How We Literally Reinvented The Wheel And Built A $1M Company

$120,000
revenue/mo
3
Founders
4
Employees
product
Shark Wheel
from Lake Forest
started November 2012
$120,000
revenue/mo
3
Founders
4
Employees
927K
alexa rank
27.5K
followers
1.41K
followers
platform
email
shipping
accounting

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Zack Fleishman. My company is Shark Wheel, where we literally reinvented the wheel.

More specifically, David Patrick, my business partner, is the brains behind the wheel. David made a major scientific discovery that has not been released yet. One of the many things to come from the discovery is that nature prefers alternating shapes and motions.

The wheel was born from the discovery and has many scientifically proven advantages in multi-year University studies. The Shark Wheel is based on the shape of shark jaws - it looks like a rolling cube when viewed at a 45 degree angle. The Shark Wheel is essentially a rough terrain wheel - it has the benefits of a thin wheel and a wide wheel combined.

We started in the skateboarding industry because of the low barrier to entry and the fact that it is a replacement wheel market. The future of the company is in industrial applications and we are now sell roller skates, casters, luggage and pallet jack/forklift wheels.

how-we-literally-reinvented-the-wheel-and-built-a-1m-company

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

David Patrick is Shark Wheel’s inventor and CTO. His scientific discovery will turn the world upside-down when it launches.

David’s father was the lead engineer on the International Space Station and the Patriot missile. David comes from a scholarly family, although he never graduated college. He prefers to build all day and create innovative products in the warehouse, seldom coming into the main offices to discuss detailed business objectives.

Form a team. No matter how hard you work or how talented you are, you will need a talented team to help you.

David built two wildly successful companies, one in mortgage banking and the other in software before he founded Shark Wheel. The stresses of the highly litigious industries weighed heavily on David and he had a health scare about 15 years ago. He enlisted the help of Gavin Macmillan at the Sports Science Lab to help him on the road back to health.

My personal journey started at 8 years old when I took my first tennis lesson. By the time I was 10, I was the #1 tennis player in California. By the time I was 12 I was #1 in the United States. By the time I was 18 years old, I was the highest-ranked American in the world junior rankings (#18).

I committed to being a professional tennis player at 12 years old and had horse-blinders on to reach my goal. I sacrificed many standard teenage activities along the way and pursued my dream of tennis. I played in every grand slam tournament, beat multiple top 10 players in the world, and reach #11 in the United States and #127 in the world.

The week I reached my career high ranking, I flew off of my mountain bike while training. As I write this, I have had 4 shoulder surgeries and needless to say it knocked me out of competition - it was a career-ending injury. I never got to see what I would have been ranked, as I got hurt in my prime at 27 years old.

Along the way, I met Gavin Macmillan and trained at the Sports Science Lab. Gavin was my tennis coach and trainer. He used to travel to the US Open and other big tournaments with me, always teasing me for reading science/cosmology/physics books at any given moment. I am a huge science nerd. One day he told me I had to meet another client of his - David Patrick. He made a massive scientific discovery and he knew I would love to hear about it. Only a few months later David and I joined forces to create a business.

He had the idea and the prior successes. I had the hunger.

I never had a desk job, never taken a business class, never knew anything about investments, patents, manufacturing, contracts, etc. I was about to get a crash course in business. Business became my new sport.

David built a wheel that literally came from a cube! How could I not jump on board? (yes, this rolls perfectly smooth)

how-we-literally-reinvented-the-wheel-and-built-a-1m-company

how-we-literally-reinvented-the-wheel-and-built-a-1m-company

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the Shark Wheel.

Shark Wheel would never have been successful without my father, Gary Fleishman and our mold maker, Pedro Valdez. Gary was the original financier of Shark Wheel. He saw the vision of taking this oddly shaped wheel and turning it into a thriving business. He put all of his resources on the line and invested heavily into the company.

