Copy of About Us - The Exosphere Story
Connor Pogue, CEO
Connor Pogue is a graduate of Texas A&M University and a fervent believer in giving back to his community. Connor mentors students and constantly engages with people to help them reach their fitness and personal goals. In his free time, he enjoys running, cycling, scuba diving, fishing, and spending time with family. "The Power Trainer is our way to bring fitness to people. This isn't a gym you put in your home. This is a gym made for your home."
Dr. Brian Pogue
Dr. Pogue is a husband, father of two boys, and has a doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Texas Medical Branch. Dr. Pogue has worked with people of all fitness levels from elite athletics to skilled nursing facilities. He enjoys all types of fitness, educating people about healthy habits, fishing, spending time with family, and helping people find their new limit. "Exosphere Fitness is about helping people. We bring the benefits of the gym into people's homes, so they can live their life on their schedule. We help people find their new limit."
The Exosphere Story
In May 2016, Connor Pogue graduated from Texas A&M University and began an internship to shadow physicians at a hospital just outside of Fort Worth, Texas. He began living with his brother, Brian, sister-in-law, Amanda, and their 6 month old son, David. After the 3 month internship ended, Connor knew that something was wrong.
“I was the valedictorian of my high school. I was a stellar marine researcher who was invited around the country to present my findings. I was pictured on billboards for the junior college I attended. I won numerous awards for my presentations. And, I was a distinguished research scholar at Texas A&M. I had done over 2000 hours of research and 750 hours of shadowing, while maintaining a stellar GPA and wrote an original thesis as an undergraduate. I had done everything to prepare myself for my lifetime dream career of being a doctor. However, after the internship, I knew that it just wasn’t for me. Deep down, I knew that I needed something different. I needed something that was true to myself.” -Connor
“Watching my brother struggle with this life dilemma was difficult. He was always successful, and he is one of those rare people who really can do anything. As a child, when people said, ‘you can do anything,' he believed it. Amanda and I were doing everything we could to support him and his search for professional fulfillment, but we knew that he would figure it out. Little did we know, this would be a decision that would change our lives forever as well.” -Brian
Upon completing the internship, Connor stayed to take care of his nephew, David, while continuing to apply for jobs. However, finding a job to pay bills was difficult to come by, and Connor was left searching for a few months. During this time, it would have been easy to get down and give up, but that is not what the Pogue brothers do! Brian and Connor were watching David one evening when they decided that they would change their path, together. They were going to become inventors and create something new. A random brainstorming session ensued. This session was a bit too much for Amanda. While the Pogue brothers are highly intelligent, the randomness of their creativity can be a lot to take in. Amanda shrugged off this brainstorming session as nothing more than two brothers having fun, but deep down, she was trembling because she knew all too well that they are two of the most persistent people on the planet. This trembling became an out loud exclamation of resistance when the random brainstorming began to focus on an idea based around a protein powder made of tarantulas. The brothers persisted that body builders would buy this powder because spiders have an extremely high makeup of protein, and bodybuilders are always looking for ways to get improvements through diet. However, this got a little too serious for Amanda when the brothers had found a tarantula farmer in South America who could be their spider supplier. This was the point when Amanda threatened to divorce Brian if the idea went any further. While this idea should have been put to rest at this point, it was not until 30 minutes later that the brothers agreed that the idea was too irrational, not because of the threat of divorce, but rather that it was not cost effective to turn spiders into protein powder. Thus, they went to bed still searching for an idea.
The next evening was a day that would change their lives. During the evening, an infomercial for a fitness device came on the television. In unison, the brothers looked at each other and said, “We can make something better than that!” Thus, a structured brainstorming session around creating a fitness device followed. Within a couple hours or thinking, researching, and sketching, the original design for The Exosphere Gym had been created.
By the next evening, a determination had set into the brothers. They were going to make this happen. Within a couple of minutes of thinking, the pair realized that they were in over their heads. The original idea was to get a patent and sell it. Then, they realized, A) patents are expensive, B) you cannot just sell an exercise device patent and make big money, and C) you need a tleast a little money and expertise to take this from idea to a reality. The night ended with the brothers looking at each other and saying, “We’re going to figure this out.”
Over the next few weeks, much thinking, researching, and convincing themselves that this was a good idea occurred. The reality that money was going to be needed became painstakingly clear. Plus, they also realized that they would have to prove through prototyping that this was even a viable concept. However, they once again realized that they were vastly unskilled in this endeavor. Together, at this point, the brothers had three degrees and years of experience in science, physiology, and exercise. However, they had absolutely no experience with engineering, business, or law. Nonetheless, this was not going to stop them. They were going to make this happen.
First and foremost, their first thought was to protect their idea. Thus, they began researching how to get a patent. They quickly realized that patents can be unbelievably expensive, and at this point, they had no idea if this concept could even be made. In drawings it looked great, but if it could even be made was a complete mystery. With just a few hundred dollars, they knew that getting a full patent was out of the question. However, upon a little researching, they discovered that some lawyers would do reduced pricing if a client could write a rough draft of the patent. They also discovered that a provisional patent could be filed, which was cheaper and could buy them a year of time before having to put out big money on a non-provisional patent. They believed that a year would get them enough time to discover if this was a viable product or not. If it was a viable product, then putting out more money would not be as risky of an investment. With Brian being a full-time physical therapist at this point and Connor being unemployed and living in the spare bedroom as basically a live-in nanny, the burden of writing the rough draft for the provisional fell on Connor’s shoulders.
“When I realized that I would be writing the rough draft for a provisional patent, I knew that I first needed to learn about the patent process. I spent a few weeks studying the ins and outs of patent law. I learned everything I could from online legal documents, reviewing filed patents, and even testimonials of entrepreneurs who had written their own patents. To be completely honest, at this point, I didn’t even fully understand what the word ‘entrepreneur’ meant. Nonetheless, I was ready to embrace this journey and just go for it. Everything was new, but I was determined to absorb every bit of information. I also did not exactly have a backup plan at this time because I had no idea what I was qualified to do, other than going to graduate or professional school. I began to live by the Mark Twain quote, 'necessity is the mother of taking chances.'
