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Curtis Kennedy of ‘Vertiball’: “Trust in yourself”

Trust in yourself. There’s always so much uncertainty with starting a business at every turn. Even today, now, with me, there’s uncertainty. But if you trust in something — the universe, your gut, destiny, whatever it is — just trust that if you do everything you can do, everything is going to work out in the end. Trust in […]

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Trust in yourself. There’s always so much uncertainty with starting a business at every turn. Even today, now, with me, there’s uncertainty. But if you trust in something — the universe, your gut, destiny, whatever it is — just trust that if you do everything you can do, everything is going to work out in the end. Trust in that to your core, that you’re going to get where you need to go.


Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Curtis Kennedy.

Curtis Kennedy is the inventor of Vertiball, the world’s first wall-mounted massager with 360-degree ball movement and the freedom to be able to quickly secure it wherever you want, targeting trigger points and muscle knots with pinpoint accuracy. A successful Kickstarter has been followed by its market release in the United States and Kennedy’s native Canada, winning on the TV show, “Dragons’ Den” (a precursor to the American “Shark Tank”), and a recent equity investment from District Ventures Capital. Vertiball is endorsed by several professional athletes, and is available on Vertiball.com, Amazon and Target.com.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

It started when I was pretty young. My grandfather was a mechanical engineer. He was an inventor himself. He had me down in his workshop all of the time, working on cool, little projects. He believed in this idea of always coming up with your own best solution to a problem before considering the limitations of technology so that was something that stuck with me when I was a kid. He was definitely a big part of my inspiration for wanting to work on projects like this one. That was where the thoughts for inventions came from.

When I went to university, I was studying mechanical engineering, and I knew that I always wanted to start a business but I wasn’t sure exactly what I should do. I took some time to think about it, and I figured that the best possible chance for success would come from me trying to solve one of my own biggest personal problems which, since I’ve been a young kid, has been back and muscle pain.

Since the age of 11 years old, I started having issues with my upper back. On a daily basis, I’d be laying on top of a golf ball as a way to alleviate tension in those areas. When I was thinking about starting a business, I looked at that and realized that was still the solution to my problem that I was using on a very consistent basis. It was very hard for me to believe that for one of the world’s most common health problems that were still a commonly relied upon solution. I started exploring different ways you could go about solving the problem.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Originally, I was thinking about all these crazy, expensive ways of doing it. There was a device I was thinking of working on that had sensors and motors and you were going to be able to guide to where it could reach your back for you, but ultimately, digging into it, I realized that’s not the best approach from a consumer-product standpoint in trying to make an everyday product for everyday people that was affordable and had the ability to become a household product, like a vacuum or sponge. That really became my goal.

I started thinking about how you could make a device that would enable people to apply pressure to their own back. I eventually came up with the idea to use an industrial-grade suction pad to do it. That was kind of the inspiration for everything and how I got going on the idea that eventually turned into Vertiball.

In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?

I definitely don’t think by any means that I was a naturally born entrepreneur. But the one thing I will say to that is I’ve always been a very curious person. And I think that curiosity has a big part to play in this sort of thing. If you’re curious about everything, then you ask a lot of questions. You typically tend to learn lots from those questions that you’re asking. I think that curiosity is very important, and it will drive you to ask the questions that you want answers to, and that will open up new doors for you. I think that was naturally born in me, but the business sense and the execution, and all the things required in entrepreneurship came with time, and I continue to work on them and try to get better.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

My grandfather was a big inspiration to me, and I’d always bring these crazy ideas to him when I was younger. I really wanted to have a pair of rocket boots in Grade 4 to show up to school with. I thought there’d be nothing cooler than if everyone was outside waiting to go into school for the day and I come and land in my rocket boots. I did some sketches for it and brought them to my grandfather, who was the smartest guy I’ve ever known, and he never said that’s not going to be possible. He let me believe it was possible until he took me through the math and the calculations on it. At the time, I had no idea what he was doing but he dumbed it down to where I could understand why it wasn’t going to be possible. He always let me have this idea that anything you want to make, you shouldn’t just assume it’s not possible to do until you disprove it through problem-solving methods.

Beyond my grandfather, in 2014 I learned about Elon Musk, and Elon Musk has become sort of a role model and idol of mine. When I learned about him, I was just fascinated with the way his mind works, and the principles that he was speaking about. For the next year, I probably consumed every piece of video content of Elon Musk on the internet talking about things.

