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Shark Tank Runner-up, An Inventor's Journey with Radbeh Ravaz

Listen on: Spotify | Apple | Google | Breaker | Overcast | Radio Public | Pocket Cast | Stitcher

Passion truly drives Radbeh Ravaz as he chases his dream to bring a product to life.

Radbeh invented the next generation beach chair, it passed the 1st SharkTank audition but he was never called back this season. His invention is not anything close to the traditional beach chair that we see on the market. It's something from nature and for nature.

You can wear it like a shield or you can ride it like a bodyboard. He took it to the former bodyboarding world champion and got tons of great feedback and stoke.

We talk about manufacturing challenges and domestic production. He laments about why we cannot have a sustainable business if we want to keep the production in the US. He suggests that we are outsourcing our economy and we are shutting down innovation and innovative thinking in an industry that belongs to us and Pacific beach.

We review his challenges from the very first stage: insurance, fulfillment, manufacturing, R&D, investors, and basically anything that you can think of when bringing a product to market.

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Transcripts

Hello, hello, hello! So I'm super stoked because you have one of my all-time favorite words in your name. You know what that is?

Uhm, "var"?

The word "rad".

Rad, yeah?

Dude, the first part of your name. How awesome is that?

Yeah, thank you. I appreciate it. Well, this is not a common name and I always have a challenge with my name in every single day for over 30 years. So the thing is mainly my parents went of kind of like they were thinking, "What can we do to be entertained with this guy?" And then they decided to choose the one of the most weird names in the world.

Yeah. Does anyone call you Rad?

They do, actually. They do.

Yeah, awesome. So how do you pronounce the name?

Well, the correct way of pronouncing it is actually it's Radbe. It's like Robert, but...

Okay! Oh, right.

...twisted out with a different end and the "h" at the end you don't pronounce that as well. So it's more like "Radbe".

Right. Radbert. Yeah. Is that right, more or less?

Yes, Radbeh.

Radbeh. Okay, Radbeh. So the "a" is like a "uh" sound.

Exactly. But I got used to all type of variation of this name again over years. So I'm totally fine with everything. But, my name is Radbeh and last name is Ravaz.

Super nice to meet you, bro. Yeah, I'm excited to have you on and yeah, I wanna talk all about your journey and definitely talk about the chair and all of the challenges you've had around that. I was checking out the photos before the call and yeah let's get into that. But first say a little bit about yourself and where you're from and just tell everyone who you are.

Oh yeah! Of course. First of all, thank you very much for having me. And about myself, well, I've been in many places, in different countries growing up. So I don't consider any specific place as my home country. But I've been in California for almost 10 years now. First I was in San Diego for a few years then I moved to LA. And when I was in LA, I used to live in beautiful Hermosa Beach.

Nice!

I was very close to the beach, actually. And that's actually was probably one of the main reasons that I came with this idea about the chair because it was a struggle for myself first and then when I paid a little more attention, I realized this is a struggle and somewhat of a pain for many other people, either both younger generations and also young adults with kids. So everything pretty much started from there.

One of the things that I personally really like to do is going to the beach at night or early in the morning. Basically to use the peace of the beach. It does not necessarily...

I like that too.

Definitely, I enjoy all the beach activities during the day. I grew up by the beach, so I think it's part of my life. I always like to hear that wave when I go to bed. But I also have a hard time to just sit up tall for some reason. And I do meditation so I always wanted to go to the beach, either early in the morning or later at night, and be able to sit for half an hour or an hour without having that problem with, "Okay, now my back is hurting, it's uncomfortable" and things like that. So basically one day I just thought, "What if I just put something to hold my back just kind of like a backrest." And I was really on my way to go to Home Depot and get just something....And I was really on my way to go to Home Depot and get just something.

Just like a piece of wood or something, a board or something.

Exactly. To just shove it in the sand and use it as some sort of a backrest. Then I was like, "Well, let's see if there is such a thing." And I realize there's nothing out there and I want something comfortable so I basically start thinking about how can I make something that is comfortable and also it relates to the culture of the beach. So one of the reasons I have a problem, I mean there's nothing wrong with beach chairs, there's nothing wrong with people who love and use the beach chairs. Beach chairs have some features that are very unique and definitely they have their own pros, but I personally didn't like the beach chairs because I just don't think they belong to the beach environments. It's like plastic or metal and things like that.

They're a pain to carry around, too. You got to carry, fold them up, carry 'em down. They're bulky. I'm totally with you on that.

Absolutely. If you want to put them in the car, you'll have a hard time, especially if it's more than 1 or 2 beach chairs. When you take them home, you don't know what to do with them. You just basically toss them around in your garage. Every once in a while, you just move them from this side to the other side. It's always somehow on the way. So all of those things. But again, I think to me, taking the beach chair to the beach is almost like you're taking part of your living room with you to the beach.

Right.

But we just get so used to it. And it became such a common habit, if you will, that we don't really notice it. It doesn't bother us, it doesn't bother our eyes, but it doesn't have any harmony with the environment. It's just became some sort of a habit for us.

But I also think when you go to any environment, if you're going camping or in this case, you're going to the beach, the connection with the environment is very important. So by sitting on a chair, you don't have that direct connection with the entire experience. I'm talking about like as an individual. If all the people go on weekends for fun gatherings, being with family, all of those, it has its own place. But if you just look at it as part of the nature that you want to enjoy and connect with that nature, just like someone like a climber goes to the top of the mountain. They go there to connect, right? They do that journey. It's not getting to the top of the mountain, it's the journey.

So if you look at the beach from the same perspective, I think that connection with the sand and your, basically point of view to the ocean, those are at least a couple of things that gives you that experience.

Yeah. That's like when I stand barefoot on the ground, like the Earth, it feels different when I do that as opposed to when I wear shoes and stand on the ground, right?

Exactly. Thank you.

There's some, I would say some energetic kind of transference that happens in the moments when you're without shoes and you're on the ground. I walk around pretty much all the time without shoes, except for when it's really hot or dirty. But, I think there's definitely something about touching the earth. That's what we do when we surf. We're touching the earth. We're touching the water, which the water's part of the earth. It's one of the largest parts of the earth, 70 percent of the earth is water. So it's kind of the same feeling, really, right?

Yeah. And we have that desire unconsciously. I don't want to get too philosophical but the concept of the unifying with the field, it's when you have a better connection with your environment that you feel connected, you feel more unified. Because essentially we are just one piece of a larger picture. And then just thinking about how can I basically design something comfortable. At the very beginning, it was just something that I wanted to make for myself. Then I start doing the design. I was very lucky to basically find a very, very talented woodworker down in San Diego. His name is Chance Coalter, absolutely genius guy. And basically, I shared the design with him. I said, "Hey, I want to make this tank. How can I do it?" Because I have no background in woodworking, not that type of like the design side of the woodworking.

Yeah. So did you just sketch it out and show him kind of the sketch or what did you show him?

I sketch it out. I gave them all the dimensions, even how much curve I want, the inside of it. If you look at the pictures, there are 4 notches basically, a pair, a 2 on the top and 2 opposite side at the thinner or tail of the board, the angle of those, and all of those things, I gave it to him and we like brainstormed, he told me what kind of material we can use, how it should work, about the mold and everything.

And once he started working on that and creating the mold, I just start to think, "How I can make this better?" Because again going back to the main idea of like, "Okay, now we are connected. How can I make it better? How can I get closer? How can I go beyond what did already exists?"

Just to give listeners a kind of feel for the chair, can you describe it so they just get a...

Oh yeah. Absolutely.

...in their mind's eye. Because I've seen it. So I'm following along with you but I'm imagining people who've never seen it so yeah.

Yes. So basically, the way that I explain this is, I call it the next generation of the beach chairs. It's not a replacement, but it's a different type of beach chair. If you think, it look like a shield about 3 feet height and about 2 feet is the width of it. And imagine just like a medieval type of shields that the fighters use, and it has a curve inside. And the way that it works is basically you put it in the sand, stick it in the sand for about 8 to 12 inches, you can adjust the desired angle that you want and basically then you put your beach towel in front of it and sit and lean back to this essentially backrest.

And the notches are those for the arms to rest on or...

No.

...do they have some other purpose?

So those 2 notches is basically it's for the strap so you can carry. So it's an over shoulder cross body strap that is detachable and once you have that on, you can basically put the board in your back and it literally looks like a shield. And since it's very light, if you want to skateboard, you can easily skateboard with that. You can even run with it, and it gives all the freedoms that you might...

You might need as an active Californian...

Exactly.

...out there carrying it around. And what's the weight approximately? Does it vary or depend on the wood?

Depend on the wood, depends on exactly the material that you want to use, but we want it to keep it super light. So what I had was basically about less than 3 pounds.

Nice.

Around that.

Have you looked at Paulownia at all as a possibility? The wood Paulownia, which a lot of guys use it for making Alaia surfboard. In fact, I've done a couple of Alaia surfboards with it. It's a really strong, light wood and it's made mainly in China actually.

