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David Patrick

David Patrick

David Patrick is CTO of Shark Wheel, the California-based company that reinvented the wheel – with a little help from Kickstarter.

David Patrick is CTO of Shark Wheel, the California-based company that reinvented the wheel – with a little help from Kickstarter.


The entrepreneur that went from Kickstarter to Shark Tank… by reinventing the wheel

David Patrick was working on a design for a new type of carnival ride, when he accidentally reinvented the wheel. He talks to us about turning his ground-breaking idea into Shark Wheel, an innovative startup that got him trending on Reddit and a one-time shot on Shark Tank.

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David’s life took an unusual turn when, as a geometry enthusiast with no formal training in mathematics, physics or engineering, he stumbled upon an unconventional shape that he believed had the power to disrupt a number of industries. Nine years later, his shape has been commercialized in a number of ways, with applications ranging from skateboard wheels to agricultural irrigation.

His discovery came about three years after he had wrapped up his previous business in the software sector. He wanted his next venture to be a passion project, and so he began to consider carnival rides. “I loved the feeling of weightlessness, or that sensation of falling.”

He wanted to create something entirely new, and set about visualising how he wanted to feel while he was on the ride: “[what if] I was in the middle of the ride and spinning, head over heels, [and] at the same time, I'm doing the ballerina […] moving up, down, left, right, back, forth in one complete rotation.”

He sat down to trace out the path, and although he wasn’t initially quite sure what he was onto, the shape fascinated him: “It was the path around a sphere. I knew it was a perfect cube. I knew it was a perfect circle. I knew it was a perfect set of sine waves. I knew all that from the beginning.”

A self-described “entrepreneurial type of person”, he started to consider the business potential of his idea and, together with his business partner, spent two years developing the shape into a turbine. But, despite a prestigious residency at the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, David couldn’t shake the feeling that a wheel was the way to go: “The wheel just sucked us out.”

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No ordinary business podcast

David is a regular guest on Making It Work – your no-nonsense, straight-talking business podcast.

Their considerations were partially practical. David estimated that, to get into wind power he’d be looking at “10 to 15 years [of development time] and $10–15 million [in initial investment]”, while the wheel “was so easy to monetize”, requiring only a comparatively modest $250,000 to get off the ground.

The first iteration of the wheel was a 3D-printed bicycle wheel, but it didn’t go so well. “Once you got it on a bicycle, it was comical, it was [fine] riding dead straight, […] but as soon as you started to lean, you were just [on] the ride of your life. It would buck you off like a bucking bronco.”

But the bicycle wheels weren’t designed in vain. While experimenting, he realised that placing three wheels next to one another formed something that looked like a larger version of a skateboarding wheel. And as a life-long skateboarder himself, he knew how well the properties of the Shark Wheel — “how it can go over rocks, and it's faster and smoother” — were suited to the sport.

Producing skateboard wheels had another advantage: “The bearing and the axle that everybody uses is universal, everybody uses the same thing. So I didn't have to try and sell a skateboard. I just needed to sell the wheel, and anyone can put it on their board.”

“They told us flat out: ‘You're going to spend millions of dollars… and you will fail’.”

Now that they had found a niche in which to market-test their concept, David and Zach set about the arduous task of getting their product ready for mass production. Neither knew anything about manufacturing, and the managers of the factory they were working with were less than encouraging: “They told us flat out: ‘You're going to spend millions of dollars and many years and you will fail’.”

And fail they did — a lot. “It took probably five years to get there. It was a very long, tedious process”. But eventually, having brought Pedro Valdez, a Hollywood silicone mould producer (think the masks in films like Ironman, Star Trek, and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) into the team, they found a design that they could put into production.

A Kickstarter campaign followed, and simultaneously delivered both funds and publicity. “We met our goal in 72 hours. And that became the news story. And next thing you know, we're trending on Reddit, and the Atlantic, and Popular Mechanics writes about us.” An appearance on Shark Tank followed, increasing their liquidity, and giving them even more exposure.

From then on, the product took the lead. “I knew it was going to get sold once because it was a gimmick [… but that] they'd keep buying it because it was better than any other wheel that was out there.” David’s confidence in his product was justified, with over 250,000 units sold to date. Demand soared even higher in 2020, due to a lockdown-fuelled boom in skateboarding, which took Shark Wheel’s annual turnover to $2.5 million.

Having proved that the shape was more than a gimmick, Shark Wheel began to move into other industries, including suitcase wheels and forklifts. Another, less obvious, application was discovered by chance: someone saw some Shark Wheels on a skateboard, and contacted David to tell him that the shape would be ideal for central pivot irrigation, in which crops are watered using rotating sprinklers. Several years of government grant-backed R&D followed, and mechanical irrigation wheels now have the potential to become Shark Wheel’s largest market.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Although Shark Wheel’s underlying profitability is good, funding growth has been a struggle. “It doesn’t matter how profitable you are, if you’re growing, you are cash-starved. […] If we were to agree to just stay static, we could make a profitable company. But we want to grow.” Luckily, they have found no shortage of backers: “I think people see the potential in us”.

And for those early Kickstarter backers, David has a message: The first production run for Kickstarter, “was a unique run, it was a unique colour [… if] we ever become a big deal in the future, those will be the ones you want to hold on to, flaws and all.”

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Want to hear more from David?

David Patrick is a regular guest on Making It Work – the podcast featuring remarkable US entrepreneurs who tell it like it is.

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