UPDATED: FRIDAY MAY 15:
Patrick and Fleishman went on Shark Tank seeking $100,000 for 5 percent ownership. They ended up with a three-person deal involving Mark Cuban for $225,000 for a 7.5 percent ownership.
The future of the skateboarding industry will hardly live or die with any decisions that the celeb investors of the ABC reality show “Shark Tank” make when their season six finale airs Friday night.
Even as a clip of the show that was released late this week circulates, it may not appear to be all that fruitful for David Patrick, who invented and patented this cube-shaped Shark Wheel that has been out in production for the last year, and for business partner Zack Fleishman, his chief operations officer.
But Patrick and Fleishman already feel as if they’re on a pretty good roll here.
In their Lake Forest production facilities just outside of Irvine, the two have been transfixed on all kinds of possibilities — sports and otherwise — for this “square wheel,” which is actually a geometric pattern that morphs as a cube, a sphere and a sine wave slithering across the pavement.
It’s something you almost have to see, feel and try in person to understand. Or just take the word of the skateboarders who already have.
Patrick was in the “real world” of mortgage banking and software industry when he admittedly stumbled upon this scientific application for reinventing the wheel as he could envision to be used on, for starters, a skateboard.
Fleishman, a former UCLA tennis player out of Santa Monica who went on the ATP circuit and won more than a half-dozen tournaments, had always been interested in science and was introduced to Patrick by his workout coach and trainer. The two have been scratching their heads, making and breaking molds with their 3D printer, and trying to find new ways to capitalize on this shape ever since they went through some crowd-funding websites to raise money that could be used for research and development.
A third key person to the company is Pedro Valdez, a famous Hollywood mold maker who has won Emmy and Oscars for his work on movies such as “Pirates of the Carribean,” “Spiderman” and “Batman.” His ability to create a mold that works to produce this skateboard wheel was critical in the process.
There are many applications rolling around in all their heads, from shopping carts, strollers and luggage, as well as more sports-related adventures. Think of Popular Science meeting the X Games on some level.
Their “Shark Tank” exposure could push them to another level.
We caught up with Patrick and Fleishman at their facility to talk about where this wheel has come from and where it could be rolling:
Q: We have seen the skateboard wheel change over time using different materials and shapes and widths over the years. Is this really the next big step in skateboard innovation or do too many consider it a gimmick?
Patrick: So if we have gone from steel to clay and poly urethane, the number one reason this latest material has become a good thing is because of how it reacts when you hit rocks and cracks. But outside of that, the only thing really changing was color and graphics. We got to a point to where it was so good and everyone was kind of the same. The only choice was having a softer urethane with more grip, which is slower, or a harder urethane, which has no grip but is nice and fast. We came up with a wheel that was both – you didn’t sacrifice one or the other. Our wheels has a very little footprint.
The reason is we went after it with geometry rather than materials. I think this is the most radical change for the industry that I’ve seen in the last 30 years. I go way back and I have been a super passionate skater my whole life — I started on a Black Knight skateboard with clay wheels. I had a Logan Earth Ski. I had a Hobie Parkrider with OJ wheels, Bones, Sims, Bennett pros as my trucks. I wanted Strokers so bad because they had shock absorbers on them. The first time I rode a Sector 9 long board I was blown away. I couldn’t believe how Cadillac-amazing it was. That was what we set as our bench mark. I said if I can’t at least be that good, I don’t have any reason being in the market place. We ended up being better. I can always say I’m better and stand tall because I go over the rocks and nobody else can. They’re a steamroller, and I’m constantly snaking.
That in and of itself is an advantage and a reason to be alive in the world. We end up with a goose that lays the golden eggs, I think, for the skate industry.
Patrick: Nobody tests a wheel more than skateboarders do. Nobody abuses it more than the mother in the stroller or the kid in the wagon. You want to see your thing fail? Put it in the skate world first. You’re going down. They’re haters. They don’t like new guys. George Powell has been around for 30, 40 years for a reason – he has a fabulous product. And nobody’s interested in changing. You put those things together and you’ve got a lock. We had to fight that.
So here I am, a guy with a square wheel, going in, and the initial resistance was expected, but we did is what you should do when you have a good product – tell people to give you their addresses, send it to them for free, especially those who hate on you the most, and then prove you’re right. That’s exactly what we did. Every one of these guys turned into our best defender. “I hated on these guys worse than anybody but by golly it was true.”