I heard of it, but never really had any experience with it or tried it. But I definitely heard of it. And that's a whole another story if you are thinking about producing it for the markets, if you will, because there are like hundreds of hundreds of obstacles and limitations that we are specifically facing as small businesses in the US.

Oh, yeah.

Or a startup in the US. That's a whole different story that I'm more than happy to share my experience.

I'd love to hear a little bit about, yeah, absolutely. But I know you mentioned in the email some struggles, USA production versus Asia or somewhere else. And I've been down the same route. So I know all of the challenges, too.

With this situation, we are killing all the talents, all the creativity, amongst any type of culture and a community because I can confidently say, impossible to make something here in the US that justifies the price and cost. The labor and the material, it is absolutely impossible, even if you want to use cheap materials, even if you don't want to use wood or anything like that.

And so people like me or just someone who has some sort of idea, they basically have to stop just right there, unless you want to reach out to China and do it there and so basically exporting our economy there. That's not something that we want. And then it comes about doing it using plastic and all of those things.

Yeah, nobody wants that.

I didn't want that. I definitely didn't want that. So what we did is basically we laminate, just like a skateboard, if you will. So it's a laminate. And we pressed it over a mold. We made that mold. And because of its unique shape and size, it was not easy to even mass produce here using hydraulic presses that we are using for let's say skiing board or skateboards because it needs just a little larger press so you can fit the mold in that press.

What about the design requires the mold, because when I imagine...

The curve.

The curve. So if it's just a straight board, there's no mold. But with the curve, you have to what? Do you have to bend the wood and then?

Stuff happens basically when you are laminated.

Oh, okay.

Or press it.

It's heating it or something like that. Is it heat?

There are different type of press. Some of them they heats, actually there are like cold ones as well. But at the end of the day, it's more the pressure that you apply, like for instance for skis and ski boards. They use cold press, I believe. And I think because they use multiple material and different layers for the ski boards, but...

Can you even find manufacturers that have mold or will make mold? I mean, I wouldn't even know where to start in America because...

No, there is nothing. You have to do everything from scratch. And the other party has to be willing to do that, which they are not because they don't want to start. They don't want to do basically R&D, research and development because it doesn't justify the cost for them to try something, pause a press and try something new, try like a new mold. But if they could make the mold, because the mold that we made, it was also made of wood but for mass production, when it goes on there, those heavy hydraulic presses, it has to be from a very, very hard metal. So they could do that. But again, the size of the press was the main issue. And again, no one is kind of willing to try something like this because they don't know even if they create the mold, they adjust the press, and start pressing and making them, they don't know for how long the offer will come in for them.

Because it's a startup. You don't know how the market is going to respond, are they going to receive like hundreds of orders every month. If not, they prefer to do their own skateboards or things or whatever they are making. So that was definitely one of the most difficult parts. And if you want to go after larger manufacturers, they just right off the bat, they want thousands of orders. So you can not even basically talk with them.

Have you tried saying, "Look, I'll pay for the mold." And then kind of look at--I mean that's got to be expensive dude.

Oh yeah. I offered everything. I offered them everything and they could do the mold starting somewhere from 2500 to 5k's. That was feasible and if you get to the production, it justifies the cost, and plus you have to do the R&D. And that was another part, too, because you wanted to reuse plywoods to laminate and create these boards. But for the liability, you want to make sure what you are using is absolutely strong. So you want to use different materials, maybe a combination of a few different woods, how you want to do the finish and all of those things requires a lot of R&D. And again, these manufacturers that we have here in this field, they're not willing to do that because, again, they have to pause part of their own machinery and production and devote it to this. And it just doesn't justify the cost for them.

Yeah, wow!

So, yeah, that was part of it. But again, going back to the board. So for me again too, it was not just like finding or making something to replace the beach chair, it was also thinking about the culture, the culture of the surfing, skateboarding, and skimboarding. It's not the same thing as taking a beach chair to the beach or just if you will look at where you keep your surfboards. And a surfboard, the skateboard next to it, the skimboard next to it, they all look like they are coming from the same family. It looks like the same category and a beach chair doesn't fit into that category. So I wanted to make something that fits also into that category. And I, to be honest, I believe that's the missing part for an existing culture. So...

I agree.

...that made me to think beyond just a backrest. How can I make it easy to carry and still have the freedom? Because a lot of younger people don't use beach chairs, but they skateboard and they want to have that freedom. So if you have something that matches their lifestyle and it's useful for them and they still can have the freedom to skateboard, to do whatever they want to do, that's something that they might also enjoy. So how you want to carry it, what you want to do with your backpack in itself. Because again, when I was living in Hermosa Beach, I could see every day, or especially on weekends, whole families are struggling to carry their picnic to the beach and also taking care of the kids that they have. They look already miserable in their way to the good day.

