Nate Lawrie was an All American at Yale and then played professional football for 8 years. After retirement from the NFL, he reinvented himself as an entrepreneur. Find out what Nate learned from football and how he applies those lessons to his transition from professional sports to his new business.
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Full Transcript of Steve Chen’s Interview with Nate Lawrie
Steve: Welcome to the NewRetirement podcast. Today we’re going to be talking with Nate Lawrie, who was a former NFL tight end and current founder and CEO of Brazyn Life about his journey to the NFL, what he learned playing football, and then reinventing himself as an entrepreneur. Nate went to Yale and played for several NFL teams, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers, and the California Redwoods, which I’ll have to ask you about later. I’m super excited to have a former pro athlete on our show for a few reasons.
Steve: One, their life experiences are so different from most people that you meet. Two, they face retirement from their first career in a really early. The average NFL career is only 3.3 years. So, they’ve got a quick initial career and then they have to reinvent themselves like a lot of our audience. Three, many earn a lot of money. Most earn a lot of money, but also many struggle with managing it, and then have to think about how to manage their finances as they go forward in probably a lower earning career. So, anyway, with that intro, Nate, welcome to our show. It’s great to have you join us.
Nate: Yeah. Thanks for having me on
Steve:. I’m pumped to be here. I noticed you list every team I’ve played for. I really consider that I played for, essentially, Tampa, the Saints, Cincinnati and then California Redwoods, which then became the Sacramento Mountain Lions, the United Football League. Some of those others were just a cup of coffee, as you would say, to, whether it was a training camp or, early in the season, practice squad, that type of thing. But yeah, had a eight year and about career in pro football career.
Steve: I’ve been watching Hard Knocks, and I love that show. It’s interesting. Getting the inside scoop, and I’m going to ask you about that later. But yeah, I’d just love to get a quick summary from you, how your career went, to this point, in terms of high school, College, NFL.
Nate: Yeah. So, I grew up in Indianapolis. I played for my high school, obviously Rockaway High School on the southside of Indianapolis. We had an awesome team in high school. My senior year we were 15-0 undefeated state champs, ranked nationally, which is pretty unusual for a smaller school from Indiana. But, we had a really good squad. My whole life I dreamed of actually playing for Notre Dame. I was Catholic kid from the southside of Indianapolis. Notre Dame was the school that Indiana School, Catholic school, great football tradition. So, that’s where I pictured myself going, and they didn’t really come knocking during the recruiting process, but Yale did, and a lot of the Ivy’s did as well as some other D1 schools. I started taking a hard look at Ivy League and took a visit out to Yale, loved it.
Nate: They were just coming off of an Ivy league championship season and there was just a really good feeling in the building, a good feeling with a lot of the recruits and decided to commit there. That meant turning down some scholarship offers pay to go to Yale. But, knowing that, at the end of my time there, if I had the ability to play at the next level, then I’ll be able to. That was the thinking. If it wasn’t going to work out, in four years, if I wasn’t quite at that level, then I would have a Yale education, and that was a pretty hard thing.
Nate: So, yeah. So, I went to Yale and had a great college career. As I got into my junior year and senior year I was playing a lot. Pretty much dominating the Ivy League. So, after my senior year, got into training for the NFL because I wanted to make it happen. Like I said, it was a childhood dream. So, yeah. Started training for the combine all season programs and pro day type stuff, where you’re doing all the drills that everyone knows about at this point, the 40 yard dash, the agility shuttles, vertical long jump, standing long jump, all of these metrics that the NFL teams will put on players to see what kind of athletes they are. Started training for that and got to a place where I was able to put up some really good numbers, had very productive college career.
Nate: That was it. Then, you just wait for draft day and see what happens. A lot of people will overlook a guy from the Ivy League, or from not the top tier schools when it comes to draft day and that kind of thing. So, it was a crap shoot. But, I knew I’d have a chance even if I didn’t get drafted of signing onto a team and making a name for myself. So, yeah. I got drafted in the sixth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and that was the start of my pro career.
Steve: That’s pretty cool. So, it sounds like you had to make this happen yourself to some degree. I mean, were you getting heavily recruited out of Yale or you were like, “I’m going to go for this, I’m going to get myself in shape and do all the training?”
Nate: Yeah. I was all American at tight end at Yale. It’s not called the FCS, Football Championship Series, back then it was basically 1AA. Which means it’s a division one program. You can play division one schools, but you’re not in the BCS, or Bowl Championship Caliber. If we had a stellar season, we would never be considered for that. So, it was the 1AA program, I was an all American in the 1AA level and all Ivy. Tons of awards. Went to a couple different all star games as a senior and showed up well against some of the best college players in the country at the All Star Games. It’s people from all the top D1 schools and I’ve more than held my own.
Nate: From that I knew that I had a good shot of getting a chance to play in the NFL, and yeah. So, it was one of those things where you never know how you’re going to compete at that level coming out of an Ivy League school, because there’s such a big transition in terms of athleticism, in terms of the speed of the game. What I didn’t expect was the mental part of the game to be such a jump from what I was doing in the Ivy League. That was a big transition for me. But yeah. So, that’s what happened.
Steve: Do you think things would have gone differently if you went to a more traditional D1, like a Notre Dame, or Ohio State, or something like that? I mean, would that have totally changed your trajectory do you think, or would have ended up the same place?