Being able to live with Brian and Amanda gave me the opportunity to take this risk. I can’t imagine where I would be in my life if I would not have been able to take the leap and go after this. At this stage, I still had no idea what this idea was going to become, but I knew two things. First, I was going to go down swinging. Second, no matter what happened in the end, people were going to say, ‘that was to fun watch.’” - Connor
“My brother has always been good at pivoting his life and learning new things. His ability to adapt has always amazed me. His creativity and ability to overcome obstacles is something that few people have. When we started this, we agreed that I would help cover the bills and let him live with us, while we bootstrapped this idea. We didn’t know what would become of this idea, but I knew that if anyone could pull it off, we could.” -Brian
After a few weeks of studying patent law and writing a rough draft for the provisional, the brothers found an attorney willing to take them on and do the provisional patent for a flat fee. For $1,000, the brothers had finally put money where their mouth was, and this is when everyone in their family got really nervous. Before this point, it was all talk. Now, this was getting real.
The next step was to build a prototype. However, with no money, this one was going to be a challenge. Skilled labor is difficult to find, and costly once you do find someone who can build a device like this. The Pogue brothers then turned to the person they knew who liked to build things, their uncle. After a little convincing, he agreed to build a prototype to the best of his ability. He had built cars and worked on equipment in manufacturing plants, so he did have expertise with building things. However, he had never built a piece of exercise equipment, and he definitely had not built something like this. The brothers told him to buy what parts he needed, and they would reimburse him. Within a month or so, he had built the first prototype of The Power Trainer. It was heavy. It was ugly. It was made of wood and steel, but it worked. For the first time, the brothers looked at each other, said, and truly believed, "This is going to work." By this point, the creation of the prototype had become a family affair. Their grandmother had sewn together the first chest harness for testing. Cousins had gotten on the prototype and tested it, and everyone thought that they had created a cute "thing." However, no one saw the prototype for what it was like Brian and Connor. They believed that this was something big, even though the first time Connor got on the device, he got a splinter in his rump. The “portable” home gym weighed almost 90 pounds and the tracks hardly rolled. It even had a piece of an old car on it. Shop towels were used as a cover, and the center bent so much that the sliding carriage underneath would not roll when someone sat on the device. As was mentioned before, this thing was ugly. But, the Pogue brothers believed.
After seeing the first prototype, the brothers knew that they needed someone with more expertise to clean up the idea and make this a reality. At this point, much of the family was leaning on the idea that packing up and calling it a lost cause was the better choice. At one point, the brothers’ mother even said, "I love you two. You’re my boys, but you’re crazy.” However, the brothers had a vision and were going to find a way to make it happen. After some research, they discovered that many universities have projects that are conducted by engineering students for companies. This seemed like a perfect fit, especially since the pair had both attended one of the top engineering universities in the world, Texas A&M University. However, after a brief call, this option was quickly no longer an option. The university told the brothers that they would need thousands of dollars to sponsor a project, and even if they sponsored a project, no guarantee would be made of building a prototype. To say that this infuriated the brothers and demoralized them would be an understatement. That’s when Connor said, “Fine. If they won’t build it, then I’ll find someone else who will!” This is when Connor began one of the most insane email campaigns ever seen.
“I began sending random emails to rival universities. I put together emails and sent them to some of the most random groups of people you could ever put together. I sometimes sent emails with people from 5-6 different departments, in hope that someone would at least read the message to figure out why this random guy was emailing them. Soon after this began, I received an email from a professor at Baylor University. What made this interesting is that it was someone who did not receive the original email. Nonetheless, they took the inquiry seriously and agreed to meet in-person. A few days later, I showed up in a suit still with tags since its purchase two years prior. The irony is that suit had been purchased for the medical school interviews in which I never attended. Thus, I boldly walked into the engineering building in Waco ready to negotiate, and pray, that an agreement could be reached. After a brief conversation, a deal was struck that guaranteed a prototype at only a fraction of previous quotes. It turns out that the university might have appreciated a couple of Aggies coming there to get some engineering help of all things. I'm not sure how much of my negotiating skills really came into play, but nonetheless, it felt like a major victory.” -Connor
“While it was difficult to watch Connor struggle with not having a job or showing the excitement he once had for medicine, we have to be thankful that he went through that. If he wouldn’t have gone through any of that, then Exosphere never would have happened. So many things had to have happened exactly as they did, or we would have never gotten to where we are today. I believe that things happen for a reason, and God put us exactly where we were supposed to be when we were supposed to be there. I’m not going to pretend to understand his plans, but this was definitely a crazy journey. The engineering process for our device was such a difficult process, but in the end, it all worked out. Sometimes the journey is just crazy. -Brian
While the engineering dilemma could not be ignored, another large question was looming over the Pogue brothers’ heads, “What do we do if we do get a working prototype?” The brothers might have been skilled at many things, creating and running a business was not one of them. They needed to learn business and learn business quickly. While still unemployed, but now living with his parents, finding the answer to difficult questions became a source of pride for Connor. Thus, he began looking for solutions on how to learn business, and the clear answer was to go to business school. However, there are some major issues with going to a graduate business school. Firstly, most require years of experience and a set of prerequisite classes that are not a part of the pre-med coursework. Business school is also expensive and can even be expensive just to apply with some applications costing hundreds of dollars. This is when Connor discovered the MS Business program at Texas A&M University. It was a business program that didn’t require years of experience, was designed for non-business undergraduates, and took only 11 months to complete. It was the obvious and only answer, so Connor put on his suit, and went to College Station to meet with the program coordinator.