I think that Elon Musk presents some really unique and important ideas towards problem-solving, and how to approach problems, and this idea of first principles thinking and its ability to lead to meaningful innovations. Thinking about a problem in terms of first principles and the way that he describes it is boiling a problem down to its fundamental truths and then building outwards, where thinking analogously is looking at the existing solutions to a problem and then making improvements to those solutions. I really resonated in a big way with that concept. There was probably that first innovation that started a market segment and then people continued to make improvements on that first product, and eventually, they evolved into what they are today. But, who’s to say that the first product and how it was designed and how it was thought up was actually the best way to go about solving the problem?

Elon Musk really stresses this idea of thinking about the basics of what a problem is, and building outwards, and not considering what has already been done. That was definitely a very influential thing for me in those early days, and I continue to consume every bit of information that Elon pushes out. I think he’s a really brilliant human being and has a lot of great ideas.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I came to the idea that was Vertiball by really thinking about these designs, and thinking in terms of first principles like I had learned from Elon Musk and stressing its importance. I eventually landed on the idea by just thinking differently about how the problem was going to be solved. I think we’ve made a device and we’re working on some products that take a very different approach to tackling the problem of back and muscle pain.

This first product segment that we’re working on — Vertiball — it’s going to be the entry point for our company. We’re going to do a rebrand here at some point in time but Vertiball is going to be the hero product that we hope to use to establish our company as an innovative brand.

We’re working on some other projects that have this similar sort of approach that Vertiball took, to really approach the problem differently than how current solutions are, and we think we’re going to be different in the marketplace by coming out with really great products that take a different approach to solving very common problems with people worldwide.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

One important trait is curiosity. If you’re doing something that you’re passionate about and you really care about it, you’re going to ask questions beyond the normal way of thinking about the concepts. So being really curious and always questioning things and going a ways further into what it is that you’re working on is very important. That’s why it’s so essential that you’re passionate about what you’re doing, and you care about it beyond surface-level things — things like making money — because if you really do care about it, you have a real interest in the subject and the progression of what it is that you’re making. You’ll ask questions and come up with answers to problems that haven’t been answered before.

Risk tolerance would be another trait. Starting a business is very risky. One, because you’re not going out and getting a normal job and getting a salary. You’re taking a chance on yourself to create something that is eventually going to give you an income. That’s the startup risk. But in starting a business, it can go a lot further than that. There are all sorts of risk everywhere, and you have to be OK with that. Risk has some level of proportionality to reward so it’s important to remember that great things only come if you take risks. It’s very rare that you’ll have some big reward without having to take a risk to get there. Being OK with taking risks and trusting yourself is definitely a very important character trait.

And third I’d say is confidence. If you really believe in yourself, and you move away from thinking, “Here’s what I think I’m going to try and do,” and you say, “Here’s what I’m going to do,” if you can get in that mindset and really believe in what you’re doing so much that there’s nothing that would stop you from making it happen, regardless of the obstacle, you will find a way around it.

I was doing all of these different pitch competitions as a way to raise some money to start the business, and I won the first few that I was in. I think I had around 15,000 dollars of prize money, which was a huge amount of money for me at the time. I remember I had so much confidence in what I was presenting, I went to Canada’s Business Model Competition. My roommate was also starting a business at the same time but he was a little bit later stage than I was. I remember telling him that I was going to win Canada’s Business Model Competition. And, when I was saying it to him, it’s so crazy looking back on it, that I was so confident that I was going to, which is wild to think because there are software companies, AI companies from around Canada and they’re doing all these crazy, techy things, and I’ve got a ball that sticks to a wall.

But I believe in the importance of the problem for people, I believe in the importance of finding a better solution, and I believed that we had that better solution and we’re the people to execute on it. Really, just having the confidence in the mission and our ability to execute is what gave me the passion, and it showed through in the competition, and I actually did wind up winning Canada’s Business Model Competition.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?

Some advice I got from a mentor back in the day: she saw me pretty stressed out in the early days when I was trying to pull together some money to feed myself and start up the business. She said to me, “There are five pillars of life: friends, family, relationships, career and physical well-being.” When you’re a startup, the tendency is to put all of your focus into a career and you forget about those other things. But she told me you’ve got to try and find a little bit of balance amongst all of them.

Back then, I was so focused on the mission that I poured everything into the career element and I let the other things go to the side, not realizing that you having found some level of balance between all of those things is actually going to help your career more than just focusing on that directly because you need those other things in your life to be successful in your career, and it’s very important to try and maintain all of those things. I think I did a poor job of that so, looking back at it, if I could have taken that advice and understood the gravity and importance of it I likely would have spread myself more evenly amongst those five categories.

What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?

