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Stanford quartet takes the next step with SomaSole

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Imagine, hypothetically, that you’re a business traveler, and you’re just trying to stick to your regular workout regimen, even when you’re on your business trips. But what if the gym at your Days Inn in the middle of nowhere is just terrible and doesn’t have the equipment necessary for you to stay fit?

Such is the premise of one of the promotional videos for SomaSole, a new Stanford startup looking to burst onto the scene the summer with its new resistance-band product.

SomaSole is the brainchild of senior Matt Kasner, who actually found himself in a similar situation to the above hypothetical not too long ago that gave him the inspiration for his product.

“I was in Japan serving as a cultural ambassador for the Stanford football program, and I wanted to get a good workout,” Kasner said. “But I was dismayed to find out that they don’t have gyms in the public area of Kyoto. That got me thinking, ‘How do people that travel a lot get good workouts on the go?’”

As a former athlete himself, that got Kasner to thinking about the various possibilities of workouts that he could introduce on-the-go. He settled in on the idea of a resistance band that he could adapt by attaching it to the foot of the user.

By attaching it to the foot, he could simultaneously expand the variety of exercises that he could use the band for and also remove the user trepidation of the band potentially slipping out from under the foot and smacking the user in the face.

Kasner was so excited about the idea, in fact, that he chose to pursue it as his senior capstone project for ME 203: Design and Manufacturing. He was joined by longtime product design partner Josh Dubin, and SomaSole was born.

“We’re not trying to be a get-ripped-quick thing,” Dubin said. “We’re not trying to completely replace people’s workouts. What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to allow people to mimic exactly what they would do, wherever they are.”

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SomaSole is a resistance band that attaches to the sole of the foot via the straps seen above. Kasner came up with the idea while he was in Japan and couldn't find a gym in which he could maintain his regular workout regimen. (Courtesy of SomaSole)
SomaSole is a resistance band that attaches to the sole of the foot via the straps seen above. Kasner came up with the idea while he was in Japan and couldn’t find a gym in which he could maintain his regular workout regimen. (Courtesy of SomaSole)

Stanford football strength and conditioning coach Shannon Turley puts a lot of value in non-traditional workouts that emphasize flexibility and functional movement.

With that in mind, it makes perfect sense, then, that two of his former pupils — kicker Jordan Williamson and safety John Flacco — have chosen to devote their pasts, presents and futures to SomaSole as well.

Neither Williamson nor Flacco was part of the original SomaSole team, but given the product’s similarity to the workouts they were accustomed to doing as part of the football team, they immediately saw the immense potential in the SomaSole product and were eager to keep up with the progress of the project, even when they had no stake in it.

“We started talking with Matt, and Matt had kept us updated and kept us updated on what was going on,” Williamson said.

“What we saw from both of them initially was that they had already been offering us ideas,” Kasner said. “They were already talking to people, and they weren’t even part of our company. When you see that, you realize it’s about more than them having a stake in the company — it’s about them having enthusiasm for the product.”

Kasner and Dubin had always had that similar enthusiasm for their product, too. Even though ME 203 offered a framework for Stanford students to develop and market their own products, the duo went above and beyond from the onset, immediately laying out a long-term plan and searching for patent and legal mechanisms that they could use to legitimize their product not just in the eyes of the law, but also in their own eyes.

“All that stuff makes things feel more serious, and it allows us to be more serious about everything as well,” Dubin said.

And when winter quarter ended and they were looking for another, similarly enthusiastic member to add to their team, Williamson was an easy choice for them due to the devotion and excitement he had conveyed toward the process throughout.

Flacco became the fourth and final member of SomaSole’s current team not too long after that, and although he and Williamson jumped onto the team as late additions, the team works seamlessly and the level of trust that exists among the four friends has been incredible.

Williamson, as a psychology major, brings a lot to the table in terms of his ability to cater the company’s website and social interactions to optimally interact with users. Meanwhile, Flacco, who was planning to enter medical school after he completed his undergraduate degree, is able to approach and analyze the product from a biological and physiological perspective and talk to trainers about possible exercises using SomaSole.

They’re all also in a unique position: Many startups rely heavily on user feedback of their products for ideas and improvements, but since all four of them consistently use the product themselves, the feedback and brainstorming processes are streamlined.

They’re all buying in — they’re all fascinated and deeply invested in the process and excitement of building a product and a company up from scratch, and even as they do their own specialized things for the company based on their specialties, they all take the time to learn everything they’re doing together because it’s just a tremendous learning experience for them.

It helps in that manner that Dubin and Kasner have worked together on many projects before and that Williamson and Flacco bring a strong work ethic from their days on the football team — they all fully trust each other to accomplish their own separate goals as well as learn in a constructive manner together.