“I knew that this was my only chance. I had no idea how difficult getting into the program would be. I knew that I needed to make a good impression, so I hopped in my car and went to talk in person. I think that this was by far the best choice I could have made. From the time I started looking for business school options, met with the coordinator, interviewed with the director, took my prerequisite GRE test, and received my offer letter was only 1 month. It was a whirlwind process, but I am so grateful that I took the leap of faith and committed myself to learning business.” -Connor
Just days after Connor accepted his offer to business school, he began a job as a research assistant in a biology laboratory. Baylor students were beginning to start their work. Brian was working full-time as a physical therapist in a skilled nursing facility. And, the wait began. Waiting. This word became the greatest obstacle for Exosphere. More than anything else, the Pogue brothers would utterly and unmistakably learn the meaning of the word “patience.” Over the next 5 months, other than the occasional follow-up meeting with Baylor students to verify design tweaks and completing an application for the US Patent Office small business patent clinic, there was nothing to do. This was a waiting game.
Within 6 months of first contacting Baylor, the moment of truth had arrived. By the end of the Spring 2017 semester, a dedicated group of students had made computer representations and a physical, working prototype. This prototype was just over 30 pounds, made of aluminum, and functioned exceptionally well. It worked so well that the group was able to do some basic electromyography using the Pogue brothers and a willing student participant, to test muscle activation when using the device. For the first time, anyone could touch, see, and use 'The Power Trainer' as it was known at that point. It was far from perfect, but by this point, people were starting to see the viability of this idea. This was moving from idea to reality, and many of the previous objections had been refuted. Customer discovery interviews were starting to validate the idea. Some people were even asking if they could purchase what they were seeing in pictures. The brothers knew that this second prototype was far from what it could be when finished, but this was exciting. People wanted this. Real people wanted to use real money to buy something that was once a crazy idea drawn up during a life crisis. This was becoming a reality.
After seeing the prototype, doing a little testing by using the device for some full length workouts, and hearing some feedback from a few potential customers, the brothers were ready to take this to the next level. Little did they know, they were still just starting the journey. Just a few weeks after the prototype completion, Connor began business school.
“Starting business school was an amazing change of pace. Not only was I back in school after a year long hiatus, but I was learning material that had never even remotely been on my radar previously. I was learning skills like public speaking, accounting, and business strategy. However, this was only part of my education. I was determined to make my 11 months of business school the most learning-filled year of my life. Right before starting business school, Brian and I discovered a program called Startup Aggieland. This was a university-based business accelerator. Little did I know when first walking in the door, this place would not only become the launch pad for our business, but it would also become a place where I would discover myself.” -Connor
“I got really nervous when Connor started business school. I had no idea if juggling a startup, his school, and my job was going to work. He was in an intense program that recommended that students didn’t have outside jobs, let alone a startup. I was nervous. We wanted this to happen, but we knew this next year would push us to our limit.” -Brian
A year had passed since the original idea, but the brothers were starting to get a better grasp of what it would take to create a business. With Connor fully engulfed by a fast-paced business program and the brothers living roughly 200 miles apart, communication became phone-based. Almost daily phone calls to talk “game plans” became the norm. Brian would occasionally make it in person for more important meetings in College Station, but the majority of communication was done on the phone or computer. Brian often completed tasks that could be done electronically, while Connor focused on the in-person networking.
“After a couple of days at Texas A&M and Startup Aggieland, I came to a very clear realization. There was no better place to start a business than where I was standing. At no other point would I be within walking distance of every resource that I would ever need to start a business. Everything from engineering, design resources, accounting help, to even possible investors could be found within walking distance of the business school on campus. If I needed to walk across campus 10,000 times to make this idea a reality, then I was going to walk across campus 10,001 times just for good measure. For years as an undergraduate, I walked across campus and never appreciated everything that is Texas A&M. Nonetheless, for the first time ever, I was opening my eyes to the world’s possibilities. This was exciting. I had been a dedicated student for years, but I had never been this excited about learning. By this point, I had a real grasp on what is an entrepreneur. Little did I know, I had been one all along, but now, I was embracing it.” - Connor
“Once getting involved with Startup Aggieland, I knew that we were starting to move in the right direction. Before this point, we were just relying on our own abilities. We were now getting involved with the right circles of people. Not only were connections becoming key, but we were learning. We also now had real people who had been a part of starting real businesses who believed in us. People often talk about the tangible parts of creating a startup, but there is also a major mental and emotional side of entrepreneurship. Having a supportive family and a supportive network of mentors has been a huge part of our success from the very beginning. What most people also didn’t realize was that everytime Connor learned a lesson about entrepreneurship, he would teach me the lesson during our next phone call. Connor has had a dream of becoming a professor for a long time, so getting lectures from future ‘Professor Pogue' helped me learn the lessons and stay engaged. Entrepreneurship is hard, but it makes it easier when you are working with your brother. Yes, there are complications when working with family, but there is no way in the world that I would have even dreamed of doing something like this with anyone else.” -Brian
After a couple of months of business school, Connor was starting to fully embrace the business mindset. The brothers were learning about business and trying to make one at the same time. During this time, they were accepted by a US Patent Office program, which would cover all attorney fees associated with completing the non-provisional patent. Thus, this was a huge win. However, one major problem was still looming over their heads. They needed to finalize the design and get it ready to manufacture. This led the pair back to Texas A&M engineering. This time was a completely different conversation. Within a short time, a senior design team was beginning to work on cleaning up the design. This was a major win, and once again, proved the brothers’ skill in bootstrapping. By this point, the device had undergone 3 rounds of design, 2 prototypes were constructed, a provisional patent was filed, a non-provisional patent was being prepared, and the pair were out less than $3,000--a truly monumental feat for two people with no engineering skills, business knowledge, or legal capabilities.