A really important concept that I’ve always believed in is that everybody has something to learn so never be afraid to be the teacher and always be willing to be the student. Always listen like you’ve got the most to learn, and when you do know something, and with certainty you know that thing, speak with conviction and speak with confidence because people can only be confident in you if you’re confident in yourself. Learn from other people, learn from their experience because there’s so much to learn from others and you can really accelerate the process by listening well.

Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?

You can really accelerate where you’re at by learning from other people’s experiences. They’ve already made the mistakes or had success so if you listen to them and you take information from those who have already done it you can really propel yourself throughout this process. People are so important to us and you don’t have to do it on your own. People want to believe in something so if you can speak with confidence, they want to believe in you, and the tendency is that people want to build new relationships with people that are trying to push the boundaries. So know your stuff and speak with conviction because that’s how great partnerships are established.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

The biggest one that comes to mind is that when you’re starting a business, you’re wearing so many hats and there are so many different things to do, and a lot of these things are not in your realm of expertise so the tendency is to get caught up in the details of all these decisions you have to make. People get slowed down by thinking that everything is mission-critical and if they make the wrong decision it’s going to be the end of the world. My suggestion would be that all of the information you have at any given point in time, that summed up is what’s represented by your gut feeling. So, trust in your gut, and don’t spend too much time over-analyzing every little thing. Just make a decision, move and be OK with your choice. If you make a mistake, that’s OK. The biggest lessons come from making mistakes.

Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?

There are so many highs and lows, especially in the early beginning. It’s tough when you don’t have funding, you’re still trying to formalize a direction, and you run into problems. The thing is with your own business versus working for someone else is the business is a reflection of you. It becomes you, it becomes your life, you live, breathe this business. So when bad things happen to the business, it feels as though those bad things are happening to you, and it’s hard to separate that from yourself. There are a lot of challenges. I think starting businesses is 95 percent problem solving, and a lot of not knowing what you’re doing, and making mistakes, and there are some difficult times. That continues into the future, even when you have a team established and you know what you’re doing a little bit more. There are always going to be challenges, and it’s not like at a normal job where you get done work at 5, you go home, you watch Netflix and cook your supper, and you’re not thinking about work again until you’re in the office at 9 a.m. It is on your mind 100 percent of the day. It doesn’t really leave so it can be very challenging at times. So the thing to know is to be OK with that and recognize that it’s part of the process. I’ve always said there are four bad days for every one good day but that good day is worth 10 bad days.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

The most exciting moment I’ve ever had has been it had been a long time designing the product. I think it had been 220 different iterations before we arrived at the version that we decided to actually manufacture. I had never done anything like this before. I was just making a lot of guesses the whole way, and I had a lot of uncertainty of whether it was going to work. I had done a lot of testing with prototypes and 3D printing but it’s a whole different bag when you try and do plastic injection molding and large-scale manufacturing to have something that’s repeatable.

When I saw those first parts come out of the plastic injection mold looking nice and polished and like a legitimate product, and they assembled it together and put the product on the wall and it worked, and it clicked and it snapped and did all of the things that I had hoped it would do, that was the most gratifying feeling ever. I remember I was in China at the time and I was in a hotel room by myself but I did some dancing, let me tell ya. It was a pretty exciting moment for me and something I’ll remember forever.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

Right out of the gate, once we had products arrive and ready to ship out. Our whole plan was to launch the product through e-commerce. We were going to start running Facebook and Instagram ads. But out of the gate, our data was not good. Our ads weren’t profitable. We had employees at the time, and when an ad isn’t profitable, you don’t want to scale it and put more budget into it because you’re just going to be losing money. So this thing that I thought was going to immediately make sense to everyone, and would be the hottest selling item of all time, the data showed something different. And I remember being absolutely devastated.

I really figured it was all going to go seamlessly. We had the manufacturing figured out so the sales wouldn’t be something that was going to be a challenge. But having that realization of, holy crap, I never pictured that we were going to struggle to sell this product … that was a pretty hard couple of weeks. But, resilience is very important. We didn’t sit down with our heads in our laps. We’ve got to think differently about this. People aren’t responding to our ads well. Maybe we need to reframe our content, maybe we need to target a different audience. So we tried a lot of different approaches to our content. We played our ad to new audiences. We played around with new wording. Eventually, we found a group of people that was responding well to the product that could be targeted through e-commerce ads in a very profitable manner. Eventually, we figured out this is going to work through e-commerce and everything is OK.

OK, super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.