Several seasons ago, when Jim Harbaugh took the Stanford head football coaching job, he promised to attack the job with “an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”

That certainly seems to be the mantra that the SomaSquad (that’s what their GroupMe is called) lives by as well.

From the moment Kasner wakes up at sunrise, to when his barrage of SomaSole texts wakes Dubin up a few hours later, to the several meetings and calls they take each day, to when Williamson goes to bed at 2 a.m. after spending several late-night hours in the gym with his SomaSole, it’s nonstop action for the quartet.

And even though most seniors in their position would be maximizing their downtime and having as much fun as possible in their spring quarters, the busy work is fun for them.

“Even the busy work of emailing people and talking on the phone about boring legal products is fun because it’s an interesting product and we know it’s not going to move forward if we don’t do this,” Dubin said.

That’s good, because SomaSole has truly permeated every part of their lives — Dubin’s neighbors in Sigma Chi always poke fun at him because he’s waking them up early in the mornings with his loud voice as he makes phone calls for SomaSole.

In fact, they’re so immersed in it that their friends have stopped calling them by their names when they’re out in public together — they’re “SomaSole” now, not Jordan, John, Matt and Josh.

“Back in high school, it was like, ‘Oh, you’re the kicker!’ Everyone puts these labels onto you,” Williamson said. “And now, for all of us, it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re SomaSole!’ We hear it everywhere we go.”

“I haven’t heard my actual name in my house for a long time,” Dubin said with a hearty laugh.

And they take pride in the fact that they’re putting their names behind their product. Furthermore, even though their friends are somewhat jokingly referring to them as “SomaSole” now and just having a little fun by yelling things like, “Oh, I’m getting so SomaSwole!” at them, even that joking is motivating to them because it’s an embodiment of how much their product excites their friends.

That excitement is contagious — even to the point where Dubin, on a long flight back from DC, decided to take a SomaSole to one of the flight attendants in the rear galley of the plane and had a three-hour-long conversation with him. Dubin even somehow got him to agree to be filmed using the SomaSole on the plane — and afterwards, the flight attendant enthusiastically informed Dubin that he would spread the product to all of his flight attendant friends.

“He was so embarrassed, but it was great,” Dubin said. “If you’re scared to show someone what it is, then it’s just not going to work. That was so cool to me — this guy was so excited. He was just loving it.”

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Although all four were very excited to carry SomaSole on as their main projects out of school, they admitted that two months ago, when they were being asked by their friends about their future plans, they were nervous to commit all the way.

“Turning down jobs was the biggest thing for me, realizing this was it,” Kasner said. “It’s exciting now, but it wasn’t two months ago when the pressure of, ‘Where are you working? How much are you getting paid?’ was mounting and I was wondering if I would be willing to take zero money and live on couches because I believed in the product.”

“It puts your mind at ease, but two months ago, it was a hectic time period and I was trying to explain it to people,” Williamson said. “It was like, ‘Oh, yeah. I’m going to be living on a sofa and I’m not going to be eating for months at a time.’”

Flacco already had a job set up in a research lab at the medical school and had been planning to take the MCAT this spring as part of his application to medical schools around the country. He instead had to postpone that job appointment and put his complete faith in SomaSole to carry him forward.

They’re all feeling much better about that choice two months later, though. Their enthusiasm for their product is just too much to be swallowed by any nagging worries.

“We’re taking a chance,” Flacco said. “We have our youth. This is our chance. We’ve got something — why not dive into it headfirst? Once you do take that leap, it’s like jumping in a pool. It’s refreshing. I’m not sitting on the edge anymore — I’m immersed. Once you’re in there together and you’ve got a crew behind you, it’s exciting. It really is.”

And even though they don’t necessarily know what exactly lies ahead in the wake of their planned summer launch, they’re ready to fully embrace the challenge, because they’re doing what they love and they love what they’re doing.

“We wake up in the morning and we’re doing something new,” Dubin said. “It’s exciting. If it’s wasn’t exciting, we wouldn’t be doing it.”

For more information about the product and founders, check out SomaSole’s website here.

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Do-Hyoung Park '16, M.S. '17 is the Minnesota Twins beat reporter at MLB.com, having somehow ensured that his endless hours sunk into The Daily became a shockingly viable career. He was previously the Chief Operating Officer and Business Manager at The Stanford Daily for FY17-18. He also covered Stanford football and baseball for five seasons as a student and served two terms as sports editor and four terms on the copy desk. He was also a color commentator for KZSU 90.1 FM's football broadcast team for the 2015-16 Rose Bowl season.