San Luis Obispo, California
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Snowboard boot adapters for ski bindings
Co-founders Kristin and Eric Mehiel are putting skiers in snowboard boots with their innovative system.
"Our motto is having people on the hill and happy on the hill," says Kristin, who started the company with her husband, Eric. "Skiing should be comfortable."
The idea for Mad Jack all began with Kristin's desire for more comfortable skiing footwear. "Eric, who is an aerospace engineer by day, was solving my problem of not liking my ski boots," she explains.
"We started talking about whether you could ski in a snowboard boot? He went out in the garage and came up with that first MadJack in 2013. And he said, 'Hey, go ski on this,'" she continues. "I did. And it was great. I had no shin bang or bruises or anything like that. . . . It solved the problem."
Kristin adds, "Then we started making it for family and friends because they were asking for it. And then folks on the hill were asking: 'Where do you buy these?' And so in the winter of 2016 we decided to bring that product to market through a Kickstarter. And we've kind of been off to the races ever since."
A first stab at crowdfunding didn't hit the $100,000 target, but it did prove the concept. "What we learned from that Kickstarter is that people were interested in the products and it validated us. So we said, 'Okay, let's go out and raise some capital, get professional moldings done and get out to OR [the Outdoor Retailer show]'," she explains. "We started talking to the industry regarding MadJacks. In the following year, in 2017, we had taken preorders and we monetized those preorders into a successful Kickstarter and raised just shy of $10,000."
The patented MadJacks All Mountain boot system is a chassis that converts almost any snowboard boot into a boot that fits in ski bindings and provides the stability and stiffness of a downhill ski boot. Think of it as an exoskeleton for a ski boot. The bottom of the device adjusts to match the sole of the wearer's boots and their ski bindings.
"We go from a women's 5 all the way to a men's 12 or 13, depending on the snowboard boots. All of the pieces for both sizes are the same, except for two parts," Eric explains. The two different pieces, he adds are the toe plate and the pad that goes over the top of the boot to secure it in place.
Kristin says the product represents a new category in hard goods. While there are some other ski boot systems that allow users to separate the boot from a stiffer support frame -- namely Apex Ski Boots, which uses a snowboard-style boot in a chassis, and DAHU Ski Boots -- those systems only work with their boots and frames.
Since MadJacks accommodate a variety of boot sizes and boots, it's more flexible than the other, proprietary boot systems. "Our differentiator is that we are snowboard boot-agnostic," explains Kristin. "We work with almost any snowboard boots minus the dual Boas."
The MadJacks boot system is as a result less expensive than the Apex and Dahu systems, she notes, adding, "And then of course we do have customers that are in that crossover market that do both sports." MadJacks retail for $299, while Apex starts at $649 and DAHI boots start at $899.
The relatively low cost of the MadJacks and their versatility have already attracted some stores to demo and use them. "Some of the early adopters of the products, because of that engineering have been folks who have rental fleets because they don't run out of sizes," Kristin contests. "They always can stock that MadJack and not have to worry about whether there are too many size 7 boots that go out that day."
Another selling point: Since it only comes in two sizes, people don't have to try it on before buying it. That dovetails nicely into selling direct online.
The company's sales have doubled every year since its founding, and Kristin forecasts sales of about 500 pairs for the 2019-20 season. The Mehiels currently assemble the devices in their garage, but they are looking to change that soon.
"This is the last season, I've promised Eric, that they're going to be hand-assembled in the garage," Kristin laughs. "We're definitely getting to capacity where we need to bring other folks on to help with that."
Challenges: "It is a new technology and new technology gets questions," says Kristin. "We also have to have our eye on potential competitors, too."
Opportunities: The company is prototyping an AT MadJack for backcountry skiers and hopes to introduce a MadJack for children. "We are working on a, um, after ski line as well, too. That's going to be clothing based. We want to be the company that people go to to be comfortable either while they're on the slopes or after," Kristin says.
There's also room for geographic expansion. Currently, MadJacks are also available to demo in stores primarily in California, but Kristin says she wants to expand the company's footprint in the coming year. "We've retained a rep this year who's going to be selling into retail shops for the 2021 season," she says.
"We're really looking to grow up," adds Eric.
Needs: "For us, it's a matter of investors and capital," says Kristin. "I always tell everyone we have a good problem to solve and that we know we have a product that works, people love it, and we know our supply chains, and now it's just a matter of the marketing spend to drive the sale."
She adds, "We've raised about $145,000 in seed funding, but ideally we'd raise another $200,000 to help us scale manufacturing. We're always looking for industry partners because we are a new brand or category, and Eric and I are new to the industry side of things. And eventually we're going to need employees besides ourselves and contractors."