Walking away from a high paying job and a comfortable lifestyle to pursue your dream can be a difficult decision — especially when your two previous ventures were unsuccessful.
But it was this leap of faith that saw Gary Elphick’s Disrupt Surfing earn his business the title of “The Shoes of Prey of sports gear”.
A senior sports marketer by trade — with a generous salary of upwards of $150,000 — Elphick said while it takes a certain mentality to walk away from everything that you have worked towards, “you only live once”.
“Taking a pay cut controls everything,” he admits, “It controls your ability to socialise, you can’t take holidays, which adds to the fact that you’re already under a lot of pressure.
“But if you have enough money in the bank to cover yourself for a year or six months, to pay the rent and eat some noodles, then you’ve got to go for it.
“It’s tough but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Elphick’s first two attempts at building a startup were also a strong motivator in getting Disrupt off the ground.
“Hung (a surfboard rack retailer) taught me about retail and how wholesale distributions works. Then with Swipe (a remote marketing platform for mobile NFC) we basically got schooled by another company in the same business… I loved doing them but in hindsight they taught me a lot, particularly how to fail fast,” he admits.
“I don’t think we would be where we are today had we not done those.”
Since its launch in May last year Disrupt Surfing has gone from selling a couple of hundred boards to turning over half a million dollars in revenue.
Elphick puts most of his success down to the freedom he gave the business to evolve in the early days — allowing it to change and adapt according to customers’ needs.
While the original essence of Disrupt was to create unique and personalised designs, over time people began to request copies of boards they had seen in the surf.
“At first we told people no because everything we make is individual, but then we thought we’ll go back to the artist and ask if they want to commission their artwork.
“Now it’s something that we do with a lot of our designs… and we opened it up to the design community. So they’re available on the site for the customers to use as well.
“It wasn’t something we planned, but it came about from there and it’s something we definitely plan to do more of in the future once we are a little more set up for it.”
To do this locally Disrupt has partnered with a 3D printing company in South Australia called 333D.
“The main thing holding us back at the moment is the commercial availability of the right material. The machinery is there, the files are there, it’s just the materials that are not quite at the level where we could do it commercially and still make a profit out of it,” he said.
“But the end goal we want is to cut down on the global shipping that is going on. We want people to download a file and be able to get it made locally… I think that is going to be the future of most of the things that get made in the world.”
And this brand evolution doesn’t stop with surfboard designs. It is also taking Disrupt into the wider sporting industry.
Know a good thing when you see it.
“Our focus is definitely on surfboards but the lofty goal for us has become a platform for all sports equipment from yoga to snow gear,” Elphick said.
“People really wanted a long board. So we said: ‘yeah we can do a long board’. Then they were like: ‘I really want a paddle board’, so we said: ‘yeah okay, it’s a bit longer and wider but we can do that’. Then someone wanted a kite board, and then there has been requests for snow sports equipment, and others said: ‘I’d love to do that to my yoga mat,’ ‘it would be really cool if you could do that to my cricket bat’.
“We saw the potential to do everything — within reason. So why not make it a full platform for sports equipment.
“You’ll have the choice of going in store to Rebel, go online at SurfStich or come to us and we’ll custom make it and deliver it to you,” he said, estimating that they would be producing snow gear by the end of the year and all sports gear 18 months after that.
But the key to making sure the product is really getting off the ground is to make sure the brand follows the weather they are designed for, said Elphick.
“The products are quite seasonal so we want to make sure we offer them in both hemispheres… so we are launching in Europe this time next month.
“We’ve secured some licenses from top brands and to make the most of those we need to push into these markets,” he said, adding that it make more sense as “the strength of the dollar also isn’t that great.”
However, the product that really has Elphick excited is the world’s first socially integrated surfboard.
“The hardware in most sports hasn’t really moved too much in the last 30 odd years so we’re bringing sensors into the board to make them smarter,” he explained.
“What we’re doing is embedding microchips into the boards so you can have the history of your board from the date of creation, pictures of how it was made from when you designed it to when it was delivered. It will also register it to you so that if it goes missing you can prove it’s yours, and it tracks the location you board… which means you can keep a record of your sport. Every board has its own story.”
While this particular product hasn’t been launched yet, Elphick said it should be here in the next couple of weeks. Watch this space.
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