Kacie and Tommy Saunders
Kansas City, Missouri | Innovation-Led
FEWDM means “For Everybody Who Doubts Me,” a mantra Tommy Saunders has used since before his days as a Mizzou football player over a decade ago.
Today, Tommy runs a fitness technology startup named FEWDM with his wife Kacie. The business was a 2016 recipient of a $50,000 LaunchKC grant and the year prior took second place in a reality television show hosted by Jillian Michaels, “Sweat Inc.”
The path from inspirational quote to successful technology startup was not an easy one for FEWDM. But one thing holds true throughout—it’s hard to beat the power of a team. Even in the sport of entrepreneurship.
Hut, hut, hike
Tommy was an impressive football player. He led his high school team in Kearney, Missouri, to a state title. He walked onto the Mizzou in 2004 and finished his time with the Tigers as team captain, with the moniker Mr. Dependable. And he spent a short time in the NFL, but never made it to the field.
When his football career was ended, he tried a few jobs—coaching youth sports, playing rugby and the Arena Football League (AFL.) During an AFL practice, he broke his ankle and knew he needed to move on to the next stage of his life.
For years he had been playing with the idea of an innovative piece of exercise equipment, an ab roller that allowed the user to get more range of motion than traditional equipment.
He spent the $350 per week that he got from being on the AFL’s injured reserve list, plus $2,000 he had in the bank and $4,500 from his grandma, to build his first prototype. He took his prototype to one of his coaches at Mizzou, who gave him $10,000 to start the manufacturing and design process of the Rock 360.
He went on the road with Kacie and began selling the Rock 360 at trade shows nationwide. Sales were often slow and the lifestyle difficult, but they managed to put a few points on the board.
Drafting a team
Tommy and Kacie officially launched FEWDM in March 2015. That summer, FEWDM was accepted into Scale UP! KC, a four-month educational program for high-growth entrepreneurs offered by the University of Missouri–Kansas City Small Business and Technology Development Center through a contract with U.S. Small Business Administration.
Just as the program kicked off, Tommy was cast in a reality television show on Spike called “Sweat Inc.” hosted by celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels. The show was a combination of “Shark Tank” and “Biggest Loser” and pitted product makers against one another to create the best product and help their client shed the most weight.
Tommy arrived on the set of “Sweat Inc.” with the Rock 360 and a prototype of a new product called the OmniBall. Similar to the Rock 360, the OmniBall has the added benefit of letting the user use each arm independent of one another.
Jillian and the other hosts fell in love with the new prototype and insisted that he compete with it in the show. He placed second, scored $10,000 and the race was on to develop and manufacture the OmniBall, all before the show aired in the fall.
It took them six months to do with the OmniBall what it had taken five years to do with the Rock 360. They sold 6,000 when the show aired.
Ready for game day
Much like when Tommy walked on at Mizzou, Tommy and Kacie returned from the set of “Sweat, Inc.” with an impressive record, more than ready for the next challenge. Their game plan for 2016 was truly ambitious, but they set fear aside and charged forward.
Tommy scored another goal at the beginning of 2016 as he was inducted into Pipeline Entrepreneurs, a fellowship of high-performing entrepreneurs who call the Midwest home.
Next, they set their eyes on integrating technology into their fitness products. Through connections they made from Adam Arrendondo, co-founder of the Kansas City Startup Village, and at 1 Million Cups, a weekly entrepreneurial showcase held at the Kauffman Foundation, FEWDM began building its first app.
To expedite the process even further, Tommy and Kacie applied for and received funding from the Missouri Technology Corporation. When they learned they were a finalist for a LaunchKC grant in August 2016, the app was still in production. As every entrepreneur knows, in order to run a business you must be able to juggle many priorities at once (note: we do not recommend juggling the OmniBall.) They set their eyes on TechWeek Kansas City where they would introduce the world to their fitness technology company for the first time.
Watching an athlete in their element is truly a thing of beauty; the same can be said of an entrepreneur. Watching Tommy and Kacie present on the LaunchKC stage left no room for doubt.
FEWDM was awarded the $50,000 grand prize, alongside nine other businesses ranging from an “iPad” for the blind to the world’s first open source voice assistant.
“Being a LaunchKC grant recipient was about more than just winning,” shares Tommy. “It was affirmation that our team has what it takes to succeed as a fitness technology business.”
2017 is shaping up to be just as successful for FEWDM—they’re upping their technology game by integrating motion tracking capabilities into the products and looking to expand into international markets.
“Football games are won and lost based on the ability of a team to work together. The same is true in the sport of entrepreneurship. Thankfully, I have Kansas City’s startup community on my team.”
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