After launching a highly successful Kickstarter campaign (nearly $80,000 on a $10,000 goal), we had to figure out how to turn our idea into reality. David could not make a proper mold and we had to go to the mold-making shop and ask for help. We called numerous people and no one had the ability to make our complicated shape. We went back to the shop and asked who was the best. They said ‘see that wall over there? That is Valdez Tools. Pedro Valdez is the best in the business, but he would never take on your small project. He built the Ironman suit, Batman suit, and has Oscars and Emmy’s.’ We said ‘give us his number’.

how-we-literally-reinvented-the-wheel-and-built-a-1m-company

how-we-literally-reinvented-the-wheel-and-built-a-1m-company

Pedro became a partner in the company and worked for Shark Wheel with no pay at first, believing in the future of the company. We made sure to take good care of him when we were able to!

Pedro and David run Shark Wheel’s prototyping division. First, our CAD guy creates the files, then the files are sent to our in-house 3D printer. Then David and Pedro make silicone molds for testing wheels. After testing, the wheel either goes back into the CAD design phase for a re-work, or moves into the production phase. Metal molds are created by a machine shop and Pedro creates epoxy inserts (instead of metal) to help us bring down costs.

Our first run of skateboard wheels ($10,000) was an utter failure. We were so excited to ‘be in the market’, but we found out the wheels had a horrible vibration issue, even though they appeared to be perfect. Pedro took several months, but ended up solving the vibration issue for Shark Wheel. He miraculously found the fatal flaw even though it was nearly invisible.

Shark Wheel has had to overcome many manufacturing issues along the way, but has always found a way to succeed at the end. Creating a wheel with ‘undercuts’ has made the process quite difficult. The good thing is that it makes it almost impossible to counterfeit. We have worked hard on our patents and have been successful in getting issued patents in over 33 countries and counting.

Describe the process of launching the business.

There are so many things to do to launch the business properly. The truth is that it’s an ever-improving model. Five years after selling into the market, we are constantly making improvements. From websites to selling channels, to selling strategies and many many things in between.

Shark Wheel raised Kickstarter money first, followed by friends and family money early on. In later years, Shark Wheel turned to equity crowdfunding which became legal in the last few years. It has cut down so much time and strain on our fundraising efforts.

We made great decisions applying for government grants. We had no idea over 90% of all funding for small businesses actually comes from SBIR grants. I wish we had applied for grants right when we began the company and not 5 years after inception.

Shark Wheel was fortunate enough to film on the Discovery Channel for reinventing the wheel shortly after our Kickstarter campaign. An even more fortuitous opportunity came our way when we appeared on Shark Tank’s season finale only 4 months after entering the market.

We saw a tremendous increase in sales, but even more importantly we were able to connect with Fortune 500 companies and other large companies because they saw us on the show and contacted us. We rode a wave of free media for a good amount of time.

We learned that no matter how cool your product is, or how much exposure you get there is still a tremendous amount of work to get done every single day. Nothing has been easy for us, regardless of the successes we have had. We also learned that having a dedicated team was essential for the success of our company. There are so many things to do in launching a company, it is mind-boggling. No one can do it themselves, it is best to form a quality team.

how-we-literally-reinvented-the-wheel-and-built-a-1m-company Shark Tank, Season 6 Season Finale. Shark Wheel Inventor David Patrick (left), Shark Wheel COO Zack Fleishman (right)

how-we-literally-reinvented-the-wheel-and-built-a-1m-company Shark Tank, Season 6 Season Finale

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Attracting customers is a volume game.

Getting eyeballs on your product can come from many different avenues, although social media is typically the standard in today’s business world for many products.

Crowdfunding

Shark Wheel is a proponent of crowdfunding. Sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter for pre-sales and sites like Start Engine and We Funder to raise money to have the cash to reach more customers.

In our experience, it is worth hiring a marketing company to exponentially raise the awareness and revenue on your campaign. Do your homework, ask for referrals and follow up though! There are a lot of scammers out there. Kickstarter campaigns can be great marketing vehicles. The media, distributors, etc are constantly monitoring these campaigns to find the next cool thing. Shark Wheel identified Jellop as a legitimate marketing partner. Jellop is behind 3 of the top 10 Kickstarter campaigns ever. They took our luggage campaign, which had made $150,000 over 45 days. With 15 days left they brought the total to nearly $800,000!

