Vyper

It’s rare that amateur athletes and weekend warriors get access to cutting edge fitness technology at the same time as the pros. More typically, the best in class training and recovery gear is limited for use by elites of sport, only years later to trickle down to the rest of us – often in a watered down form.

But Hyperice is flipping that script. Two years after introducing the first ever portable ice compression device – a product that is now used in locker rooms and on sidelines in (amongst others) the NFL, NBA, and Olympics – the Irvine, California-based sports performance and recovery company is offering its its next product directly to regular folks.

Vyper, Hyperice’s vibration-enabled foam roller is two weeks into a 45 day kickstarter campaign and has already raised more than $84,000 of its $100,000 goal. Backers have the opportunity to receive limited edition units in the team colors of Hyperice’s celebrity athlete endorsers, Blake Griffin (NBA), Adrian Peterson (NFL), Troy Polamalu (NFL), and Lindsey Vonn (USA Skiing).

The idea behind Vyper came from Hyperice founder Anthony Katz’s own experiences struggling to recover as an aging athlete.

“When I was in my late 20s, I knew people who were playing professionally in various sports,” Katz says. “They all viewed their bodies as part of their craft and spent as much time on recovery as they did on training. The rest of us don’t have access to all the doctors and facilities that the pros do, but I got to thinking that maybe I use technology to help myself and others recover better.”

Like the original Hyperice, which combines ice and compression to deliver more effective recovery therapy to sore muscles, VYPER marries pressure and vibration into a single, portable, and easy to use device. The product aims to enhance the muscle loosening and lengthening effects of traditional foam rolling – in which athletes use their body weight to roll a sore muscle along a dense foam cylinder – through the addition of mio-fascial release delivered through vibration.

While it may sound overly technical, the goal of this one-two punch is fairly straightforward: to stimulate blood flow and activate the nervous system in the affected area to improve recovery and increase range of motion. It’s nothing new in the world of sports medicine, but never before has there been a simple and portable device for delivering both types of therapy simultaneously.

Vyper combines a rechargeable lithium ion battery – one that the company’s kickstarter campaign comically compares to that in a Tesla without a hint of irony – and a vibrating motor inside of a light-weight plastic cylinder. This cylinder is fitted inside the core of a high-density, air-injected polypropylene shell, that is both harder and lighter than traditional foam rollers, according to Hyperice founder Anthony Katz.

The engineering feat was twofold, says Katz. The first breakthrough was in making the enclosed hardware both strong and durable enough to deliver the required therapy, but also light enough to make its easy to use and portable. Then the company needed to re-engineer the inner-cylinder and the components therein through several prototypes before finding a design that was adequately robust, but also lightweight and quiet – the final device weighs in at under three pounds. Finally, there was the issue that wrapping a vibrating motor in soft foam typically dampens the effects. The solution to this problem for Vyper was the use of proprietary foam, licensed from a German company called Blackroll, which is stiff and efficiently transfers vibration even under increased pressure.

Hyperice recently added some serious credibility to its scientific advisory board, in Dr. Mike Clark, the man made famous for extending the careers of aging Phoenix Suns basketball players like Steve Nash, Shaquille O’neal, and Grant Hill previously thought to be on their way to retirement. Clark recently conducted an admittedly small study with two dozen elite athletes and found that the device increased range of motion by an average of 30 percent above baseline, according to Katz, who describes the feedback as “phenomenal.” The company is now in the process of conducting a larger independent study in partnership with the research department at UNC Chapel Hill to further validate and quantify the device’s effectiveness.

Unlike most Kickstarter campaigns, Hyperice is not an upstart company and Vyper is not a conceptual device. Not only has the company sold tens of thousands of units of its compression icing products over the last two years, but it has also produced several dozen units of the final Vyper prototype and distributed them across its rolodex professional athletes for testing. Because of Hyperice’s manufacturing experience, the company has its supply chain fully defined and is simply waiting to place the first production order for Vyper products, Katz adds.

Kickstarter backers can contribute as little as $5 for a set of Hyperice and Vyper stickers or $25 for a T-shirt, but the real fun starts at the $199 price point where supporters will get one of the first Vyper units produced. (The 40 early-bird spots for $179 are long since sold out.) For $249, backers can choose among the aforementioned limited edition team colors of the company’s pro athlete backers. Delivery for the above rewards is projected for November 2014, a date which Katz believes is eminently achievable given the current state of the product, while still conceding that there’s always a small chance of delays in manufacturing.

