We've always been a big believer that when it comes to selecting products that you bring into your home, office or additional space, it's a good idea to know about where it sits in the marketplace, the related founders and of course, why you should care about the products function. This month we sat down with Matthias Metternich, one of the Co-Founders and CEO of personal care brand, Art of Sport who also has Kobe Bryant and Brian Lee (as Co-Founder of Honest Co., LegalZoom and ShoeDazzle.com) as Co-Founders, to talk about the brand's approach, the need to service across a diverse socioeconomic demographic, the the conflict that can exist when there are brands looking to be natural versus chemical, and the rise of the third lane which adopts aspects of natural while looking to safe chemicals to ensure integrity of performance.
ATHLEISURE MAG: Tell us about your background prior to the Art of Sport.
MATTHIAS METTERNICH: I began my journey as a coder and a designer as a kid. I started very young when I was 9. My parents bought me a computer and I moved around a lot so I was in some very far flung places. As a result, I didn’t always have a big crowd of friends and lot of fun things to go and do at night – but then I was also 9 so I wasn’t going out clubbing either.
AM: We were just going to ask what you would be doing at 9 ha.
MM: Right. I’m sure I had an interest in going out and couldn’t go out, but I ended up spending my time in front of computers. Through that, I fell in love with video games as one does as a kid. I started building my own video games. That’s what led me down the path of making things. I was terrible at coding, but it wasn’t like it was so sophisticated that it needed to be so complex. I realized that the games were terrible because I didn’t spend my time in the storytelling part of it. Creating something that captivated people or myself for that matter as I was the only one playing it. Design was the canvas on which to create the art, story, passion, love and whatever it was. Design became the more important factor in my life. I continued growing up and playing with computers. I started building companies at 14. Out of necessity there wasn’t a computer lab at my high school. I found away to get a bundle of computers and then sold it in bulk to my school. I did that with other schools too. That was better than pocket money for my parents. I continued to build things so I started a digital agency in college. I then worked for a couple of really big ones and serviced some pretty cool clients. We worked on cool projects like creating a F1 Racing Team for Richard Branson. A lot of neat things and a great place to design at scale. You couldn’t afford to make a lot of mistakes. If your client is Nike, they expect projects to work globally and to be perfect at launch. You also have to think 360 when you’re designing. What does the website look like, social, apps and retail environments. That fluidity in thinking became innate to the way that I approach problems. I’m really not limited to a particular kind of channel or particular type of business. From there, I have gone onto build a number of companies in apparel, in software and now in skincare.
AM: What perfect storm came together that brought yourself, Brian Lee and Kobe Brant together to create Art of Sport?
MM: I had just finished up a business. Brian was stepping down from Honest Company and he has had an amazing career as he started Legal Zoom and went onto build Honest Company. We both found ourselves in LA at an opportune time where we were open to new ideas. I have a background as an athlete as I played sports growing up and I was a rower in college. I experienced first hand the problems with my skin (sunburns, dandruff, pain in my joints, dry skin from showering a lot) and it never dawned on me as much as I felt the brands that I chose – the technical clothes that I chose to wear that was a pain point to me and I needed the best. I also needed the best when it came to nutrition and what I put into my body.
There wasn’t a lot of innovation, questionable chemicals were used and there weren’t any exciting inclusions that you typically see in food and in beverage. We thought, hang on a second, how had no one touched application in the way that Nike has done for Apparel or that Gatorade has done for food. So he and I fell in love with that concept and it really spoke to both of us and he and I saw an interesting path to building awareness and community among athletes and really build an authentic player in the space. It started with the science piece and we wanted to educate ourselves on what is possible in the skincare space and what can we do that’s different out there.
We brought on board the Chief Science and Innovation Director from P&G. He had a ton of experience over the years. We also brought the Science Officer from Honest Co who is very focused on taking things out of things. So the combination of him and her looking at it from both lenses on how we can innovate and also how we can be clean and better for you, drove our early innovation. We then decided as a sports brand, that we should be bringing athletes into the business – deeply into the business and embedding them from day 1. That’s where we got to before door knocking and Kobe Bryant opened the door.
AM: Not a bad person to start with.
MM: We were just going from door to door and he was like the last door we knocked on ha! No, he was the first door that we knocked on and he has as an athlete, the ability to understand what it means to push your body to the limit and he is someone who had to will his body to become the best. He wasn’t necessarily born perfectly and that journey and arc in his career gives him a huge amount pf perspective. We really enjoyed the early days of sitting down with Kobe and really going through every phase of the business. Then we assembled an amazing athlete team around us including people like James Harden, Javier Baez and Juju Smith-Schuster and some phenomenal athletes.
