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The Industry Interview: Adam Goldston and Ryan Goldston, co-founders, Athletic Propulsion Labs

Tom Bottomley
22 February 2019

Los Angeles-based athletic and active fashion footwear brand, Athletic Propulsion Labs (APL) was founded in 2009 by mirror image identical twin brothers, Adam and Ryan Goldston, now 31, while they were basketball and American football players at the University of California. The Concept 1 basketball shoe they created, with revolutionary eight-spring patented ‘Load ‘N Launch Technology’, became the first shoe banned in the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) 64-year history for “providing an undue competitive advantage.” As a result, their business blew up and they have since made huge waves in the running and athletic fashion markets, and their women’s shoes now represent 65% of their business.

Having recently landed in London from Dubai, what was the talk about that you gave there?

Ryan Goldston:The talk was all about redefining a category. Except we’re not trying to just redefine a category, we’re trying to redefine two categories – luxury and performance, to create our own category which we call ‘luxury performance,’ blending two worlds together in a really authentic way. The talk covered all the decisions that we’ve made across the years and how we’ve laid the groundwork for what we think is a tremendous amount of runway in front of us. We started with performance by creating basketball shoes that instantly make you jump higher. We created a micro niche where we had a lot of credibility, and used that as a platform to spring in to the luxury world with something brand new.

When did you come up with the concept for APL?

RG: Adam and I were both two sport collegiate athletes, playing both American football and basketball at the University of Southern California (USC). We’re not 6ft 10! We are only 6ft, which in basketball is pretty short. We were always training hard to increase our athleticism, so we could jump higher, but there was never anything that made it so you could instantly achieve that. So, we worked throughout our four years at college to create a technology that could instantly make you jump higher. I actually used it as my business plan when I was on the entrepreneurship programme at USC, and my professors told me that it would be a massive failure. We were graduating in a horrible time for the economy, but we felt like we had nothing to lose by starting a company and giving it a shot. We developed a compression spring-based system that sits in a EVA nest in the forefoot of the shoe. Effectively it’s like a diving board. We call it ‘Lock ‘N Launch Technology.’

When did start selling your first shoes?

Adam Goldston: We started the company in March 2009, and we started selling shoes in June 2010. Then, on October 19, 2010, our shoes got banned by the NBA for providing undue competitive advantage because they allowed you to jump higher. To put it in another way, if you were wearing other brands, you were going to be at a competitive disadvantage to players wearing APL’s. A bunch of NBA players wanted to wear our product but, to have shoes worn in an NBA game, they have to be approved for on court use before the season starts.

Athletic Propulsion Labs

So what happened after the ban?

RG:Following the ban we put out a press release, and within seven minutes it went viral on Twitter, Facebook and all types of news outlets, and this was before Instagram. It really changed everything. The day it happened, it was the number one news story in the world, and it was number two, three and seventeen most searched terms on Google. There was over a million articles posted within in 10 days. Yahoo put it on its homepage, with the then commissioner of the NBA, David Stern, pointing at the shoes, which basically said these shoes were too good and had been banned by the NBA. When that happened, everybody picked it up.

AG:Our website crashed, and as it got back up we sold nine months’ worth of inventory in three days. And, when we were out of stock, we were capturing emails so we could message people email updates on when more stock would be available. We literally just did that as a cycle for nearly two and a half years. It took us that long to get to a point when we were in a consistent inventory position so we could readily sell product.

How much did the original Concept 1 basketball shoes sell for on your website?

AG:The original Concept 1 shoes sold for $300 a pair. We have seven utility patents on the technology, so we own the way to make someone jump higher. If you want to make someone jump higher, you’ve got to come to APL!

Have they now finally approved them?

AG:Well, our outlook was, change is met with resistance, then the resistance changes and becomes the norm. But we never appealed the decision, so who knows what would have happened? It wasn’t in our best interest to pursue it, because we weren’t going to be going to pay lots of money to endorsers to wear our product. Anyway, after the ban, we sold so many pairs of shoes because of it. They basically said our shoes were too good, and if you’re wearing our shoes they are better than anything else. Everybody wants what they can’t have, so we kept on growing and cultivating that. Basketball is a great business, but now the lion’s share of our business is men’s and women’s running and training shoes, which retail between $140-$300, though we do have some special grade 1 crocodile shoes which are coated and then painted in 24 carat gold twice. Russian guys living in the UK are the number one market for them!

When did you launch the running shoes?

RG: We launched those in June 2014. Our first retailer for men was Saks Fifth Avenue. Right away we had the two top-selling SKU’s there. The first retailer for women, which we launched in January 2015, was Net-a-Porter.com. That was a huge moment for us because they are obviously the pinnacle of luxury online retailing for women. We had such great performance in store right away, at the time becoming the fastest selling new designer. It was an amazing springboard to really just grow that women’s business. One of our running shoes has the ‘Lock ‘N Launch Technology’ to help you run faster, but the majority of our running shoes have different technology that make them more comfortable, with improved cushioning. They are also super lightweight. The number one shoe for men is the ‘TechLoom Breeze.’ They retail at $200-$250, depending on the material.

Athletic Propulsion Labs

What is the look of the shoes?

AG:Branding is kept subtle, at the top of the tongue. We basically say, ‘no logo is our logo’. We let the design, material, technology and colour tell the story. We make the best shoes, period.

RG:I don’t like laces and big tied knots and bows, I like clean and sleek, so starting with our ‘Techloom Phantom’, we put in this thing called the ‘Phantom Lace Loop’. It makes it so you can easily tuck the laces in to the shoes so they don’t come out. We saw a huge response to that, so for every product we’ve designed since it’s been part of the design process to create that clean silhouette.

Where else do you now sell your products?

RG:Across the globe, we now sell in over 300 different locations in all of the top luxury retailers, including Barneys New York, Saks, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Net-a-Porter, Mr Porter, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Brown Thomas and Lane Crawford. We have no distribution partners, no sales representatives, no showrooms and we don’t do trade shows. We’ve built it all internally ourselves.

How big is the women’s business now?

AG:As it stands, women’s now represents 65% of our business, and 35% is men’s. The Kardashians and Jessica Alba are fans of our shoes. The ‘TechLoom Phantom’ was the shoe that saw instant success on women’s, but the newest introduction, the ‘TechLoom Bliss’, has been absolutely incredible, and was selected this year for ‘Oprah’s Favorite Things.’ In the US, that’s like one of the biggest things that can happen, because it’s like winning the lottery! When you’ve been selected by Oprah Winfrey, you sell so much product the minute it happens. In the US, if Oprah says something then everybody listens. She’s revolutionary in terms of what she’s done, she doesn’t report to anybody and she only does what she believes in, which is about as authentic as it gets. We’ve been selected twice in the last three years. Our business is now worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and we own 100% of the business. We never raised outside capital, as we just built it from the ground up.

How fashion driven is your business?

AG: Our product is fashion driven in the sense that we believe that culture in changing and shifting, and people want to wear really comfortable product where they can change their clothes throughout the day, but keep their shoes the same. We became the first athletic brand inducted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc. (CFDA), whose membership consists of America’s foremost designers. So that was them saying our product is not only performance, or luxury, but fashion too. We always say, if you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, you perform good.

Are there plans to do your own retail stores?

AG: We will be starting with our own retail concept towards the end of this year, with the first being in the US. Our main goal over the next three to four years is to open up key global flagships around the world, including in London. The reason for that is, we want to own the experience. Despite all the retailers Ryan said are selling APL, our number one revenue driver is still our own website. So, when we dictate what the experience is, we sell so much product, and we can control the way that the customer feels, which is the most important thing to us. When you see the way we are going to build the stores, it’s going to be an incredible customer experience.

What was it like to honoured at the White House as part of the “Empact 100”?

AG: “It was an amazing experience. Never in a million years did we think that was going to happen. They chose the top 100 entrepreneurs under the age of 35 to attend. It was back when President Obama was in office, in 2011. I have a funny story about that. I was recently cleaning out my place back home, and going through all my papers and shredding everything I don’t need. I came across this one envelope that I hadn’t opened, which turned out was from President Obama thanking us for our contributions to entrepreneurship, the community and participating in the conversations at the White House!

Are you out to be the next Nike?

AG: We’re not trying to become the next anything, but we are aiming to become the world’s largest player in our space, which is luxury performance.


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