We interviewed its cofounders, Milwaukee, Wisconsin natives Pat Hughes and Mike Fox. To make the first prototype, Hughes, who was a senior at the University of Wisconsin at the time, taught himself how to sew.
They take pride in the fact that their Coast Guard-approved products are sold directly to customers via their site. “We are stoked about this move because it allows us to pass on savings to our customers,” Fox explained.
Here’s what else they told us about…
How the Idea Came About Through Tragedy
Pat: The idea came about in 2012, I was student at the University of Wisconsin looking for a new challenge and decided to sign up for a Half Ironman. During the swim, a fellow participant drowned, and I was incredibly saddened by how avoidable this tragedy seemed. I wanted to do another race and went looking for a device that I could wear during that swim that would allow me to take safety into my own hands. Surprisingly there was nothing available. I couldn’t find a sleek, inflatable vest that wouldn’t slow me down but could rescue me in an emergency. It seemed too logical and too big of an opportunity to pass up, so we decided we would make it ourselves.
What Makes Their Life Jackets Different
Pat: All other inflatable life jacket have limitations and we found them to be just as uncomfortable and restricting as foam life jackets. They fit loosely and are meant to be worn over clothes. The Wingman fits like glove and allows you to move freely. Other inflatables are designed with the heavy components, the CO2 cylinder and inflator, hanging off the wearer’s chest. This gets in the way for virtually every activity. The Wingman is the first and only inflatable life jacket with the CO2 cylinder positioned on the wearer’s back, in line with the spine. The ideal location for water activities. Our patented triple bursting zipper, over the should ripcord and CO2 Mounting Plate, ensures smooth deployment, ideal ripcord location across the chest while maintaining a low profile that is simple to repack and reuse.
Experience With Kickstarter
Mike: Our Kickstarter campaign was a roller coaster of emotions. We knew we needed a large amount of money to move forward with the US Coast Guard testing and set a high goal of $60,000. It’s always a bit scary putting yourself out there in public, not knowing whether you are going to succeed or fail. We worked relentlessly during our campaign to spread the word. We received great feedback from relevant media sources and raised over $67,000 in preorders. It provided us the proof of concept we needed and gave us the funding to keep moving forward.
Nerves in the ‘Tank’
Mike: There were a lot of emotions flowing in the Tank and nervousness was certainly one of them. Giving a pitch to any investor can be stressful and difficult, but the Tank takes that to a whole other level. You don’t have any slides or notes, and you are in front of some of the biggest celebrity investors in the world. On top of that, millions of people around the country will be watching. The nervousness went away once we got into our pitch and the anticipation was over with for us. We prepared and practiced for countless hours. The experience in the Tank was unforgettable.
Other Tank products: