Hello Robin. Can you tell us a little bit about your background in Ultimate?
Hi Mark, well my background in ultimate is not the most impressive; I’m now entering my 3rd year playing. I started to play thanks to a friend, and stuck with the game and all the things surrounding it: the spirit, the community, the tournaments…
Until recently I’ve been working a lot on my throws but now I’m working now on the timing of my cuts and watching the disc more while defending. I had my first layout D last weekend!
Recently you have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new project producing Ultimate-specific cleats; TOKAY. When did you first come up with idea? And, once the idea was born, what was the next step?
The idea first came to me over a beer, in a bar, talking about frisbee with my teammates. It all began as a joke, but this crazy idea stayed in my mind. I started investigating if ultimate specific cleats REALLY didn’t exist on the market, what it would take to start a brand, I contacted some people from the French and European federation, etc..
The next step was to quit my job to work 100% on the project!
What is your professional background and how has that helped you thus far?
Fortunately I have much more of a background in making sports gear than in playing ultimate! 😀
I am a product design engineer, with a specialisation in innovation. I worked 3 years as a consultant in innovation for sport companies. My job was to help companies in finding new technologies and partners to develop innovative sports gear. It was a very interesting job because I was in contact with big companies as well as start-ups.
This experience helped me to gain a better understanding of how to develop a sports product, and allowed me to observe some sports companies’ strategies which inspired mine with TOKAY.
Who is on board with you to help in the development of the cleats?
Developing cleats needs a lot of knowledge of footwear, but also of the industry, of biomechanics, etc… That’s why I quickly set up a team of 4 experts :
- Patrick is the footwear developer. He is in charge of all the technical aspects of the project.
- Antoine is our designer. Both of them have more than 20 years of experience in the footwear industry.
- Rohan is our biomechanical engineer, with more than 10 years of experience in ultimate (he’s been a Magma player among other teams).
- Gauthier completes the team. He is our podiatrist.
What stage is the project at now? And what are your plans for until the Kickstarter finishes? After the end of the kickstarter?
After designing the product, we will have to produce it, which means selecting one factory among the ones we identified and work with them to produce the next prototypes and choose the right materials.
Another very important step will be the testing of the shoes. There will be two major steps in this phase:
- Testing the fitting of the shoes, to develop an accurate method of measurement to provide the right size to the right feet
- Testing of the models by our testers to make sure we make cleats that resist the demand and intensity of high level games.
The next major step will be the commercialisation of the cleats all around the globe. I would like to be able to be very close to the fields so players can test the shoes.
Tell us about the athletes you have selected to help promote test the product. Why these players? And what is their role?
The role of this dream team is to try the prototypes of the shoes and give me their feedback on their feelings about the grip, comfort, durability, look, etc… I was looking for high level players, women and men, from all around the world, so the shoes would be tested the hard way and in different conditions, cultures, feet shapes… What stunned me again is the openness of these athletes. All of the players I contacted agreed to take part into the project. This means that the dream team I presented is the exact testing team of my dreams!
Special shout out to Mario O’Brien, who helped me to contact some of them!
For you personally, what have been the most challenging parts of this project? And the most rewarding?
The most rewarding part of the project is without doubt all the hope that people put in the project. As the project grows, I am discovering just how much people wanted to have somebody develop ultimate specific cleats, and I feel supported every day in the project by the nice feedback I receive.
But at the time this is the most challenging part because I can’t deceive my backers and the community when they put so much expectation into this project!
How can you compete the big brands?
There are many elements of answers to this question.
First, we won’t manufacture the shoes ourselves. We will work with factories, which have a real know-how, and often already work with famous brands. That ensures the quality of the product.
We also built our prices differently. A startup has higher structural costs per product than a larger brand, and less discounts due to wholesales. But on the other hand, we don’t have shareholders who ask for huge profits and we don’t have to pay for general public marketing campaigns. By delivering the product by ourselves, we can decrease the retail costs (stocks, unsold…) to concentrate in the end on the one thing that matter: your shoes.
By retailing directly to the players, we also know you better. If you ask a question about our shoes, I will read it, think about it, and look for the best option to enhance of offer, and that could end up with a good idea! When a brand sells via a store, its customers aren’t the athletes, they are the stores. Their needs are different – their needs are to fill their stores, and to sell. So they will ask the brands for width of range or brand value before asking for technical improvements.
Where do you see Tokay in 5 years time?
My plan is to focus on performance gear for ultimate Frisbee. I would like to develop everything that doesn’t exist and could be useful for ultimate players. I see two main ways to do that for now: developing other shoe models or developing other types of gear.
In terms of commercialisation, I want TOKAY to be physically present at least in Europe and North America. Concerning the other regions of the world, I think it will depend very much on the demand we will have and the local partners we could meet.
That said, companies’ objectives evolve over time; today it is to smash our Kickstarter goals, within a few weeks, it will be to bring to production the best cleats ultimate has ever known, At the moment, TOKAY is a tiny drop in ultimate’s ocean, but we want to be part of the constant growth of our sport to go further alongside clubs, federations, tournaments and the media of our sport.
Finally, what excites you the most about our sport of Ultimate at the moment?
I am very attached to the values our community has. Especially today, when so many political and social disasters happen, I am very proud to be part of a community that has respect as its main value. I think this respect, via gender equity, respect for differences, respect for our environment, is the only way to solve problems durably, and I hope our community expands every day to spread this value.
This expansion of ultimate is of course very exciting; this means new friends! But during this expansion, each of us from the individual, to the teams, organisations and brands have to commit to core values of ultimate, or else this expansion would make no sense.
Personally, I’m very excited by all the progression margin I still have in this sport 😀 And all the nice things I still have to experience, like the travelling, meeting people at tournaments and more!
For more information on TOKAY: