Upside profile of the month:
Upside startup: VKTRY Gear
Headquartered: Milford CT
Amount money raised: $6.5M
Sector: Sports Gear, Insoles
Customers: NFL, MLB, NCAA and direct to consumer
Company and product background:
VKTRY Insoles were invented by Matt Arciuolo, Certified Pedorthist for the US Olympic Bobsled & Skeleton Teams. While he was making custom orthotics for the Olympians, he also wanted to help them win races. So he invented “VKs” to give the athletes a more explosive start. Clearly it worked, because in 2010, Team USA Bobsled won their first Gold Medal in 62 years. Soon after that, Matt applied for the patent (received in 2015) and then founded VKTRY Gear knowing that his product could help any athlete that wears shoes and pushes against the ground for leverage. Matt understood that all athletes, no matter the sport or skill level, want the same two things: 1) To play to the best of their abilities, and 2) To stay injury free in the process. And that’s what VKs do for athletes!
Picture: VKTRY Gear insoles
Here is a quick video on VKTRY Gear with testimonials from some of the top high school football players in the country.
Video: VKTRY Gear, Rivals 2021 Combine & Camp
This week, we interviewed Steve Wasik, CEO of VKTRY Gear to discuss the company’s product, its ambition, and future plans for 2022 and beyond.
Q1. Tell us about VKTRY and how your product benefits teams and athletes?
The product was originally invented for athletes and today we still design all of our products with athletes in mind. Made from aerospace-grade carbon fiber, VKTRY Insoles have been scientifically proven to help athletes improve performance (+9.3% increase in rate of force development, aka “explosiveness”) and improve injury protection (41% less foot and toe injuries, 22% less lower leg injuries). We understand that all athletes are not alike. The patented product design allows us to customize the “spring strength” of the insoles based on the size of the athlete to optimize performance, protection and comfort.
Q2. Which teams are using your product today?
We currently have athletes from over 350 Pro and College teams who purchase VKs primarily for performance. We had several USA Olympians using VKs in Tokyo this year – including most of the gold-medal-winning US Women’s Volleyball Team. We do very well with the NFL (100%), MLB (85%) and NCAA teams. Athletic Training staffs frequently purchase VKs for athletes recovering from injuries (turf toe, stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, knee & ankle problems, etc.) LSU has been buying VKs for over 5 years now and Jack Marucci, their Director of Performance Innovation was an early adopter of VKTRY Insoles. Jack has told us: “Because of the VK design, I can reduce sports injuries. The benefits of VKTRY Insoles is valid and undeniable.”
Q3. How important is the US market for your company?
We have made tremendous progress in building the VKTRY brand in the USA in a relatively short time. The international sports world is still discovering the benefits of VKs. The challenge is that there has never been a product like ours – we have disrupted the insole category and created a true performance insole segment. Education is critical – as is our 90 day money back guarantee policy. Even with that generous return policy, we only have a 5% return rate, which is a testament that when people try VKs they tend to love them. Jonathan Taylor of the Colts summed it up well: “If a teammate asked me about VKTRY Insoles, I would tell them that this is the one product that would help them take their game to the next level. Foam insoles don’t respond or give you anything back. Wearing VKTRY’s carbon fiber insoles, the one thing I notice instantly is that extra power & explosion that they give me.”
Q4. Are you focusing on some particular sports? Do you plan to expand to new sports?
One of the beautiful things about VKTRY is that they work effectively for any activity involving “ground reaction force” – which are most sports. During the pandemic, when most team sports were shut down, we pivoted to individual activities like running, fitness and golf. We have been most surprised with the success we are achieving in the world of golf. Ryder Cup Captain Padraig Harrington does a nice job of explaining why: “I heard some PGA players were wearing VKTRY Insoles, so I went online and bought a pair. With VKs, I immediately achieved my personal best ever in ball speed (196MPH). These insoles give me more stability and ground force. I learned a long time ago that you can’t launch a rocket from a canoe.”
Q5. Why should any pro teams use your product? What is unique about your product?
As athletes continue to improve their training & conditioning, sports technology also continues to evolve to support these elite athletes who are faster and stronger than ever. There is simply no insole/orthotic on the market today which provides the same degree of performance advantages and injury protection. After a recent 12-month study by Harvard Mass General, it’s clear that VKTRY is the most thoroughly researched insole in the world. The Korey Stringer Institute also studied VKTRY Insoles for 6 months and their research conclusion sums up why VKs work so well: “VKTRY Insoles improve lower body biomechanics, stability of the ankle and knee during running, and shock absorption during landing. These improvements can help safeguard athletes by providing injury protection.”
Q6. How do you end up working with former NBA player Tracy McGrady? Why did he want to get involved?
There’s definitely been an upsurge in word of mouth around VKTRY. People feel the difference immediately when they put VKs in their shoes – and then they tell their friends and teammates about the product. Besides being an NBA legend, Tracy is a dad and AAU coach so he wanted to provide his kids the best sports gear on the market to give them every advantage possible. T-Mac is also a very savvy businessman and he saw the potential for the growth of this business. “Besides the performance benefits, I really like the added stability and shock absorption you get with VKs which helps to protect against injuries. I think all athletes, parents and coaches should try VKTRY Insoles for themselves – I’m glad I did.”
Q7. What are your plans for the next 24 months?
We are in the final months of a $2M capital raise which will bridge us towards a Series A, likely in 2023. The VKTRY business will continue to grow due to increased brand awareness, new sales channels and new product launches. Besides our Gold VKs designed for serious athletes, we have recently launched a lower priced product (Silver VKs) for more casual athletes and our Platinum VKs which are custom orthotics with our patented carbon fiber baseplate built in. In early 2022, we will be launching our Dynamic Propulsion Sock which, like our insoles, provides energy storage and energy return to the athlete. There’s nothing like the DPS on the market today and this product will reinforce that VKTRY is a true performance gear company designed to help athletes achieve their full potential and stay injury free. There’s no substitute for VKTRY!
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