Right, yeah.

That's supposed to be a good day. They are sweating. They don't know how to carry those coolers, what to do with the kids and this chair that's...

Forget the chair.

...rectangular, uncomfortable thing in their back and again, sweating and miserable going to have a good day. But with this, you can. It's super light. You just put it on. And also if you look at those photos, there is a version of it that I have a backpack on, right.

Yeah, I saw that. That's cool.

That's another thing that I added. I was like, "Okay, now that I can run with it, skateboard with it, what can I do about my backpack?" And it's like, "Okay, I can do this. It goes there and still, I'll have all of my freedom." And then just again, the idea of how to connect and how to go one step further, I was, "Okay, this looks like a board. What if can we make a tweak so we can use it as a boogie board or something that we can do it and take it to the water, take it a step further to the nature and give a full experience of something that is coming from the nature and belongs to the environment."

So I started basically testing that and we ended up actually doing it. We ended up this final product that I made is both back backrest and beach chair, that you can carry your backpack, having your both hand frees and taking it to the water as a recreational boogie board or bodyboard and have fun in the water with it.

Yeah, that's sweet.

Then I extend that strap, that over shoulder across body strap. I basically improved it and made it a leash for the board. So it was a leash at the same time you could use it as a strap to carry this. And with one snap you could separate it from the board. So when you're putting it in the sand or when you're leaning on the board, it's something that's not poking your back. So a lot of details going to this tank and again, the main goal was to keep it eco-friendly and making something that belongs to the family.

Yeah, I hear you. So what are the next steps? It sounds like the product's ready to rock and roll.

It is. And well, that's a journey of an entrepreneur in the startup, I guess. So I've been working on this idea. The idea came to my mind about 3 years ago, 4 years ago, but I start pursuing it seriously and start making it in end of the 2018, supposedly November 2018 when I reached out to the woodworker that I mentioned. And he was the reason, that I said he's genius, because whenever I would give him a sketch, what he would provide me, the actual thing was better looking than the sketch.

Right, yeah. Awesome.

That's your magic. That's when I started and it went well, to be honest. We were able to take it to a couple of places to do market research, like some of the hotels. And we realized there's a market for it and there is actual buyers, specifically the hotels. And doing a survey, I realize there is a customer for it. Then actually, I took it to Shark Tank and we passed the first test. We were amongst the, out of 50, 60000 applications they receive every year, they pick about 200 of them, and then they basically narrow it down to about a hundred. So we were part of that. This board was part of that 200.

Nice.

And I sent actually, they wanted the board so they can basically evaluate it, so I send one of the good ones to them. And then looking for investors, I was able to find an investor that ended up me basically leaving my full-time job.

Great.

And it's the...

All in.

All in. However, unfortunately, the investor ended up being a flake and...

Half in.

Half in. It's not even half in. Very soon he was just like...

He pulled.

Yeah. I don't want to judge people, I don't want to put label on people, that's not how I do business. But again, I had a couple of people that basically were not very honest and they were for the right as long as it's a good right. And it is good. And by the end of the year, end of the November and essentially by January, I had two people in my life. One of them was this investor. They both bailed and left.

I'm sorry.

It's okay. I haven't heard of an entrepreneur that never been through this situation. There is another podcast, probably you have heard about it, "How I Built This." It's a conversation...

Yeah, it's awesome.

Yeah. It's conversation with all of these entrepreneurs and just listening to them and see how many times they failed. That's something that keeps you going.

Fail forward. That's always a good thing to remember.

Exactly. And there's a lot of learnings that you can apply in either the same business or another business in your life, so definitely. And plus, whatever you do, even if it doesn't feel good at the moment, where you at is because of those events.

Absolutely.

That's a good thing.

Have you thought about Kickstarter as a possible platform to get it launch?

Absolutely. That was part of my plan.

Okay.

But prior to that, I needed to have a manufacturer because let's say I started a crowdfunding campaign, basically you're pre-selling your product in a discounted rate. But you have to fulfill those orders as well and you have to make sure you're fulfilling those orders, because most of the time you don't want to run just one crowdfunding campaign and plus all of those individuals who are supporting you, they become basically your fan base, if you will. And you have to appreciate them. And so delivering is the most important part of any crowdfunding campaigns. And I had to make sure I can deliver, but unfortunately, I couldn't find anyone to help me with the manufacturing and I really didn't want to go to China. And I spoke with many people in this industry. Probably there is no skateboard factory in Southern California that didn't go after the independent ones, not the brands.

Have you looked at Mexico as a possibility?

