The question I'm asked most often when I first meet someone is, "How did you get started in this business?" If you've ever wondered the same thing, this is my answer. It's a story about a unique point in time in 1987, my unique background, and the variety of influences that led me to start this business and grow it steadily since then. Three decades of relentless hard work and dedication have taken me from those humble beginnings to what you see today.
Back in the Day
When we introduced our first product in August 1987, the sport of triathlon was the latest fitness craze. Time-crunched "yuppies" and fitness-focused "baby boomers" were jumping in wholeheartedly, training three times as much as single sport athletes were training.
The unpleasant side effects of this high-volume endurance training included fatigue, recovery, depleted energy levels, anemia, impaired immune function, and other maladies. Since I had been using antioxidants and micronutrients for years to increase my own energy and endurance and to effectively combat my exercise-induced fatigue and recovery issues, I knew very well what these athletes were dealing with and how to help them.
Bear in mind, the damaging effects of free radical activity in the body and the role that antioxidants play in neutralizing and repairing that damage was not common knowledge at that time. There were no nutritional supplements specifically formulated with high levels of antioxidants and micronutrients to counter the stresses of high-volume endurance training.
In addition, most athletes were adhering to misguided diets that featured massive amounts of carbs, minimal protein, and close to zero fat. Fueling options during exercise were limited and primitive, with many athletes favoring bananas and water to the brightly colored, sugar/salt/citric acid drink mixes of the day.
The prevailing wisdom on fueling for endurance was the most problematic of all. Experts of the day all recommended (and the magazines dutifully reported) the flawed theory of "replace what you lose" for fluids, calories and electrolytes. Athletes were trying to stuff 500-800 calories per hour down their throats while consuming massive amounts of water. Of course, following those practices did not (and still does not) end well for most athletes.
These truly were the dark ages of endurance sports from a fueling and supplement perspective. Participating in an event of 3-4 hours (let alone 6, 12, 24, or more hours!) almost certainly involved negative physical side effects like stomach upset, GI distress, and/or cramping - possibly even a visit to the medical tent for an emergency IV.
The growth of the sport of triathlon in the '80s was followed by masters cycling in the early '90s and then mountain bike racing in the late '90s. During this time, the "ultra" effect also kicked in - ultra distance events of every imaginable kind were held, and the trend continues to grow today. As the world of endurance sports and endurance athletes has grown and evolved, so have we.
This unique combination of events set the stage and gave me the opportunity to create the very first supplements specifically for endurance athletes. Through the ensuing years, I have continued to develop uniquely effective fuels, supplements, and more to meet the needs of endurance athletes.
Another facet of this story is how I came to start a business selling nutritional supplements in 1987, at the age of 20 in my apartment in San Francisco. In 1967 I was born at home in the Hollywood Hills, before the midwife could arrive. My parents were real southern California "hippies." My father was a chiropractor and an advocate of the necessity of supplementation for optimal health. My mom was a holistic practitioner and midwife. At our house, we didn't eat much sugar, wheat, or processed dairy products - we ate mostly whole foods and no "junk food" as my mom was prone to calling just about anything that came in a package or can. I guess you could say we were granola before it was cool. I can remember taking vitamins since I was 4 years old.
I took to sports at an early age, specifically anything with wheels, learning to ride a bicycle just after my second birthday and a skateboard shortly thereafter. By my fifth birthday, I was riding motorcycles and began racing BMX and motocross in short order. Since classes were optional at the "free" school I attended, I spent most days riding bikes, skateboarding, or riding my motorcycle.
In 1976, I moved to central Africa with my two sisters, Mom, and her new husband, who had just taken the position of associate director of the Peace Corp for Chad. We lived in the capital of N'Djamena. The next 3 1/2 years were some of the most amazing and formative in my life. Besides the innumerable life lessons and altered perspectives that come from living in one of the world's poorest countries between the ages of 8 and 12, I was able to ride my bike and motorcycle as much as I wanted and play soccer every day at school. All of this in 100+°F heat, no less. Hydration and nutrition were a matter of life and death, if not for me, then at least for most of the people around me.
Our second 2 1/2-year tour in Chad was cut short by the escalating civil war that engulfed the entire country in late 1979. After a week under siege in N'Djamena, we were evacuated to a safe haven in neighboring Cameroon for 6 weeks. When we were informed that "everything is gone" and that the Peace Corps was ceasing operations in Chad, we returned to southern California, settling in Long Beach for my middle school and high school years. I immediately resumed my life on wheels, riding bikes, skateboards, and motorcycles whenever I was not in school or working to support my racing activities.
In high school, I joined the water polo and swim team at Wilson High School in Long Beach, a school that was the perennial powerhouse and often district champion. This meant 4-5 hours a day in the pool, and that was just cross training for my true passion, motocross. Racing was plentiful back then, so I raced one or two nights per week and usually both weekend days if I didn't have a game or meet. I also maintained a 3.7 GPA in accelerated programs at school and worked any job I could get to pay for my racing.
I knew from first-hand experience the profound effects that proper fueling and supplementation before, during, and after training and racing can have on recovery and energy levels. Using a combination of high doses of CoQ10 and a variety of antioxidants, I could withstand my insanely active schedule. If I stopped taking them, my recovery went downhill and I'd be napping any chance I got.
Motorcycle racing also caused a knee injury that resulted in two surgeries and the discovery of road cycling for rehabilitation. I graduated high school in 1985 and then moved to San Francisco to attend college at San Francisco State University, majoring in international business. I valet parked cars at night and worked at a gourmet produce stand in Tiburon on weekend days. That left me 4-6 hours a day to ride my bike and that's exactly what I did - all over the Marin Headlands and Bay Area backroads.
I was quickly frustrated, however, by the lack of nutritional supplements on the market that addressed the unique needs of high-mileage cyclists and endurance athletes. So, I went back to my old regime from high school and began taking high doses of CoQ10 and antioxidants. The effect on my energy, endurance, and recovery was as amazing as it had been in high school.
So, it's now 1987. With all of those unique conditions and unmet needs in the market that I mentioned earlier, I now have product ideas to address them - perfect for an entrepreneur needing a job.
In 1986, I decided to drop out of college, abandoning my plan to work in international trade, to become an entrepreneur. In 1987, with the support and encouragement of my late father, Gerry S. Frank, DC, I launched E-Caps, a line of nutritional supplements specifically designed for the unique requirements of endurance athletes.
Our first product was a single-ingredient, high-potency CoQ10 supplement. That was followed a few months later by Race Caps and Enduro Caps - now combined, updated, and enhanced as the product known as Race Caps Supreme. Those first three products were quickly followed by Boron, Chromemate, Xobaline, and Energy Surge. To this day, these are among my favorite products.
Unfortunately, Gerry died suddenly from cancer in 1991, before he could wind up his practice and join me in day to day operations.
The Early Years
In those first years, it became quite apparent that there was a void in the fuels available to endurance athletes. I lost count of the number of clients who related the same story. All of them told me how they had become sick and unable to perform to their potential due to their on-course nutrition. This led to Sustained Energy (co-developed by Dr. Bill Misner and me), the first product of its kind to incorporate three different sources of complex carbohydrates, protein, and a host of nutrients to support fat metabolism. We originally called it 'Wild Bill's Triple X Mega Fuel' during development, and then 'Energy Surge,' before we settled on 'Sustained Energy' as its name. With no flavor or sugars added, Sustained Energy was described as tasting like "soggy Cheerios" or wallpaper paste. But it revolutionized fueling for exercise that lasted longer than 3 hours.
Shortly after the successful launch of Sustained Energy, I began developing Hammer Gel, having been one of the first sources in the U.S. for Leppin Squeezy, truly the first energy gel ever created. I knew I could improve upon the original, just as I did with the "sports drink" concept. As with Sustained Energy, I left refined sugars out of the Hammer Gel formula, opting instead for complex carbohydrates in the form of maltodextrin and real fruit concentrates for the fruit flavors. The lack of refined sugars and citric acid is the main reason Hammer Gel works so much better than any other gel and why athletes report that it does not cause the side effects they've experienced with other gels.
1995 was another big year for me. I began to introduce Hammer Nutrition Endurance Fuels to the existing line of endurance supplements and performance enhancers, then known as E-CAPS. I also moved my family and the business to Whitefish, Montana. At that time, the business consisted of just me and one full-time employee. In 2016, the Hammer Nutrition team includes a staff of over 40 at our Whitefish Headquarters.
The Story Continues
As popularity of my products spread, bike shops and specialty retailers began asking to carry my products. I had never really set out to pursue business through retail stores, but was happy to help them get effective, healthful products into the hands of their customers. My challenge within this format was ensuring that the same level of education and customer service we provided directly to customers would be achieved in stores. This is why we prefer to only work with retailers who “get” the new business paradigm - brick and mortar stores thrive when they emphasize customer service, support and education instead of price competition!
To that end I decided to provide free educational materials to our retailers, expanded my 100% satisfaction policy to include product purchased in stores and began offering fueling clinics and staff trainings in shops across the country. Retailers found that when customers fueled well they advanced in their sport more quickly, came back to shop more often, and developed stronger relationships with their shops. The retail segment of the business has since grown to include thousands of shops across the country, but in order to protect the integrity of my brand, our pricing structure and business plan I’ve chosen to forgo the quick dollars offered by supermarkets and big box stores - where there would be no educational or customer service offered. I think this is one of the reasons our original accounts are still with us today and that some now report nutrition as the higher dollar per square footage segment of their stores!