If you saw a square or snake-like car wheel on your way to work, would you stop to look? Most likely. And you may also tell others about it. This reaction is natural - we do this when we see something "worth making a remark about," as marketing author Seth Godin puts it in his 2003 Ted Talk. Godin also says that this factor ultimately decides what gets sold.
He's right, as today's guest on the podcast proves. Zack Fleishman is CEO and Co-founder of Shark Wheel, maker of the unique wheels already mentioned. While the wheels are not used for cars (yet), his company's skateboarding wheels were an instant hit - their Kickstarter campaign got over one million views in 30 days without any marketing spend. They also appeared on Shark Tank and mainstream media shows and won multiple international awards.
But instant attention did not equal instant big bucks until Shark Wheel expanded to serve agricultural businesses, doubling their annual revenue in just a few weeks. Fleishman tells all in this inspiring interview: the ups and downs of reinventing the wheel, finding new entry into old markets, and dealing with negative online reviews. Whether you're an entrepreneur, inventor, or product marketer, this episode has something for you.
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
Why standing out (differentiation) is integral to marketing success.
Why creatively managing negative reviews can benefit your business.
How reinventing your business model can transform sales and profits.
And so much more!
You can listen to the full interview on your desktop or wherever you choose to listen to your podcasts.
Or, click to watch the full video interview here!
Do you have a brand that you’d like to launch or grow? Do you want help from a partner that has successfully launched hundreds of brands that now total over $2 billion in revenues? Set up a free consultation with us today!
Prefer reading instead of listening? Read the full transcript here!
Jon LaClare: Today's guest has been on Shark Tank, had great success with a Kickstarter campaign, and won over a dozen international competitions with their consumer product. After almost 10 years focused on B2C marketing, they launched a business-to-business arm of their company, and just a few weeks later, it's already doubled their annual revenues. Listen for ways that you can be creative in entering new markets, as you think about how to grow your own business in this fascinating 20-minute interview.
Speaker: Are you looking for new ways to make your sales grow? You've tried other podcasts, but they don't seem to know. Harvest the growth potential of your product or service as we share stories and strategies that'll make your competitors nervous. Now, here's the host of The HarvestGrowth Podcast, Jon LaClare.
Jon: I'm really excited today to have on our podcast, Zach Fleishman. He's the CEO and co-founder of SharkWheel.com. We've actually got two websites. We're going to dive into deeply, why, but there's SharkWheel.com and SharkWheelag, A-G, as in agriculture.com. Again, we'll talk more about what the product is, what's on those websites as we get into the conversation. One interesting thing to note to draw your attention to is this product is cool because it really reinvented the wheel. We always talk about, not reinventing the wheel here in comments, et cetera as we talk about inventions.
Zach and his team absolutely did that, and it's phenomenal the results they've had and the benefits of this new wheel design. Again, we'll get into exactly what it is, how it works, and the story behind it. First, Zach, welcome to the show.
Zach Fleishman: Yes, great to be here. Thanks for having me. Excited to be on.
Jon: Let's talk about what the product is so they can make sense. Our audience can understand what I mean when I say you reinvented the wheel. What is the Shark Wheel?
Zach: Yes. It truly is the reinvention of the wheel. It's the only commercial product ever sold that is not a traditional 360 degree circular wheel. It's actually a 540 degree sine wave shaped wheel. Depending on the angle that you look at it, it looks like a snake that's rolling. It looks like a square wheel. People swear it's a square wheel, but it feels perfectly circular. Technically speaking, it's a hybrid between a sphere and a cube. You have to see a graphic to see it, but once you see the graphic, it becomes more clear what exactly it is.
The Shark Wheel, this reinvention of the wheel was formed by my business partner. He's an absolute genius, David Patrick, and he is the inventor. He actually knew nothing about wheels. Neither one of us was a wheel expert at all when we started the company, but this all comes from a much larger scientific discovery. We knew the science behind it was accurate, and we knew that the wheel would do very special things because it's based on nature, it's nature's choice of motion.
It's very interesting when you dive deep into it because you start seeing everything in nature actually moves in a sine wave everything. From the way fish and dolphins swim, and the way the twist of a DNA helix, how ocean waves, radio waves move, how planets move around the sun is in a sine wave. Even how you walk right, left, right, left, everything in nature alternates and there's a more efficient form of motion when you're talking about a sine wave.