“I have always been the creative one, and Brian has always been the more analytical. We balance each other out well. We make a great team because I push him to get out of his comfort zone, and he reigns in my creativity when I lose focus. This journey has been something that tested us in all aspects of who we were, are, and will be. People talk about growth, but I cannot even put into words how much we grew from this experience. Bootstrapping a startup into existence when so many things are going against you is an incredible experience. Few people get to say that they created something and changed the world, even if only in a small way, just by hard work and a little bit of luck. I still have no idea how we managed to pull off everything that we did without a huge investment. It was part shear ingenuity and part the fact that we had no idea that it was supposed to be difficult. We had no idea that what we were trying to pull off was crazy, so we just did it.” -Connor
“I was with Connor from the beginning, but to be honest, I was worried. I was the one putting out real money. He was putting out time and effort, but I had to put up the money, and then explain to my wife that this was a good idea. That is the part of entrepreneurship that people don’t often talk about. It wasn’t just me and it wasn’t just Connor and me. My wife and sons were as much invested in this as anyone. I was putting in our family money. We were not in danger of losing our home or anything, but there is still a real urgency that overwhelms you when you have people depending on you. Not only that, even with real money invested and a working final product, there was still no guarantee that we would ever even sell a single device. Connor and I saw it, but paying customers needed to see it and be willing to pay for it.” -Brian
Once the Texas A&M engineering students began their work in September 2017, a period of intense learning ensued. Connor was regularly attending workshops, business classes, and networking with business professionals. While people saw his effort to learn, very few people understood the extraordinary lengths he was taking to learn about business. Multiple times per week, he was meeting with professors and business leaders just to learn. And, once he learned something, he would go over it with Brian, and they would apply it to the startup. The most intense part of this process was customer discovery and market research. While the brothers “knew” what customers wanted, unfiltered feedback from potential consumers is a must. Even though the pair probably should have started with this, or at least done this a year prior, they were going to do this now.
“Customer discovery was an interesting endeavor. I have never talked to so many people in my life. We had a good idea that there were a lot of potential places where the device could be utilized, but that also meant we would need to interview large numbers of people in all of these customer segments. So, we got to work. During the process from creating the idea to our first sale, I literally talked to over 1,000 people. That is not an exaggeration. Together, Brian and I conducted hundreds of customer discovery interviews. This process was tedious, time consuming, and put our two introverted selves in a lot of uncomfortable positions. However, I was learning to embrace my voice and was starting to really enjoy public speaking. Brian on the other hand is still adjusting to working with people so much. He is a fantastic physical therapist and is great with developing relationships within small groups. There was a reason he was voted 'Best Personality' when he was in high school. However, as he has gotten older, I think he has become a bit of a hermit. I guess kids, family, and stress can do that to you. But, getting out and doing customer discovery interviews, networking, and working on this startup has forced him out of his comfort zone. I love my brother, and this process has been intriguing to watch because our personality quirks have definitely shown. I’m just glad he has been here the whole way to offset me and my randomness.” -Connor
“Customer discovery, pitching, and talking to so many people can be a bit much for me at times. I can do it, but I prefer having in depth conversations with people over having lots of conversations with lots of people. Connor can turn it on and get out of his shell. Me on the other hand, it takes me time to warm up. I leave the pitching and talking to him. Sometimes I just need him to wear himself out talking with others, so I don’t have to listen to him talk for hours. He can definitely get chatty at times. However, this process has forced me out of my comfort zone because no matter how much work someone else puts into customer discovery, the whole team has to put in the effort. With just a two man team, that meant that I had to get out and talk to people. I don’t know if I will ever truly enjoy pitching and interviewing people, but I learned a lot from the experiences. I was determined to make this happen, and when I’m determined, I will do anything to succeed.” -Brian
The customer discovery process was something that evolved over months. As one customer provided interesting insight, it would lead to a conversation in a different direction. While also doing customer discovery interviews, the brothers utilized many sources to do market research and learn about the competitors in the industry. Hours spent on computers became a weekly occurrence. Neither brother had a clue of what they were getting into when beginning the process, and it is likely safe to say that they would have given it a second thought if they knew at the beginning how much time and effort would be required just to make the first sale.
By December 2017, the brothers were hit with yet another setback. Bumps and bruises accumulated along the way became a regular occurence. Setbacks were the norm. This one was tough though. There had been a miscommunication between the brothers and the engineering group at Texas A&M. They were under the impression that the student engineers would have their design work completed by December and begin exploring ways to improve the design during the Spring 2018 semester. However, the students would not be completing the design work until May 2018. Thus, what the Pogue brothers believed to be a completed design, still had 5 more months until completion. They were back to the waiting game. Patience was constantly being tested.
“The engineering delays were constantly testing us. There is such a helpless feeling for an entrepreneur when progress is in someone else’s hands. If it was in my hands, I could pull all nighters, work weekends, or do whatever I needed to. However, we were placing our progress in the hands of a group of undergraduate students who had other classes, job searches, and lives outside of our project. To say that this was nerve racking would be an understatement. However, I have to still be extremely grateful for all of the students who put their time and effort into making our dream come true.” -Connor
“I have a lot of skills, but patience is not at the top of the list. I like to do things. I like to get projects completed, so waiting around for months and months caused a lot of anxiety for me. We knew what this could be. We could see it, but we just didn’t have the financial resources to make it happen. While we could have gotten this done much, much quicker with a little bit more money, we still need to be grateful. Firstly, we would have given up lots of equity in order to get this moving quicker. Secondly, by having to wait for so long, it made us hungry. We are so driven to prove everyone wrong and shake up a multi-billion dollar industry. We aren’t coming just to make a few bucks, we are coming to shake the foundation of what people call home fitness, and that is exciting.” -Brian
Spring 2018 was a time of waiting. The senior design team was hard at work, and the Pogue brothers began to plan what the launch of Exosphere would look like. Talking to mentors and understanding the complexity of every process of running a company became daily tasks that were more focused. Previously, everything around the startup was a jumbled mix of ideas and things to do. This period of 5 months of waiting for engineering work became a time of solidifying ideas. The daily phone conversations started to be focused on individual aspects of the startup and putting pen to paper. A shared Google drive folder became the birthplace of documents ranging from marketing materials to growth strategies. During this time, the pair realized how much thought had gone into every single detail, but how few things were actually written down. Exosphere had been created in their minds, and they were relying heavily on their ability to think and conceptualize.
