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Roy Carrillo and Darren Lancaster of GO Sleeves: “You can’t do it by yourself!”

It takes a tribe! You just gotta have a strong bench of experienced advisors and partners to make a new business work. If you don’t have the network then make sure to bring in people to help you who have the network you don’t have. You can’t do it by yourself! As a part of […]

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It takes a tribe! You just gotta have a strong bench of experienced advisors and partners to make a new business work. If you don’t have the network then make sure to bring in people to help you who have the network you don’t have. You can’t do it by yourself!


As a part of our series called “Meet The Inventors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Roy Carrillo and Darren Lancaster who both live in San Jose California.

Roy and Darren recently invented GO Sleeves (GOSleeves.com) which bring Kinesiology technology to compression sleeves in order to relieve pain and accelerate recovery for their users. GO Sleeves follows a successful marketing strategy used over the past 8 years for brand clients of their digital marketing agency LTV Digital (LTVDigital.com).

Roy and Darren originally met through sports, playing competitive basketball together for 15 years before working together at ThinOptics.com. Darren co-founded ThinOptics in 2013 and held the roles of CMO and head of eCommerce. Together with Roy they shipped over 2M glasses resulting in over 10M dollars of annual sales across 170 countries internationally via eCommerce. ThinOptics became the #1 selling reading glasses product in the US market during their tenure.

Roy and Darren are not happy unless they are active. Darren grew up on the ski slopes of Lake Tahoe as a competitive ski racer and Roy has been a sports junkie since the moment he could stand on two feet. Inspired by his father who played Pro basketball, Roy followed his father’s career path by playing basketball in college and professional level back in the Philippines in the 90’s. With the current pandemic restrictions, Roy and Darren are not able to compete in basketball. Roy stays super active mountain biking in the Santa Cruz mountains and trains with his fellow CrossFitters at CrossFIt Almaden. Darren does home workouts, running, hiking and Bikram yoga.

Roy’s family of four is super active in sports such as CrossFit, Olympic weight lifting and volleyball.

Darren’s family of six spends as many weekends as possible in the Lake Tahoe area skiing and snowboarding.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

Roy:

My childhood was mostly spent in the Philippines. My mother was a 4th grade teacher, and my father played professional basketball while selling life insurance. We’d commute to school via “jeepney” and sit on traffic for about an hour to a four mile destination. It’s humid with scorching heat in the Philippines, especially with a uniform on, so you can’t really walk to school. We grew up with a lot of cousins in our compound, a really tight knit family community, and were very competitive in everything that we’d do and most especially, basketball.

We migrated here to California when I was 15 years old and I managed pretty well in terms of making friends, since basketball is a pretty popular sport in the US. I played high school basketball at Wilcox High School and College basketball at University of Santo Tomas in Philippines while playing pro basketball part time.

Darren:

Beyond spending every day possible on the ski slopes of my beautiful childhood home of Lake Tahoe, the concept of inventing something from “nothing” started with my first computer. My dad was enamored with computers and their future so he surprised me with a Timex Sinclair computer. I taught myself the Basic programming language and wrote some simple “Choose Your Own Adventure” type of graphical games.

Both of my parents followed their passion for music to begin their careers before restarting their careers to align with better “financial outcomes”. I suppose the choice to become a Computer Engineer was my way of exploring the creativity they blessed me with in a marketplace that had unlimited potential.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Darren:

Teddy Shalon was my co-founding partner and inventor of ThinOptics. One of his mantras was “as simple as possible, but no simpler”. It sounds a bit trite but one of my weaknesses is to try to solve problems that may not exist, or may not need to exist, or maybe they just don’t matter at this point. Next thing you know you have solved a problem with a more complicated and time-consuming solution than was required. Think about how much time and energy we’d win back if we considered the ROI on a solution BEFORE we jumped into making it happen! So I try to do this little ROI calculation in my head whenever I can. It’s hard to be disciplined about it!

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Darren:

“Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands” by Kevin Roberts is perhaps standard reading for most marketers, but it played a crucial role in our transition into entrepreneurs and marketing leaders. We find it remarkable that SO MANY business leaders of companies of all sizes still miss this one critical concept: a brand is owned by the consumer, not by the company.

This book set the foundation for every decision we make regarding inventing a product, making product improvements, or how to market a product. We try to connect every decision to a future we’re trying to invent for our customer and how we will impact the story they are in based on our product or brand. That future is obviously speculative, but how else can you invent a future that you can’t see or specify?