Q: The thought of a square wheel – that’s an oxymoron. It’s jumbo shrimp. But you guys aren’t morons. You’ve figured out how to take this geometric shape and make it into a thing that matters. Why hasn’t someone done this already? A lack of technology? Just a lucky stumble?
Patrick: A stumble. Nobody goes out to fix the wheel. What’s the Number One definition of bad science? Reinventing the wheel. You do not do it.
Q: Because of the fear of ridicule?
Patrick: I think it’s because it’s already considered perfect. It’s not broken. Well, we have a re-think of it. There’s a competitive advantage of this shape over the traditional shape. It rolls really flat, really long. And it doesn’t speed wobble.
Q: If a chemist or engineer got this, they might not have the creativity to pull off what you’re doing.
Patrick: Other people have probably come up with this before but trying to think how to get from idea to the end. If it wasn’t for this whole group we have, it wouldn’t happen. We could have had the wheel but we needed someone like Pedro Alvarez, our mold maker, to get us through manufacturing or we could have been dead. It’s a challenge, brother. We’ve had failures.
Q: Zack, with your tennis background, how did you land here and get involved?
Fleishman: My tennis coach was also my fitness trainer and I read science books all the time. I was obsessed with science my whole life and I still am. He used to catch me reading science books when we’d travel to big tennis tournaments. One day I was working out at his gym in Orange County and he called me into his office. He said we weren’t working out today. One of his clients, David, had made a major scientific discovery, the kind that could put you on the cover of Time magazine. “I think you would appreciate it and it’s your passion and you should hear some of this stuff.” It started as a curiosity for me to learn about David’s discoveries – I didn’t know what products he had made – I wanted to learn about this. It ended up that he had these shapes that came from his theory and they did amazing things. So over the course of months, we had a business relationship. First it started with creating a turbine. Then it went to into the wheel.
Patrick: I had been a corporate guy but I was just dying a slow death and I was checking out. I went to start working out.
Q: Without any kind of background in sports – skateboarding, or tennis, or whatever – would you have even thought to apply this to a sports-related thing?
Patrick: Not a chance.
Q: Your competitive nature comes into play?
Patrick: I think because I was a skateboarder, I saw this shape accidentally in the computer as two wheels put together. My brain saw a skateboard wheel. And then it was just because it’s cool looking, I want it. Once someone rode it, and having competitive advantages, it’s just a weird duck. We started with a bike and skateboard, and now here we are on luggage. We’re all over the map.
Fleishman: To touch on what David said, everyone believed the wheel was perfect. But if you think about it, there are two kinds of wheels – thin and wide. You want off-roading? Wide. You want to go faster? Thin. Even if there was a perception there was not a problem with “the wheel” in general, there actually is. With our shape, you have both in one.
Patrick: Once you realize you’ve got something, there’s the jump from idea to reality.
Q: And that takes money, for prototypes, testing, all those things?
Patrick: Lots of money, lots of time, lots of failures.
Q: Did you ever stumble into any other shapes?
Patrick: There’s a million failures. Giant bicycles wheels … but it bears out other product.
Fleishman: We have $10,000 worth of product that doesn’t work. Most of it is with wheels that isn’t so much about width but whether it tilts or not.
Patrick: Think of a chopper motorcycle. The front wheel, when you twist the handlebars, lays flat. But a tricycle, the wheel is directly up. We can handle vertical. We don’t like it when it leans — inline skates, bicycles, motorcycles, two-wheeled conveyance. Wheel chairs – sure. Grocery carts, wagons, castors under heavy equipment.
Patrick: Let’s talk low-hanging fruit. One is dealing with the department of transportation and all its hurdles. The other is the skateboard wheel. When we look at the market for wheels, there were specific places we could go. Skateboarders are the only ones who buy just wheels. You can’t do that with a mom in a stroller or kid in a wagon. That was a really low hanging fruit market. It’s sub-$100. We don’t have to make more apparatuses for this to go on. Just make wheels. It was the easiest place to flesh it out as a proof of concept. That’s what we did. Once we got that through, figured out how to manufacture that, it made the other things plausible.
Q: Is an IndyCar tire plausible?