That's what they also said. Paul Smith, he was one of my last resources, who basically does his production part of it in Mexico. And I was referred to him. But it was still, it wouldn't justify the cost. The margin, it's very difficult to make a profit margin because it's not just the cost of the manufacturing. There are every single thing that is related to a business. For a small business, it's very difficult here in the US. You have to think about the fulfillment, the logistics of it, the insurance liability, every single thing. It just adds up, little founds, which I think they are somewhat ridiculous, or there is no overseeing, there is no regulation. Let's say, for running a small business that has a revenue of over a million dollars or 5 million dollars, that they're still considered small businesses, but they are functioning compared to a startup. And startup needs to have some sort of resources to get there. Be able to justify all of these costs because usually there's no product or business to be profitable right when you started that business. So considering all of those things and considering that I basically have to compete with a cheap 20 dollar Walmart beach chair. So you need to provide a value and a price that can convince people to pay a little more, use something that is made out of wood. It's eco-friendly and now they're spending 20 dollars on a chair that breaks in 2 weeks. But unfortunately, that's something that market accepts.

Yeah, well, you got to keep the dream alive, man, and do things like this and talk about it and maybe there's somebody out there that's going to love it, want to get behind it. You stay positive.

I always say, about this board that the train has already left the first station from here on. It's just a matter of time. But the arrival is inevitable. The dream has begun.

Nice. I love that attitude.

So, yeah.

I love that.

There are highs and lows but at the end of the day, I think there are a lot of people who appreciate, evaluate new vision to have a better world, keep this planet safe if we are going in the wrong direction for the speed of light. And those people like you that trying to hold it, fix it, provide and offer better direction, there are not many people like that and like you, but still, there are. So I just think those who have the vision, either organization or individuals who value saving this planet and the beauty of it, they need to take actions if they have the power, if it's a social power, if it's financial power, to help and make things change. Because this way, next time, if I come up with an idea even like genius idea hundred times better than this, I have to doubt it. I have to think about it twice before I start, because I know it's going to be very difficult for me. And that's a dead idea right there.

Yeah, don't give up man, don't give up. I've been in this game and in the surf industry. I have a couple other projects going too and you just got to keep in the fight and know that you're doing the things from your heart. I can tell the way you talk about it. And design looks good. I saw it. I was like, "Wow, that's killer." So be patient and be positive like you are and I'm sure it's gonna happen

Yeah, a lot of love went to that board. All of those paintings and everything, it's all hand-painted and it's everything happened in the kitchen in Hermosa Beach. So a lot of the nights that I didn't sleep, there was time I still had my full-time job and my job was very demanding. I used to work at an ad agency, one of the major ad agencies in LA that's like crazy, way demanding long hours. So I had to work on weekends on this board so I wouldn't sleep from Friday night when I come back home from work, I wouldn't sleep until Monday morning to go back to work.

That's what it takes, bro. That's what it takes.

And weeks after weeks, I remember that at some point it was 3 weeks in a row. That was my life. And it's just, I hope for the kids in the future that situation, the system is different so they can live their dreams, be creative, think out of the box, think how to make things better because it is possible. It's just we are a minority. We have to change that to become majority.

I totally agree, man. And I really appreciate you sharing this story. It's super inspiring. And for anyone out there that has an idea, you just heard the reality of what it takes to bring a product to market and just don't give up, just keep pushing. That's what I have to say.

100 percent. I want to be mindful of our time as well. But just one last thing. You said about the inspiring people. Last year around this time, I had everything in my life. Great income, great life partner, everything that you can imagine. I put my everything on this project and literally after 8 months, I lost everything. I lost even the roof over my head. To that point. I lost everything. But is it worth it? Yes.

Absolutely.

100 percent worth it because I did something. I did something that I had believe in it, I put my heart in it and it's not gonna go wrong. It just like makes you to be a better thinker. So if anyone has any ideas, especially younger kids, go after it. There is something in it, you find many, many interesting things about yourself, and that's the value. Go for it. And you will make it.

That's great advice, man. I'm going to end on that because I can't think of anything else to say. That is just beautiful. So I really appreciate you coming on the podcast and hopefully, we'll have you back on once that product goes live.

Yeah. Hopefully.

How does that sound?

Oh yeah. That sounds awesome. I hope well, right now everything is, we all know the situation, but this will end as well. The coronavirus, doesn't matter how long it's going to take, but every day we are getting one day closer to the end of it. So we see it's going to end and then we're going to start working again, hopefully.

Sweet.

Thank you so much for having me. It was so much fun.

It was really a lot of fun. Peace out, brother.

You, too. Thank you again.

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