We are humble about the role of the products and brands we create. They are not the hero in our customer’s story, the customer is the hero.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. What was the catalyst that inspired you to invent your product? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

Roy:

Now that I’m in my 40’s, I play a lot of recreational basketball and sometimes I sub myself out of the game. I am often asked: “What happened? Did you tear your ACL, MCL, PCL?” I simply tell them: “no, it’s AGE”. They all laugh but it’s true. Not only are we getting older, but everyone else seems to be getting younger, faster and healthier! I found myself becoming a weekend warrior and playing basketball or other sports less regularly with no training or strengthening. And that led to injuries…

I had two meniscus surgeries, constant calf muscle strains, pulled hamstring muscles and knee patellar tendonitis issues. My remedy was taking 800 mg ibuprofen before stepping on a basketball court to relieve the pain and lessen the swelling after workouts. Definitely not the best idea for my stomach. Most of my injuries were due to my muscles not recovering fast enough and the ligaments and tendons working overtime to compensate for the tired muscles.

So I tried almost every knee and calf support product on the market. Most of the compression sleeves and braces in the market are just there for support, so you don’t overextend your joints. Others are mainly meant to secure your knees and muscles, but I found they were not effective at preventing injuries while ensuring flexibility and top performance.

I found that kinesiology tape products such as KT Tape or Rock Tape were helpful for recovery from injuries, but I had to become an expert on how to apply the tape depending on the injury. Kinesiology tape is also quite expensive and not reusable.

The “ah ha” moment came when contemplating how the benefits of kinesiology tape could be delivered in a more “user-friendly” form-factor. I started “spit-balling” ideas with Darren after basketball, started building prototype sleeves on a mannequin in my garage, and GO Sleeves was born!

The result is a cross between kinesiology tape products, such as KT Tape, and compression sleeves. We’ve built-in a kinesiology tape pattern using silicone material inside the compression sleeve to provide enhanced security, correction and support for knees, calves and shin splints. Our goal was to help our OWN bodies recover from injuries faster with less pain, and to enhance our performance through improved blood and lymphatic flow.

Thankfully, the results of our efforts have been amazing for us and our users!

There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

Darren:

Through our digital marketing agency we’ve seen plenty of good products that aren’t viable from a marketing or financial perspective. We tend to take a Lean Startup approach of building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) using the least amount of time and cash, then test, measure and optimize until your key marketing and financial targets are met.

Even now we’re in the middle of re-working our website messaging based on what we’ve learned from our user community and their experience with GO Sleeves.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

Darren:

It’s not glamorous, but it comes down to research and diligence of potential competitors already in the marketplace. Even then, if someone is already in the market with your idea you may have a good chance to compete based on better marketing or perhaps by creating more marginal utility for the user with your idea.

Did you have a role model or a person who inspired you to persevere despite the hardships involved in taking the risk of selling a new product?

Roy:

Yes, my mother is my inspiration. Not once have I seen her give up on anything. I was there to witness her hard work in the Philippines; teaching 4th graders, working on lesson plans in the evening, hand washing clothes on the weekend, cleaning the house, while making sure that my sisters and I weren’t tearing each other’s hair off. She’s our rock, and she showed us what hard work looks like and how most of the time it pays off.

For the benefit of our readers, can you share the story, and outline the steps that you went through, from when you thought of the idea, until it finally landed on the store shelves? In particular we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

Roy:

I believe we covered our invention sequence earlier, but once Darren and I decided we might have something it was all about Darren’s network. He brought in a manufacturing partner, a patent attorney, his video production experts, and the rest of our tight-knit marketing & support team.

Darren:

If you don’t happen to have experts in your network then I’d recommend checking in with other successful entrepreneurs and finding out who their go-to people are. We haven’t pushed into retail yet, as our strategy is to build brand awareness through our direct-to-consumer channel and Amazon before investing in building out a retail channel. Once again, when we’re ready to go into retail we will utilize our network to help us with retail placements.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Roy:

I have to say the funniest would be the time I was applying silicone to one of our prototypes. I was very impatient about waiting for it to dry. I thought I checked all the areas making sure all the silicone I applied has dried up and ready to wear on my knee. Well it wasn’t. Most of the silicone ended up on my leg as I put it on my knee. It took hours to remove the silicone from my skin. Patience lets you keep most of your hair on your legs!