Patrick: Oh, yeah. Make it out of vulcanized rubber, same as everyone else. However, I would see it in two stages. First, to get it through faster, you license it as a tread design. Just change the tread pattern. The next is go after the whole wheel itself. Golf carts would be perfect. Off road ATV type of wheels are perfect. You put paddles on those vehicles to go through sand. Normally the edge of the wheel is flat so once it knives in, you’re spinning. I don’t have flat edges. Mine are undulated so they grab. That kind of marketplace is rich. It’s just a long lead time.
Anything is possible but we’re trying to focus on what is the easiest now.
Fleishman: You’ll see us on scooters and roller skates this year. Jump ahead, I think we’ll see us on everything from dragsters to NASCAR. It’ll take some time but we’re going to do it. From a fantasy point of view, I’d love to see it on a Lamborghini or Ferrari concept car.
Patrick: Or a water/land car. The wheel on the land is fine and in the water it’s like a propeller.
Q: Is the best way to prove this wheel isn’t a gimmick as simple as just asking riders to try it?
Fleishman: That’s all we ask.
Patrick: And it’s the funniest flip every. They look at it and think it’s the stupidest thing in the world. We had a kiosk at the Irvine Spectrum at Christmas time. People would look at it, and I would hand the board to one person and say, “Take it up in the corner and ride it back toward me.” He’d go walking off and I’d tell the others in the group: “He’s going to come back and say it’s the smoothest, fastest ride he’s every felt and he might start crying.” And they would laugh. But one time a group of 15-to-18 year olds come up — and they’re the worst at believing something. I give it to one of them, he goes off, I tell the rest of them the same thing about how it’ll be the smoothest, fastest ride and he might start crying. The kid comes back and his jaw is on the floor. “That was the fastest, smoothest ride I’ve ever felt in my life … I feel like I want to cry.” And I yelled out: “Holy (bleep) he really said it!”
That flip is so much fun right now. I know I may sell this once because it’s a gimmick. I’ll sell it twice because it works really well and that’s why we get repeat orders. Then it’s slow organic growth. We have a reason to live in a lot of markets but we’ll use the skateboard wheel as our proof of concept and show everyone how it works in a robust environment and then license it to everyone after that to use as they want to on their own.
Q: How would you characterize the inroads you’ve made in the skateboard industry?
Patrick: We’re killing it. We’re everything we want to be right now. In the short period of time we’ve had, we’ve gone from a joke, to being accepted, to being “Wow” in just 12 months.
Fleishman: Then we started winning international competitions and the wheel proved that it works at a high level.
Patrick: Other skateboard companies have put our wheel on a grinder and done scientific experiments with the same size and material and we won with numbers they could quantify. We’ve crossed over from gimmick to accepted high-end product.
Fleishman: It’s a $5 billion global business.
Patrick: In the U.S. it’s $350 million a year. And you’ve got bigger wheels for long boarders. Middle wheels for the cruisers. Smaller wheels are for the kids in the skate parks doing the flips and kicks. We kill the longboard and free-ride market. The third segment doesn’t care as much about speed and grip. They’re a harder market to crack. I don’t go there just because my pants are on my head and I’m different. I gotta be better. We feel like we’re offering a choice now. There hasn’t been that before. And we’re not terribly concerned about someone coming up behind us and stealing our thunder. You can’t make a variation of this wheel.
Q: You’re head must be spinning with things you can create.
Patrick: It’s the wheel, right? But you don’t want to overcome yourself with potential or paralysis with analysis.
Fleishman: The licensing deals is what we are most interested in now.
Q: Yet the skateboard industry is really where the soul of this wheel belongs now, isn’t it?
Patrick: There’s a cool factor involved in it. There really is. It gives you street cred. Being able to say we re-invented the wheel, and have a square wheel, those things are very get people to polarizing statements.
Hey, a square wheel? How can that go wrong?
We’ve had a fun ride. A heck of a time. I think I’ve written myself into skate culture now, pass or fail. It feels like we’re accepted because our competitors have called us and thought we weren’t going to make it, that we’d joke out on this. This could have been an April Fool’s joke very easy. Everyone gave us props for sticking it out. No one starts out winning. You start out fighting. If we screw it up now, then we’re idiots.
== A 2014 profile of Fleishman from the UCLA Daily Bruin.