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Marine’s new company takes off after appearance on ‘Shark Tank’

Apr. 1, 2013 - 03:11PM   |  
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A dip into the “Shark Tank” pushed Marine Maj. Rob Dyer’s dietary supplement company, Noots! Nutrition, and its main product, RuckPack, into overdrive.

Since Dyer appeared in November on the ABC show that features entrepreneurs pitching ideas to potential investors, sales of RuckPack “Combat Nutrition” shots have increased 800 percent.

The publicity shaved years off Dyer’s business plan to develop and sell a noncaffeinated, “peak performance” energy shot.

“We’re hiring. With all the success that ‘Shark Tank’ has brought, we’re hiring veterans. We need sales representatives,” Dyer said.

In 2008, Dyer, a Marine aviator, was serving as a forward air controller with Marine Corps Special Operations Command in Afghanistan’s Helmand River Valley.

On patrol for days at a time, he and colleagues carried nutrition supplements such as vitamins, minerals and herbal remedies to bolster their immune systems and stay healthy. Some took up to 20 pills a day.

“MREs have the nutrition troops need, but you have to eat the whole thing to get all the nutrients. We often didn’t have time,” Dyer said.

An idea was born: What if an energy shot could contain everything troops wanted to boost energy levels, build stamina and improve brain power — but without the mass doses of caffeine found in energy drinks?

“Caffeine is great for focus, but you can’t predict when you’ll need it. Too much and it can make you unsteady or can cause a crash when it wears off,” Dyer said.

After coming home in late 2008, Dyer started calling manufacturers. When he learned that startup costs for an energy shot could run as high as $500,000, he switched tactics. Nutricap Labs of Farmingdale, N.Y., agreed to produce pill packs that contained the ingredients he wanted.

“It wasn’t ideal. You needed to take five single-gram tablets once a day. But it was a start,” he said.

For at least two years, Dyer’s full-time job as a combat arms Marine put development on hold. But in 2010, while earning an MBA from the Naval Postgraduate School, he and his fellow students revisited the energy shot plan.

Meanwhile, he was able to score a deal that would bring the startup costs for liquid RuckPack to $10,000 for an initial sample.

RuckPack emerged as a 2-ounce Tropical Peach Smoothie shot in a small plastic bottle with vitamins B6 and B12, gingko biloba, St. John’s wort, ginseng, chondroitin, potassium, magnesium, calcium and L-Glutamine.

The tart liquid blend hints of peach and pineapple, with a dash of coconut and more-than-slight flavor of Flintstone chewables.

The initial 20,000-shot test run sold within a month, Dyer said.

“I think it’s popular because people who actually care about nutrition aren’t going to use a caffeine shot if they want a boost. I’m not going after the market leader’s customer,” he said, referring to 5-hour Energy, which owns 90 percent of the energy shot market.

Dyer estimates he had sunk about $100,000 into the company before he was offered the chance to court investors on network television.

On the show, he won the admiration of software moguls Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec, who agreed to invest $150,000 in the company in return for 20 percent ownership.

The money has helped bolster production, but the advice he now receives from the two has been the bigger prize, Dyer said.

“It’s been incredible. They lend expertise with just a couple of sentences that would take us weeks to get otherwise,” he said.

Dyer estimates his company is now worth about $1.25 million. It has seven to 10 employees, depending on their deployment schedules.

Neither he nor the other owners receive paychecks yet. He thinks that may be possible beginning in 2014, if this year goes as planned.

His goals are to sell 10 million shots by the end of the year, hire two to five full-time employees (all veterans or military family members) and pick up a national distributor or two.

He’d like to see his product in exchanges and base stores. But he is treading lightly in marketing to the government, seeking approval first from Marine Corps attorneys to ensure there’s no conflict of interest.

“If the Marine Corps didn’t like it, we weren’t interested,” he said.

RuckPack sales depend largely on publicity and word of mouth. The shots are available on the RuckPack website and in some convenience stores and coffee shops located near business partners’ homes.

They retail for $2.99 each or $54.95 for 24, considered a month’s supply.

As part of its business model, Noots! Nutrition gives at least 10 percent of profits to several charities, including the Wounded Warrior Project and the MARSOC Foundation.

“Paying it forward” is a sentiment the owners believe in, Dyer said.

“Giving back is not an option — it’s an obligation,” he said.

He knows not everyone gets a chance to pitch their ideas to self-made billionaires, as he did on “Shark Tank.” But he said all entrepreneurs can benefit from the show’s lessons.

“Seek out successful entrepreneurs. Talk to them. Successful people are not hoarding their assets or their networks. What we found is they really want to share their success and, in some cases, they might want to invest,” he said.

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