If you’ve ever been recommended a Theragun (and who hasn’t?), then this episode is for you! In Ep. 81 of Earned, Conor chats with Dr. Jason Wersland, founder and Chief Wellness Officer of Therabody—the tech wellness company that recently raised a whopping $165 million from North Castle Partners.
We start by unpacking Jason’s background, and hear how he transitioned from construction worker to chiropractor. Next, Jason shares how his painful recovery from a motorcycle accident inspired the invention of the cult-favorite Theragun, the hand-held, percussive massage therapy device beloved by athletes and regular folks alike. We learn how the Theragun struggled at first to gain traction among fellow chiropractors and physical therapists, until the “Kyrie moment” from the 2016 NBA finals skyrocketed the product’s sales overnight, cementing Theragun as a mainstay in the professional sporting world and beyond. We then take a step back, and Jason tells us the interesting story of how he first met Ben Nazarian, Therabody’s co-founder and former CEO, before explaining why the Theragun is “not just for athletes,” having earned endorsements (and investments) from celebrities like Karlie Kloss and Kevin Hart. To close the show, Jason emphasizes how fostering relationships built on trust and support has inspired word-of-mouth hype, “the best kind of advertising we have,” and reveals the core principles that guide his business and way of life.
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“The sporting world draws so many eyes, and if I could have them tell the Theragun story, that was the way to introduce it to the world”: Dr. Jason Wersland on How Athletes Powered Theragun’s Big Break
Conor Begley: Theragun had a bit of a breakthrough in 2016 once some athletes got involved. Tell me about that story and what happened with Therabody that caused it to grow so quickly?
Dr. Jason Wersland: I thought that I was going to save the world through physical therapists and chiropractors. I understood that language. I understood what it was like to implement something like that in a practice. So I thought that's where I was going to go. But the challenge I had was that these guys were taking weeks to decide whether or not they were going to buy one Theragun. And I was like, “It's not scalable. I can't do this.”
[Then I started working at] the Unbreakable Performance Center. James Anderson was playing for the Patriots at the time, and he was really intrigued by what [the Theragun] would do. So I really experimented with him and Chuck Liddell. There were a bunch of different [athletes] that came in and out of that place and I got a chance to experiment with them. The light started coming on.
I used to carry my Theraguns in and put them underneath the boxing ring. I would leave my stuff down there and then I'd come back the next morning, and my Theraguns would be up on the gym floor. The guys would be using them, and I'd get so mad at them, like, “You don't know what you're doing.” But then I really started watching them, and I was like, oh my gosh, they do know how to use this.
Terrelle Pryor was there, a bunch of guys were there at the time, and I was asking them, “What does this do for you?” And they said, “Oh my gosh, it takes the tension away. The lactic acid goes away.” So I'm listening to this thinking, what the heck? That's when it really came to the sports world, and that's when it really started to take off because suddenly now they had budgets. They had money. They weren't negotiating with me on a hundred dollars. They were just like, “give this to me.” Donald Penn, I remember, was holding onto the Theragun and he was pushing it really hard on his quad, and I said, “Dude, if you can stop that motor, I'll give it to you for free.” For the next 10 minutes, he was trying to stop it and it wouldn't stop. That thing was so strong. I learned a lot from that experience.
There was what we call “the Kyrie moment.” At the 2016 NBA finals, when the Warriors were playing the Cavaliers, it was game five, and Kyrie Irving's back was spasming like crazy. The head trainer of the team was a friend of mine, and I'd shown him [how to use the Theragun] months earlier, so Kyrie took it out on the floor. Players can ask to bring anything on the floor if they want, but if you do, you have to cover it with a towel. So Steve's out there working on Kyrie, “trying” to cover the Theragun with a towel, trying to give me some camera time. It happened four times in the fourth quarter and ABC finally zoomed in on Kyrie and said, “We keep having timeouts because Kyrie's back is spasming. What is that thing they're using on him?”
We sold out that weekend. It was insane. That was the summer of 2016, and I'd been to the X Games, I'd been to the CrossFit games, I was selling 10 a day and I thought that was the best thing in the world. And then suddenly this happens and we sold thousands in a weekend.
I started realizing that the sporting world draws so many eyes, and if I could have them tell the Theragun story, that was really the way to introduce it to the world.
At the same time, I was building these relationships with physical therapists, with different teams in Europe and in the States, and because those guys are also a mouthpiece, they would also talk about it. But they didn't have a social media presence. Think about where Instagram was in 2016—people had a thousand followers. It wasn't like it is now. So we kind of grew up with Instagram, and luckily our product was something fun to post, it looked cool on camera. So that was another thing—timing. I waited eight and a half years for that.
“If I can build a relationship through trust with someone, and then I can support them, I know what's going to happen after that”: Why Word-of-Mouth is Therabody’s Best Method of Marketing
Conor Begley: So athletes helped build the brand, because people trust them. They take what they do really seriously, and they take their bodies really seriously. It seems like you guys have started to branch into other celebrities, social media creators like Karlie Kloss, etc. How did you think about branching outside of pure athletes for brand ambassadors?
Dr. Jason Wersland: It's a great question, and I wish more people would understand this. I'm a chiropractor, and when I first had my practice, I wasn't working on celebrities and I wasn't working on professional athletes. I was working on everyday people, and that's what made me think that chiropractors and physical therapists were the key. Because everyday people were walking in, from someone who sat at a desk all day to someone who was in a car accident. So I felt like, and I still feel like, the world is being robbed by thinking [Theragun] is only for athletes.
I want to make sure that I get this into other people's hands. Karlie Kloss isn’t an athlete, but she uses our products all the time. She's a really good friend of mine, and her voice is really, really strong among young women. So that's a really good example of being able to get the product into a person's hands who has a broad reach. I don't care if you're an athlete, or if you're a TV analyst, or if you’re a supermodel: I want you to be able to get Theragun into your hands, understand what it is, and then take it around.
In the entertainment world, there are celebrities and entertainers that I work with, so I build a relationship with trust, then I support those people. I have this process that I go through. If I can build a relationship through trust with someone, and then I can support them, I know what's going to happen after that. They're going to start talking about Theragun, whether it's with their makeup artist, their hairstylist, their business manager, their security guy. Somehow that stuff's going to get around, and then there will be sales. It's a slower burn, it's a slower growth process, but I love it. Word-of-mouth is the best advertising we have.
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