08 Jun 2010 - 18 Jun 2012
MADE TO ENDURE AND MADE IN AMERICA
By Andrea Orr
At a time when so many manufacturers offer lifetime guarantees and claim their products were “built to last,” how does a business that has truly raised the bar on quality set itself apart? One way is to demonstrate that its product can hold up under the most extreme circumstances, like war. Or, it could put its product to the test in incredibly tough conditions closer to home.
Jason McCarthy (MBA ’11), the founder of GORUCK, which makes military-grade gear for civilian use, has an unusual background that enables him to do both.
Prior to enrolling in Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, McCarthy spent five years in the military, earning a green beret, and serving as a combat advisor in Iraq. And on a recent warm day in May he became a weekend warrior, voluntarily packed his GORUCK backpack with 20 pounds of bricks to prove its durability, and embarked on the Tough Mudder, a seven-mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces that is billed as “the toughest one-day endurance race on the planet.”
It was a fitting product launch for what McCarthy describes as “the most durable backpack on the planet.” As he builds more brand recognition, McCarthy plans to expand into other types of gear like messenger bags and luggage, all designed in a no-frills basic black aimed to attract adventure seekers and fashion-conscious New Yorkers alike.
Although he is aware of an abundance of competitive products, many which make similar quality claims, McCarthy insists that his products stand apart.
“There are some great names out there, but their products are just not military grade,” he maintains.
In the two-and-a-half years McCarthy spent designing GORUCK packs, he says he considered the gear he had carried in Iraq, eliminated the military specific features such as ammunition pockets, and then worked closely with a designer to make sure they would hold up to his “best on the planet” guarantee.
“The hardest part of the process was ensuring that the product quality was up to standard,” says McCarthy.
There also were a host of logistical challenges such as finding an American company to manufacture the backpacks. The made-in-America quality is a key feature differentiating his products from much of the competition.
“What struck me about his business plan was the passion he has for the product, the idea, and the brand,” says Prashant Malaviya, associate professor of marketing at the McDonough School of Business, who spoke with McCarthy about GORUCK on several occasions.
The best advice he got from Malaviya and others at Georgetown, McCarty recalls, was the importance of guarding a brand from the very start, even when almost nobody knows about the brand. To that end, McCarthy has been careful to maintain complete control of the business.
While he has enlisted friends to help with design and promotion, he is the sole officer and the only financial backer to date, though he currently is raising money from family and friends to purchase inventory and support a successful business launch. He says he will not pursue venture capital because he fears outside advisors will pressure him to lower his standards.
McCarthy is spending the summer traveling the country and promoting his products while also identifying urban boutiques and outdoor gear stores that will carry the GORUCK brand. With backpacks ranging in price from $175 to $395, McCarthy is counting on customers being willing to pay for exceptional quality.
“I think the days of people buying 10 products that are going to break are gone,” he explains. “These bags will last a lifetime.”
©2009 Georgetown University