Jon: It's fascinating. Is that part of the name or the reason you called it the Shark Wheel , is because that's the way sharks swim in the water as well?
Zach: Well, actually, it's pretty funny. When we were brainstorming the name for the company, which was a fun time when we started, the inventor did not like, and that's putting it nicely, did not like the name Shark Wheel. It's based off of the shape exactly, based off of the shape of a shark's jaws. If you google shark jaws and you look at the wheel and you lay them on top of each other, which we have a graphic of, of course, they're identical. Again, it's just yet another example of the shape found in nature. The Shark Wheel is named after the shape of a shark's jaw. We liked the way that it sounded. The inventor wanted to call it the Side Winder, because it's very similar to a side winder snake, but regardless, that's the name that stuck.
Jon: That's definitely memorable for sure. One of your first uses of the wheel after you invented it, and for I believe several years was for skateboard wheels. Let's talk about-- How does this shape or this unique design of wheels in the consumer market, how does it help skateboarders?
Zach: That's where we started. We started there for a variety of reasons. I would like to say that it was a strategic decision. David, the inventor was a lifelong skateboarder and his dream in life was to be a professional skateboarder. He knew the market very well, and we wanted to pick an industry-- Since we were cash strapped very much so at the time, we wanted to pick an industry that had a low barrier to entry monetarily.
Something where we didn't have to go through the Department of Transportation regulations and stuff like that. Something that had a cool factor where we could build a social media following with interesting content.
Something that relatively speaking was inexpensive from a tooling standpoint, it's much cheaper to make small little wheels than it is to make much larger, heavier wheels. There was many reasons why we chose that route to start with. Also it's a replacement wheel market, so people buy just the wheels. For example, if you're trying to make a stroller wheel, nobody buys a stroller wheel, they buy strollers. We're trying to find a market that had a strong replacement aftermarket.
Jon: That makes a lot of sense. We're going to talk about your shift now to business to business. You still sell these skateboard wheels, but a lot more on the ag, or business to business side. Before that shift happened, how long have you been selling the Shark Wheel to skateboarders?
Zach: We shipped our very first set ever in right around Q3 of 2014. Actually 90 days later, we filmed Shark Tank. We filmed on Shark Tank, literally just right when we started the company. When we launched in the skateboarding world, it was very polarizing. Some people thought it was the coolest thing they've ever seen, some people thought exactly the opposite, but nobody had tried them yet. It was very interesting. We got so much interest in it. We had launched it-- We started the company with the launch of a Kickstarter campaign for our skateboard wheels, and we didn't spend one penny on marketing, and we had over a million views to the campaign in 30 days.
The Discovery Channel contacted us and we were featured in the Discovery Channel for reinventing the wheel. We had all this buzz about us and we didn't even know how to make the product. It took us a year to deliver from when we launched our Kickstarter campaign. That was its own endeavor entirely. We actually found, I think it was 33, I want to say 33 most negative posters that we could find on the skateboarding discussion forums. Again, nobody had even tried the wheel yet, and once it was finally shipping, we sent them sets for free.
All 33 got back on the site and said, "You know what? We really respect this company for actually letting us test the set and this is what we think." They gave very fair, honest, good reviews. Now to date, we have thousands of five star reviews on Amazon. We're still very heavily entrenched, very much so in the skateboarding world. We've won 13 international competitions in skateboarding, and it's still a very big part of our company, but the agriculture side has certainly overtaken that.
Jon: I love your response to the negative posters to really target them and talk to them directly, give them a sample, to have them try out the product, it's such a good idea. Those that post negatively oftentimes are swayed. Generally speaking for most of our businesses, they're people or customers that haven't even tried the product oftentimes or didn't understand how to use it, or there's issues with it. Solving those negative reviews can be so helpful to your business. What an interesting way, really in the very beginning, even as you launched to think of, and it's a good idea, I think for all of us to follow.
Zach: Thank you. It was an interesting decision. We decided these, we call them passionate, they're very passionate people, had very strong opinions, they were very vocal. We didn't necessarily think that all of them were going to say it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. We believed in our product and we knew from a scientific standpoint where it stood. The biggest challenge in the skateboarding industry is that it's very image based. You think of skateboarding as a very rebel industry, and it's really the opposite. It's really, if you don't have a certain band shoes, if you don't have the certain pants, if you don't have the exact, everybody's wearing all the same stuff, and so it's really the opposite.