Nate: Yeah, I think, potentially had I gone to school like that, I could’ve gotten drafted earlier. But, once you get your foot in the door, that’s a big step. Maybe teams will give a less leeway to a rookie coming in if they were drafted in the later round or they’re an undrafted free agent. But once you’re in the door, it’s up to you to make the most of the opportunity, to show up on film and to be a productive football player. So yeah, I don’t know how much it would have changed the trajectory if I would’ve gotten signed earlier. Maybe would have had a nicer signing bonus or something like that. But, I don’t know how much it would have changed the NFL career, other than always try to overcome the stigma of an Ivy League football player, which I think is probably changed a little bit.
Nate: There’s a ton of great talent coming out of the Ivy League right now. A lot of guys in the NFL that are on rosters and performing well. So, there was a lot fewer of us back in the early 2000s. I think it just goes to show the quality of the Ivy League football, and really across the board of training, and I guess, team’s abilities to go out and seek out good talent and find people that maybe develop late, or had ulterior motives when they were going into college and developed into great football players. I mean, there’s a ton of that you could dig into there. But definitely, I felt like the underdog going into the NFL. That was something that mentally I had to overcome early on to realize to myself that I did belong and that I should be on teams and I should be a contributor. I got to that point and was able to have a pretty good, albeit, on the move a lot career.
Steve: Sure. As part of this, I was looking at the stats and, for high school players that make it up to the NCAA, it’s one in 17, 5.8%. Then, for NCAA players that are seniors that get drafted, it’s about one in 50 or two percent. So, the chances of a high school senior, playing as a senior to getting drafted into an NFL team, is one in 10,000 or .09%. It’s pretty tough odds.
Nate: Yeah, it is a fraction of a percent. It’s about the same as getting into an Ivy League school. I think it’s a tough thing to do. It’s super competitive once you’re there and there’s no guarantee that once you sign a contract that you’re going to be able to stick around. That’s part of the competitiveness of it because there’s so many good football players out there and there’s so few roster spots. It’s one of the things that makes it really interesting. Now being in the business world, a lot of people ask about my time in the NFL and what it was like. Excuse me. Sorry I have a little something in my throat there.
Nate: It’s similar in a lot of ways and it’s different in a lot of ways. Being on an NFL team and being a player is really a zero sum game. So, when a company does really well, typically that means you’re bringing on new people, the company is growing, new staff is added. When an NFL team does well, it doesn’t mean that you can add more roster spots, doesn’t mean more people can be around and you can add players. So, from that standpoint, it is a zero sum game. Whereas in business, when teams do well, it’s a rising tide lifts all boats situation. So, from that it makes really competitive. But you’ll see guys, you said you watch Hard Knocks, love that show. I mean, it does a good job of showing what a training camp is like, what the stress of going through a training camp is like, and how hard it is to actually make a roster.
Nate: But, you see guys even in that situation where it’s ultimately competitive and they’re fighting over a few spots on a team, they’re helping each other out. They want each other to be better. I think it’s a cool thing about sports, it’s a cool thing about football and just the teamwork that it takes to put together a good football team or any good athletic team. Yeah, a little washed up for that reason.
Steve: Yeah. I saw a really good analogy from Reed Hastings on Netflix. He describes his culture at his business as not as a family, but as a sports team and not like a rec team, but like a pro sports team. He’s like, “We’re here to support each other, but everyone has to do their job. You got to earn your spot and you’ve got to keep performing to keep it.” I thought it was an awesome analogy for business and a great way to look at your company. You can do better together, but everyone has to perform.
Nate: Yeah, totally. I mean, it’s crazy being in season on a team and you’re working hard, your body’s hurt, you’re spending time in the training room, you’re working out, you’re spending extra time watching film, you’re putting a good product in the field and despite all that, you might see the team bring in three or four guys in your position to work out on a Monday afternoon, because they’re looking for somebody to either replace or to be on call if somebody gets hurt. So, that part is stressful. The competitiveness of it, the fact that you’re always on a job interview essentially while you’re playing. That’s the hard part of playing in the NFL.
Nate: But, the upside is so big. You’re playing a sport for a living, you’re making good money, and it’s a fun thing when you go out there on Sunday and you win, you get that comradery. So, yeah. It’s a cool dynamic situation that’s both stressful and yeah, I mean, I can totally see that in top corporations. You have to show up there. Everyone wants A players. You can put A players on the field and your ability to win in sports, in business, go way up. So, I think that makes sense.
Steve: Yeah. A little bit more on what it takes and since we’re on this topic, I’m just curious, you mentioned when we talked earlier about you had this burn the boats approach for making it in the NFL. You didn’t give yourself an exit. You said you gave yourself one choice coming out of Yale. I thought, could you share more about that?
Nate: Yeah. I was going to go for it. I mean, I obviously would have Yale degree to fall back on, but in the summers, leading up after my sophomore year or junior year, I didn’t go down to New York and get an internship in finance or Wall Street or anything like that, like a lot of my teammates did. I stuck around campus and I trained. I had a summer job, but my focus was getting stronger and getting faster in preparing for the season because one, I knew I was good enough to do it and I didn’t want to have that regret of giving myself a way out. I was fully committed. So, people would ask a lot of times, “What’s your backup plan?” I didn’t have one. Definitely, if it didn’t work out I would figure out something then. I didn’t put a lot of time into preparing for an alternative situation, because I didn’t want myself to go there immensely, I wanted to play in the NFL and I was going to make that happen no matter what.