“During the time of the senior design project with Texas A&M, Brian and I started to form exactly what our vision was for Exosphere. We had talked about it, sketched it on a whiteboard, and talked some more. However, this was the first time that we started to put all of the pieces together. We knew that at some point, we would have to pitch the idea to people. Therefore, it needed to be organized, focused, and worthy of someone handing us real money. While I was still putting in heavy hours for business school at this time, getting Exosphere solidified was my main goal. I feel a little crazy for saying that, but business school was just a part of me. Exosphere became my canvas for showing off what I could do.” -Connor
“Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. During all of this waiting, it became easy to just put things off. We spent so long in preparation mode that it was discouraging. In Spring 2018, we set our minds to making this happen on paper. When our design was ready, we wanted to be ready to go. There is no way that I wanted to be unprepared once we got the product in hand.” -Brian
A major breakthrough opportunity presented itself in Spring 2018 in the form of Aggie Pitch. This was a student pitch competition with $50,000 in prize money on the line. After preparing a short pitch and making a video, the brothers sent in their application. While many student pitch competitions barred the brothers from competing since Connor was a grad student and Brian was not a student, this was a unique opportunity which allowed Connor to still compete. Soon, Connor received notice that he had moved on in the competition and was one of 10 finalists. With half of the final teams receiving money, this was an amazing opportunity. The brothers needed approximately $10,000 to get over the final design issue and move on. This was an opportunity to change their lives and make Exosphere happen. A lot of pressure was mounting, but they knew that this was game time.
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“As soon as I found out that I made the finals for Aggie Pitch, I began preparing for the competition. I had 5 minutes to pitch and the same for Q&A. I met the other teams, and they were qualified and worthy to be there. However, I had a bit of a different tone. I was there to win. I had been practicing public speaking and pitching for months, so I was ready for the competition. I guarantee that I practiced twice as much as anyone else in the competition.
By the day of the competition, I was so prepared that I wasn’t even that nervous. I was just ready. What was even better, I got to start the competition. I went in and did my thing. I did a great speech. I was compelling. I had great movement on stage. I walked away knowing that I did the best speech that I could have done. During the break halfway through the competition, dozens of people came up to me to congratulate me on my pitch. I even had a mentor come up to me, knod, and say, ‘I call that making an impression. Good job.’
After the last 5 pitches completed, a short break with hors d'oeuvres followed. After seeing my 9 competitors, I felt confident. There were a couple that had great ideas and did a fine job pitching. However, I felt extremely confident that top 5 was a lock. I thought that I had done the best speech, but I didn't think I would win because there were a couple great ideas with massive markets and the judges were unfamiliar with my industry. I still felt good though. As we waited for the judges to finish, I hardly even touched the hors d’oeuvres because I was so anxious.Thus, when the presentation finally began, my heart was beating rapidly. It was honestly beating faster during the awards presentation than during the competition. It started with a director of the program talking and thanking everyone. I honestly don’t remember the details after this because all I cared about at that time was hearing the competition results. The first team announced was 5th place. It wasn’t me. I was actually excited to not hear my name because that meant that I was moving up the ladder and getting closer to the money we needed to make our dream happen. Then 4th place was read...not me. Then, 3rd place...still not me. Then, 2nd place...not me. At this point, people sitting at the table around me and at the table next to me, all turned towards me. Several people whispered, 'You won!' These were people who I had never even met. They had seen the pitches and saw the passion. They knew what this would mean for Exosphere and our dream. I had put in the time, the tears, and every bit of myself. Then, 1st place was read...it was still not me.
I didn’t even know what to say. A stranger who’s name I didn’t even know, immediately put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘I’m sorry.’ I was sitting in such stunned silence. People sitting around me just looked at me. They didn’t know what to say either. It is during times like this when a man learns a lot about himself. My inner child definitely wanted to flip the table over, yell, ‘F#$% you!’ and storm off. But, I kept my composure. I maintained my head because I still could walk away with something. There were important people in the room who had judged this competition, and they important feedback about my startup, and I wanted answers. After waiting a couple of minutes for my blood pressure to go down, I walked toward the judges who were mingling with the ‘victors.’ I chatted with one for a few seconds before all of the judges were asked to get together for a group photo with the competition winner. During this, one of the other top 5 finishers asked me to take his photo. I am a helpful guy, but this was just a wow moment. I took the camera, said, ‘congratulations,’ and shook his hand. After all, it was not his fault. However, there are few things that will make your heart swell in anger and envy like having your face rubbed in your defeat. A mentor of mine saw this and could do nothing except smile and nod at me. She knew very well how much effort I had put into this. She knew very well the months, we had put into this dream.
After taking the picture, I got a chance to talk for a couple of minutes with one of the judges. The feedback was interesting, but frustrating at the same time. Many of the concerns that he had for our startup were things that we understood and had solutions for mitigating the risks. During a 5 minute speech, it is impossible to explain every idea and solution. We had been working on this idea for almost 2 years by this point; it is impossible to cram 2 years of thinking into 5 minutes. He went over a summary of the judges notes, but then he said something that rocked me to the core. He said that while it wasn’t in the notes, he doubted if our team had the drive to make this happen because Brian was not at the competition. Unfortunately for us, the judge did not know that Brian had been at the meet and greet the night before and was only not at the competition because he had patients he had to tend to that day. This judge was also very unaware that we had a plan in place for Brian to transition to part-time and then work on Exosphere full-time. The hardest part about this is the gut-wrenching thought that if I had said one sentence explaining why Brian was not there that day, it might have given us that one extra vote that would have led to money. Instead, I walked away in 6th place, aka ‘the best loser.’
