It's not uncommon to hear people say that necessity is the mother of invention, but few people have actually lived it. For Dr. Jason Wersland, his need to relieve physical pain led him to invent a brand-new tool that has helped hundreds of athletes and everyday people recover from injury and physical exertion.
In the fall of 2007, when he was about to finish chiropractic school, Wersland was racing off to an exam when he was involved in a motorcycle accident. He was lucky enough to survive, but weeks later the repercussions of his soft tissue damage became evident. Wersland had just begun a private practice in Los Angeles with a friend, but he was in so much pain that he says he barely slept for more than a month. He was being treated at his own facility, but in between his visits he couldn't find relief.
"I felt powerless. I felt depressed and scared and all those things that you do when you're in pain," he says. "So, what motivated me to do this [was] the pain. And I wanted to find something that I could do for myself between my [chiropractic] visits. So, I created something."
He says that there was no stretch, massage, or chiropractic technique that could get to the source of his pain. He just needed some kind of tool to punch at the sore areas to offer him some relief, and he decided to take matters into his own hands.
"I'd learned what vibration was," he says. "And I'd applied that to my body, but it wasn't scratching the itch, so I thought maybe if I made something that was stronger, more powerful, maybe I'd get a little bit better result. So I made something, and it worked."
Wersland became a real-life MacGyver as he started taking apart different tools and experimenting using a jigsaw as his base motor, piecing together what would ultimately be the first Theragun product. The tool worked for him, and he started to have relief from his pain. He was able to return to normal sleep habits, to get his work done, to stand in the shower and groom himself. (The everyday tasks that had been such a struggle before.) He was using the product with his own clients, and he was getting rave reviews, but there was still plenty of stigma around what looked like a janky setup to those who didn't understand what he had invented.
As an example, he was treating Division 1 athletes on the field at major universities, but his jigsaw powered drill batteries only lasted for about 10 minutes before he had to run back and recharge in the locker room. Private golf and tennis club members clamored for his services to relieve pain, but he was often asked to leave the premises by management who viewed his work as less than professional since his unorthodox tools "made too much noise" and supposedly were disturbing other guests. He knew the product worked, but he wasn't a strict businessman and so he had little knowledge about how to create more devices and market and sell them. With the amount of pushback and rejection, Wersland considered quitting his early Theragun venture several times. The financial payoff was low, but he also battled with naysayers who gave him a disproportionate amount of disrespect for innovating a product that worked but wasn't pretty. He needed an experienced business partner and brand builder to join his pursuits, and that's where Benjamin Nazarian came into the picture.
In 2015, the two met, and it was a business match made in heaven. Wersland is the innovator with years of experience in the field, but Nazarian is a disciplined executive, who knew the ropes of launching a company. They were a dynamic duo complementing each other in areas where they were stronger together than acting alone.
Several years later, Theragun has had numerous improvements and updates that have made it into a popular household name. But both Wersland and Nazarian realized that they needed to rebrand the company, since their vision had expanded far beyond one percussive therapy product. With an overarching mission to help people with health and wellness of their body, Therabody became the natural new rebranded name and the rest is history. Therabody offers many options to wellness therapy including CBD products, pneumatic compression, vibration as well as muscle stimulation, and more, with no signs of slowing down.
So how do you innovate and launch a new business? Here are the most important lessons I learned from talking with these two.
Ship the Beta
Hesitancy may be your number one nemesis when you're launching a business. It's the most human thing in the world to question ourselves and question our abilities to do meaningful things with our lives, but it's also time wasted. We can talk ourselves out of almost anything, so when you have an idea that you know can help others, or that you know will be impactful, go for it. Maybe your product isn't perfect, but there is always room for improvement. And there's nothing like learning lessons in the field to help you grow, evolve, and pivot to improve your business strategy.
"Part of the challenge was when we launched the G1, we knew that that was not the perfect product," Nazarian says. "So, we actually had to think about ... do we not launch it, spend a bunch of money to redesign it, and then launch the next generation? [And] launch the company with that second generation? We decided to launch with the G1. It was weird looking; it was an industrial looking product, but we went to market and people loved it. Was it noisy and ugly? Yes! But people tried it. When you're in pain, or when you're sore and this helps you, you don't care what it sounds like or looks like. You just want to use it."