Steve: Nice. Well, I think that it’s good if you want to get something big done and they do talk about burn the boats here. It’s just like, “Hey,” I don’t know if that story, but there was some invasion and they were like, “Okay, we’re here, now burn all the boats.” So, there’s no going back.
Nate: Exactly. If you take out that backup plan, you have to be fully invested. You’re all in.
Steve: That’s right. So, looking back now, it sounds like obviously it was worth it to you, did that experience live up to all your hopes and expectations, or are the things that were totally different than what you thought?
Nate: Yeah. I mean, as I alluded to the NFL as a business and as a player, I’ve always considered it as you’re a sole proprietor, essentially. What you put on the field is your own product, how you train in the off season. You can be train at the facility, you’re working out with the strength coaches, but the level of effort you put into that and the commitment that you show the team, it’s your own products. In the end, if your services are good enough then you have teams that are bidding over you, and if you’re good enough to stay on a roster, then it’s you that’s taking care of your body and leading the show. So, you become entrepreneurial in that regard because that it is such a limited thing and it’s so competitive and, like I said, zero sum game.
Nate: So, you’re really competing against other players out there that are trying to do the same thing. You have to work hard enough to be able to outperform them. But, at the same time, there’s so many different elements to being in the NFL with injuries. You can get hurt on any play which can end your career. So, from that, the business side of it, it’s a little bit challenging, from the game that you grew up playing as a boy because you love to play, you know what I mean? So, there’s a different aspect in the business side of it than it is as you grow up imagining playing in the NFL.
Nate: But at the same time, you’re playing in the NFL. I mean, there’s no better job in the world for somebody that loves to play football, loves to compete and play at a high level or anything, I loved it. So, yeah. There’s conflicting emotions there I think, from a personal standpoint, on what it means to be an NFL player. But overall, yeah, definitely a positive experience.
Steve: That’s awesome. It sounds like you took a lot away from it and you got lessons that are applied in your life now. Just a couple quick questions just about the money side of it. Watching this show Hard Knocks and just thinking about it a little more, always hit these headlines about, so and so’s making 24 million bucks this year or whatever, but it seems a really narrow triangle. There’s a few guys that make a ton of money, and then I’ll watch Hard Knocks and you see these guys grinding, practice squad, are lower on the roster. I know they make a lot of money relative to regular people, but they’re making a lot less money, it seems like, than the top tier players that are really hauling it in. Did you see that?
Nate: Yeah, for sure. I mean, there’s only a small percentage of guys that play in the NFL that can retire from their NFL earnings afterwards. So, like you said earlier, the average career is 3.3 years. There’s a lot of guys out there that don’t get the headlines, that aren’t talked about on Sports Center all the time, that are grinding away. I consider myself an NFL grinder. I mean, they’re showing up. Yeah, they could get paid a good salary during the season, but that could be lost at any point if you get hurt, if you don’t perform for a couple of weeks in a row, you can lose that position. So, yeah. I mean, there’s a ton of guys that are in that position that they have to have a second career in mind, and it’s the vast majority of guys that play in the NFL.
Steve: So, I think there’s money if you’re on the practice squad and there’s also minimum salaries, right? Do you know what those are?
Nate: I don’t know what they are today. I think when I was a rookie, practice squad was 80,000 and a league minimum if you’re on a roster. So, I can go a little bit into what the difference is. So, each team has a 53 man roster. On game day it’s actually 46 players I think, that will dress. So, not even everybody that’s on the roster will dress. So, the roster spots are very limited. Then, you have an eight man practice squad and that might’ve changed since I retired. But, you have an eight man practice squad that is essentially on the team. They do everything that the team does, they show up to practice, they do all the workouts, they sit in all the meetings, they’re effectively on the team but they just don’t get paid like they’re on the team, and they don’t play in the games.
Nate: There’s no shot until they get activated onto the active roster for them to play in a game. So, usually what will happen is, a guy in a position ahead of them will get hurt, or they perform really well on practice, and the coaches want to give him the shot. They’ll activate them onto the active roster and then they can go in and they try to make the 46 man roster for game day. But, the practice squad essentially is everything that anybody else on the team is doing more so because you’re spending extra time in the weight room and studying really hard. But yeah, they get, I think it’s probably, quite a bit more than when I was playing. But, it was about 80,000 back then.
Steve: Okay. For the practice. I think I sat next to a player that was going to go into the NFL once on a flight, and he was saying something about 350,000. This was five, 10 years ago.
Nate: Yup. It goes up every year. So, as a rookie, the league minimum goes up every year. Then as a player, your league minimum goes up. So, your second year, the league minimum will jump, 80,000 grand or something. Then, as a third year player, your minimum now jumps up another 80,000. So, the longer that you play, the more money the teams are obligated to pay you. Which is itself an interesting dynamic, because you’ll see guys that are five or six year vets and they perform well, and they’ll be the guy out in training camp who’s younger, but maybe there are backup their second or third string. A team will keep a rookie because their minimum is so much less.
Nate: So, that’s the business side of it. Guys that maybe aren’t performing as well as a veteran guy, they can develop them there, don’t have a critical role on Sunday. Then, that team has all that extra money to go and spend on high dollar players and that kind of thing. So, the way the league minimum jumps each year phases out a lot of guys.