After wrapping up a few minutes later, I walked back to my car in sheer frustration. In the parking lot, I called Brian. Fighting back tears, I explained what happened. My language might have gotten more colorful as the story went on, but it didn’t matter at this point. This opportunity had passed, and we were once again, back to waiting and needing a little bit more money to make this dream happen.” -Connor
“When faced with adversity, sometimes the best thing to do is just remember how much larger life is compared to you. There are few things that remind me of this like a sunset.” -Connor, Sunset on Lake Palestine, Texas
“I sat in anticipation at work, waiting for Connor to call me with the results. I just knew that he was going to crush it. I had heard him practice. I had met the competition. I didn’t know if he would win, but I knew that he was walking away with the money we needed. I just knew it.
When I got the call after the competition, I could immediately tell in his voice that something was wrong. I don’t remember a whole lot of that conversation. I do remember a bit of shouting and that horrible feeling of knowing that we were so close, but yet so far. I do vividly remember the anger in me when I found out that one of the teams who placed top 5 was a team that we talked to the previous night at the competition reception. The team members asked Connor and I if we were hiring because they wanted to join our team. They even admitted that their product wouldn’t even be that effective if they could make it. Knowing how little passion they had for their product compared to us is still to this day is something that irritates me.
I also remember thinking that we would have gotten the money if I would have just been able to make it. What makes that even more infuriating is the reason that I had planned on not being there was due to me not being able to compete as a non-student. Not until the week of the event did we discover that I could have been a part of the Q&A portion, but by that time, I had an obligation to show up to work at my scheduled time for my patients. Being a PT requires taking on a responsibility that you don’t have in other professions. Nonetheless, this was still a horrible feeling. I got off the phone knowing that our shot to get money was gone.
We were in a weird position because people wanted to see the next version of the device before investing, but we needed investment to get the next version of the device. We were back to waiting, needing capital, and bootstrapping every small step of the way. We were looking for free trials and coupons to get everything from business cards to software. We wanted to take that next step so much, but it felt like the world was against us the whole way.” -Brian
Soon after the pitch competition, the moment of truth came from the senior design team. The project had run its course, and the students were preparing their final presentation. However, the brothers quickly realized something was not quite right.
The students had done a phenomenal job at reaching or exceeding every one of the set goals. The device was lighter, more cost effective, and maintained its overall strength as previous designs. However, this was still not ready to hand over to a manufacturer to build. This design was not finished. It still needed to be polished and prepared for final manufacturing.
Testing and recommendations for channel design modification by TAMU students.
“Every student at Baylor and Texas A&M did a great job. For students doing a project as part of their degree requirements, these teams exceeded our expectations. Nonetheless, as good as the second team did, we still had work to do. This meant that we still needed money and expertise, and we still were not ready to launch. By now, the realization that money was going to be needed was starting to set in. This product required expertise and nobody was just going to do it for free for us. As I walked away from the students’ final presentation, I walked away with an overwhelming sense of failure. When you start hitting bumps and coming up just short of where you need to be so many times, you start to wonder if it is really meant to be. You start to wonder if you could have done something differently or if this is how hard everyone’s journey is in entrepreneurship. Doubts are scary, especially for me at this point. I had done a complete 180° turn by going away from medicine and towards business and entrepreneurship. I so badly wanted to prove that this all happened for a reason, but still grinding away and spinning our wheels due to lack of capital was frustrating. Imagine a perpetual existence of almost good enough. That was how Exosphere was starting to feel at this point.” -Connor
“When I heard that we still needed the last bit of engineering help to be manufacture-ready, one word came to mind, ‘money.’ I knew that getting any money from outside help was going to cost us major equity, if we could find it. I knew what had to be done. I needed to come up with the money. I believed in the product, but this wasn’t just about me. At this time, I had a wife, a two year old, and a baby on the way. With house, car, and school payments, footing the bill for engineering work on a startup is no small decision. Up to this point, I had spent about $3,000. We had done extraordinarily well to get to this point, but it was time to put my family’s money where my mouth was.
The investment conversation with Amanda was a tough one. I know that she supports me and our dreams, but just discussing this kind of thing is difficult. Connor and I grew up with a roof always over our heads, food on our plates, and two parents who loved us. Our parents sacrificed a lot for us. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for everything that they did for us. However, there is no way that either of them would have ever considered taking a risk like this, and to be honest, neither would I. So, bringing my wife into a decision that I normally wouldn’t make was interesting. She married me thinking that I was pretty conservative. Now, I was talking about spending money on a startup, while we were expecting our second child. I was the calm one, and Connor has always been the adventurous risk taker in the family. Now, I was in the passenger seat for this crazy ride, and I was paying for the gas. I doubt I will ever be the big risk taker like my brother. He did an amazing job at using the foot-in-the-door technique. I used to think that would never work. I used to make fun of all of those crazy people following cult leaders who used all of those sales techniques to recruit them. However, I was starting to come to the realization that I had not only become a follower, but an evangelist for the Cult of Connor. I was now stride for stride in the risk taking and convincing my family that this was a good thing.” -Brian
After the engineering team completed their work, a period of transitions began for the Pogue brothers. Connor graduated in May 2018 with an MS Business degree and began a part-time consulting job. He took the job, so he could continue to work on Exosphere. All of the work for Exosphere was still more theoretical than practical at this stage because they still did not have the final product. Much of the work Brian and Connor did during this time was based on finding engineering help and potential partners. Thus, the risk of taking a part-time job instead of beginning a full-time career out of a graduate business program showed how much conviction they had for creating a product that would be desired by customers. Additionally, the brothers continued to do customer discovery, in hopes that these would lead to better understanding future customers. However, they also knew that trying to presale a product based on a video of a prototype was difficult and tiresome. After four months of emailing back and forth, Exosphere had finally found an engineering group willing to take on the project. The Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Extension Service (TEEX) took on the project. A deal was struck, and for the first time in over 2 years, Exosphere had a light at the end of the tunnel.