AM: It’s great that your across various types of sports which is amazing.
MM: Yeah. That was something that dawned on us pretty early on that the variety and diversity of people. Never mind athletes – but a modern take on how to build a business as opposed to doing that retroactively down the trail. So different body types, different ethnicities, different genders, different ages – all of that came into play for us. It was exciting to have a conversation with Sage Erickson who is a Surf Champion who is in the water and in the sun and has specific needs on how to protect herself in those environments. But then also Ken Roczon who is a Motor Cross World Champion – he almost tore his arm off during a motor cross accident. So for him, the pain cream became really interesting discussion for him because it just wasn’t about feeling good, smelling good and your skin feeling good. It was about the process. It was about an ongoing process to stay on top. That was really meaningful contribution to the business I think.
AM: You guys came to market last fall of 2018. What are the product assortments that you currently have in the brand and what are possible innovations that you guys are thinking about such as having CBD as apart of your assortment etc?
MM: We initially had an interesting discussion early on. The mission for us was to own application and to develop products that athletes would trust to put on their skin every day. So when that’s the starting point, how many or few products does that fall under? A lot though right? It could be a few or a lot. We really wanted to narrow in so we looked at the daily essentials that athletes are applying to their skin, multiple times a day. If we’re going to be true to the lifecycle of the athletes from morning until night, what are the skin products that take us out of the bathroom and into the field. That’s why we developed a pain cream and a sunscreen. So when we launched, we had a deodorant, a soap, a body wash, a sunscreen and a pain cream. But we thought, if we are going to tackle this problem, we’re not going to short change the idea and play a close game. We’re going to go heavy and hard at the space.
Over time, what we found was that even though we have only been in the market for under a year (that’s the beauty of online businesses because you get feedback so fast) – we had a lot of requests for body lotion which we launched recently. People didn’t want to exactly use the body wash for their hair as it was a 3-in-1. So we developed a new 2-in-1 conditioner which has been really great and has some nice botanicals in there. We also, which was a lot of fun, partnered with Amazon for Prime Day and we launched 2 products that were exclusive to Prime Day Customers on those days with Kobe Bryant.
It went totally bananas and it took a lot of work to get prepared, but what was so awesome was that Amazon recognized how hard we were leaning in and they included us in their press release to the world about Prime Day. So in the course of the month leading into this, pretty much any news outlet that covered Prime Day was also covering The Art of Sport. It was nuts and a cool way to launch a product. I had never launched a product on pretty much the biggest sales day in the US.
AM: Are there categories that you are interested in adding in like lip care?
MM: We try to keep a very open mind where it comes to where we could go. I think that one lesson I have always known as an entrepreneur is focus. To try and make sure that whatever you put out is the best that is out there as you can go too wide too fast. In fact, that was probably one of the greatest lessons that Brian took away from Honest Co. They did a lot of products and they were incredible, but they had a lot out there and it put too much strain on them as a start-up.
AM: Especially coming from a background of production/wholesale we have worked with a number of brands that have had a lot in their assortment; however, they are large companies that have been around for a number of years that can support that flow to implement that initiative.
MM: People just think it’s a product that you’re getting out there. But you have to get the packaging dialed in and then you have to get the secondary packaging. Sometimes there is an outer case as well and before you know it, there are hundreds of things that you’re pushing forward.
AM: Absolutely, plus the continuity of everything making sense in the packaging that it’s in.
AM: So what should we keep our eye out for in terms of the brand as we continue through the summer, go into the fall and with the holidays season?
MM: Art of Sport, the way that we thought about it, it’s a big brand platform that allows us to speak to different ages and demographics across the nation in all different socio-economic classes as well. There’s an aspect of this where we can get out there in front of the community at a grassroots level which is very exciting. We attend a lot of sporting events across the country. Sometimes it’s a 10K event for the kids combine in the south and sometimes it’s a 4K girls volleyball tournament in Washington State. That’s been a phenomenal exercise for the business. To that point, we have always believed that the brand could be everywhere and it should be everywhere. We want to get our product in the hands of every gym bag, locker room and bathroom in the country. We started on the Art of Sport.com where people can subscribe to the product on the site. We also launched on Amazon which again, is pretty unconventional and opening up to new platforms as opposed to being constrained to the platforms that you choose. We saw amazing traction on Amazon. The next logical step for us is to think about how our product and brand comes to life offline. The grassroots piece is one exercise for that.
