Patrick Whaley had been experimenting with the idea of a weighted compression top since he was a skinny elementary school student. He'd overstuff his backpack, trying to gain muscle mass, only to realize that it hurt his shoulder more than anything.
Whaley developed prototypes for this shirt/jacket in middle school and continued to refine it in high school, but he was still missing a few pieces. He went to Georgia Tech to study mechanical Engineering, biomechanics and kinesiology. As he juggled with other inventions, his compression idea took a back seat.
It eventually got made, and now Whaley's compression gear is patented and worn by professional athletes like Paul Millsap of the Atlanta Hawks and Dustin Pedroia and Jonny Gomes of the Boston Red Sox. But the craziest part of Whaley's story isn't that he turned a childhood idea into an actual business. It's that the gear helped him recover from a near-fatal gunshot wound, which inspired him to think big with his product.
May 4, 2009, was the day that changed Whaley’s life.
He was still attending Georgia Tech, and It was move-in day at his new Atlanta apartment. Whaley was carrying the third or fourth load when he heard footsteps. Three armed gunmen approached him and asked for his wallet and phone. He stared down the barrel of the gun when the trigger went off.
"I reached out and went to go take the gun and get control of the gun," Whaley said. “The gun went off and my chest was basically left for dead."
The bullet went through his lungs, liver and inferior vena cava in his back. It took six months of recovery, but without his weighted compression shirt, which he named TITIN, he said it could have been longer.
"You go from being someone that, [6-foot, 4-inches], 215 pounds, I'm trying to perfect my body with everything I do and everything I eat, to now I can’t even stand up straight," Whaley said. "I wanted something that I could use on a daily basis, and I found that my TITIN shirt was the best way to recover. To this day, I believe that it was the one thing that has brought me back to life."
Once he recovered to full strength, Whaley knew he wanted to commit to TITIN, which featured gel inserts that match the density of human muscles.
Whaley focused on marketing and commercializing TITIN, going to enterprise competitions around the country and gained valuable visibility.
TITIN's success garnered attention from ABC show "Shark Tank," which invites entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to a panel of five business executives in hopes of a deal. Whaley made his appearance with TITIN last year.
"You walk on set and it’s pretty nerve-wracking," Whaley said. "You get in front of five extremely wealthy investors and business entrepreneurs in their own right. I think the last thing that I thought of before I went on set was, 'Just talk to them like their human beings. Just talk to them they’re just like you and me.’”
He began his pitch asking the "sharks" for $500,000 in return for a 5 percent equity stake in TITIN. The asking surprised the sharks, but Whaley told them he'd grown TITIN's revenue from $10,000 monthly in 2013 to upwards of $1 million a month by the time of filming in the fall of 2014.
Still, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban did not buy into Whaley’s pitch. Neither did Robert Herjavec and Lori Greiner. However, FUBU CEO Daymond John said he instantly related with Whaley.
"I used to wear one of those traditional weighted vests and I was walking to the gym," John said. "I walked for three weeks back and forth to the gym not realizing that I had a double hernia by the time I was done because the weights wouldn’t shift with my body. … When I touched this TITIN tech, I said, 'This stuff is tight and it moves with your body. It's just like extra muscle.'"
John, who partners with some CrossFit gyms in New York City, saw Whaley's vision and knew he wanted to invest. Whaley told the sharks that he needed to re-stock his inventory because TITIN was selling out quickly and John bought in.
"If you have a shortage in inventory, that means you have a high demand,” John said. "We hear a lot of 'Why did you need the money? Well, I want to do some great advertising.’ When you hear great advertising, what does that mean? I don’t have enough customers. It’s the exact opposite when you go 'I’m out of inventory and I have orders waiting.'"
Even though fellow shark Kevin O'Leary had a higher bid, John's promise to handle inventory sealed the deal for Whaley.
"I was trying to keep my mind open, so I wasn’t looking for one person over another," Whaley said. "I wanted someone that believed in me. … "I could tell that he understood the problem. He understood that TITIN and saw its need."
Whaley accepted John's offer of $500,000 for a 20 percent stake in the company, and they began working after a six-month negotiation period ended. With Whaley and John, TITIN continues to grow with the calling card of being the only patented weight compression gear.
Although he already has pro stars using his product, Whaley said the next step will be geared toward the rest of us.
"I think the future is bright," he said. “As we grow, we’re going to start getting into the mass market and the average consumer. … That’s the exciting part of what we do, is that we’re trying to be as fit as we possibly can and TITIN will be there to help you do it."