“After graduation, I went through a really tough period in my life. Starting a demanding job that put me on the road and on the phone a lot was difficult. As much as I enjoy pitching and talking about Exosphere, I am still a pretty introverted person. Doing sales calls constantly is not my favorite thing in the world. I love talking with people, but I prefer deep conversations. I am not a small talk kind of guy. If you want to sit down and have a two hour conversation about life over coffee, I’m your guy. But, being on a phone making calls for hours is something that drains me. I love business strategy and innovation. Cold calling is just not my thing. I greatly respect the people who do it and love it. All the power to them. Thus, this period of starting a new job and working on Exosphere became a time where fatigue was setting in. From the job, the slow progression of the startup, and many other life issues, this time was extremely difficult. The thing that most people forget about when starting their journey into entrepreneurship is that life doesn’t stop. Life still happens, while you’re working on your idea. During the time from creating the idea to our first sale, I had just as many ups in downs outside of the startup as I did with it. Life, love, and the pursuit of happiness still happens. Life honestly might have even more ups and downs for entrepreneurs because of the emotional ups and downs involved with the process of creating the startup itself.
I learned the hard way about ups and downs just a few months post-graduation. My job had been difficult, but I was slowly making progress. Then, I was met with my consulting contract being pulled out of nowhere. I was told that I was doing a phenomenal job the previous week. However, the company was suddenly worried about my performance after a coworker raised some concerns about me. Firstly, all of the ‘concerns,’ were completely false allegations and misrepresentations of me, my knowledge, and my motivations. Nonetheless, this was a wakeup call. Anything can happen to anybody at anytime. It also was eye opening in the sense that I knew that I would be in charge of a company in a short period of time, and I did not want to make a mistake like this. It is easy to jump to conclusions and make rash decisions when you are worried about your startup, your baby. I do not blame the executives for making the decision that they made. I likely would have made the same decision if presented those facts. However, for the person that made up the information, that will come around to them one day. They were inexperienced and worried. Being an entrepreneur means that you have to deal with random challenges like this and you must not bow down to fear of the unknown like this person did. This situation just goes to show that no matter how much due diligence you put into something, it can go wrong quickly. New hires can greatly influence a startup, which makes the early decisions so important. Brian and I have a lot of differences, but at the end of the day, I know that I can 100% trust him. Working with a family member comes with its own unique challenges, but there is no way that I would want to go through this journey with anyone else.
I quickly found another job, which became my mantra from graduation until we launched Exosphere. Hopping job to job and living in a one bedroom apartment. It is not exactly the glamorous private jet lifestyle that people invision with entrepreneurship. There seems to be more days spent coupon hunting for fabric softener than days picking out a new Rolex. During this summer and fall was tough, but getting that engineering contract with TEEX was huge. It was huge for us moving forward, and it was huge for morale. When we signed that paperwork, we knew that we were going to be something. We didn’t know how big we were going to be, but we knew that we could sell at least one of the final products.
During this difficult period, I also found out a lot about myself. I began giving back, particularly to college students. College was a tumultuous time for me, so I wanted to do what I could to help. I began mentoring students through several organizations. Giving back is such a rewarding thing. I had neglected this for a long time, but getting back into it was life changing for me. If something was hard for you, give back to the people who are experiencing that now. That would be my best advice for entrepreneurs. You can always find time to give back. You can find one hour per week to be involved in your community in some way. If you are selfishly working 80 hours each week just to grow your personal wealth, then maybe you need to rethink your priorities. One of my favorite quotes is by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 'Life's most persistent and urgent question is, "what are you doing for others."'” -Connor
“The summer and fall of 2018 was once again a period of waiting. We were getting discouraged while trying to find the engineering support to get us ready to manufacture. We got some crazy expensive quotes from some people, so by the time we got the quote from TEEX, we were extremely excited. We are so thankful that they were willing to work with us and invest their time and effort into our dream. This contract meant that there was money coming out of my pocket, but it meant that we still had 100% control. To have a $500 consumer product, no engineering experience, and a tight budget, pulling off what we did without giving up any equity is still amazing to us. Don’t get me wrong though, we paid for it with blood, sweat, and tears. I had no idea what the entrepreneurship life was like until it hit me square in the face, and the final year before our first sale was an absolute grind. Every. Single. Day. If I would have known everything that it would take just to be able to sell the first device, I have no idea if I would go through all of this again. On one hand, this has been one of the most amazing rides of my life. On the other, I can definitely see how this career path is not for everyone. Just because you are smart, successful, and driven does not mean that you will be a good entrepreneur. There has to be a little bit of crazy in you and just enough arrogance to pull it off. Connor has a saying, 'confidence is the perfect amount of arrogance.’ I think that we embodied that. We might have stepped over into the arrogant side a time or two, but who’s counting? At the end of the day, if you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?” -Brian
Once the final engineering work had begun, the brothers refined their focus. It was going to happen spring 2019. They could finally put a real timeframe on the calendar. Thus, they began working extra time to prepare for all aspects of launch. They discovered the tediousness of many of the tasks. Many hours were spent identifying, comparing, and pricing minute details. Things such as planning instructional exercise videos became week long tasks. First, complete exercise lists had to be made. Then, they would create several balanced workouts and talk about the important physiological and technical aspects of each lift. Next, using traditional gym equipment, at least one of the brothers would test the workout. While in many cases, entrepreneurs can just put in more time to get a phase of a project completed, the human body can only take so much punishment. Several times during this few month span, the Pogue brothers could be found gingerly moving around the house after testing too many ideas in a single day. One of the interesting aspects of working on this startup was the physical toll testing had on the brothers. After a couple of hard workouts, time still needed to be spent working on the website, sales strategies, emails, or meetings. Even though the brothers knew that using models would be vital to showing off the final product, there is an unsaid expectation with health and fitness entrepreneurs that the founders should be shining examples of health and vitality. The farther down the road the pair made it, the more they began to refine and hone their own wellness routines.