The company plans to begin direct consumer sales through its website, and later through third-party retail immediately after delivering its Kickstarter commitments in full. The retail price of Vyper will be $199 initially (and potentially $179 at scale) making it one of the rare instances in which Kickstarter backers will pay the full retail price for early access to a product rather than get it at a steep discount. Katz explains this strategy saying that if Hyperice sold the Vyper at a discount on Kickstarter, retailers would dismiss the market-proving nature of the crowdfunding campaign and then balk at the idea of selling the device for a higher price point. This may be true, but it’s nonetheless an atypical strategy and one that is unlikely to sit well with early backers who are taking a risk on the pre-production product. Katz adds the backers also get $30 worth of merchandise value in Hyperice and Vyper t-shirts and stickers.

Hyperice is more established than those behind your average Kickstarter campaign, but it’s still a relatively small, young company according to Katz. Thus, the team decided to go down crowdfunding path due to the high cost of designing, manufacturing, and marketing a new device of this complexity, and due to the added cost of independent testing. Of course, the ability to build awareness and backing among a global online audience was also a factor in the decision.

“We figured that Kickstarter provides a bigger platform than we ever could provide for ourselves,” Katz says. “Plus we were excited to get Vyper in people’s hands and let the word spread.”

Vyper should be a no-brainer among elite athletes and aspiring weekend warriors. Where the company’s biggest challenge, and also its greatest opportunity exists is in break out of that niche and into the mainstream. If the company can sell these units to office workers and housewives, then it will be in business, so to speak.

“We’ll do well with fitness enthusiasts and I think pro and college teams will order a ton,” Katz says. “But the truth is, we all want to move better and we all want our bodies to feel better. I think we can help people that sit at their desks all day, just as much or more than we can help pros. If people are willing to spend $100-plus on a one hour massage, I hope they’ll strongly consider the Vyper instead.”

Katz is the inventive vision behind Hyperice, but he brought in Steve Veytia in early 2013 to run the business as the company’s CEO. Hyperice has raised an undisclosed sum of angel funding, including from several of its athlete endorsers (he wouldn’t disclose who), according to Katz. Despite appearances, Katz says Hyperice doesn’t pay traditional endorsement fees to any of its athlete partners. All, however have equity in the company, he admits, some of which as a result of investment and some in exchange for their participation.

Whatever the cost of bringing these marquee names aboard, it seems to be working. In what was its second full year in the market, Hyperice doubled sales in 2013, according to Katz. The company was also recently named the Brand of the Year at the 2014 ISPO sporting goods trade show.

Despite seemingly negative indicators like the worsening obesity epidemic, there’s also a parallel trend in western world toward healthy lifestyles. Exploding popularity of fitness programs like yoga, pilates, crossfit, running, and cycling have in fact increased the number of addressable consumers in the fitness equipment category. The global exercise equipment market was worth $4.49 billion annually as of 2011, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association, a figure which was made up 75 percent of consumer and retail spending. This is no small sum, but for Hyperice to become a large company it will need to sell well beyond the ranks of elite athletes.

Given this data, it’s not surprising that Hyperice is targeting the consumer market first with Vyper, before eventually setting its sights on amateur and pro team sales. Then again the implicit and explicit endorsement of products by professional athletes drives product sales in the sports category perhaps more than any other. But while consumers may not see their favorite athletes using Viper on the sidelines with them, the fact that Griffin, et al have attached their names to this product should offer some halo effect.

Based on its early momentum, it seems as if Vyper will likely reach its crowdfunding goal. But as plenty of companies have learned, a successful crowdfunding campaign is just the beginning. Hyperice will be better positioned than most, given that its selling its product at or above full retail price and thus should have healthy margins on this pre-sale batch. The company then needs to prove that it can deliver on its promise by fulfilling its orders on time and delivering a world class product worthy of not just average Joes backing a cool crowdfunding campaign, but the best athletes in the world.

But selling 500 to 1,000 units of the Vyper is not why Katz or his investors started this journey. The vision is much larger than that. Like its athletes that train with the championship trophy in mind, Hyperice aspires to make fitness recovery a better experience for the masses.