Not every promising startup venture can keep the ball moving toward the end zone. It’s a lesson FEWDM founder Tommy Saunders says he’s blessed to have learned — despite the bittersweet turn for the former Detroit Lions receiver’s company.
“We have a strong brand that our customers connect with and have grown to love,” Saunders said in a blog post. “For the time being, we have decided to pivot our business and connect with those customers through a line of apparel.”
The Kansas City-based fitness tech firm has discontinued sales and manufacturing of its popular OmniBall and Rock 360 devices, Saunders announced last week in the blog post.
“We’re saddened by this news as these products were created to be great workout tools, nothing more, nothing less,” he said. “However, we are proud to say that there are currently over 15,000 units in circulation throughout the world.”
Founded in 2013, FEWDM was a 2016 LaunchKC winner and a 2017 Digital Sandbox KC grant recipient, finding rapid success with consumers. That quick growth, however, proved to be a double-edged sword, Saunders said.
“In 2016, we grew too big, too fast and a six-month delay with an investment caused major issues with our manufacturer, which affected our supply chain,” he said. “Seeking inventory financing to help with these issues was our light at the end of the tunnel, however, despite broad efforts we have been unable to reconcile terms that would allow FEWDM to flourish.”
The situation reflected “two years of suck” that enveloped the company and his team, Saunders said.
“It did truly suck for me and my wife, as well as some of my investors,” he said. “But, I was never homeless, never missed a meal. I had clothes on my back, and I was healthy. So in the grand scheme of things, I was perfectly fine. I was just experiencing some pretty sucky First World problems.”
While Saunders accepts the turn of events as a blessing in disguise, he said, the former Mizzou football standout also said he’d be lying if he didn’t acknowledge the hardship and challenges the company faced with its fitness tech products.
“If you asked me in the past two years ‘How are things going?’ I would have responded ‘Good’ and tried to switch the subject, but if you asked about the business, I would have told you that we have done $1.2 million in sales and we are working on raising capital and everything is going to turn out great,” he said. “But things didn’t turn out great. We basically went out of business.”
Saunders admitted to making mistakes and took responsibility for the decision to shift the company’s direction, as well as the circumstances that led to the change, he said.
“I invested every dollar I had, borrowed money from family and friends, took out loans. I was late on every personal bill I had so we didn’t have to file bankruptcy on the company. I doubled my personal debt so I could pay my employees,” he said. “Even though my heart and intentions were in the right place, it didn’t matter. Results are all that matter, and I failed to deliver results.”
FEWDM’s new workout apparel line represents an exciting new opportunity for the brand, as well as a chance to make things right, Saunders said.
“Mentally, I take pride in not letting anything phase me and it comes from my belief in the Lord,” he said. “I 100 percent trust the Lord with all of my heart and I believe that no matter what He puts me through I can handle. It’s for a purpose, and He will bring me out of it so I can live with that and still have hope.”
“What is the hardest for me in this situation is all the failed promises I made,” Saunders added. “I made them with every intention to keep them and yet I let everyone down. This is my new motivation, to make good on all of the promises that I made no matter how long it takes. I will get it done. Lord willing.”
Saunders and his wife, Kacie, who are expecting their first child later this month, also recently launched a marketing company, KCMO Media.
“I still think I had some really great products with my startup, but after seeing the success I’ve had with our clients and my ability to execute the marketing strategy, I realized that I just might be a better marketer than my products were good,” he said, noting KCMO Media’s early results. “It’s dope! It’s fresh! It’s awesome diving deep into other companies, saving them money, and growing their revenue.”