Earlier that day, I read that Ford had broken his leg during filming for Star Wars 7. I can’t make this stuff up — the door to the Millennial Falcon malfunctioned and came down on his ankle. I knew immediately that he could benefit from using the iWALK, but I had no connections to get the word to him. Getting past the gatekeepers of celebrities is virtually impossible, so I had to resort to other means. Our office is about an hour from Hollywood, so I did some research and found his agent and his publicist. I dressed like a deliveryman, and hand delivered iWALKs to them.
As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Brad Hunter. Brad is the President of iWALKFree, Inc. the company makes a hands-free crutch called the iWALK2.0 which gives people with lower leg injury or illness their mobility back. First invented by an Ontario farmer who broke his foot but still needed to work, Brad turned it into an award-winning, medically approved device sold in 30 countries. Brad, a former accountant who lives in Long Beach, California, is on a mission to make painful and frustrating crutches obsolete once and for all.
Thank you so much for joining us, Brad! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I literally fell onto this career path! I was jumping off a boat onto the dock and sprained my ankle. It was bad enough that I needed crutches, which was an entirely new experience for me. In my first five minutes on crutches, the realization hit me that I hadn’t lost the use of one limb, I had lost the use of three, as the crutches encumbered my hands and arms. Simple, everyday things like navigating stairs, pushing a grocery cart, walking the dog, cooking and cleaning, etc became extremely difficult or impossible. Prior to this, I had no idea of just how limiting crutches were.
By sheer coincidence, I was introduced to the first generation iWALKFree crutch. It was a game changer. Within 15 minutes, I could do all those things that were impossible on crutches. Suddenly I got my life back. It was such an obvious solution, it made me wonder why I had not seen it before. And I was not alone. Whenever I went out in public, total strangers would stop me to ask questions, or recount their experiences on crutches, adding that they wish they had known about the iWALK back then. This got me thinking, why hasn’t anyone heard of this? I realized I was on to something.
Some research revealed that the iWALK crutch had been around for a decade, and was currently being run by the founder, by himself — the proverbial one-man band. The company fit the cliché of a good idea that was underfunded. It needed to evolve.
Prior to iWALK, I owned a company that manufactured and distributed high-end bicycle wheels. It went from obscurity to becoming a globally recognized brand in only four years. Ultimately it was sold to Easton Sports, famous for their baseball and hockey divisions. The experiences gained here were ideal for taking iWALK to the next level.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
It’s hard to narrow it down, but this one comes to mind. One night, at 2am my phone rang, waking me from a sound sleep. I didn’t recognize the phone number, but I could tell it was from the UK, so I answered anyway. It was Harrison Ford, the actor.
Earlier that day, I read that Ford had broken his leg during filming for Star Wars 7. I can’t make this stuff up — the door to the Millennial Falcon malfunctioned and came down on his ankle. I knew immediately that he could benefit from using the iWALK, but I had no connections to get the word to him. Getting past the gatekeepers of celebrities is virtually impossible, so I had to resort to other means. Our office is about an hour from Hollywood, so I did some research and found his agent and his publicist. I dressed like a deliveryman, and hand delivered iWALKs to them. I also learned that Ford’s son had a restaurant in Culver City, which was near Hollywood, so I stopped in on my way home. I met Ben, Ford’s son, showed him the iWALK and explained how it could help his father, but not unless somebody on the inside got word to him. He promised to tell his dad about it, and he was good to his word.
Ford was in London at the time, and, thinking I was also in London, called during their morning, which was 2am in my time zone. He was very apologetic when he found out I was in Southern California. Needless to say, it was OK by me.
That day, I helped fit him over the phone, and he was walking in about five minutes. Ford was straightforward in telling me that he has never endorsed a product during his career, but he was kind enough to wear the iWALK to dinner, and the paparazzi had a field day. iWALK was thrust into the limelight. It was a potent launchpad.
Little known fact — Ford was a two-time user. A few months after the Star Wars accident, he was involved in a plane crash and broke his other leg. He contacted us requesting another iWALK, which we were happy to provide. We even assisted him personally in regaining his mobility using the iWALK.
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
The iWALK2.0 is an award-winning crutch designed to be an alternative to traditional crutches and knee scooters for all below-the-knee injuries. It gives people hands-free / pain-free mobility and enables them to live a functional, independent lifestyle.
It acts like a temporary lower leg, making it easy, intuitive and safe to use and most people adapt to it within just half an hour of wearing it. When using the iWALK, from the hip to the knee, your leg is doing pretty much the same thing it does during normal walking, so it’s intuitive and safe to use. Unlike crutches, it engages the muscles of both legs, which has considerable medical benefits. It is registered as a Class 1 medical device with the United States FDA, Health Canada and CE in Europe. It is recommended by orthopedics, physiotherapists and prosthetists worldwide. It has been the subject of clinical studies and won numerous awards, including the Manning Innovation Award, “Best New Product”, at Medtrade and the Inovo award for best product at Medica — the world’s largest medical device show.
Hundreds of thousands of people have benefitted from the iWALK2.0 so far, and we’re just scratching the surface.
How do you think this will change the world?
