Wakeboarding is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Lincoln, Nebraska, but for three University of Nebraska grads, it’s where a product targeted at the multi-billion dollar watersports industry took shape.
A mere four years from their graduation, Groove Watersports co-founders―Gus Gehlen (Seattle), Drew Bartek (Charlotte), and Miles Ukaoma (Austin)―are now each playing key roles in moving their company forward as a remote team.
So, what’s the innovation?
The Groove Vest. A comfortable, high-performance impact vest with integrated speakers, specifically designed for wakeboarders who want to enjoy crisp, clear music while riding 65-85 feet behind a wake boat at roughly 20mph.
Drew Bartek met his co-founders through business classes at the university. He recalls Gehlen sharing his idea with him for the first time.
“He just said, ‘I’m an avid wakeboarder and I’ve always wished it were easier to listen to music. I’m going to put speakers inside of a vest.’ And, I thought… that sounds pretty cool,” Bartek said.
Not long after, Gehlen, Bartek, and Ukaoma, had the opportunity to test out the viability of that idea in a group assignment to develop a business plan. Upon completion of the plan, and a few months before their graduation, the trio entered into a college pitch competition and won in multiple categories.
With about $8,000 in SEED money, the vest could finally transition out of the idea phase.
While the opportunity was intriguing to Bartek, he already had a job and apartment lined up in Omaha. He decided to let Gehlen run with the idea and, being very passionate about entrepreneurship, offered to support the endeavor in any way possible.
For the next three and a half years, Bartek leveraged his finance degree, working for the government as a bank regulator. He stayed true to his word though, and remained a friend, consultant, and motivator to Gehlen.
In 2018, after being granted a strong patent and progressing on a prototype, it was time for Gehlen to get the band back together.
“Gus was doing it on his own. He was getting burned out. Doing it on your own is very hard,” said Bartek. “He called and asked us to re-join him in pursuing the business.”
In October 2018, Bartek quit his job and made a move to Charlotte. Now he focuses full time on helping to launch the Groove Vest. Ukaoma joined back as well. Together, they are pursuing the business with more direction, and gaining traction more quickly as a team. They have a unified goal, but each has their set of responsibilities.
Gehlen (CEO) manages the team and continues to advance the product by meeting with textile companies, manufacturers and engineers. Bartek (CFO) heads up revenue, sales and customer strategy, and works hand-in-hand with Ukaoma (CMO), who is dedicated to brand building, messaging and increasing awareness.
A well-crafted ambassador program is helping the brand gain momentum, with nearly 20 wakeboarding enthusiasts actively promoting the Groove Vest to thousands of their social media followers. Thousands more are champing at the bit for the Kickstarter launch, thanks to a clever Groove Vest giveaway campaign.
Plus, a little attention from a major boat manufacturer and retailer certainly isn’t hurting their brand. Things are looking good for this small, but mighty remote team.
“We each reside in three big cities that have a watersports presence,” Bartek explained. “We’re able to leverage these marketplaces and connect with people locally. Being remote hasn’t affected our efficiency at all.”
As a testament to that, in December 2018, Groove Watersports completed the NMotion/gener8tor Accelerator Program based in Lincoln, Nebraska, as a completely remote team and earned a $20,000 SEED.
The co-founders continue to bootstrap and leverage their SEED and grant funding. This spring, Groove Watersports will launch a Kickstarter campaign aiming to generate significant revenue through pre-sales of their patented Groove Vest, available at a discounted price. Once launched, the vests will retail for $250.
Groove Watersports is already looking to scale. Future plans include targeting additional tow-sports and watersports such as paddleboarding and kayaking; exploring opportunities for re-licensing their patent for other garments, such as wetsuits; and offering additional services like warranties that consumers are interested in. The team also has another patent pending.
Bartek’s advice for other entrepreneurs: “Problems will always pop up along your journey. Look at each problem as a challenge. When you view something as a challenge, there is always a way to overcome it.”
To learn more visit Groove Watersports’ website.