Steve: How about, just real quick, you guys are on a pension, right? For being in NFL? Anything unique about how that works?
Nate: Yeah. You have to qualify for it. So, each year that you play a certain number of games, you get an accredited season, and then you need a certain number of accredited seasons to earn the full pension benefits. Each year you can contribute to a 401K. The NFL matches two to one, for what you can contribute up to a certain point. So, if you are smart about taking advantage of those opportunities for the retirement plans, you can come out of the NFL with a decent little retirement nest egg. Now, you can’t touch any of that money usually for 20 or 30 years. So, it’s just sitting there.
Nate: But, the nice thing about that, and specifically in my situation is, that gives me something to fall back on. Where I can be … maybe take a little bit more of a risk in entrepreneurial ventures knowing that if things go south, I’m not going to be a retiree and be living off the system. I don’t know. So, yeah. So, that’s a nice fallback, but yeah.
Steve: I thought it was cool. They had this guy Carl Nassib, in this season’s On The Browns, in this season’s Hard Knocks, and he’s this personal finance guy and he’s going through it and white boarding out for these guys. “Okay. If you put your money away and save much more of your income now and get,” I mean, he was putting up really high like 10% compounded, “if you get a compound rate of return for 30 years, it’s going to be huge for you because you’re earning all this money up front.” I thought that was good they featured that. It was funny listening to him go off about it.
Nate: Yes. It’s funny. I was talking about this earlier today, actually. It’s funny how, I think HBO does an awesome job of finding those guys on the team that have a lot of personality and they can develop good stories around. It’s not always the guys that are the top dudes on the roster. But yeah, I did see that, it was funny. I also thought it was funny that he was like, “Yeah, just 10% every year and you’ll double your money every seven years.” If I can just guarantee 10% every year, I would never work again.
Steve: Yeah. We’re all going to invest in the car, it’s going to be great.
Nate: But yeah. I mean, to have those principles and to have that guy in the locker room that’s talking about that, to young guys that … going back to what you were asking about earlier, guys, they come in, their whole life has been dedicated to playing football and making it into the NFL, and there’s this big chunk of money that is on the table for them if they can do that, and a lot of them have never thought about personal finance or what they would do when they get there. They’re young guys, imagine yourself as a 22 year old with a couple million dollars in the bank and how you would be. You’re just not mature enough to really be able to handle that even if you know that it’s a limited time.
Nate: So, a lot of guys will get into a situation where they want to live the NFL lifestyle. If you’ve watched Ballers, it glamorizes this part of the NFL, that it’s not totally accurate. Most guys aren’t partying on 100 million dollar yachts every weekend. It’s not totally accurate situation. I mean, stuff like that for sure happens. But, they’ve glamorized that in their mind and that’s what they want to live up to. That money can go pretty quick as you know.
Steve: Totally. Just one data point on this, and this data’s a little old, but in 2009 Sports Illustrated did a story and they said 78% of NFL players are either bankrupt or under financial stress within two years of retirement, and 60% of NBA players go bankrupt within five years after leaving the sport. That’s probably gotten better. But, it’s still, there’s obviously a lot of opportunity to improve financial management for these guys and have much better outcomes.
Nate: Totally. I think the NFL has certainly tries to address that. You’ll go into meetings throughout the summer or rookie orientation, and they tell you about personal finance, and they make it clear that you shouldn’t buy a house for every member of your family, and that you have to be … The common joke is, the NFL stands for, Not For Long. So, they try to instill that. But, it’s still hard. When you make a certain amount of money, you want to live a certain lifestyle, and then once the money stops, it stops pretty fast. Then, all of a sudden you have all these bills, you have all these liabilities and obligations that are getting funded from your savings. Most guys can’t replicate that type of money right away coming out of the NFL, they haven’t developed the skills. Unless, you do a lot of planning, and a lot of guys will have financial planners and money managers, that do a fine job, but again, the money that you make in the NFL can only last so long, especially if you’ve accrued a certain life though.
Steve: Totally. Well look, I appreciate all the color on football. It’s fascinating, get the inside look. It sounds like you took advantage of a lot of things that are available to you there, and then did a good job of transitioning out. I do want to talk about your business and how you got there. Last quick question on football, I know you’ve got little kids or at least one, a son, you’re going to let him play football do you think, or not?
Nate: Yeah. I get asked this question a lot. From my perspective, the game of football is like no other. I mean, you have so many different elements that come into putting together a good football team. It’s really like this division of labor. I liken it to, really, a corporation. Where this guy on the team is skilled at a specific task and he has a very specific role to play on each play, and if he does his job and everyone else does their job, then the team is successful. It’s like a business. So, you can learn these lessons as a young player. What it means to be a player on a team, what it means to contribute to a specific task when you’re not the quarterback, you’re not the star.
Nate: I think that the advantages of football as a sport and what it can teach young men is, it’s pretty incredible. Now, definitely considering all the stuff with CTE and head trauma and concussions, you have to take a second look at it. I followed the news and some of the research, I’m not super dug into all of the little intricacies of what happens in the brain, but I have a basic understanding. My feeling is that some of that susceptibility to the proteins forming in your brain is a little bit genetic.