We are really the revel in the room. We are the one that's different. We are the one that's pushing the envelope from a different direction. It was our job from an image standpoint, not just a performance standpoint, but the challenge was we knew we had the performance, but the image was what was going to take time. It was going to take time to build our street cred or to build our competition wins, to build the reviews up. It's one thing for us to shout on a rooftop and say, "Hey, this product is great," but it's another thing entirely for somebody else, for people that are legitimately buying the product to say that.
Jon: Great point. Now, let's shift a little bit and talk about B2B. I think something really fascinating about your story is for many years you've been focused on the consumer market and been very successful. In anyone's eyes, you got onto Shark Tank, you had a successful Kickstarter campaign with tons of views and sales and interest, et cetera. Have gotten 13 international competition victories. That's by all counts, a very phenomenal success. Now your business is really catapulting forward and growing at a faster pace as you've introduced business-to-business into the mix, specifically in agriculture. Talk to us about that shift. How did you first find or discover this opportunity to now sell what were skateboard wheels as the core focus to now something very different as you focus on the B2B market?
Zach: Yes. So publicly speaking, nobody knew what we were doing in the background. Everyone just assumed Shark Wheel is a skateboarding company, period. That was fine, we were happy to work in the background. What we felt internally is that Shark Wheel is an R&D company. We had this amazing product that it was our job to do it justice. We knew we had the winner of a product, now we had to make the right moves in order to be successful. We decided to take a big picture outlook and we decided, strategically for several years to lose money. We raised money and we knew that we were going to be operating at a loss, but the goal was how do we make this crazy wheel shape in many different industries? All of our investors knew that that was the goal.
There's no blueprint to make a sine wave wheel. You can't google, "How do you build a sine wave wheel for a forklift?" We got to figure it out. There's nobody else in the world working on it. There's no physics for sine wave wheel mathematics, we're writing that book. Frankly, it was very frustrating to constantly fail. It took us a year just as an example, to go from a skateboard wheel to a luggage caster. We had the worst performing luggage caster, luggage wheels in the world and we couldn't figure it out. It was just pulling out your hair frustration for almost, I think it was 11 months it took. What we figured out was it had nothing to do with our wheel whatsoever. We figured out that a caster that spins on a sine wave wheel needs a different angle on the attachment piece, had nothing to do with the wheel, it was the attachment from the luggage to the wheel. Once we adjusted the angle, overnight, we had the best performing caster. It's stuff like that that takes time to learn, unfortunately, and we get better at each prototyping endeavor we do.
In the background, we were building industrial applications and other consumer products and we had targeted agriculture as-- To my knowledge, it's the second largest industry in the world. What we did was we went to the National Science Foundation, and I personally wrote an 88 page government grant to fund a wheel. Because we had heard that in center-pivot irrigation, specifically what irrigates most of the farmland in the United States. Farmers have a lot of lost profits, a lot of headaches, a lot of pain points, a lot of problems specifically with their wheels, and there was a massive amount of room for improvement, so we thought that that was a perfect place to start.
In 2018 we were fortunate enough to win phase one of a National Science Foundation Grant, and it took us almost five years to figure it out. Again, we had a lot of successes along the way and a lot of failures. I wish we were selling our agriculture wheel four years ago, three years ago, two years ago, but it ends up being 2023. We started in 2018, 2023 we're selling.
Jon: How has your business changed now that you're finally in market with this agriculture wheel?
Zach: It's been just a godsend, it's just been incredible. We interviewed well over 100 farmers, engineers, everybody in the industry, and we knew exactly what we needed to build to take over the market. Number one was fixing trenching or rutting as they call it in the soil, which is digging these large trenches in the soil and nobody had been able to solve it. The second issue was flat tires. Flat tires cause a lot of lost profits and a lot of downtime. When there's downtime in agriculture, that means you're not watering your crops, that means you get less crops.
Again, there's a laundry list of things. Actually, there was two interviews with farmers that said half-jokingly, "If you could develop a wheel that you could fix in 60 seconds or less, then you'd really have something." It was mostly a joke, but I took it seriously and I wrote it down. I'm not an engineer, so I had no idea if we could actually pull it off, but it was certainly on the list. Five years later we actually checked the box on every single thing, including this point. If you look at our best year ever on record from a revenue standpoint, we have almost doubled our best year of revenue just in the past few weeks on agriculture sales.
