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Boost of New Energy Fuels Nutrition Co.

As the co-founders of San Diego startup RuckPack Inc. will tell you, it’s not always smooth sailing after 15 minutes of fame.

The company appeared on the popular ABC reality show Shark Tank back in 2012, where celebrity investors were intrigued by the startup’s brand. But the company, which is led by local active-duty Marines, has struggled to keep up momentum as leaders shift in and out of deployment and are sidelined by personal obligations.

With a new CEO at the helm and a reformulated product, RuckPack was invited back to Shark Tank’s spinoff show Beyond the Tank in April to chat about the company’s path forward.

Gap in Nutrition

RuckPack (formerly Noots! Nutrition LLC) was founded in 2008 by Maj. Robert Dyer, a highly decorated Marine, after observing his troops on tour in Afghanistan. He saw a need for a nutritional supplement that would keep soldiers energized without the negative effects of highly-caffeinated products like 5-hour Energy.

“We all want energy, but our snipers insist on caffeine-free energy,” said Dyer in his Shark Tank pitch to investors. “Sitting behind the sniper scope for hours is exhausting, but caffeine jitters simply aren’t an option for us.”

So Dyer and his team of Marines developed a liquid nutritional supplement that comes in the form of an “energy shot,” a small travel-size bottle with a couple ounces of go juice. The RuckPack product is loaded with essential vitamins and minerals meant to boost energy and endurance through nutrition, without suffering the crash that comes with caffeine products.

“When you’re in the field, you are tired, exhausted, and you’re carrying a lot of weight, but you have got to stay on your game,” said RuckPack’s new CEO Jimmy O’Brien, a co-founder and an early investor in the company. “In Afghanistan, there’s a lot of IEDs (improvised explosive devices), and it takes focus to watch where you step, constantly being on the lookout for tiny nuances and changes in the environment.”

O’Brien said deployed troops would pack their rucksacks with pre-workout-type energy products to keep themselves going.

“The guys would get amped up on stuff loaded with caffeine,” O’Brien said. “But revving up your central nervous system like that can be a problem, especially when you only get a small window of opportunity to sleep. If you’re too amped on caffeine, you won’t be able to sleep. That can start a horrible cycle of exhaustion.”

RuckPack’s first product was meant to increase mental acuity so Marines could shoot, move, and communicate faster than the enemy, Dyer said. But the product has appeal to anyone looking for endurance, focus and energy, O’Brien said.

Break Even Point

Shark Tank investors Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjevic seemed to agree back in 2012. The investors were intrigued by the brand’s implied message – “if it’s good enough for Marines, it’s good enough me.”

O’Leary and Herjevic offered Dyer twice the amount of cash he was asking for in the 2012 show, volunteering $150,000 in exchange for 20 percent of the company.

Although Dyer agreed to the deal on the show, O’Brien said the investment didn’t come to fruition. Instead, the sharks offered RuckPack an $80,000 loan (which Dyer accepted), and RuckPack got to keep 100 percent of the company’s equity.

That loan is now paid in full, O’Brien said, and RuckPack has consistently earned about $350,000 to $450,000 in revenue for the past few years. However, O’Brien and Dyer noted that $1 million in sales is their breakeven, and they have a ways to go. They expect RuckPack will earn $1.2 million in sales by the end of next year.

Product Improvements

Under O’Brien’s new leadership, RuckPack is on its way. The company has re-engineered its lead product (the energy shot) to include brain-boosting ingredients and to be a little more palatable.

“No matter how good something is for you, if it doesn’t taste good people won’t take it,” O’Brien said.

When Dyer and O’Brien appeared on Beyond the Tank this April, Shark Tank investor O’Leary said the product was a vast improvement over the first generation.

The company launched 13 new products in three categories last month right after the Beyond the Tank airing, including energy shots, a sports drink, protein and post-workout products.

O’Brien also started a veteran distributor program with RuckPack in which military members are automatically given a job no-questions-asked to sell RuckPack’s products on a commission-only basis.

“The vet program is very innovative,” O’Leary said. “Ruckpack has no cash, so they can’t pay salesmen. This could be a fantastic new distribution strategy. It’s what this company needs.”

RuckPack also recently landed a distribution partner with McClane Co. Inc., one of the largest distributors to convenience stores throughout the country. O’Brien said he expects RuckPack will be in between 5,000 and 10,000 stores within the next year.

“I feel like the company’s been reset,” O’Leary said. “It’s a whole new story. I’m impressed with Jimmy, the new CEO, and there’s new products coming. They’ve finally really focused on growing sales, and the bigger their sales get, the more cash they’ll have in the bank. It’s got a lot of potential.”

RuckPack is seeking about $500,000 to $1 million in additional funds for production and marketing, O’Brien said.

(formerly Noots! Nutrition LLC)

CEO: Jimmy O’Brien Jr.

Revenue: $350,000 to $450,000

No. of local employees: 5

Investors: Funded by active-duty military co-founders

Headquarters: San Diego

Year founded: 2008

Company description: Nutritional supplement and sports beverage products


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