The early stages must have been challenging. Are you able to identify a “tipping point” after making your invention, when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

Darren:

Quite honestly I believe GO Sleeves is still in the early stages, although we may look back and say our “tipping point” was when multiple current and retired professional athletes started requesting more product from us combined with seeing a lot of user referrals.

When I co-founded ThinOptics we knew we had a winner when every online purchase was no longer due to our advertising efforts, but instead based on word-of-mouth through our happy users. We had worked very hard to stay in touch with our customers and ensure they felt like they were part of our new company and our success.

As we started scaling up our social media advertising efforts we started seeing our current customers would rave about ThinOptics and even tag their friends in our ads. The takeaway is that no matter how great you think your product and marketing might be, there’s no substitute for raving customers helping you get the word out. Invest in taking care of your customers from the very beginning!

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Invented My Product” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Roy:

It always takes more time and money than you think. As entrepreneurs we’re optimistic by nature, yet who could plan for a pandemic and the impact to your business?

Darren:

Yeah, the pandemic is a great example. You’ve just got to build plan B’s and plan C’s into your business plan. If we had to live and die with plan A for GO Sleeves then the pandemic would have killed us already. A lot of startups launched late in 2019 or early in 2020 like we did and are no longer around. It’s sad.

It takes a tribe! You just gotta have a strong bench of experienced advisors and partners to make a new business work. If you don’t have the network then make sure to bring in people to help you who have the network you don’t have. You can’t do it by yourself!

Roy:

I’ve been part of companies in the past where the company didn’t do a great job of thinking through the type of investors they would like to have involved. If you just do a cash grab then you may end up with folks who are not aligned with your culture or way of thinking, and the next thing you know you’re making decisions that you don’t agree with because of outside pressure. With GO Sleeves, Darren and I were very intentional about the desired characteristics of our investors. As a result, our investors have our back despite all of the challenges of 2020.

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Roy:

Test your product on yourself, your friends, your friends’ friends. Do all the diligence you can before buying into your idea and starting to spend real money. Do your homework on similar products and through searches of USPTO. Make some adjustments to your idea to make sure it’s unique. Most importantly, don’t put your idea on the shelf. Chase your idea and don’t be afraid of killing it. Killing an idea just creates space for the next 2–3 ideas.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

Roy:

We have not worked with those consultants. So I would not know how they operate. But we would suggest trying to work with partners you trust: friends, former co-workers, etc.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

Darren:

There’s so many schools of thought here, so this is really about personal preference and philosophy. In my case I strongly prefer to bootstrap or leverage trusted investors for as long as possible before bringing in “professional” investors or VC’s. As an example, Rooftop Communications was my first startup and we had to pivot the business twice to find our niche. It took time. Probably more time than a VC would allow. Yet the extra time and flexibility to pivot allowed us to sell the company to Nokia rather than rush into a riskier market opportunity.

The decision may come down to the amount of capital you need. Once your capital needs surpass the 500K dollars to 1M dollars range you’re probably talking about VC’s unless you have a great track record and investor network.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Roy:

So many of our users are able to resume being active and mobile, rather than being shut down due to an injury, arthritis, or maybe just extreme soreness. Our user reviews are all the convincing we need to keep pushing ourselves until anyone who is challenged with being active and mobile is able to benefit from GO Sleeves.

Darren:

Stay tuned. There are so many families with children or older parents that are challenged with issues like obesity, arthritis or disability, and yet they can’t afford products that can make their lives better. Together with our partners, we’re looking at ways to solve that problem.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Roy:

Health and wellness. I believe it starts with accepting our unhealthy lifestyle and being willing to make incremental adjustments that help us feel better about ourselves. Being active creates a positive mindset, which makes it easier to be happy, and therefore easier to be even more active. It’s a positive spiral that you can build and it becomes infectious.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Roy:

I think we’re both in agreement on this one: Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors. At a young age, Steph understands the importance of working together, being unselfish, believes and trusts his teammates to take their team to the next level. Since the beginning, I’ve accepted that I cannot be successful without the help of the individuals on our team. Darren and I partner with people who are expert in their areas, learn from them, and work together to make GO Sleeves a brand that makes a positive difference in the world.

Steph also understands injuries, recovery, and how to gain the confidence to get back to the top of your game

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Thank you! We wish you and your readers good health.

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