It’s now been 6 years since Rukket Sports was founded. Every Tuesday when we have our weekly company meetings between 2 offices on different sides of the world I can’t believe what it has become. We have incredibly smart and talented people, passionate about what they are doing, all working together on a shared mission we truly feel great about:
Helping people spend time playing the sport they love and being healthy.
As part of the anniversary of our founding, the team asked me to write out a little history of the company from my perspective: how the idea to sell high quality, innovative, and affordable sports products online came to be.
My name is Ryan Dickerson and I’m the lead designer and co-founder of Rukket Sports. The journey started much earlier than the actual founding of the company and looking back I see how different experiences and previous jobs now influence the products and designs of what Rukket builds today. A business is a very personal thing and so much is influenced by the people that make up the business. The only way I think I can explain the story of Rukket properly is to give some insight into where I come from and the path that led me here. In the second part of this post I will talk about what it was like in the actual early days.
As a kid I have always had a passion for building things. Wooden forts, a boat in the basement that never actually made it to the water, any kind of model rocket I could get my hands on. I loved books like “How things work”, “The boy Mechanic”, “Rocketry for amateurs”, “A cartoon history of the universe” and every “incredible cross section”. I played a lot of sports because made it a point to have me try everything available until I found one I was good at (turned out to be swimming because I have abnormally large feet).
When I was 16 my father introduced me to the CEO of Murial, a multinational pharmaceutical company because I had terrible grades and absolutely no direction. The meeting changed my life. I wanted to be an international businessperson just like this executive.
In high school I ended up with both a college prep and vocational prep diplomas. I can’t tell you how important learning drafting and CAD turned out to be now. I started college and dropped out after one semester with a 1.0 grade point average. Within a few months found myself working on Classic Sailing Yachts, racing in the Mediterranean and Caribbean and crossing the Atlantic the old-fashioned way. On the boats I learned rigging, sewing, attention to detail, and the ability to make things work no matter what. These skills have had a huge influence in how I design and think about products. I left the industry after 2 years and enrolled in business school at the University of Georgia (If you were ever wondering why our company colors are red and black or why Coach Haack helps us design our golf nets there’s your answer).
Graduating in 2007 wasn’t a particularly good year for most new graduates. After 6 months of desperation I managed to land a gig in New York City. Even though I had no electrical engineering experience my job was to troubleshoot and fix the electrical systems that keep Manhattan running. While living in the city I did my best to try to become a golf player as a way to advance my non-existent business career. Because I couldn’t afford to go to the driving range more than once a week and playing at a course was out of the question I practiced by hitting foam golf balls into my apartment complexes tiny courtyard wall with clubs I found in a dumpster. I would hit of a piece off Astroturf that I found on a rooftop. When I would hit the ball perfectly it would bounce right too my feet. That experience was incorporated directly into Rukket’s first product a couple of years later.
[Rukket's original logo]
After 2 years needed to break my comfort zone. I moved to China to work as a laboratory technician studying and developing vaccines for eels (I had worked in a laboratory throughout college and happened to be one of only a few people that knew how to raise and collect a specific single cell parasite). I had a salary of 500 dollars a month and I spent every moment of free time trying to start a business.
One did end up moving forward, a golf net. I happened to live near a factory producing a large portion of the golf nets sold in America’s big box retailers, and after becoming acquainted with the boss and playing with the products I knew I could do better. I spent months learning how the manufacturing process worked, then designing and building prototype after prototype (something we still do today but on a much larger and faster scale). At one point I was sleeping inside a net (to keep the mosquito’s away) on the factory floor for a week while setting up the production line. I invested my entire life’s savings up front, of 30,000 dollars for the first production run of 500 units plus the shipping of the container.
I went back to the United States to set up the company and waited for my container to arrive. 6 months late it finally did, I unloaded all 500 boxes by hand and so excited to actually begin. When I opened the box, I found a problem. Not only did the golf ball fly through the nets like it was made of paper but half didn’t stand up or had any number of defects. I literally was out of business within 2 days. I had to throw the entire contents of the container I had just unloaded into a new container: a dumpster. Maybe it’s some kind of failure speed record, I know my parents weren’t impressed if it was.
[Ryan eating lunch in New York during a photoshoot.]
And this is where Rukket Sports officially came into existence. I was convinced I had something that people wanted if I could just manufacture it correctly. I called my friend and Rukket Co-founder Si Hyland and asked if he would like to be my partner in what so far had been a spectacular disaster. He used his personal savings, took a massive risk and we were off to the races.
This time though we would not repeat the past mistakes (just make new ones), we found the right manufacturers and I didn’t leave the production line for one second. Our first year in business the Ruck Net (the name of the pop-up golf net) was named one of Golf Digest’s best in Show at the PGA golf exhibition. Validation of all the hard work yet creating a new, unforeseen problem. We could barely keep the product in stock. I spent 2 years sleeping on a wooden bed with no mattress while building our supply chain and designing new products. After many sleepless nights, unscrupulous manufacturing partners, and countless issues, infomercials, a million marketing successes and failure (all done with basically no money) and adding new members to help with operations in the US things began to pay off.
[Rukket's first photoshoot.]
One day while working on a new design I met my wife, a beautiful Taiwanese girl whose family owns and operates multiple factories. With her manufacturing know how, support and years of experience we have built a world class engineering team, a supply chain second to none, and are constantly launching newer, better, and more innovative products. Rukket's sales have increased nearly 100 percent every year since our founding. Last year we launched 10 products and filed 3 patents. This year we will launch over 20 unique products and file 6 patents.
[A Rukket original, RukkNet, in front of the New York Stock Exchange.]
It’s fun for me to look back, but as time goes on my history becomes less important and Rukket has taken a life of its own. It has become a team with talented people much smarter than myself. While I come up with most of our product concepts I am supported and in many cases managed by an office of true professionals that focuses my ideas and brings them to life.
In the US, our office has grown from a single room in the back of 300-year-old school house to something beyond our wildest dreams. This team helps more and more people discover our products and communicate what makes them better. They support every customer, making sure no one that purchases one of our products is ever disappointed.
[Ryan (seated left) at his wedding]
We can’t wait for you to see what we have coming down the pipeline. If you spent the time to read through this, bravo; I would like to share my sincerest appreciation. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you and I truly feel honored to have the connection I feel is created when something we built specifically for you, ends up being used by you were ever that may be.