One would be support from friends and family. You’re going to have a lot of bad days so it’s very important to have things that bring you joy, outside of your work. Whether it’s friends, family, exercise, relationship, it’s important to keep those things at the forefront of your life, even though you’re way busier than you’ve ever been. Having those things in place and maintaining a healthy balance between everything will provide you with a level of support that will enable you to keep pushing forward with confidence.

Another one would be to do your best, forget the rest. Sometimes we criticize ourselves for what we don’t know and what we wish we knew. But the thing is, you are who you are, you know what you know, and all you can do on a given day is do your best and forget the rest.

Another one would be patience. Things happen much, much slower than you expect them to. It’s just the nature of the world and working with other people and diving into new realms of things you’re unfamiliar with. There’s a learning curve and a latency to everything. Just realizing that things take time and that’s OK is very important.

Trust in yourself. There’s always so much uncertainty with starting a business at every turn. Even today, now, with me, there’s uncertainty. But if you trust in something — the universe, your gut, destiny, whatever it is — just trust that if you do everything you can do, everything is going to work out in the end. Trust in that to your core, that you’re going to get where you need to go.

Be OK with mistakes. Mistakes help you learn. They’re valuable. Any experience where you can learn something has great value, and just know there’s going to be a lot of mistakes. You’re going to wish you’d done a few things differently. Being dynamic, moving quickly and taking action to the best of your ability on any given day, being OK with making mistakes, and really learning from those mistakes, that’s key.

We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

At the core of being a resilient person is learning to be OK with discomfort in all aspects of life. Discomfort comes in all shapes and sizes and it’s just a part of life. Being able to deal with that and continue moving forward in situations that are uncomfortable is an important skill to have. Every moment is an opportunity to push outside of the comfort we feel. Comfort is like the resistance of the new so you only feel comfortable when you no longer have the desire to push outside of the boundaries that you’re currently in.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?

When I was 14 years old, I was playing a lot of sports and, in my mind, a very healthy kid. Long story short, I ended up getting diagnosed with this very rare form of cancer. I was the 21st person to be diagnosed. I was in Grade Nine feeling like I was indestructible and then they were telling me I had four years of chemotherapy to get past it. That was a really long period of time. I had an abundance of surgeries and four years of pretty intense chemo. There were points where I couldn’t walk up the stairs I was so weak. It’s pretty challenging as a kid. You just got into high school and looking to branch out and get some semblance of adult life going, and I was just hit with that.

I think that’s where a lot of my thoughts toward starting a business and having a life that was on my terms came from. I’d be in the hospital for a month straight and go outside and sit there thinking that whenever I get past this, I want to make sure that I’m doing what I love doing every single day, and I never want to be in a situation where I have some sort of job that I don’t love. So there were a lot of days there that were as uncomfortable as you can possibly imagine and that showed me a lot about myself and how to deal with discomfort. It pushed me to want to really do more with my life and spend every day working on something that I was passionate about and excited about.

In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?

I think for the most part I keep a pretty positive attitude. It’s very important to keep a positive attitude. For me, what helps me do it is realizing that life is finite. Some day, we’re all going to be dead and the mistakes we make and the things we wish we did differently are not going to matter. Knowing that at some point your life is going to end, we’re sitting trying to play it safe and just go with the tide, that’s not exciting. If you consider the thought that life is short, why are we taking it so seriously? That sort of mindset can push you to go past your comfort zone and seek out what it is that brings you joy every day, and truly focus on those things.

Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.

Attitude is so important. Energy is so important. There’s this concept I like to say about being a viable year. If you’ve ever been to a party and it’s a bad party: the energy’s kind of off and no one’s dancing, everyone’s just looking around. Everyone in that room wants the energy to be different. Everyone wants to be excited. All it takes is one crazy guy to go bust some wacky dance moves and for everyone to start chuckling and saying look how wacky this guy’s dances moves are. That’s all it takes for the second person to start busting out some moves. And then the third person to start busting out some moves. And then, eventually, the whole party is busting out moves like it’s 1965. All it took was that one guy, the vibe leader, to change the whole dynamic of the situation.

It’s our tendency to want to exude positive energy in everything we do but sometimes there needs to be a pillar for that, a person. As a leader of a company, it’s your job to be the vibe leader. It’s your job to really define the feeling, the emotion of the group and maintain that. Be consistent. You’re going to have days when you’re down, and that’s where the team will pick you up because you’ve done such a great job at establishing the positive mindset that it becomes ingrained in everyone you work with. The objective is not forgotten with a down day.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Along with our website, Vertiball.com, you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and, of course, YouTube, where we have a lot of inspirational videos from athletes as well as instructional videos from medical and sports professionals on how to use Vertiball with a wide variety of muscle aches and pain.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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