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Interview with Ian Britt from Vurtego V4 Pogo Stick

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The V4 is the most advanced pogo stick ever created. We took the traditional spring and threw it in the garbage years ago. Springs are cool and all, but they can’t be adjusted on the fly, and they’re just too heavy to propel someone really high.

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We always looked at pogo sticks as a potentially fun toy growing up, but the technology just wasn’t good enough to let us do what we really wanted. Back in 1997, we set out to turn pogo sticks into a whole new sport. Our concept was based on the idea of having a portable trampoline – something you can jump 3, 6, or even 10′ high on but also take anywhere you want to go. The V4 is the portable trampoline we had always envisioned.

With the V4, you have the ability to add or remove air and completely change the stiffness of the bounce. Someone who weighs 80 pounds can jump on the same exact V4 as someone who weighs 300 pounds – all you need to do is change the air pressure. In less than a minute, you can perfectly tune the V4 to each rider’s preferences, pumping more air in to jump higher or taking air out to jump lower.

We’re attempting to create an entire new product category here. Pogo sticks are one of those classic children’s toys that generation upon generation has played on. They’ve been around for close to 100 years now, but they’ve never done anything more than jump a couple inches off the ground. We’re trying to put pogo sticks on the map as a new extreme sport. If successful, we’ll have taken the pogo stick out of the toy category and firmly planted it into the outdoor sports category.

-Ian Britt, Vurtego

Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Ian Britt, and I’m the majority owner and CEO of Vurtego, although that doesn’t mean much since we’re a company with a whopping number of 0 employees…basically, it’s me, two other shareholders (who are financially invested but don’t participate int he day to day), a friend (who helps out significantly), and my dad (who helps out with shipping).

I’m the type of person who’s always looking for something fun to do and is always active. I grew up playing every sport imaginable and had parents that ran their own business. I guess you could say that I was sort of destined to end up running my own sport-related business due to my childhood interests and upbringing.

Ian Britt, Vurtego, V4 pogo stick

Being a small business owner means that my friends tell me I suck when I can’t hang out or that I don’t get to go snowboarding with everyone on that big trip once a year because I have a meeting I need to be at.

 

What does a typical day in your life look like?

Most people think that owning a small business is glamorous, but I can assure you it’s not.

For me, being a small business owner means that I get to do all the stuff nobody else wants to. It means waking up really early and going to sleep really late. It means I have to eat fast food several times a week (even though I hate doing so) because I don’t have time to go shopping. It means that my friends tell me I suck when I can’t hang out or that I don’t get to go snowboarding with everyone on that big trip once a year because I have a meeting I need to be at.

Every day varies with what I do, but it looks something like this:

7:30 – Wake up as late as I possibly can and start responding to all of the emails that I’ve received since I went to sleep. Since we sell internationally, I get emails around the clock.

8:20 – Leave for work. I work as a Marketing Specialist at the world’s largest Architecture firm for my day job.

8:30 – Arrive at work and start cranking away. As important emails come in, I respond to them. I put all other emails in a folder to respond to later. Throughout the day I receive around 50-100 emails depending on how many back and forth emails I have that day.

12:45 – Take off for a long lunch. I meet up with one of our 28 manufacturers about twice a week these days due to our upcoming model release. On days that I don’t have a meeting with a supplier, I go home and answer emails for about an hour while I eat. Luckily my job allows me some freedom to take long lunches as long as I’m not missing my deadlines.

2:15 – Get back to work and crank away.

6:30 – Leave work. Go home. Eat. Change.

7:15 – Go to Vurtego and work there, building pogo sticks, getting inventory pre-set for upcoming builds, cleaning the shop, working on the website, setting up social media calendars, etc…

1:30 – get home, take a shower and get ready for bed.

Weekends are spent at the shop and doing chores.

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Tell us something that most people don’t know about you
I’m terrified of failure. It’s my second greatest fear in the entire world…maybe that’s why I work so hard at Vurtego – to make sure I don’t fail.
How did you come up with the idea for your product and what made you “go for it”

My friend Josh Spencer first came up with the idea.

A little background on us first:
Josh was my best friend growing up. I was a traditional sports athlete by nature, but Josh was into extreme sports. He’s the reason I got into BMX, skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, etc. We did everything together, and both our parents owned their own businesses. Naturally, we wanted to do the same. We always tried coming up with new ideas for our own business. I’d say we had one a week between us, some of which I remember to this day that were actually pretty good.

Now for the actual story:
We were in high school and hanging out at a friend’s house one night, and he was bouncing around on a little kids’ pogo stick. All of us were sitting around and talking, and here’s our friend doing little tricks on the pogo stick – jumping up onto a short ledge, stalling on the pegs, no handers, no footers, etc. Finally, he jumps up, does a trick, lands, and the pogo stick explodes into 20 pieces. Everything just shattered. The spring shot off in one direction, the pegs flew off in another, and bolts went sprawling across the floor.

He looked at Josh and said, “Josh, your dad owns a machine shop. Why don’t you make me one of these things that doesn’t break?”

Josh looked over with a huge grin on his face and said, “What do you think about extreme pogo sticks?”

It was perfect. We went for it immediately.