I don’t think…I know.
Crutches have been around for thousands of years and they haven’t got a whole lot better in that time. They are painful, frustrating and they prevent you from doing almost anything — even everyday tasks like making a cup of coffee or grocery shopping. There are around 100 million crutches sold globally per year — that means that at any given time, literally millions of people are struggling on crutches because they don’t yet know that there’s a far superior alternative.
Knee scooters / knee walkers are a more recent alternative, and while they alleviate the pain of crutches, they remain very inconvenient, as they are big, bulky, heavy and require the use of your hands. They cannot navigate tight spaces or uneven terrain.
The benefits of the iWALK2.0 compared to traditional crutches or knee scooters are vast. The ability to lead a normal, independent lifestyle without pain is the obvious improvement, but you cannot discount the improvements for mental health and wellbeing. We often get emails from customers telling us how the iWALK eliminated the depression that they experienced on crutches. Parents who could not take care of their children, breadwinners who could not go back to work — their problems were immediately solved by the iWALK crutch. We’re also getting reports of reduced muscle atrophy, reduced risk of secondary injury, and more compliance from patients. In August the medical journal Foot & Ankle International published a study which directly compared the iWALK2.0 with standard crutches. Of the 44 foot and ankle patients involved in the study, nine out of 10 preferred the hands-free crutch to traditional crutches.
In the future, the iWALK crutch will become the accepted standard of care. Patients will be issued crutches or a knee scooter only if they are unable to use the iWALK. I can’t predict if this will take a year, or five, or ten, but I can say with certainty that this will happen.
None whatsoever. And believe me, we’ve contemplated every possible negative scenario. Is the iWALK as good as your human leg? Of course not — there’s no way that a device that costs $150 can perform at that level. But compared to conventional crutches or knee scooters there is no comparison. The iWALK crutch, including the first-generation version, has been around for almost 20 years now, and has been used by hundreds of thousands of people, and to date, there has not been a single instance of any lasting negative effect from the device.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
Yes, definitely. I’ll call it my breaking point instead — and that happened when I found myself crawling on the floor so I could give my dog a bowl of water. It was absurd, yet this is what was required to get this otherwise simple task done. This motivated me to search for a better option.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
I need only two things. Awareness and understanding. Ask anyone who has been on crutches about their experience, and you’ll get the same response every time, which will be a visceral hatred of crutches. And it doesn’t matter if their experience was last week, or 20 years ago, the reaction is the same. Trying to live on crutches is such a bad experience that it scars you for life, and over 100 million people per year experience this.
We have a crutch that nobody hates, because it allows you to walk on two legs as nature intended and maintain your functional lifestyle. So, if you A) knew that the iWALK exists, and B) understood what it does for you, and that it’s legit, then the choice is simple. iWALK is the quintessential better mousetrap. Once you know that, nobody should be condemned to crutches or scooters.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
1/ Medical professionals have a healthy skepticism of any new medical product. We thought that getting the physician buy in would be easy. It wasn’t.
As a start up with limited resources, we needed to be strategic in our marketing. It was obvious that if we got the physician buy-in, they would become our referral source, so they were our logical target. We debuted iWALK2.0 at AOFAS, the conference for foot and ankle orthopedic surgeons. We expected to be the belle of the ball, but we weren’t. We were met with skepticism and negativity. A big, wet towel was thrown on our marketing efforts.
Time passed, and patients showed up for follow ups wearing the iWALK. They made believers of the doctors, and the iWALK is now recommended by physicians worldwide, including those in the leading hospitals in the world.
2/ “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.” This used to be true. It isn’t anymore. That would have been good to know.
3/ Cross border commerce is complicated….extremely complicated. iWALKFree started as a Canadian corporation. It became obvious that it was advantageous to operate from the US, so we set up a US corporation as a subsidiary. Sounds easy, but the complexities of transitioning far exceeded our expectations.
4/ Hope for the best. But plan for the worst. Adhering to this has saved me from disaster on numerous occasions.
5/ Everything works well….until it doesn’t. My prior experience in manufacturing taught me this valuable lesson — work hard to get things working on autopilot, but, no matter how robust your processes are, at some point even the most trustworthy aspects of your company will have something go wrong, so remain vigilant.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
Add value. If your skills and experience add value to an organization, you’re golden. Never stop learning, never stop growing.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
iWALKFree stock. Shameless pitch, but it’s true.
Less self-serving answer is, I would invest even more into product development and marketing.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
In business and in life, always look for the win-win. This is the only way to have sustainable relationships.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to have rock solid, 100% belief in what you are doing. You need to couple this with determination and tenacity. There will be speed bumps along the way, so these two ingredients are your beachhead. Never lose sight of the goal, and never give up. Ever.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
We are the only company in the world producing the hands-free crutch. As first to market, we did our homework and obtained utility patents in 7 key global markets. The functionality and lifestyle improvements are obvious. What’s less obvious are the clinical benefits, which are considerable and will make iWALK the required standard of care. 100 million customers per year, year after year. And growing. 100% hatred of the current standard. Do the math. Take the remaining 45 seconds and ponder the possibilities.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.