One of the fun things we did as part of writing The Titanic Effect was explore stories of startup successes. One of the first stories we dig into in the book is that of Randy Hetrick who created the TRX fitness system. So, let’s talk about how he developed this product.
Randy Hetrick was a Navy Seal on deployment on an anti-piracy mission in Southeast Asia in 1997. He was looking for a way to exercise in the limited confines of his small military quarters. Exercise equipment and resort gyms are typically not plentiful under these circumstances. Hetrick had accidentally packed an old Jiu-Jitsu belt and had access to parachute webbing. Necessity was the mother of invention. After a bit of sewing (who knew that Navy Seals can sew?) and a lot of experimentation, Hetrick invented the workout method that would become TRX System, or the Total Resistance eXercise System.
Other people saw him using his new workout system and asked to borrow it. So, he knew he had something interesting – a proof of concept. After leaving the Navy, Hetrick went to Stanford Business School. He needed a new business idea. So, he resurrected his workout system idea. But, he knew the product wasn’t finished yet. So, he started experimenting with it again.
Experimenting by yourself is not the best way to develop a product. In the Technical Ocean, we cover ways to approach developing both your MVP (minimally viable product) as well as the product development needs over time. One important step is to get real customers using your product to help you understand what works and what doesn’t. Knowing this, Hetrick took his product to the workout zones at local beaches in California. He enticed people to use the system and give him feedback. Then, he went back and made changes. And he repeated the process until customers really liked what the product could do and how it was constructed. Finally, he had something he thought the market would embrace. And, he started selling. The market responded and TRX became a success.
But, not so quick – competitors offered knock-off versions. Suddenly, revenue dropped and legal proceedings started. TRX won the legal battle. But, it was also a wakeup call – the product is never finished. Enter the TRX app – offered free with purchase for 1-year – to help new customers jumpstart their experience and TRX Concierge – customer service by phone, email or chat to fix any workout challenges that crop up. Think of these add-ons as a way to preserve value for a product that will be copied.
And, we bet that Hetrick and TRX are not done with product development yet…because “The Product is Never Finished.” Best practice is to develop a product hierarchy to manage development over time. Not sure what a product hierarchy is? Check out this blog from Indianapolis-based product development firm, Innovatemap - https://current.innovatemap.com/guides/how-to-organize-a-scalable-product-hierarchy/
When we were at the “How I Built This Summit,” we got a chance to chat with Randy. He shared that he’d just returned to Stanford to work with a class on a case about the lawsuit against those knock-offs. Now, he’s an entrepreneur turned educator too:
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If you want to know more about the TRX story and have about 6 minutes, give a listen to his background story on YouTube -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITSjbEEDvd4