Mark Publicover is the President and Founder of JumpSport, Inc. and the inventor of the first commercially successful safety net enclosure for trampolines. Later, he invented safer trampoline beds and began making high-quality trampolines. During our interview, Mark shares what inspired the idea and how he prayed during the process. There were lots of obstacles along the way – personality conflicts, unfair business treatment, lawsuits, loss of money, etc. But knowing that it was a right idea kept Mark moving forward toward success. Learn how.
What was your motive for starting JumpSport?
My motive was to provide a safe, happy environment for kids to be able to enjoy the benefits of trampolining. I also wanted to provide parents with a sense of comfort and peace of mind in knowing that their kids could express themselves with a lot of joy and energy without the fear of them falling off.
What compelled you to create a trampoline enclosure?
After my own children had been banged up by falling off of our trampoline, I sketched out some ideas for building an enclosed, protective space. But the big impetus for the product came when one of the children of a dear family friend fell off and seemed to be severely injured. While I immediately started praying for her, I was also emotionally impacted. After her mom picked her up and told us she was taking her to the hospital, I broke down and cried. I was frustrated with myself. I felt I could've done something sooner and hadn't listened to the angel messages.
How did you pray?
I reached out to God. I knew that God never lets any of his children leave the protection of His presence. God's loving arms are always surrounding, guiding, and guarding her. I had to let go of that sense of personal responsibility. These healing thoughts were the soul of the idea -- a physical enclosure that represented God's loving arms and constant care.
Did anything from the Bible help you move forward with building the net?
During this experience, I often thought of Balaam riding on the donkey. His donkey sees the angel of God, who's trying to stop Balaam from cursing the Israelites, and halts. But because Balaam does not see the angel, he continues hitting his donkey until the donkey speaks, and Balaam's eyes are opened to see the angel. All the time, the angel of the Lord had been trying to steer Balaam the right way (Num 22).
A lot of times, we push and push because we think we need to go in a particular direction, but it's not the right direction, and we need to stop pushing. Other times, there are obstacles that we do need to overcome. I've learned that if my motives are right, I'll always end up being guided by the angels. I have come to have faith in that guidance.
What if we take the wrong way? Like Balaam, we get steered the right way. God will tell us when to turn. We just have to trust. And we don't have to worry that we've wasted time on the "wrong" path. What we learn on the other path may help us appreciate the full value of the best path for us.
I had been looking for a new direction, and given all the ideas I had, I was wondering how to choose. Then this happened, and I had a clear choice and motive -- a natural outgrowth of a need. It was clear to me that angel thoughts were guiding me down this path. So I closed down the contracting business (remodeling homes and providing high-tech commercial roofing) I had run for so many years and parceled it out to those who worked with me.
How did you go about starting your company?
When I started, I didn't know if there was a large market. But the internet became widely accessible at this time, which enabled us to confirm that there was a big market, and no safety nets were being sold at any major retailers. I knew then that this could be turned into an economically viable business.
Then, a very valuable young employee of mine went off to work for a larger company (which was devastating), but ended up coming back and being followed by the COO of that same company when he retired. That COO brought tremendous business acumen and retail experience with him. He also enthusiastically embraced the vision and supported me. In addition, a dear friend had just sold his grain cover business and had a huge windfall. He was excited about the idea and invested.
Overall, I had great faith that everything would come together because it was a right idea. There was also an elevated spiritually-based atmosphere that proved to be helpful because there were so many obstacles along the way.
What were some of the obstacles?
I had to grow a lot as a person to be a good leader. I was in my mid-to-late thirties and had never run a big organization with a diverse group of people on a national level. I've learned a lot.
Then, as a group, we had to face creative tension. When people are really passionate about what they're trying to do, there's a lot of potential for personality conflicts. We all felt we were doing a great thing, and because of that, egos grated upon one another, and there were a lot of heated discussions about which way to go. On top of that, I had to keep coming up with ideas to keep the company afloat.
So how did your product take off? It sounds like there were ups and downs.
We got into Fred Myer, the largest discount company over the Pacific Northwest, which was great. But we needed more. We rolled out product in July of 1997 and were early enough for Christmas. But our manufacturer told us we wouldn't get in, and we didn't. The price point was too high; it had to be less than the trampoline. So now we had to do more modifications. We cut the legs and rose them up, with resistance from the engineers. We had people ready to do marketing, but no place to take the nets.
I suggested we look at gym clubs. The COO said they wouldn't sell the product, and it would be a wasted effort. We needed to move forward, though, to have purpose and activity. I asked him for other ideas, but he didn't have any. So we called 12,000 gym clubs around the country. We had a contest, but we only signed up 500 gym clubs that said they'd put up our poster. We had created energy and momentum, and thought we'd sell a number of products, but we only sold about twenty for the holidays.
I had nothing left. I had mortgaged my house and spent all my investments. Then a trade show came up with Disney, which would cost us a lot to enter. I put everything into having a full-page ad next to the table of contents. But Disney came back and told me we couldn't have it because they needed to give it to another customer. People advised me to take a different page because Disney is one of the best-run companies in the world. I got on the phone with them and told them I couldn't justify spending that much money not to be next to the table of contents. So, for the first time ever, Disney split the table of contents into two pages, and we got the page we wanted, and so did the other company.
We had also decided to go to Atlanta for a show, and Costco came. They wouldn't take us unless we had dealers and experience. We had the largest manufacturer at the time and 500 gym clubs. Costco wanted our product. They said they'd do a test. The Disney ad hit at the same time. The phone was ringing off the hook. People were driving 200-300 miles to get the nets at different Costcos, which sold out in three and a half days. They decided to go store-wide. We were in seventh heaven. Then we got into several other major retailers.
How did you get into the business of making trampolines in addition to nets?
Sam's Club/Walmart didn't treat us fairly. They ordered our product, took a couple test loads, and put displays up. During this time, another company said they'd pull their business from Sam's Club/Walmart, if they didn't sell their enclosure. But because their enclosure failed every time on the impact tests, Walmart said they'd go with us. We thought we were on our way. But we never heard back. Instead, Walmart brought in a copy of our product from the other company and put our name, JumpSport, on the copy. The product didn't perform, and we ended up with irate mothers calling us. We had to file a lawsuit. I realized that if we were going to make it, we needed to get into the trampoline business and make a better trampoline. We lost money for seven years.
How were you able to go on when you were losing money?
Rather than worry, I trusted. In 1999, I was able to find an angel investor who was a mover and a shaker, and I sat with him for two-and-a-half to three hours. I convinced him that we had an important product, but he was concerned we wouldn't be able to enforce our patents. Once he spoke with our patent attorney, he invested, and others followed.
It took time to turn everything around. We created AlleyOOp (which is what my mom used to say when she lifted us up into a car). AlleyOOp caters to the high-end trampoline market. We came up with new inventions and new ideas. We changed our marketing to go direct online. And things finally started to move.
And today, JumpSport is a highly successful company. Is there any last idea you'd like to share with others?
When you put love into something, you can never lose that love. It stays with you. It may look like you've lost something, but not the Love of God. No matter what happens, you can always grow, always learn, and always expand spiritually.