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Pivot: Pro Hockey to Entrepreneurship

Hanging up the skates

Slouched in a locker room reeking of sweat in Trondheim, Norway, I sat there numb. Something that had dominated almost a quarter century of 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 most wealthy team in the league. To say that we were under dogs 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 anticlimactic. 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 do know?

It was as if my girlfriend of almost 25 years had just broken up with me and I had to reenter the dating pool. The only problem was I didn’t know how to date. I did the only logical thing and jumped at the first opportunity; 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 6 pm. 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 former pro 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 like 10 pm one night, my mom asked how my day went (yes, I was a 25 year old former pro hockey player living at home with my parents). After giving her the 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, and having a boss out of the question, I really only had one possible outlet; 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 always 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 see their ‘crazy’ ideas through until the end. Much like athletes, they are driven by a never say die attitude and a work ethic that borders obsession. I wanted to be the next one.

The Idea

Ever since high school, I had kept a list of my ideas in my dad’s office that I believed had some potential; however, one concept stood out among the rest. It was an idea that could merge my two passions.  I wanted to create a functional beverage that synthesized sports drinks, energy shots, and multivitamins to help athletes rehydrate, revitalize, and reenergize better than the competition.

 As an athlete, I noticed guys were drinking coffee, gels and energy shots before games to boost their focus, but they were also complaining about the jitters and crashes towards the end of the game. Then I noticed, guys were watering down their sports drinks because they wanted the electrolytes but they didn’t want all the added sugar and calories. Then finally, there were guys that had whole brief cases of vitamins. I thought to myself, this is ridiculous. There has 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 hundreds of accelerators, I realized I needed a team, so I reached out to a former Belmont Hill classmate and fellow entrepreneur, Robert Avakian. Robert 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. 

We got into the first accelerator that we applied to called Startup52. I figured an accelerator essentially meant that you were going to accelerate to becoming a millionaire. I was wrong. It was a pilot accelerator in NYC that gave us a chance to go at the business full-time. Without funding, we still had to rely on personal savings and were living in Harlem. I slept on the couch, and Robert slept on a mattress on the floor. The living situation was less than optimal without air conditioning for July and August. None-the-less, it gave us a great opportunity to really go at this full-time. 

Money doesn’t last forever

With the accelerator coming to a close and the business driving my personal funds too empty, we needed investment badly. With a stroke of luck, we got a message from Food-X, a premier food based 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, TRUEnergy, our new brand name, was accepted into the program and secured a small investment from their VC partner, SOSV.

After being accepted, we decided it was time to make the TRU team a trio. Continuing with our mantra of ‘for athletes by athletes’, we brought on Ryan Foss-Skiftesvik, a current Fordham University senior and former IMG soccer player. He was previously a part of a beverage company and had startup experience. We also brought on three part-time hires. A former teammate in Denmark with a degree in food science, heads up R&D for us, Kara Kearns works as a Digital Media Specialist, while Raymond McSpirit from Michael Page works as a business strategy consultant.

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 Kansas. Food tech companies like Cook Mood, Booster, Crema, and Fork Yoo were already beginning to gain traction on a large scale, while Wakati, was literally changing the world. We also had stiff competition with other CPG companies; Bizzy, Chuga Chaga, Givn, and Juro Jinx. 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 it also terrifying for fear of disapproval. You want people to enjoy your product so much that they need it. As entrepreneurs, we all have this deep seated belief that we have built a better wheel, and that we have the greatest product in the world for our industry. We are idealists.

That time for us is now. 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. Traction is the key to success and now it is time for us to take a chance and prove our concept.

Any support is truly appreciated. We are also open to investment and actively searching for key partnerships. Thank you for reading our story.

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