There is a lot of talk about retail dying but there are a lot of retailers that are absolutely thriving and that’s not going to go away. That’s what is on our horizon in terms of what we are thinking about right now. In terms of where products are concerned, we live in an interesting lane where there are brands that are all natural and then you have brands that are sort of all chemical. The problem with all natural is that they can be great, but they can also be expensive and they also fail you sometimes because they don’t work. There are a lot of deodorant brands that are out there that just don’t last. If you're in a dress shirt at work and you're about to give a presentation, you can't have a big sweat stains. That’s because those products by default are unable to look at safe chemicals that could perform when you need them. That happens in sunscreen as well. If it’s all mineral. On the other end of the spectrum, the all chemical guys are pretty much an expression of an industry that doesn’t have to innovate and is focused on the most cheapest cost effective product that they can make. So by default, switching out chemicals from a low quality one to a high quality one isn’t that important. Thinking about botanicals and those great inclusions is not relevant for them. We live in the middle lane. We can look at an antiperspirant deodorant with aluminum and we can make it better. We can think about clinical products for your scalp, face, toes and feet that a lot of Americans need that without chemicals won’t work. On the other side of the spectrum there’s looking at pain creams and you mentioned CBD earlier where the natural worlds can play it’s part in a bigger way then what it has had. That’s a long way to answer your questions as our Product Development Road Map has a couple of great products that live in that lane that will do their job to transform some of those product categories.
AM: So what is your title and your day to day like?
MM: My title is that I’m the Co-Founder and the CEO. So, I run and build the business. My day to day because my background is in making things and building things, I’m pretty fluent and obsessive on getting into the weeds and bringing those things to a good place. Sometimes in the lifecycle of a business when you are trending in the right direction, CEOs can be sort of primarily focused on raising capital, hiring and sort of evangelizing the brands. Those things to me are important factors and will be more important to me, but my role from day one has been about designing, the packaging, the language that we use on website to literally art directing James Harden and telling him how to hold the product.
There is nothing that’s beneath me so I’m the Chief Receptionist and the Chief Toilet Cleaner. There’s nothing that’s too good for me to do.
AM: So what are 3 things that are always in your carry-on?
MM: Interesting. Probably the usual things that everyone mentions, a credit card, a laptop and a phone.
AM: Most people do not mention that ha!
MM: Wait, that’s bizarre – how do they do anything and get things done?
AM: They’re taking their headphones or maybe a blanket ha!
MM: Maybe I should leave the laptop behind and grab that. I wish it was more interesting, but the reality is that most of my travel is for work and what matters is that I get work done. I have also turned into that guy who is perfectly happy going to the airport with a toothbrush and my laptop and figuring it out once I get there.
AM: What does it have to have?
MM: I have never understood how anyone sleeps with synthetic materials so all of that imitation cotton like substance is beyond me and I can't figure it out. Bedding is important, but I can’t travel with my bed. My Achilles heel is actually sound. I pick up on a lot of sound so I have to drown it out so when you said headphones, I thought “damnit, I should have said that.”
AM: In terms of #TRIBEGOALS, who are 3 people that you either know or follow socially that inspire you?
MM: Wow that’s an interesting one. Well, it might sound like a cop out. It’s my brother, my mom and my dad. I grew up and we moved around a lot and I grew up in 9 different countries.
We probably moved 40 times total across places. My nuclear family was always there or within a reasonable distance. My dad’s story is quite interesting – he’s a post WWII refugee and part refugee in Europe and my mother ran off from home when she was 16 and met my dad in Somalia and she is a fascinating women. Very strong mother in addition to juggling a pretty difficult household. My brother is mentally handicapped so what has been interesting there is I tend to live in the future and overthink things. He can only really live in the present. When I spend time with him, my world is forced to slow down. He appreciates the simple things in life. I like to walk and take in the world around me, but for him going to a movie and having a nice burger is the highlight of his year. I think that that teaches me a lot.
Read the July Issue of Athleisure Mag and see Something You Should Know with Matthias Metternich in mag.
You can hear Matthias Metternich's interview next month on our show, #TRIBEGOALS which is a part of Athleisure Studio, our multi-media podcast network! Make sure to subscribe to find out when the episode drops. You can hear it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and wherever you enjoy listening to your favorite podcast.