Nate: So, all my uncles played, my dad played, they’re all basically fine. I’m not overly concerned. I’m sure that I probably have a little bit of CTE, but I’m not overly concerned about what that means for the future of my brain, we’ll see. But yeah. I mean, because of the positives of football, I’d be cool if my son wanted to play football. I wouldn’t start off as early as I did. I started playing tackle football in third grade. I don’t think that’s necessary. Probably, high school level is where you really need to start playing tackle football or maybe junior high.
Steve: How old is your son right now?
Nate: He’s six.
Steve: Wow. So, you’ve got nine years, whatever. Eight, nine years to think about it. I thought about this because I have a freshman in high school, and he’s playing football now. Up until very recently I was like, “He’s never going to play football,” but he plays Lacrosse, he played soccer. You start looking the data and it’s like, the concussions aren’t occurring, and all these different sports. Football is actually, I mean, they are changing it. They’re trying to change the game. How you tackle, the equipment and stuff like that. Also, in a way, I do think it is unique. I didn’t play football but now I’m learning more about it, and I totally get what you’re saying. It’s definitely this total team effort that’s very different and there’s a lot of positives about it. So, I think he’s actually taken a ton away from it already. You’re seeing all the things he’s doing and what’s happening with the team and the culture inside the group.
Nate: Yeah. It’s so cool. It’s the most chess-like of any major sport I think too, because of the way that you set up for each play, and you have two people that are essentially calling the shots. I don’t know, it’s a beautiful game in my opinion.
Steve: Maybe we’ll come back. Last year our high school team, Tam High, they scored like four touchdowns in the whole season. I think they got crushed and they had no players, and this year they’ve got over 30 kids on the JV team, they scored four touchdowns in the first game. It seems like it’s coming a little bit of a comeback. So, there was a lot of people there watching. Actually one of the guys we had earlier in the podcast, Bruce Goldberg, the former DEA agent, is coaching. So, it’s coming back.
Steve: Well look, I do want to get into what you’re doing now. So, you started this company Brazyn, but before you did that, it sounds like you took over your family business and did a turnaround there. Any quick call on that?
Nate: Yeah. The NFL has several different career transition programs. One of the cool things I think they do is, they have these programs, some of the top business programs in the world really. So, they have one at Warden, they have one at Stanford and Northwestern, at Harvard Business School. I took advantage of those. It’s basically a very boiled down version of their executive MBA programs. You get the best professors and they teach the material in a very condensed format over the course of one or two weekends. So, I took a lot of advantage of those types of programs to the NFL, and had put a little bit of thought into what I wanted to do afterwards, but didn’t really know.
Nate: I mean, I was passionate about football, kind of like the same thing, where I was like, “I don’t know.” Right or wrong, I felt like if I started working on what I wanted to do after, that I would give myself a way out. I needed every ounce of my mental and physical ability to go into making teams and playing. So, yeah. So, try to set myself up there but wasn’t really sure exactly what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to go into commercial real estate, and when I come back to my last season, my wife and I took this long trip. We were supposed to spend six months in Hong Kong where I was going to play rugby. Right before we left we found out she was pregnant with my son.
Nate: We get over there, I started getting into the program, we get there at night and drive into the city and it’s super dense fog. Wake up the next day, still foggy, a couple of days later, still foggy. Without having done much research on our new home, we realized that it was small and I confirmed that with the coach and he’s like, “Oh yeah, this time of year it blows down from mainland China. It’ll be like this until February or March.” My wife being newly pregnant, does what most wives would do in that situation, she gets on the internet and sees all these potential birth defects that have happened from that level of toxicity in the air.
Nate: So, she’s like, “No, we don’t want to do this.” Ended up traveling a little bit more and then ended up in New Zealand for a couple of months where I did end up doing an internship at CVRE and was thinking, maybe commercial real estate was where I would transition to. Then, at the same time, my wife’s father, he had created a storm door closer. So, it’s called the Touch An Old Door Closer. He is an aeronautical engineer that spend years developing jet engines. Extremely gifted engineer. Just saw this need for a better storm door closer. Invented it, and the thing basically skyrocketed right off.
Nate: Yeah. Had really good market acceptance and traction. Then, as I was retiring, the biggest customer who was ordering containers of product at a time, essentially it was the biggest door manufacturer in the country, essentially came after us. They made some decisions with the product that we didn’t necessarily agree with, but it was for their doors, so we went with it and their customers didn’t like it, but in the end they wanted to charge us for it.
Nate: So, it was basically went into this battle we were fighting just to keep the business afloat and to keep our intellectual property and the patents in our own hands. Trying to figure out what the future of the business would be like without the customer that was paying 90% of our revenue. Basically, I jumped into that out of necessity. I thought it’d be a good learning experience and I could skip a few paychecks at that point. Yeah, really fought to keep the business alive. Then, once we were able to do that and get out of that burden, reorient the business and we’d worked throughout the whole process. But, my dream was never to run a door hardware business.
Nate: It’s not necessarily what I’m passionate about, but I see the utility of the product, it’s a great product, it’s the best product on the market for this type of door closer. So, I wanted to see what we could do. We basically salvaged the business and we made it more of a direct to customer business. We still have wholesale customers and distribution customers. But, I wanted to focus on the things that could give us the highest dollar per unit that was the lowest foot. That was setting up our online and Amazon listings and making that as optimized as possible. Automating a lot of the fulfillment and automating a lot of our processes so that it didn’t take a lot of input to run a nice cashflow business, and was able to do that.