“People talk about the pressures of being an entrepreneur all of the time. You can find 100’s of books about it. However, the pressures of having the physical appearance to back up the legitimacy of your product is unique to a product like ours. Even though we knew that we would not be the final models for the product, we felt the pressures to ‘look the part.’ We were never going to have the massive bodybuilder look, but we needed to be healthy. When starting Exosphere, we were far from in the best shape of our lives. School, work, relationships, kids, and life in general can take a toll on your body. We still worked out regularly, grew up as multisport athletes, and ate a balanced diet, so we didn’t have to change that much. However, this process helped drive home our mission of making fitness more accessible to people. Part of the problem of working out at home is having the space and capabilities to do short, effective workouts. We knew that our device could do that for people. Thus, it motivated us more. If we can help people live healthier, more active lives, so they can spend more time with their family and friends, then we can walk away with our heads held high knowing that we made the world a better place.
While the whole device excites us, some aspects really jumped out to us when we began testing. One of the unique aspects of our device is the ability to put resistance against core muscles. I had been used to doing core workouts my whole life. However, I knew that our device was different when we tested our second prototype. I have never felt a workout like that. Doing 100’s of sit-ups becomes tiring. You will sweat, and your core will eventually fatigue to the point where you can hardly keep your body upright. Then, after a few minutes, your abs might be tired, but they still feel like you could have done more. With our device, within a couple of repetitions, I could feel real fatigue. Nevertheless, I knew this was going to happen, so I eased my way into the workout for testing. This is a whole new way of doing ab exercises. Do I believe they are more effective than anything in the portable home gym market? Yes. A million times, Yes! However, people are going to have to slowly work their way into the workouts. A few people are probably going to overdue. That is unfortunate, but we think that people will quickly become accustomed to this different training style. Using resistance for core exercises has been around for years in elite athletics, but we want to bring that training mindset to the time-crunched home gym user.” -Connor
“Testing the device and workouts was so much fun. This is what I do for a living. Nonetheless, there is nothing that will test your skills as much as trying to create something completely new. This was especially true for the abdominal exercises. I had done lots of research and worked with many athletes who spent a great deal of time on core training. Luckily, Connor and I had been writing our own workouts for years. Thus, after I spent some time researching and analyzing everything for safety as a physical therapist, testing was no issue. Sometimes we would start a workout and quickly realize that it was way too hard. Other times they were too easy. That is part of the beauty of our device as well. If something is too easy or too hard, it takes just seconds to adjust the resistance. You don’t have to lug around heavy dumbbells or anything. I think that more people will end up doing their own thing when using the device rather than ever using a programmed workout. Part of the beauty of the device is that you can cram in a 5-10 minute workout in your living room, and then store it out of sight. For these kinds of short workouts, I think people will just get on the device and go for it. No thinking. No worrying. Just exercise. When testing, I can’t tell you how many times I would be interrupted mid-workout by a crying toddler, the oven timer, or a phone call. I would just drop the handles, collapse the device, and then roll it behind the couch before dinner even had time to burn. The ability to live a long, healthy life doesn’t mean you spend two hours every day at the gym. Long-term wellness is about consistency.” -Brian
Even though Exosphere was now working with TEEX, the waiting was not over. The project started at the end of the fall, holidays became an issue. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years slowed down progress. Even once the team was hard at work, a non-stop stream of small problems arose. First, it was the sizing a one piece. Then, it was finding a supplier for another. Then, the redesign of another part turned out to be more complicated than expected. Visually, little was being changed on the device. However, final part selection and preparation for manufacture is a time consuming process. Weekly meetings became the norm. During this time, the brothers were also hard at work to finalize every aspect of the startup. They did not want to be unprepared when their time finally came. The, near the end of January 2019, an opportunity to go for real sales was placed on the calendar. Exosphere had been invited to a small event featuring first responders and military scheduled for the first week of March. There was finally a date, and that meant that it was time to put in the time. No more fun and games, imagining the possibilities. Now, it was time to get to work.
“The final months of design work was so difficult for us emotionally and mentally. We were constantly having to solve problems in preparation for launch in every aspect of the startup. For instance, finding a lawyer willing to defer payments for a startup took much longer than expected. We thought our existing network would have been able to lead us quickly to an attorney, but it took nearly a month. The same happened for the design itself. Every week seemed to have a different setback. Don’t get me wrong, we loved the small tweaks that were being made by the engineers, but we were growing tired of waiting. Patience. Patience. And, more patience. It starts to wear on you after a while, especially since we had turned down so many opportunities in the form of jobs and career directions. What made it even more nerve racking was the fact that any small miscalculation at this stage could have meant that the viability of the product could be compromised. In other words, if something on the device could not be done effectively at large scale, then we would have been forced to make a compromise that would have made it much less attractive for customers. This definitely happened one day with a setback about the hinge system. We originally had a very simple hinge design that we thought would be effective, and this concept did not change for two and a half years. Then, just weeks before launch, the lead engineer on the project had a simple design change that would make it smoother, spring-loaded, more visually appealing. We were all for this, but it ended up taking much more time than previously expected. Everything during these last days felt like an eternity. By this time, I was not working on a consulting contract, so I was living and breathing Exosphere. In retrospect, this was probably a bit of a crazy gamble since I was planning an entire launch around a device that had not even been completed yet.” -Connor