We spent a couple months building a 50 pound spring monstrosity that could jump high. It took us two tries, and we proved a giant pogo stick could be done – but it couldn’t weight 50 pounds. We needed to remove the spring and replace it with something. Rubber bands would work, but his uncle was a former aerospace engineer and said air would work.

He went to Home Depot one weekend and bought a bunch of PVC and glue. Next thing you know, we had an air powered pogo stick that weighed a little over 10 pounds and could jump 6′ high.

How could we not pursue that?

What made you decide to go with crowdfunding (or venture capital)?

We’ve yet to take on any venture capital because we’re still refining our design to best work for a mass market model, and our sales are growing very quickly, yet are still sustainable. When the time comes that we feel the design is ready for mass market, which will be very soon, we’ll start looking for the right partner.

As for the V4 launch, Indiegogo approached us to launch it on their site. They saw us on Shark Tank, dropped a random note that they’d love to work with us in the future, and the timing was perfect.

What is the best decision you’ve ever made with your product (financial, emotional, educational) that led to the product we’re experiencing today?

It’s impossible to nail down our success to one decision, but I can say without any hesitation, that our willingness to spend money to fix problems has led to our current success.

Many of our sales come from referrals and product reviews. Our designs are never perfect, and we never get it right on the first try. We usually get a good starting point, but there are always little issues. When we make a new design and roll it out, it’s usually been tested for a very long time by the best guys in the world…but from time to time, the design still has flaws that we were unaware of. This results in us having to spend a significant amount of money to modify the tooling in order to fix the problem.

Most companies would prefer to avoid the tooling modification costs and just send out replacement parts when they break. We look at it differently. If you’re spending $400 on a pogo stick, it shouldn’t break. Period.

When there is a problem with our parts, we resolve the issue to make sure our designs are as sound as possible. This will become more and more important as we get closer to the design of a mass market model – for which most of the design will be based off of our V4.

Where do you see your company or your company’s focus in 1-2 years?

In the next year we’ll begin to pursue retail.

In two years, we’ll be working on the release of a mass market pogo stick with a price point in the $99-$149 range.

If you could time travel back to day one of your start­up and have 15min with your former self to communicate any lessons you’ve acquired with the intention of saving yourself mistakes and heartache, what would you tell yourself?

Pshhh…I’d give myself the design for the V4 and skip 15 years of headaches.

I’d also say to my old self, “You’re really smart, so trust your instincts and do things on your own when you think it’s even remotely possible. But most importantly, remember this: if you do a good job, the opportunities will come quickly and will not stop. Don’t take any offer that isn’t exactly what you want. Because for every door that closes, two more will open.”

Ian Britt, Vurtego, V4 pogo stick

Indiegogo approached us to launch the V4 pogo stick on their site. They saw us on Shark Tank, dropped a random note that they’d love to work with us in the future, and the timing was perfect.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life and work and why?

No one person has had the biggest influence on me. My family has always been extremely honest with their opinions on Vurtego. In the beginning, they told me it would be really difficult to sell something nobody has ever seen before for $400. They were so right. Now, they tell me to ‘go, go, go’ with the idea and keep pushing just this last bit.

My friends have all contributed in different ways. Some have made me realize that life is more important than saving and setting up your future, while others have helped me to understand that nothing good comes ease.

We’re a product of our environments, and I’m lucky enough to have come from a really well rounded one.

Any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs on how to facilitate a successful financing campaign?

It all depends on what you have and where you’re at.

In the beginning we had an idea that everyone was afraid of and an economy that was in the tank (post 9/11). It was hard getting meeting with VCs, and none of them were interested in putting their money into a brand new category that could take years to develop. At that point, persistence and networking was key, but even then we failed 100 times.

Now, our product has gained a lot of free PR and public interest over the past few years. We’re lucky enough to have something that is catchy and fun to watch. Because of that, it’s been easy for us. Investors and potential partners come to us pretty frequently rather than the other way around. This puts the ball in our court. We’ve turned everyone away for now because our valuation continues to grow very rapidly and our design isn’t quite there yet for the model that has the real potential. When it’s time to take on investment, we know to be very weary of who we work with, and we will be very diligent in setting up a partnership with someone we trust.

What do you see as the biggest advancement in your technology sector over the next 5-10 years?

In 5 years, there will be pretty significant advancements in our design in terms of air power and storage.

In 10 years, I believe that we’ll see electronics start to become a major factor in our designs. Batteries aren’t powerful enough yet, but it looks like some exciting advancements are taking place. Once battery power and storage becomes strong enough, we’ll open up a whole new world of potential designs.

What do you see as the biggest risk in your technology sector over the next 5-10 years?
For us, the biggest risk will be other players coming into the field. As air power is no longer necessary, there will be a race for the next electronically powered designs, and patent wars will definitely become a threat.

Thank you for the insights on Vurtego and the fantastic interview, Ian!

Wrapping it up

Well, who would have thought that creating and marketing a new product isn’t all fame and glitter and that it takes good old hard work to reach certain points?

If you’d like to support Ian and the V4 pogo stick, check out vurtegopogo.com, the indiegogo campaign and follow them on:
Instagram Facebook Twitter

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