Nate: It took me a couple of years and skip a lot more paychecks than I originally had anticipated. But, now that that business continues to run, we still run it on pretty lean operations. Once I was able to do that, I was really able to start focusing on what I really wanted to do, which was create my own products using a similar business structure and business model, to help athletes and to help people take care of their bodies in more convenient ways. I had this idea from when I was playing.
Nate: So, the backstory on Brazyn and the more collapsible foam roller. So, I don’t know that we’ve talked about it yet, but basically our main product is a foam roller that collapses flat so that you can put it in a backpack or carry on if you’re traveling a lot, if you’re on the road a bunch, or if you’re an athlete going through a race. If you’re a high school athlete and you want to take your mobility practice out in the field and you don’t want to rely on whatever the team is offering or your school has on hand, because a lot of times schools don’t have the budget to provide good equipment. It’s easy for you to now take that with you, take care of your body, get more out of yourself because you’re staying healthier, you’re maintaining yourself.
Nate: So, I had this idea that, if I can make a foam roller, which is a product that I was using all the time as a player, and even more so critically after a bad back injury when I was with the Saints. If I could have that sit in my bag, so I never had to think twice about where it was, then I would have something that was pretty cool and that could be a nice something that people could rely on to get more out of themselves and to be healthier. So, I started developing that once I was able to direct the other business.
Steve: So, you used the same platform that you built for the door hardware business, and all the lessons there and said, “Okay, we’re going to go for something that you want,” and you created a new company to do that. Cool. You were mentioning something about you’ve actually … I think a lot of people who think about making things they’re like, “Oh yeah, we can just go do the design. I’ll go to China and they’ll crank out a bajillion copies of this thing and it’ll all be good.” You discover that it’s actually not super simple to make physical things and have it go well.
Nate: Yeah. It is. It’s really challenging, really a big challenge to produce something new. With our product it seems really simple when you get it in your hands, but there’s been a lot of engineering, a lot of trial and error that has gone into creating something that operates well, is lightweight and strong, is going to be durable and gives as good or better foam rolling experience anything else on the market. Also, doing that on a lean startup budget. So, we launched the Kickstarter once we got to the point where we felt like we had the product pretty dialed in. Did really well on Kickstarter and then thought we had production pretty much lined up. When it’s in production and realize that, a lot of our assumptions were completely wrong and a lot of our suppliers who we thought were ready to go, were not totally ready to go, and that led to a lot of delays, which it’s pretty customary for Kickstarter projects, but not where we want it to be for sure.
Nate: There was a lot of hard times through that process, getting it corrected and also delivering on our promise to deliver one of the best products on the market. That was always my goal. I lived to a higher standard. Some have deemed me a perfectionist, which is both good and challenging when you’re coming out with anything because you put so much into.
Steve: Yeah. I’m interested, for our audience, a lot of them, one thing that a lot of people don’t know is that, I think most companies are started by people that are over age 50 now in this country. So, partly by need and partly by choice. There’s many people that are looking around saying, “Oh, you know what, I have this dream, I have this vision and there’s something I want to do.” So, I’m pretty interested in how you went about this, doing Kickstarter. Can you just give it a high level, like how much time and money it took from idea to, there’s products conceived, products to deliver, making money, at a high level?
Nate: I’d have to think back. So, running a Kickstarter, we did as leanly as possible. I’ve actually talked on podcasts about what I think of the current crowd funding landscape. I think the days of essentially having an idea, shooting a short video, putting it on Kickstarter and having success with it, are pretty much gone. So, it’s become professionalized in the way that you really need to work with people that have done a lot and have had success with launching Kickstarter campaigns. Because, there’s so many little nuances like how to market, how to find customers that are going to buy on the Kickstarter and all that stuff. So, you really want to work with a marketing agency that’s done it before. But, getting the product to that point, it could be across the board, some are fully dialed in, have manufacturing set up and they’re ready to go, some have just sourced a product from China and they’re trying to sell it as their own and they can pull the trigger without any concern of delivery, and some are pretty conceptual and they have a long way to go.
Nate: You can typically tell that within the campaign and the video, and then how well put together their marketing is. But yeah. So, doing a Kickstarter, getting a product up on there and using that as a way to fund some physical product business could be across the board. I think we put maybe a couple hundred grand into getting our products ready to ship from … A lot of that we got through our Kickstarter campaign, a lot of it was self funded and then a lot of it was also from taking pre-sales after the Kickstarter campaign, going up to when we actually started shipping.
Nate: So, it took us about a year to get the product out the door and to get all caught up, a little bit longer actually, to get completely caught up with all of our pre-orders. So, all the orders we took after our Kickstarter campaign. So, that was basically March of 2017, is when we got completely caught up. So, just over a year ago. From then, it was like, “Let’s now go market this thing, let’s really turn up our marketing efforts and see where we can take this business.” So, we’re pretty-
Steve: Can you go and direct to consumer?
Nate: Mostly direct to consumer, yeah. We have some wholesale customers that sell product at retail. We work with some book customers as well, a lot of teams, that kind of thing. But, mostly it’s direct to the end user. I have experience obviously through the door closer business, with setting that up. But, a lot of it is marketing this product, is a lot different than marketing that product, because it’s something you want as opposed to something you absolutely need to get in and out of the door. Which is a lot more fun and it’s a lot more challenging.
