A preteen baseball player who helped develop a more comfortable athletic cup for young athletes wants to scale the business to include a deeper product line and sizes for adults.
Lenexa native Kyler Russell, who turned 12 Thursday, invented Comfy Cup as a Little League player. He was required to wear an athletic cup, even though the safety gear felt uncomfortable, the young co-chief executive officer said.
“I invented the Comfy Cup for kids just like me who hated wearing the hard cup,” Kyler said.
The idea of making a softer, more kid-friendly athletic cup came when Kyler was 8, said his mother, Brandi Russell, co-chief executive officer of their family business.
“[And] two years ago, we decided as a family that we were going to invest our time and our savings — including $1,000 of Kyler’s savings account — to engage in a real-world learning opportunity where our whole family could learn about starting a business and making a difference in the world,” she said.
The Russells sold 6,000 Comfy Cups in the first 18 months of business to customers across all 50 United states, the family said during a 1 Million Cups presentation last week at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
“I feel like our entire family has gotten a crash course in Business 101,” Brandi Russell said, adding that starting a business has become a great learning opportunity for the Russells.
While the family business continues to grow, Kyler wants to engage with other young entrepreneurs, Brandi Russell said.
“That’s also on our task list,” she said. “He feels really, really blessed to be in a situation where he has a family that will support him, and he knows that there’s kids out there that have great ideas and don’t have that support; he’s hoping to find some ways to support them.”
It’s truly a family operation, Brandi Russell added. Even Elle Russell, Kyler’s 9-year-old sister, is the chief order filler.
Kyler’s father, Randy Russell, who is also chief investor and Kyler’s baseball coach, said many of Kyler’s teammates agreed in their dislike for wearing a hard, plastic cup and sometimes avoided wearing one altogether. But such safety equipment is important: In conducting their research on athletic gear and testicular injuries, the Russell family learned that one in five boys will get injured in the nether region while playing sports, but only one in 10 boys wear protective gear, Brandi Russell added.
“Being a parent, I told him that he had to wear it or he had to come up with a better solution,” Randy Russell said.
The Comfy Cup is made from lightweight, impact-absorbing foam, and breathable lining to contour the body, according to its website. Kyler’s family helped him develop several prototypes, which his baseball teammates tested, before coming up with the final design, Brandi Russell said.
“Unlike typical, hard-plastic cups, Comfy Cup is soft and flexible,” said Charlie McEnerney with The Grommet, a Massachusetts-based firm that promotes under-the-radar products. “It is made just for school-age boys to fit and feel better.”
One of Kyler’s first prototypes was a cup that felt like a bean bag, Brandi Russell said. She made it herself with a sewing kit. After eight to 10 prototypes and several test pilots by Kyler’s teammates, the Russells settled on the current design.
“He’s a really sensitive kid,” Brandi Russell said of Kyler, citing the boy’s attention to detail and nuance. “We’ve been trying to teach him that some people see that as a challenge but we see that as one of his strengths. We call Kyler our quality assurance guy.
“That’s why he’s a great inventor. He’s good at finding things that aren’t working and coming up with a solution.”
“Kyler’s Comfy Cup solution is a great way for kids to get used to wearing a cup before they graduate to higher-impact sports,” McEnerney added.
Comfy Cup currently only comes in one size, for boys ages 7 to 11, Brandi Russell said. They are considering expanding to offer more sizes — for younger athletes as well as adults. Creating athletic compression shorts to accompany the Comfy Cup also is in the pipeline, the family said.
“We need to do some more testing to offer to the adult market,” Brandi Russell said. “For the 7- to 11-year-old, we know that the force of impact that they’re experiencing — especially in baseball — isn’t as big as maybe an adult would. We’re going to need some additional funding to support the testing.”
The Russell family is also hoping to grow the business, and they’re turning to the entrepreneurial community for help, Brandi Russell said.
Brandi Russell cited a few challenges the family encountered along the journey, not least of which was failing to collect sales when they sold the Comfy Cup product on Amazon, she said. They also found they didn’t need to invest in high-end technology to design their product; all they needed was a pencil and a piece of paper.
“I think our final mistake is not reaching out to our entrepreneurial community sooner,” Brandi Russell said. “We’ve been doing this a year and a half, almost two years now, and I think, oh man, if we’d done 1 Million Cups a year ago, we just would have so many resources.”