Swolverine is an elite athlete and active lifestyle brand that specifically designs products built to fuel your athletic performance, increase strength, improve endurance, and optimize muscle recovery. Co-founder Walter Hinchman breaks down the brand’s journey from inception to becoming a unique voice in the world of performance supplementation.
Tell us about your brand; what makes it different? What are you most proud of?
Swolverine is an elite athlete and active lifestyle brand. We differentiate ourselves by offering products that are transparent, blend-free, and clinically effective, with and proven ingredients and evidence-based outcomes.
We are proud because we never compromised on the values and integrity of the brand, even in the face of adversity. Throughout the years, we’ve faced many challenges where we could have made different decisions, yet, we chose not to compromise on the quality and services that we offer and to always put the customer first.
What’s your founding story? How (and why) did you start your company?
Being a certified personal trainer, I had to sell the gym’s branded supplements to my clients to meet my monthly quota. The only problem was that they were awful. They tasted bad, they weren’t dosed appropriately, and they never delivered on their marketing message.
I started doing my own research so that I could become more knowledgeable about the quality and quantity of the best ingredients and help my clients improve their performance. I wanted to create a brand that was different with a simple and straightforward message.
The company didn’t start with seed funding to launch the brand. We were just a couple of ordinary people with grit and determination. In 2016, we launched our first brand, Elivate Nutrition, with only a thousand dollar initial investment (from our own wallets and the change in our cars) because that is all we had, in the stairway of our 750 square foot 1-bedroom townhome on the campus at the University of Nevada. We spent weekends and time before and after work writing content, coming up with campaign ideas, reading business blogs, listening to podcasts, and strategizing on how to reach just 20 sessions per day on our website.
Shortly after we launched, we moved to Tacoma, WA and operated out of our 2-bedroom apartment for another year. We were weekend warriors going to every CrossFit competition, fitness expo, and gym opening we could to increase our brand awareness and build a local following. We traveled far and wide to Bend, Portland, Seattle, and Montana, taking as many weekend trips as we possibly could. We did this to talk with people, share our passion and vision, and build a following just one day at a time.
We were still working and running all of the product out of our house, however this time out of the garage. Then, we got into a warehouse, but it was as bare bones as it got. We had no power, no electricity, it was a cement building with glass windows, metal framing, and no insulation. Then we had to rebrand due to trademark conflicts with our name. It was undeniably the most challenging thing we’ve ever been through. Yet, instead of seeing this as the end of the road, we took it as an opportunity to change, enhance our brand, and finally launch Swolverine. This is where our brand motto, ADAPT OR DIE, was born. It was literally adapt… or that was it for us.
In hindsight, it was the best thing that could have ever happened. In 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, we finally acquired our own space and moved the business back to our original starting point, Reno, Nevada.
What are the most surreal moments you recall from the early days of starting this business? Did you have to go to extreme lengths to keep the company going?
Rebranding was the most surreal moment we have ever had. After nearly three years of hard work, we thought we would lose everything. Yet, we stretched ourselves as far as we could and invested as much money as we could back into the business to make it work. We bid adieu and gave our grievances to the first company, using it as a giant “here’s what not to do” lesson, and gave life to a new brand, new vision, and a fresh start.
We got the initial call from Bodybuilding.com to become a full brand partner from our barebones warehouse. We sat there in complete silence and disbelief that the company we wanted to partner with the most when we first started was contacting us. We looked at each other, a bit teary-eyed, with an equal dose of excitement and overwhelming gratitude.
It’s been absolutely surreal to look back over the last 5 years at the partners we’ve had, the athletes we’ve worked with, and all the companies that we’ve met along the way that didn’t make it. About 20-percent of businesses fail in their first year.
What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made? Similarly, what were some of the greatest moments of success?
Luckily, we haven’t made too many mistakes along the way. However, we have broken our website; twice. And we didn’t trademark our original name. Those were big goofs. When we rebranded, we didn’t have the opportunity to redirect our traffic from Elivate to Swolverine. So, when we saw that we only got ten visitors that first day, our stomachs sank (you can’t undo this action, you have to rebuild the site from scratch).
Some of the greatest moments of success for us have come directly from customer stories—seeing how our products and brand have influenced their path and success. These successes have included 100+ lb weight-loss journeys, first-time competitors, and watching our athletes compete on national TV in competitions like the Titan and CrossFit Games. We love being a part of people’s journeys and seeing our mission statement in action—helping people live each day at their highest potential—come to fruition.
Do you have a personal philosophy—about life, or business—that is woven into the DNA of the brand and the company?
We have several philosophies, core values, and ethics that drive the brand and how we operate. The mantra we’re most known for, is “Adapt or Die.” As an endurance athlete brand, your environment can rapidly change, and your ability to adapt to that change will determine your ultimate survival and evolution. As a small business, we are constantly adapting to the dynamic landscape. We’ve seen more challenges in the past two years with the pandemic than we’ve ever seen, and if you cannot adapt to those changes, then you will not survive. We choose survival.
Another philosophy we stand by is, “how you do anything, is how you do everything.” No matter what it may be, we give it our all to produce the best possible outcome.
Lastly, “what is not measured is not managed.” We live in a data-based world, and without considering the metrics and analytics, you will not be able to make calculated, evidence-backed decisions to justify actions.
How do you think you’ve most contributed to the fitness industry, and maybe the world, as a whole?
We have built a brand that is founded upon honesty and transparency for one definitive outcome–to make you better. We don’t just take a one-size-fits-all approach to fitness because we are all unique in our needs, wants, and capabilities. For us, it’s not just about selling supplements; it’s about optimizing performance. There are three tiers to fitness–diet, exercise, and supplementation–that’s why we offer all three. We’re not here to make a buck. We’re here to make an impact and to empower those to pursue their ultimate potential.
What advice would you give someone just starting out as an entrepreneur in the fitness industry? Maybe share a more macro insight, and something tactical and specific that you have found helpful.
The odds will always be heavily stacked against you. Be relentless in your pursuit. Bad things are going to happen, but don’t let failure be an option. Operate within your means, have gumption, be strategic, and focus on growth.
In terms of product offering, differentiation is crucial. Consumers purchase products because they address a problem and provide a solution. If you can’t provide a solution—or at least a solution that’s different from your competitors—you’ll have a very challenging road ahead. Don’t be afraid to fail. You have to start somewhere and it’s better to take the risk. You’ll figure things out along the way, trust me.
Never stop hustling, especially when you first launch. You will have to hustle to get your products out there, heighten brand awareness, and stay on “top-of-mind” with consumers. When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re going to wear all the hats because if you’re a grassroots company, you’ll have to learn how to photograph your products, write sales copy, make marketing collateral, and do your own accounting—like we had to do. You will have to make sacrifices and trade your time, which happens to be the most precious commodity, in this life. Trade wisely.
What’s next for you and the company?
Growth. Our plans are to focus on our expanding our product line. We have several new products that are either in formulation, being sampled, or in production and set to release in the next 6-12 months. When we develop new products, we focus on clean and ethically sourced, plant-based ingredients, free of genetically-modified ingredients and gluten.
We hope to grow and provide employment opportunities within the community and to share our knowledge, our vision, and our love of fitness, health, and nutrition with other passionate people. We want to provide a workplace people love, where they can come and be respected, encouraged, empowered, motivated, and achieve their ultimate professional potential.
Swolverine is a unique brand. We always focus on the customer and how we can leverage every single brand touchpoint, to bring the best customer experience. Whether it’s meeting someone at an event, an email notification, or their checkout, we want our customers to have a great experience we every single interaction.