Giveaways

Make sure to do contest giveaways where people enter in their email address to build your email list. People love free stuff! Amber Torrealba, the world champion skimboarder, did a Shark Wheel giveaway that can be seen here.

To enter, people had to follow Shark Wheel on Instagram, tag 2 friends in the comment section to see the contest, and enter their email on SharkWheel.com. Amber has over 100,000 followers and is a sponsored Shark Wheel athlete.

how-we-literally-reinvented-the-wheel-and-built-a-1m-company

Influencers

Also, offering influencers on social media some cool product in exchange for a review is a great way to build your audience. People tend to more highly regard what others say about your product than what your company advertises.

Another must is putting marketing material in your packaging that draws customers back with more incentives. Using unique discount codes allows you to track where your customers are coming from.

Amazon

Selling on Amazon for most companies is a necessary evil. Amazon, unfortunately, takes a large percentage of sales, but most people shop there so it is usually necessary to sell on the platform. Using their ‘FBA’ (fulfilled by Amazon) is a must if you have other wholesalers selling on the platform as well.

To achieve high placement and get more sales, you must do FBA. For products where you are the only one selling it is usually more cost-effective you do ‘merchant fulfilled’, meaning to ship in-house at your offices. Using the marketing material in your packaging as explained in the paragraph above is critical in driving Amazon buyers back to your website for sales so you can get higher margin sales for their next purchase.

Email

As you grow your email list, retaining customers by offering repeat customers incentives/discounts is a great way to keep them buying more. There is a popup window anytime someone goes to www.sharkwheel.com. It offers them a discount code in exchange for their email, similar to other sites. We try to grow our email list with the popup window on our website, contest giveaways, trade shows email sign-up sheets, and other creative ways.

Spending small advertising dollars and tracking what works and doesn’t work is the key to growing your audience (A/B testing). We have found that spending small dollars and tracking the analytics is much more cost-effective than spending a large chunk of money on a marketing company’s flash sale or campaign.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Shark Wheel invested heavily in R&D an continues to do so. There is no blueprint for making a sine wave wheel and our team learns something new in each application we build.

Shark Wheel could have just been a skateboard company, been profitable, and had a slow and steady growth. But, the management team made the decision to be cash flow negative, raise money and build numerous wheels for a wide-array of industries. We are now on the precipice of an explosion. We are in development on wheels for a Fortune 500 company and many other industry leaders.

Shark Wheel sees 90,000 page views per month in peak season with the largest demographic between 18-24. There are 78% male visitors / 22% female visitors to its website and social media pages. Shark Wheel gives a 40%-50% wholesale margin depending on volume. Shark Wheel has a 40,000 active email list that it emails a few times per month.

Once Shark Wheel established itself as a higher-priced, high-performance product for several years, it made the decision to enter the mass market at Walmart for its Shark Wheel Jr. line. Shark Wheel felt it was time to sell a kids product at a lower price point and that the sales would not devalue the brand it had established. Shark Wheel sells around the world to distributors in numerous countries and gives a 25% margin off of wholesale prices, which is standard.

Much of the above numbers will change in the very near future, as the company will shift its focus to industrial markets and other applications.

Shark Wheel’s short term-goal: leverage all of the past R&D work and sign multiple deals with major companies in various industries

Shark Wheel’s long-term goal: have the wheel become a household name that is on nearly every industrial and consumer product. The same way consumers can go to any store and pick between Pepsi and Coke, Shark Wheel wants consumers to choose between a circular wheel and a sine wave wheel.

how-we-literally-reinvented-the-wheel-and-built-a-1m-company

how-we-literally-reinvented-the-wheel-and-built-a-1m-company

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Shark Wheel was in such a hurry to ‘get to market’ that it had to throw out its first production run of wheels ($10,000 worth). It was a painful mistake, but the first round of wheels had extreme vibration and we refused to send one set of wheels to anyone without the product being perfect. In our haste to deliver to our original Kickstarter backers, we neglected to notice a fatal flaw in our original design. Looking back, we could have performed more testing.