Zach: We just started shipping a few weeks ago. It's been wildly successful. We've been very fortunate to partner with Reinke who owns roughly 30% of the center-pivot irrigation industry. They're one of the industry leaders, incredible company. Then just a few weeks ago we signed our first ever Fortune 500 deal with Bridgestone and Firestone, they're the number one tire in all of agriculture, they had never sold an airless tire before until now, and have a great partnership. We signed a contract with them and so we're off to the races now.
Jon: Well, congratulations on your success. That's phenomenal. Like any backstory, if you listen to the details of your story, it's an overnight massive success that took several years. There's a lot of time and effort and process that goes into it. I think you've described it well, the effort that gets you there to that success. Now it's a fast success, but with a lot of time, right effort going into it upfront, that's fantastic. Zach, are there any resources that you think have been really beneficial to you that you think would be helpful for our audience and their journeys as well?
Zach: I do. I have one thing to point out. I'm probably not the best person to ask because I'm not reading a lot of business books or listening to a lot of business podcasts, but through the National Science Foundation, they put us through a program called the I-Corps, and it was incredibly helpful. One of the speakers that they brought in was a guy named Rob McGovern. Rob McGovern started Careerbuilder.com. If you can track down his speech, it was the best speech that I've ever heard. At least from the standpoint that I was in, I was able to relate to everything that he had said.
We have this polarizing, weird, crazy technology that's very disruptive and with his Careerbuilder.com, and I'm going to get this number wrong, I can't remember exactly what the number was, but he had gone to 75 venture capitalists and he got 75 nos. The reason he got 75 nos was because his entire business was built on attachments within emails, and those didn't exist. He was trying to explain something that didn't exist at the time. He was like, "But you have to understand, it's going to exist." This thing called an attachment onto an email, and once we have that live that you can attach something onto an email, this is going to take off, we're going to be the first to market with. Nobody could wrap their head around it. He had shown the statistics for venture capital investing in the United States for the past however many decades, and showed to never get discouraged when you get those nos, because their success rate is the lowest of any--. He had all of these statistics from what makes businesses successful. Anyway, long story short, that was on the lower end of the totem pole on them selecting winners. I was able to relate in large part to his speech, but I would highly recommend it if you can track down anything by him.
Jon: Yes, that's great advice. Love that story. Was there anything I didn't ask you that you think would be helpful for our audience?
Zach: No. I think that we went over it. I'm just excited to tell everybody about what we have. I'm personally very passionate about what we have. What I can say is, it's a little bit of a teaser, but David Patrick, who's the inventor of the Shark Wheel is planning on releasing his scientific discovery, which is where the Shark Wheel was born from. It's like cover of Time magazine-type stuff. It's the coolest thing you've ever heard. That should release within the next 12 months.
Jon: Oh, fantastic. Where do we watch for that to be released?
Zach: That's a good question. Probably it's going to be released on his website, which is seraworld.com. It's S-E-R-A world.com.
Jon: Fantastic. Will check that out. Do you want to tell our audience please check out sharkwheel.com to see mostly the consumer side of the business, skateboard wheels, et cetera, and then sharkwheelag.com, Ag as in agriculture, to find out more about the agriculture or B2B side of the business. I encourage everyone, check out both and just think about your story wherever your business is at. Is there a road to take it in a different direction.
If you're in B2C to look at a business-to-business opportunity or vice versa. It may not be easy, it may not be obvious, but with the right connection, agricultural wheels are completely different, at least in size and materials, then skateboard wheels, et cetera, but the core science behind it is very similar. That learning took years to get there but now drove great success for Zach and his team. Please check those out, get some learnings for your own business, and if you're interested on either the consumer or business side, you can reach out to him on their website to learn more, to get in contact with the company as well. Zach, thank you again. I really appreciate you taking the time today.
Zach: Thank you. Appreciate it.
Jon: Go to sharkwheel.com or sharkwheelag, AG as in agriculture.com to learn more about their product and line of products. Also, be sure to check out harvestgrowth.com to see other episodes we've recorded. If you like this episode, you want to learn how you can profitably grow your business, please subscribe to our show, or you can set up an appointment right on our website, harvestgrowth.com to speak directly with a member of the Harvest Growth Team in a free consultation to learn the process that has worked for hundreds of businesses since 2007.
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