Athletic Propulsion Labs

Ryan Goldston
University of Southern California Marshall School of Business

Ryan Goldston, a USC Marshall grad, and his twin brother Adam grew up around sneakers. In the early ’90s, their father, an executive at the L.A. Gear shoe company, brought home a test pair of the L.A. Lights for the boys to try out. Originally, the sneakers lit up from the back with every step, but after the twins complained they couldn’t see the lights on their own shoes, the design was changed and the lights were moved to inside the side of the shoes’ soles. Although Goldston and his brother may not have been the chief designers of the ubiquitous light-ups, the experience triggered an interest in the development of athletic apparel.

The brothers were strong athletes, both playing varsity basketball in high school. Their one flaw was lack of height. Using their family history with sneakers as a starting point, they began to sketch out a plan for a basketball shoe that would increase their vertical leap.

At USC, Ryan’s first business course was an introduction to entrepreneurship. He entered the classroom with his idea and the desire to start a company while earning school credit and receiving guidance from a staff of successful entrepreneurs. One of those entrepreneurs was James Ellis, Marshall’s dean. “Ryan understood they needed something that differentiated their product from anybody else,” Ellis says. “More importantly, he focused on that something even through false starts with suppliers and designs. He was always willing to learn from his mistakes.”

The Goldston brothers knew they needed to focus on the front of the shoe—an area untouched by big brand sneakers already on the market. They worked with a product development engineer and created a shoe that, when tested on normal college students, gave an average of more than 3 inches of increased height instantly over competing brands. The technology was called the “Load N’ Launch” propulsion device, and it fit in the front of the sole.

Their company, Athletic Propulsion Labs (APL), was formed in March 2009, a few months before graduation. APL took a grassroots approach to marketing, working with sneaker-focused magazines and niche blogs that resonated with basketball enthusiasts. To maintain exclusivity, they kept the price point at $300 and sold the shoes only through the APL website.

At the one-year anniversary, APL lowered the price of the Concept 1 shoes to $195, and sales increased substantially. The shoes are now available in about 55 select Foot Locker, Modell’s, and Hibbett Sporting Goods stores. APL is currently working on creating a running shoe set to be released early next year that will help runners move faster. —Sommer Saadi, posted Dec. 14, 2011
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