The Company That Reinvented the Wheel
2015 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Winner
Lake Forest, California
A new way to do old tricks
Although the wheel was purportedly invented back around 3500 B.C., its basic form hasn’t really evolved all that much. It’s still round, it still rolls, and most of us are just fine with that. Improve it? Not possible. As the old saying goes, “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
And then along came David Patrick. This former mortgage banker and software developer and lifelong skateboard enthusiast was not content to leave well enough alone. In an attempt to solve a major scientific principle, he literally reinvented the wheel. Instead of going around and around, his grooved, cube-shaped Shark Wheel uses alternating movements for a more efficient form of motion–just like fish swim, planets orbit and people walk.
“Traditional wheels have limitations. If you want a fast wheel, you give up grip; if your skateboard hits a rock, you’re going over,” explained David Patrick, inventor and founder of Shark Wheel. “The Shark Wheel uses geometry instead of materials to solve these problems. We’ve created a faster, longer-lasting wheel with a better grip over rough and rocky terrain.”
Once he knew he was on to something big, Patrick patented the design and started building out a company. Through his trainer, he met former pro tennis player Zach Fleishman who knew a thing or two about wheels himself. A mountain biking accident, caused by a faulty tire, had cut his pro tennis career short. The more he learned about what Patrick was doing, the more he wanted to be a part of it. Fleishman joined the company as chief operating officer in 2012.
Although Shark Wheels have numerous applications, Patrick and Fleishman decided to focus on skateboard wheels first. As a rider himself, Patrick knew the industry. More important, it was the only industry in which people are used to just buying wheels. So, Patrick and Fleishman knew they could have the greatest impact in the shortest amount of time.
Getting Things Rolling
“One of the best things we did was launch a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign up front when all we had were plastic cubes and an idea,” Patrick said. “We raised 800 percent of our goal, so it was a great proof of concept – it showed us there was a market for what we were doing. We got about a million hits.”
Shark Wheels also caught the eye of the media. After the campaign, the company was featured on the Discovery Channel, MSNBC and multiple other media outlets.
“It was great exposure for us, early on,” Patrick said.
Development, Testing and Production
The hard part was getting the idea into production.
“We did between 40 and 50 versions of the product before we got it right,” Patrick said. We are a rapid prototype company. Using a 3-D printer, we can get something in to testing in just four or five days – that’s very fast for our industry.”
Patrick credits Pedro Valdez, an Emmy and Oscar award-winning mold maker, for Shark Wheel’s agility. Valdez is the wizard behind the molds for Shark Wheel innovations, and one big reason that its product development methodology is working.
“We make all of our own molds and cast these at a company called Elasco,” Patrick said. “While most companies use 3-D printers for the prototype alone, Pedro actually uses the printer to create the molds themselves.”
The company tested its first Shark Wheel for a solid year before taking the product to market.
“We did scientific testing for benchmarks, but you can’t quantify the ‘under the foot’ feeling. So, we got as many professional riders as we could to test our wheels,” Patrick said.
Those riders also helped promote the Shark Wheel brand to their followers and fans.
Swimming With the Sharks
About a year after starting the company, Patrick and Fleishman contacted Shark Tank, a popular prime-time television show in which entrepreneurs pitch their product to five investors, in hopes of getting a “deal.”
A little more than a year later, they were accepted on the show. Their segment was shot in September of 2014 and aired in May of 2015.
“The day we filmed, we had only raised about $200,000 in funding, mostly from family and friends, and were operating on a shoestring,” Patrick said. “By the time the show aired, it became more about the publicity.”
Although the company did get a deal with three of the sharks, Patrick can’t discuss what has happened with those investors since then, although he did say that it has been a very positive experience.
Winning a 2015 FedEx Small Business Grant
The month before their Shark Tank episode aired, Patrick and Fleishman found out that they won a FedEx Small Business Grant. Fleishman found out about the annual grant contest when he was researching international shipping.
“We were having all kinds of unexplained returns when we used the United States Postal Service to ship internationally. And we couldn’t track the status of packages all the way through delivery,” Fleishman said. “I was looking for better shipping options, and somewhere in that research, read about the contest. I felt like we fit the profile pretty well.”
They filled out the entry form and went on with their business.
“It was a super day when we found out that we got a grant, because it was the first thing we ever won,” Patrick said. “A lot of times, we’re treated like we’re a gimmick. Winning a grant made me feel legitimate. “
Patrick and Fleishman will use the grant money for prototyping wheelchair and stroller wheels.
“After we won, the FedEx guys came out and set us up with a label printer and tied things together,” Fleishman said. “We’re now using FedEx as a single-source shipper for domestic and international orders.”
One Wild Ride – With No Signs of Stopping
Today, Shark Wheel’s growth continues to accelerate at breakneck speed. The company has shipped close to 15,000 units to waiting skateboard fans worldwide. To date, the company hasn’t had a single product return.
“We did what they said couldn’t be done,” Patrick said. “And it’s working.”
The company is now developing wheels in almost every category, from scooters and strollers to toys and wheelchairs, which Patrick plans to license to interested companies. The flagship skateboard wheels will stay in the Shark Wheel domain.
Every day, another happy customer reaffirms why Patrick and Fleishman are doing what they’re doing.
“A customer on the freeway saw a Shark Wheel logo on the back of Zach’s car and raced to catch up with him. The guy held his board out the window and shouted, ‘Your wheels changed my life,’” Patrick said.
It looks like the company that reinvented the wheel will be riding high for a long time to come.