Nate: I love the upside of Brazyn and I love the upside of our platform of delivering useful, recovery and fitness products that can be used on the road as well as at home without denigrating the quality or without having to sacrifice usability for portability or functionality for portability. That’s really where we stand. We want to make products that are as good as anything you would use at the gym or at home and make them easy to put in your backpack or your carry on luggage, so that no matter where in the world you are, your lifestyle isn’t suffered.
Steve: Totally. I could totally see teams using this. Lacrosse teams, football teams when they’re on the road and stuff like that. I mean, I have used foam rollers myself. It’s pretty awesome if you learn how to use it. I think a lot people don’t really appreciate that you can massage a lot of stuff, kinks and bad stuff out of your body if using these products, and release tension and stuff like that. So, for people that haven’t tried it, you should watch a couple of videos about, checkout Brazyn’s website and you can see the exercises. I’ve gone through a couple of ACLs, like the PT guys, all about the foam roller, and exercises you’re doing with it.
Nate: Yeah. It’s such a cool, little product. I mean, it’s so simple. It’s a cylinder, typically six inches in diameter and they vary in length. But, by having something like that, that little platform that you can get on top of and use your body weights and massage, you can roll down your spine and get a vertebrae adjustment. You can stretch on it. It’s such a dynamic little tool that they become really ubiquitous in the sports and athletic and recovery, physical therapy world. When I started developing this product it was like, “Hey, I want to make a foam roller that you can put in your backpack,” and people were like, “What’s a foam roller?” Now I tell people that, “Hey, I have a foam roller that you can put in your backpack,” and they’re like, “That is awesome, these things are so annoying to travel with.”
Nate: So, just the mindset over the last couple of years has changed drastically. We like the trajectory of that going forward because they’re important tools. More people are aware of the usefulness of them and there’s a lot of innovation around there. But, we’re the first ones to make it so simple to travel with and to deliver a product that meets the high expectations you would have as a professional athlete or somebody as a physical therapist. So, yeah.
Steve: It’s pretty cool that you’ve innovated, built it, now you’ve got customers. It sounds like your company is profitable and growing. That’s a big accomplishment. Hey, one quick thing also. I saw that you got on Shark Tank. Did that just happen or did you seek that out?
Nate: Yeah, yeah. I mean, this is more of the story of the company. So, we got back in stock, we had our first stock that wasn’t already sold in March 2017. I had done a program, actually, through the NFL at Babson College. So, I didn’t mention Babson, but they have an entrepreneurial program where it’s a startup, and became really well acquainted with the guy that was running the program. His name’s Angelo Santanelli. Essentially, I asked him to be an advisor for Brazyn. We’ve had a good working relationship since then when, I don’t know, maybe a few months later we were talking about Shark Tank, because Shark Tank they had actually, one of their scouting producers, had sought us out early on in the process, pretty early after Kickstarter. We weren’t even close to ready with the product or production or any of that thing and any of that stuff.
Nate: So, I basically let it go. I didn’t want to go on there and be one of those companies that it’s just way too early and they get laughed off the stage. So, at that point, a year later now we’re in a place where, “Hey, it might be interesting to see what Shark Tank has to offer.” He had a friend that had a friend that was a producer on the show. So, through a couple of emails we were introduced to one of the producers, had a conversation, and within a week of that conversation, we were basically within the Shark Tank ecosystem, which means, the production team signs off on whether you’d be good for the show, and then you start preparing and you start thinking about what you’re going to say to the sharks.
Nate: Yeah. Really like a month later, we were actually standing in front of the sharks. I think it was six weeks from the time we started to the time we were standing in front of the sharks, where we were pitching. It’s a crazy thing. The interesting thing that I think is the coolest about Shark Tank is, the pitches and the shark reactions is totally legit. They don’t know anything about the business before you come on, they haven’t heard of you and they don’t know who’s up next. So, the interactions are completely real. You do a deal, if you’re lucky, and then you go into a due diligence phase afterwards and see if it actually makes sense to go forward with the deal. So, yeah. It’s such a crazy process.
Nate: Overnight, your company is in front of, six to eight million people, and that visibility can tell you a lot about the product or the future of your company. We had a lot of success from that. That actually put us through another long backorder phase, where after Shark Tank the first time, so it was October 29th of last year. They aired us again December 29th. So, basically through those two air ins they put us out of stock from October 29th until, I think it was, actually maybe June of this year. We finally got caught up, we got our production in a much better place.
Nate: Again, we’re putting on this hat back on him. Let’s go market this thing, let’s start to put it in front of new people’s eyes and let’s talk to people and tell them about our mission. That part it’s been fun. Challenges all along the way as you would imagine, but it’s lot of rewarding days in there.
Steve: Yeah. Well, I think it’s a great story. I mean, I love your whole [archaic 00:55:20], working hard, getting very focused, getting in the NFL, what you learned there, grinding away there, making some money but not enough to be financially independent or anything like that. Then, having to reinvent yourself as an entrepreneur, restarting a family company and then starting his own company from scratch. For myself, I’ve met some internet billionaires and whatnot, people that have made tons of money at Facebook and Google and stuff like that. But, I’ve met many more people that are small business owners, have built it themselves, have cash flowing businesses that do even better, have a lot more control over their life.