One Step at a Time
Starting any kind of business or product can be overwhelming, and sometimes the best way to accomplish goals is breaking them down into achievable steps. Wersland mentioned to me that sometimes he got overwhelmed when faced with a big task, but when he and Nazarian were able to break them down into a step-by-step process, or divide the responsibilities, it became achievable.
"I think Ben has the ability to be visionary more than I do in some ways, and that's where we've had some of our struggles," says Wersland. "The solution to the struggle is we stay in our lanes. So, if there's something that I feel like is almost impossible for us to accomplish ... if I come back and do my part of that, it's accomplishable. If I'm thinking of the whole picture, Ben will say, 'Calm down. We're going to do it,' and then we get through it, and it ends up pushing us to a point that we never thought we could [be] before."
Know Your Market; Know Who Your Amplifiers Are
While just going for it when you start out is useful, there is something to be said for being prudent about the state of the market you're entering. You have to ask yourself, is this a product the people need? Is there something unique and new about this product that people can only get from me? Wersland and Nazarian were lucky that they were introducing a new product to market in a space that was sorely lacking the thing they could provide. They went deep and they went narrow into a niche market, but some entrepreneurs don't consider this before spending money to make the product. The other smart thing this team did was that they figured out who their amplifiers were.
"[Ben] started realizing that my limited perspective was talking to chiropractors, physical therapists, and body workers," Wersland says. "They knew my language, so I thought, that's the avenue that I'm going to cure the world. Stepping into this with Ben, he stepped back and said, 'No, no, no. They're your amplifiers. Let's feed them the information, and they will now start sharing with their customers.' [We thought,] those guys are our voices ... Let's teach them what percussive therapy is. We got so much feedback then. Because you're talking to people who understand the space, they're coming back and saying, 'It's too loud, the battery doesn't last that long, those attachments aren't good.' Man, give us more [feedback.]"
"Also, educating people on all the different things that they didn't think about," Nazarian says. "So, using a Theragun or TheraWand for sleep. You know, people never thought of it that way. So, it's also those inside customers, and there's not a product that we will make and we will launch unless Jason has actually tested it with his patients ... with our athletes.... and getting that feedback: Do they like it? Does it feel right? Does it hurt? Does it feel good?"
Train Your Customer
When you're creating or inventing a new product, part of your marketing plan needs to be educating and informing your potential clientele about what it is you're selling to them. Oftentimes, a new product comes with its own language, so for Nazarian and Wersland rather than trying to tell everyone about this new thing they were bringing to market and how great it was, they had their amplifiers (chiropractors, physical therapists, and personal trainers) be the ones to introduce and advocate for products with Therabody's prospective customers.
"If we were to tell people that percussive therapy is great, they're gonna say, 'What is percussive therapy?' When they see their personal trainer, chiropractor, or physical therapist using it, they say, 'That feels really good. I want one too.' And so that helped us with making a very efficient marketing program."
Dare to Disagree, Dare to Fail
One of the major things that stops all of us from trying something new is a fear of failure. When it comes to launching a new business, people might feel afraid to disagree with one another, or to try things that might result in a failure, but the Therabody team tells me that disagreement and failure are just part of the game.
"I would say we actually encourage disagreement," Nazarian says. "Maybe I would say debates, no disagreement ... there are a lot of things he sees that I don't see and vice versa. And we challenge each other, so we want to do what's best for the company. I think the reason this works is because we both put the company first. It's not about me; it's not about him, or anyone else. It's about the company and our customers. And what are we doing that best serves those two groups."
"We debate," Wersland says. "We have discussions about things, but ultimately what's best for the company ... is what we end up doing."
"If you're going to be an entrepreneur, you're going to have scars on your back," Nazarian says. "There are challenges, things that go wrong. And I think the secret of success is being persistent like Jason was, but also knowing how to pivot; knowing how to problem solve and keep at it. Figuring out, 'What's the problem?' and solving that, and it's a little bit of a game of Whac-a-Mole. When you're a high-growth, fast-growing startup, there's always a problem, and you've got to solve it and move on to the next one."
More with Jason Wersland and Ben Nazarian here: