During Super Bowl LII, guests at Morgan Misek’s home thought they’d been invited to watch the game. But Misek and his business partner John Smigaj had another idea: to use the largest captive audience they’d had to date to practice their pitch to the Thurston Investment Network (ThINK). “They were gracious enough to let us do it,” says Smigaj. “It was the largest group of people we could corner at one time.”
Their actual pitch occurred several weeks later and they were successful in acquiring backing for their multisport outdoor gear and apparel company, Trxstle. Local Attorney and ThINK investor Gary Andrews was convinced by their business plan and ability to answer all questions as well as the prototype for a Convertible Rod Carry System (CRC), a fly rod and reel storage device that allows an enthusiast the option of carrying two fully rigged fly rods on top of a vehicle.
“I like to fly fish, so it hit a niche that I was really interested in,” says Andrews. “I’ve been in fly fishing country and I’ve seen how crazy people get about their gear. This was something I hadn’t seen on the market and it appealed to me. I was thinking, ‘Even if we don’t fund them, can I get one of these?’”
Other companies have also attracted investment through ThINK, a membership-based network that connects those with a desire to add a local component to their investment portfolio with local business owners who need capital. The Thurston Economic Development Council’s (EDC) Center for Business & Innovation (CB&I) oversees the program. According to Andrews, Trxstle has received the largest investment and has traveled the furthest from where they started out of any of the businesses who have received investment through ThINK so far.
Once they gained funding, Misek and Smigaj imagined that the next steps would be relatively simple: manufacturing and distribution. Fate had other plans, however. First, there were communication issues. “Communicating with the manufacturing partner in China was definitely a learning experience for us,” says Smigaj. “I went to China with a colleague who had worked in manufacturing in Asia for about 10 years and spoke Mandarin. We inspected everything, told them what was right, what wasn’t, and thought we were ready to go.”
But just as their first shipment was due to arrive, the U.S. government shut down occurred, meaning all ports were now inoperable. Instead of arriving in Seattle as planned, their ship was diverted to Canada – where a large crane fell on it, destroying dozens of containers. “Fortunately, not ours,” says Smigaj. “We sent a video in our newsletter showing the crane hitting the boat and explaining what happened.”
When the government shutdown ended, their ship returned to its original destination, Seattle, just in time for last year’s Snowmaggedon. Seventeen inches of snow fell within a short period, causing another five days of delay. The pair ended up unloading their first shipment through 10 inches of accumulated snow in the yard of their shop.
That was a year ago. Today, after gathering feedback from their first customers online and through social media, Misek and Smigaj have modified their product and made improvements. Their second batch of CRCs sold out and they’re expecting their third early this year.
Both Misek and Smigaj are engineers, the former an avid mountain biker, the latter a dedicated fly fisherman. From the start they’ve been looking for a way to combine their passions with a fully set up fly rod system that can be mounted on a mountain bike to help gain access to remote areas without having to assemble a rod on the spot. That project remains in the development phase but with the help of ThINK, other products are starting to gain momentum.
“We’ve been building the brand, building our presence online and adding apparel,” says Misek. “We’ve created a compact waterproof case for everyday essentials and our apparel line has sold out multiple times.” Currently their equipment and gear are available online and in approximately 15 regional fly fishing shops. Larger deals are in the works and they have already secured a Canadian distributor. In 2020 they plan to participate in at least five trade shows at the beginning of the year.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the bike packing system that we’re working on,” says Misek. “John got me into fly fishing, and I’ve taken him mountain biking, and I really love the idea of combining those.”
For his part, Smigaj is excited about the final version of the CRC system that will be released this year. “It will do all the things I’ve always wanted it to do,” he says. “We’ve also got some really cool pieces of apparel that are coming out that are more technical and I can’t wait to see how they’re received.”
Andrews believes that Trxstle’s success can only boost the profile of ThINK in the community, encouraging more investors and entrepreneurs to find each other. “We can put Trxstle out there and say, “These are the opportunities that are available in this community. It’s not just buying local, it’s investing local which is exponentially better.”
The ThINk network will be hosting a business pitch event on Thursday, February 13 from 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. at the Center for Business & Innovation, 4220 6th Avenue SE, Lacey. Three locally-owned businesses who are seeking capital to start up or scale up their operations will be pitching to Network Members. The first 15 minutes of the session will be a short training for folks interested in learning more about the ThINk Network. Attendees then have the option of signing the ThINk Membership Agreement and joining the Network. Those who join are then welcome to stay to hear the businesses pitch. There is no membership fee to join ThINk and never an obligation to invest.
Learn more by visiting the ThINK website or calling 360-464-6045.