of struggles. Even from the start, we all took up roles that we weren’t perfect at, sometimes not even knowledgeable in. Overcoming those at the onset helped us know what we could handle.
Issues ranged from bottles cracking during shipping, people using the product wrong, and trying to keep inventory in good shape when sales started to grow. The biggest road bump happened during our crazy road schedule. Tom was in Nashville and I was in St. Louis for each state coaches clinic. I was flying to Atlanta where Tom would meet me for Georgia’s clinic.
It was a busy weekend, to say the least. The night before my flight, the event in Atlanta was canceled. Tom called me hours later, he was in a car accident and his car had to stay in Tennessee for repairs. We were both stranded. The following day ended with me driving from St. Louis to Nashville, to Cleveland. Over 18 hours of driving. We always said we’d look back one day and laugh, but that day still hasn’t come!
The three of us often reflect on what makes us successful as a team. We all agree the biggest thing has been knowing our strengths, our weaknesses, and when we needed to find someone else. Tom had an insane idea that neither Jeff nor I would have ever thought up, I could relate to our target market and turn a topic like a basketball shoe grip into viral videos and Jeff had the analytical approach that all great lawyers have to have. He helped us iron out how we needed to do things and asked the tough questions so Tom and I would be ready for them.
These last few years have taught me what ‘dedication’ and ‘hard work’ means. The three of us are all in really different spots in our lives, so I can’t speak for them, even though I’m pretty confident saying there have been many times when each of us asked ourselves why we’re doing this.
For me, you see your friends working normal jobs, moving out, getting married, whatever the case may be and you’re grinding all this time, not making a dollar off of it and having to DoorDash at night to see any income, most of that income is going towards travel to market Grip Spritz. You question things.
People who laugh at what you’re doing, it takes thick skin. It’s taught me the saying “90% of businesses fail” is wrong. 90% of people quit. They care too much about what people think or they lose sight of what the long goal was and the work it would take.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Since we bootstrapped so much at the beginning, we couldn’t afford many tools! We just learned creative ways around a lot of things. Doing free trials over and over on different apps.
Shopify was huge for us. When I became involved in 2019, the old golf website was on WordPress. Having no website experience, WordPress was a foreign language to me. Shopify made it incredibly easy from start to finish.
The only apps we use are UpPromote for affiliates. We work with a lot of college athletes now through NIL deals.
We use an announcement bar to promote sales, free shipping, etc that we have going on.
Our email list is built through a pop-up whenever someone visits our site.
We create all our social media content on TikTok and then remove the watermark for repurposing on all the other platforms.
We kept our whole process very simple. I’m sure as we continue to grow we’ll adapt more and more. Since the team is still just the three of us and looks to remain that way for the foreseeable future, we spend the majority of our time customer-focused, then on product improvement and streamlining production. The rest is secondary.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
During 2020 when I started to dive deeper into learning and taking this opportunity more seriously I discovered a lot of different resources that have helped me a ton. In terms of marketing, people like Alex Hormozi, Gary Vee, and David Meltzer all give great unique takes, mainly on podcasts.
I wasn’t much of a reader ever but all the classics people say, really are classics for a reason. Think and Grow Rich, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Power of Now, Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Think Like a Monk. Each of those was huge for the mental side of what goes into building a business, handling objections, overcoming obstacles, all of the things you’ll see daily.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
As cliche as it sounds, keep going. You only fail if you quit. I heard that all the time when I was 23/24 and just getting my feet wet and thought it was obvious. Being 27 now, I can say it is far from obvious. As said, most people don’t fail, they quit. Every single day the goal should be to be in business again tomorrow, if you can do that, you will succeed eventually.
Two of my favorite quotes/stories/lessons are the following:
First, I heard Scooter Braun pose this scenario: The NY Times puts out an article on the front page. Come to Yankee Stadium and hit a home run off our all-star pitcher to win the “prize”, (whatever prize might be in your mind). Millions of people show up and they go over the rules, when it’s your turn, you can swing as many times as you want but once you put the bat down, you’re done.
Of those millions of people, some will get in the batter’s box, swing at the first 100 MPH fastball and look ridiculous. They’ll hear people in the stands laughing, they’ll put down the bat and go home. A large number of those people will watch this and think “what a waste of time, that’ll be me too” and they go home without ever even picking up the bat once.
But someone will pick that bat up, they’ll dig in, they’ll swing and they’ll miss, and everyone will laugh. They take a breath, get back in the box, and, do it again and again and again. People will start to boo. They’ll scream “let someone else have a turn” but if you just block that out, eventually you’ll get lucky and you’ll hit that homerun.
The next day, that same NY Times front page won’t mention how long you stood in there, missed, looked ridiculous, and got boo’d. It will say you hit the home run off the star pitcher and won the prize. And every single person in the stands will swear they were the one cheering for you while everyone else boo’d.
I think about this when things are hard when you want to ‘put down the bat’ don’t. That’s what every single other person would do and that’s why it’s so hard to do what so many others won’t. Persistence and determination are crucial in building anything.
Second, an old riddle says, a pond has a single lily pad in it. Each day, the amount of lily pads doubles every day for 30 days. On what day will the pond be half full of lilies?
People want to say 15 days, but it’s not. The pond will be half full on day 29. Day 30 it will be full.
This taught me a lot about patience and what “overnight success” really is. David Meltzer who I heard say this continued with this comparison. If you start your business at 30, “days” from 1 to 15 will feel like a lifetime, it’ll be a couple of years. Your wife is pressuring you. You’re looking at your kids. You can’t afford vacations. You ask if it’s all worth it and you’ll think you’re halfway there.
When day 30 finally comes, you’ll look back at how far you’ve come. All that hard work and sacrifice will turn into exponential returns. On day 31, you’ll be at 200%, then 400%, then 800%, then 1600% but so many people quit when they look up at day 15 and expect to almost be there.
As an entrepreneur, days are roller coasters, you can wake up in the morning to a dozen emails from everyone in the world upset over something and feel like you’ll be out of business by noon. By lunchtime, your sales are skyrocketing because some video went viral overnight and you’re on top of the world.
Before you go to bed you’ll feel each of these two feelings 3 more times. Trying to stay as level-headed as possible is the key, don’t react to the boo, and don’t react to the applause, both take your eyes off the path.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We aren’t hiring just yet but we are always looking for new athletes to work within the NIL space, new basketball and volleyball events to go to, and new organizations to partner with! If you are involved with the game in any way, don’t hesitate to reach out!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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