Thomas Fields, founder of GRIND basketball.
The term has become popular in pro basketball, but Thomas Fields really did “trust the process” as he lured money from investors, including Mark Cuban, to expand his company.
Fields is the founder of GRIND, a sports equipment company, and convinced the Dallas Mavericks owner to buy into the business. The 26-year-old Houston native received $250,000 from his appearance on “Shark Tank” for his portable shooting machine.
In an interview with CNBC on Wednesday, days after his May 7 appearance on “Shark Tank,” Fields recalled the process of launching GRIND in Mach 2020, days before sports shut down due to Covid-19.
“It was literally two weeks before the pandemic hit,” Fields said. “After that, we were operating in a Covid world, so we don’t even know what that non-Covid world looks like.”
Pitching the sharks
On the business front, Fields said GRIND has done well while operating during the pandemic. The basketball machine is set up for a single user and automatically returns the ball to the player, allowing for 1,000 shots an hour.
Fields said the company generated roughly $217,000 in sales during the first five months, as lockdowns were in place and large gatherings banned. The product currently sells for $1,595, according to its website. On Amazon, similar shooting machines are listed for over $5,000.
And Fields notes GRIND folds into a duffle bag within 90 seconds, weighs roughly 100 pounds, and called the product “affordable and accessible to any athlete that would want it.”
Asked about current sales, Fields declined to reveal figures, citing privacy concerns for his new partners. “Shark Tank” invited Fields to the show after six rounds of interviews, with the final pitch coming last September in Las Vegas.
Mark Cuban on ABC’s “Shark Tank”
His fiancée applied to the show before the company launched. Fields said he watched previously recorded episodes, which airs on CNBC, and took notes. And while quarantined in Las Vegas before meeting the sharks, he furthered studied the process of his once-in-a-lifetime pitch.
“All I could do was practice,” Fields said, adding he was in “execution mode” when he arrived. He pitched a cast including Cuban, new Minnesota Timberwolves owner Alex Rodriguez, CNBC contributor Kevin O’Leary and businesswoman Barbara Corcoran. After the pitch, he got two investors — Cuban and Corcoran — who took 25% of the company.
“I love the product,” Cuban told CNBC in an email. “I ordered one while the show was being filmed.”
Added Fields: “It was great going through it, and after knowing those two believed in me as an entrepreneur and loved the product, that was more than enough validation to say the company is going to be something special.”
Batteries not included
Shortly after recapping the show, Fields recalled more of GRIND’s process. He pointed to 2017 while recovering from four ACL surgeries, one of the more extreme injuries in sports, especially basketball. It was then that Fields knew making it to the National Basketball Association wasn’t attainable.
Fields said he learned how to weld thanks to a friend and started working on the concept of the GRIND machine. He pitched early investors, but no one provided money. So he started working for Raising Cane’s, a popular fast-food chain and a local car wash, saving nearly $25,000.
Fields said he became a “self-taught, mechanical engineer,” paid himself $300 per month, and worked on prototypes and proof of concept in his garage.
“Just perfecting the machine and making it great,” Fields remembered.
Even Rodriguez saluted Fields’ persistence on social media. “I got a lot of love, but he ended up being out,” Fields said of Rodriguez.
Today, the shooting machines are manufactured in Idaho, and Fields has eight employees, including four engineers. GRIND also landed an NBA team deal with the San Antonio Spurs, who use the machine for their youth camps.
“We targeted the Spurs because they have the best and largest youth organization in the NBA,” Fields said. “It was strategic, and we didn’t partner with them because they were close by.”
GRIND is working on a battery that can be added to the machine. It was one of the concerns Cuban had before investing. The machine uses an extension cord for power, which Fields noted Cuban told him made the product non-portable as it still needs a power outlet.
“At the end of the day, we don’t want customers walking around with 100-foot extension cords,” Fields said. “We want them ready to go and worried about getting better.”
Ambitions of Nike and Peloton
Fields is entering a competitive sports equipment market. According to firm Grand View Research, the sector is expected to reach $89.2 billion in 2025. And GRIND is also competing with the tech sector, as companies like Apple are selling sports and fitness training subscriptions.
“The way I see it, there is only so much that software can bring to an individual,” Fields said. “There is also so much that hardware can bring to a consumer. I’ve always been of the mindset of bringing the best of both worlds.
“I believe our hardware solves a real problem that no software will ever be able to figure out – getting your made and missed shots and automatically passing the ball out and allowing you to shoot over one thousand shots an hour. No software can do that.”
Fields says he wants to build GRIND as a combination of Nike and Peloton.
“It’s a perfect time for us to come in and change the world of basketball through interactive sports equipment,” Fields said. “I think the future is bright for us. We’re much more than a shooting machine company.”
And now the process continues.