We made great decisions applying for government grants. We had no idea over 90% of all funding for small businesses actually comes from SBIR grants. I wish we had applied for grants right when we began the company and not 5 years after inception.

Stay away from accelerators and incubators. Most of these seem to be great at first glance… until you realize they are trying to leverage innovative companies to raise money for themselves.

We were very fortunate to achieve a free wave of media including the Discovery Channel, Shark Tank, FOX, and FedEx online commercials.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Shark Wheel uses ShipStation for shipping services and sends the vast majority of shipments through FedEx (the best shipping company!). ShipStation grabs orders from multiple selling platforms and makes it easy for our shipping department to organize the day’s orders that must ship out.

Shark Wheel uses BigCommerce after trying Shopify and Woocommerce for the website. Shopify was great, but expensive. In our experience it was the best service by far with the most apps in its marketplace to increase the functionality of the site. But, the costs were getting larger and larger.

We then switched to WooCommerce. The WordPress site was much too difficult for the average person to manage and everything about it was messy and tough to deal with. Most recently, we switched to Big Commerce, which is very cost-effective and easy to use. The functionality is certainly less than Shopify, but more-than-adequate. Overall, it is likely the best service-to-value out there...unless paying for Shopify is no issue for your business. Shopify starts off cheap, but as your business grows the payments grow with it (a lot).

Klaviyo is Shark Wheel’s email service. It is a great email service, but it is expensive. I would not recommend it for a company starting out, but as you grow it makes a lot of sense. I found another company called Springbot that matches Klaviyo’s functionality, but offers many other great services as well. My team was not interested in switching to yet another platform, so we agreed to stay with Klaviyo for now. We started with Constant Contact and MailChimp, but of which were cheaper and worked well, but with less functionality.

For the financial side of the business, Shark Wheel uses Quickbooks Desktop and connects online through an inexpensive app called Qbox.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

For four years, I drove from Los Angeles to Shark Wheel’s offices in Orange County (1hr there, 1.5hrs back) nearly every day. It was exhausting and inefficient.

I finally moved down to Orange County 9 months ago. But, during those long drives, I frequently listened to countless Youtube videos on business. As a startup company, many of us had to ‘wear many hats’.

I had to wear by far the most hats and listened to videos on patents, trademarks, investments, business plans, manufacturing, prototyping, licensing, contracts, corporate structure, and many more. I had never taken a business class in my life, so Shark Wheel was a crash course in the business world for me.

A few of my favorite quotes are below:

  1. The best way to predict the future is to invent it. (Alan Kay)
  2. All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. (Arthur Schopenhauer)
  3. Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see. (Arthur Schopenhauer)

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

  1. Form a team. No matter how hard you work or how talented you are, you will need a talented team to help you.
  2. Stay away from accelerators and incubators. Most of these seem to be great at first glance...until you realize they are trying to leverage innovative companies to raise money for themselves.
  3. Raise money on equity crowdfunding channels. VCs and Angels are the worst way to go. It takes too much time, they take too much equity.
  4. Raise money through SBIR grants. They provide over 90% of funding for US small businesses. VCs and Angels provide much less than 10% of funding.
  5. Don’t be afraid to give away a small amount of equity to really talented workers. This helps keep them engaged and wanting the company to succeed. But, make sure to ‘vest’ the equity over 4 years (I think that is the maximum). Otherwise, they will likely take the equity and bolt.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Zack Fleishman,   Founder of Shark Wheel

Want to start your own business?

Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.

If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.

Interested in sharing your own story? Shoot me an email!

-  
Pat Walls,   Founder of Starter Story

Are you ready to boost your revenue?

Using Klaviyo will open up a massive, untapped sales channel and bring you closer to your customers!

We've interviewed many impressive businesses who swear by the results of the product, including Brumate, Beardbrand, and many more.

Level up your email marketing with Klaviyo!

Ask A Question


More interviews like this:
Learn how businesses are earning as much as $2.5M per month.