Steve: It’s almost like the guys inside of some of these startups, they’re like pro athletes, if it works out, they’re going to hit a home run, but for many of them it doesn’t work out. The guys that grind it out and they build their own platform and they control their future, they end up having pretty great lives and doing all kinds of innovative things, especially if your platform starts getting bigger, it’s amazing how it can scale. So, it’s a cool story.
Nate: Yeah, totally. I mean, and that’s the fun part. At the end of the day, what we create is based off of our ingenuity and our ability to hustle. That part is super fun. It’s also very stressful, in ways where, I have a family with kids and, you’re putting yourself on the line to create something which is certainly challenging and it does become a stressful thing, but when you start to see the success and as we continue to grow the business and we see the fruits of our labors, it’s so rewarding.
Nate: But yeah. I mean, I don’t imagine Brazyn to be a small business. In five years I think will be a very big business, with a lot of innovative products. We want to be a household name in this regard. So, it’s fun to envision the future and picture where we’re going to be and then find the steps to get there and just grind and hustle.
Steve: Well, I’ve seen other companies do it. I think, I remember early on with Under Armour, there was, the guy was out there he’s just got his shirts and whatnot, now he’s a huge organization. Same thing with Nike. That story about him selling shoes out of the back of his trunk at that track meets, now look where he’s at. So, yeah. Focus, dedication, being willing to take that risk and push through the inevitable, super painful and risky parts that are there in front of you, as what it takes to have a chance of being successful. Hopefully that goes well.
Nate: Yeah. Have you read Shoe Dog?
Steve: I’ve heard of it, I’ve read parts of it, I’ve heard some stories about it. I read up on entrepreneurs and listen to Masters of Scale. There’s some really good podcasts out there about what it takes to build these companies, and the trials that people go through. So, that’s always interesting to hear those stories.
Nate: Yeah, it’s so cool. Well, I would recommend to any of your listeners and to you, to read or get on audible and listen to Shoe Dog. It’s so well done. It’s actually written by Phil Knight and it reads a like novel, but it tells how he built Nike and it’s, I don’t know, it’s pretty inspirational, it’s very well done.
Steve: It’s always amazing when you hear these stories about these big companies, they tend to come back to one person. I mean, it’s not never obviously one person, but there has to be someone that’s holding the vision, and you realize that it’s this decade, multi decade thing. I was listening to a podcast with Howard Schultz from Starbucks, and Starbucks on it. He wasn’t the original founder. He was brought in. He was a low level guy and then he rose up and he took over. But, what Starbucks went through and how they got big and scaled in the US and then internationally, and what they’re doing now and how they try to still maintain the culture, it’s amazing to hear it firsthand from these guys that lived through it. All the challenges they had gone through and all the stuff that happens in the background that’s not glamorous. It’s great after the fact, but during it, there’s so much effort that goes into building these things and it’s never simple. It is never an easy process to build these businesses.
Nate: Yeah. It’s like anything in life. I mean, there’s a lot of skill, there’s a lot of vision involved, but there’s also a lot of luck and it’s always interesting to hear where those inflection points come into a company to create something that’s as iconic as Nike or Starbucks or any of these companies. Obviously, for every Nike there’s 10 that you’ve never heard of and we’ll never hear of. But, I think it’s that American spirit, like, let’s go create something and let’s see what we can make of it.
Steve: Totally. I think there was a quote, I don’t know if it was Hard Knocks, I saw it somewhere. It was, at some point in every battle there’s a point where both armies are willing to quit and surrender, and it’s the one that’s willing to continue to attack that is going to prevail. I thought that was a great quote.
Nate: I was thinking about something like that the other day. I didn’t see the match, but I just caught the headline of the Nadal match, where they played till 2:00 AM in the morning. You think of a guy like Rafael Nadal whose one of all the time great tennis players, you just expect that he’s going to come out of that battle, because he’s put so much effort into getting there that he’s not going to stop, he’s not going to be the one to acquiesce, you know what I mean?
Steve: Same thing like Tiger Woods. He was such a champion and he was struggling and trying to fix his body, and then finally, I think, got the level of surgery needed to fuse his back. Everyone had written them off like, “He’s done. He’ll never come back.” I’m not really a golf fan, but I will watch that guy like everybody else. Now, he’s making a run and people are like, “Okay, he’s back. He’s going to win some more championships.” It’s incredible. It is these individuals that have this will within them where they will not quit, that are different. They’re going to make out there.
Nate: Totally. It’s learned, I think. For Tiger Woods, everyone talks about how brilliant of an athlete golf player he is and was, and how it’s his naturally gifted, once in a lifetime, golf player. But, when you really learn about Tiger Woods, he started when he was, what, three years old, four years old, something like that. He was hitting golf balls. He put in his 10,000 hours well before most people even pick up a golf club. That puts him in a place where he can go and he can make history. He has that mentality. I also hope that he makes a full comeback and is competitive at the top, because it’s a fun game to watch when he’s involved.
Steve: Totally. Well look, I know we’ve gone for awhile. I appreciate you being on our show. It’s great to hear your story and good luck with Brazyn. I think the product’s cool, looks Awesome. Hopefully it goes really well. Thanks Davorin Robison for being our sound engineer. Anyone listening thanks for listening, hopefully you found this useful. Our goal at NewRetirement is to help anyone plan and manage their retirement so that they can make the most of their money and time. We offer our power for retirement planning tool and educational content that you can access at newretirement.com. We’ve been recognized as best in the web by groups like the American Association of Individual Investors.
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