The term has become popular in professional basketball, but Thomas Fields “really relied on the process” when he solicited money from investors, including Mark Cuban, to expand his business.
Fields is the founder of GRIND, a sports equipment company, and convinced the owner of Dallas Mavericks to buy into the company. The 26-year-old Houston resident received $250,000 from his appearance on “Shark Tank” for his portable shooting machine.
In an interview with CNBC on Wednesday, days after his May 7 appearance on “Shark Tank,” Fields recalled the process of GRIND’s launch at Mach 2020, days before the sport was shut down due to Covid-19.
“It literally took two weeks for the pandemic to hit,” Fields said. “After that, we operated in a Covid world, so we don’t even know what that non-Covid world looks like.”
On the business side, Fields said GRIND has done well during the pandemic. The basketball machine is set up for a single user and automatically returns the ball to the player, allowing for 1,000 shots per hour.
Fields said the company generated about $217,000 in revenue in its first five months as there were lockdowns and large gatherings banned. The product currently sells for $1,595, according to his website. Similar shooting machines are listed on Amazon for over $5,000.
And Fields notes that GRIND folds into a duffel bag in 90 seconds, weighs about 100 pounds, and called the product “affordable and accessible to any athlete who would like it.”
Asked about current sales, Fields declined to reveal numbers, citing privacy concerns for his new partners. “Shark Tank” invited Fields to the show after six rounds of interviews, with the final pitch last September in Las Vegas.
His fiancé signed up for the show before the company took off. Fields said he watched previously recorded episodes aired on CNBC and took notes. And while quarantined in Las Vegas before meeting the sharks, he studied the process of his once-in-a-lifetime pitch.
“All I could do was practice,” Fields said, adding that he was in “execution mode” when he arrived. He pitched a cast that included Cuban new Minnesota Timberwolves owner Alex Rodriguez, CNBC employee Kevin O’Leary, and businesswoman Barbara Corcoran. After the pitch, he got two investors — Cuban and Corcoran — who took over 25% of the company.
“I love the product,” Cuban told CNBC in an email. “I ordered one while the show was being filmed.”
Fields added: “It was great going through it, and knowing that those two believed in me as an entrepreneur and loved the product, that was more than enough confirmation to say that the company is going to be something special.”
Shortly after summarizing the show, Fields recalled more of GRIND’s trial. He pointed to 2017 as he recovered from four ACL surgeries, one of the more extreme injuries in the sport, especially basketball. It was then that Fields knew it was not feasible to make it to the National Basketball Association.
Fields said he learned to weld thanks to a friend and started working on the concept of the GRIND machine. He threw early investors, but no one gave money. So he started working for Raising Cane’s, a popular fast food chain and local car wash, saving nearly $25,000.
Fields said he became a “self-taught mechanical engineer,” paying himself $300 a month and working on prototypes and proof-of-concept in his garage.
“Just perfect the machine and make it great,” Fields recalled.
Even Rodriguez praised Fields’ persistence on social media. “I got a lot of love, but he eventually dropped out,” Fields said of Rodriguez.
Today, the shooting machines are manufactured in Idaho and Fields has eight employees, including four engineers. GRIND also signed an NBA team deal with the San Antonio Spurs, who use the machine for their youth camps.
“We focused on the Spurs because they have the best and biggest youth organization in the NBA,” Fields said. “It was strategic and we didn’t work with them because they were close.”
GRIND is working on a battery that can be added to the machine. It was one of the concerns Cuban had before investing. The machine uses an extension cord for power, which Fields noticed Cuban told him was not portable because it still needs an outlet.
“Ultimately, we don’t want customers walking around with 30-meter extension cords,” Fields said. “We want them to be ready to go and concerned about getting better.”
Fields is entering a competitive sports equipment market. According to the company Grand View Research, the sector is expected to reach $89.2 billion by 2025. And GRIND also competes with the tech sector, as companies like Apple sell sports and fitness training subscriptions.
“The way I see it, there’s only so much that software can bring to an individual,” Fields said. “There’s also so much hardware can bring to a consumer. I’ve always intended to bring the best of both worlds.
“I believe our hardware solves a real problem that no software can ever solve: get your shot and missed shots and automatically outplay the ball so you can shoot over a thousand shots per hour. No software can do that.”
Fields says he wants to build GRIND as a combination of Nike and Peloton.
“It’s a perfect time for us to come in and change the world of basketball through interactive sports equipment,” Fields said. “I think the future looks bright for us. We are much more than a shooting machine company.”
And now the process continues.