I met Brian DeSpain at a Tournament in Amsterdam a while ago now. After that I'd see him at tournaments all over the world. I would be covering them and he'd be playing. He was just a kid when I met him, probably 20 years old or less, but I could tell he was going to do something in lacrosse one day. He just was more curious about the game and more into it than most of the players his age. When he called me almost a year ago to say he had started a lacrosse manufacturing company, I was not surprised at all. The fact that he wanted his new company to sponsor E-Lacrosse thrilled me. It's an affirmation that we have been influencing players for a long time and that it pays off beyond good karma sometimes. I sat down with Brian recently and spoke to him about his new company 1 Lacrosse and everything about it. Enjoy!
E-Lacrosse: Brian, where did you grow up?
DeSpain: I grew up in the lacrosse hotbed of America...Houston, TX. Ha, in all seriousness, I hadn't heard about lacrosse growing up until I was in the 4th grade and my soon-to-be best friend moved in down the street from me. He was a lacrosse guy.
E-Lacrosse: So that was your first exposure to the game?
DeSpain: Yes. Dave Curs and his family had moved from Virginia down to Texas. He had an older brother who had played lacrosse back in Virginia. The Curs family helped start up the first lacrosse team in our town, and Dave soon taught me how to play. I was hooked by middle school, and started to play competitively in 8th grade.
1 Lacrosse's Brian DeSpain
E-Lacrosse: How long have you been reading E-Lacrosse?
DeSpain: I started reading E-Lacrosse when I was in college and started to realize how much I loved the sport. I just couldn't get enough lacrosse news, stick tech, and of course I was really into the stories about international lacrosse.
E-Lacrosse: I met you in Europe, probably at the first E-Lacrosse Amsterdam Tournament. And you were very young at the time. What brought such a young man to so many tournaments so far away from home?
DeSpain: An airplane! Ha. That seems like a sarcastic answer, but it's not. My mother was a flight attendant for Continental Airlines, so I was able to fly anywhere in the world for free if there was an open seat. I never realized the full potential of this until my sophomore year in college at Texas A&M University when my teammate Ryan Turnbow asked me if I wanted to go play lacrosse in Amsterdam. He also had the Continental hook up, and he knew a guy living and playing in Germany at the time who was playing with the local Dutch team in the 2003 E-Lacrosse Amsterdam Tournament, and they needed extra players. I thought about the offer for a solid second or two and then answered with a resounding "Let's do it!" The rest was history. We made friends within the international tournament scene and everyone knew we could (and would) fly anywhere at the drop of a hat to play. So we were in.
Despain the D Man at Texas A&M
E-Lacrosse: You were everywhere I went to cover lax for a while there.
DeSpain: I got around. Another huge factor that allowed for me to participate in so many tournaments was that an alumni from my University, Blair Allison, ran an elite club team out in the Bay Area of California called Barbary Coast Lacrosse. Blair reached out to Ryan and I and brought us to the 2003 Hawaii tournament to play with BC, which set the hooks in a little deeper.
E-Lacrosse: Are you addicted to lax?
DeSpain: Hi, my name is Brian, and I'm an addict.
E-Lacrosse: When did you get the idea of 1 Lacrosse?
DeSpain: I first kicked around the idea during my senior year at A&M. I was a Business Management major, specializing in Entrepreneurship, so my mind was always thinking about new business ideas. I was on a week-long golfing trip with my Grandfather, and he was recounting a lot of the lessons he had learned in life and in business. He is a successful business man and an inspiration in my life, and he knew my passion for lacrosse, so we started talking about the idea of making lacrosse equipment. He helped me put together a rough business plan and I knew it was something I would come back to later. It wasn't until a few years later, when I was helping the Chinese Lacrosse Association with their developmental efforts, that I put the pieces together and realized the need in the market for a new lacrosse company that made quality equipment at affordable prices. That's when 1 Lacrosse was born.
1 Lacrosse's Chris Arnold plays catch on the Great Wall
You throw a ball with this?
E-Lacrosse: What differentiates 1 Lacrosse from other manufacturers?
DeSpain: We've approached the business of lacrosse manufacturing from a whole different perspective. Our vision was to build a lacrosse company that is able to contribute to the growth of lacrosse. The single biggest challenge to widespread growth of the game is the entry price. We knew that each player needs a stick and a ball, so that's what we started with. Utilizing a direct, e-commerce business model allows us to bring our equipment to all parts of the lacrosse community at affordable prices. We believe lacrosse players will respond positively to this.
E-Lacrosse: What's your schedule of products coming out. I understand you have a head and shaft for 2009?
DeSpain: We're very excited about our first release, which consists of the AON head and the 1322e shaft. The AON was designed around the pocket to bring consistency to any player's game. We understand that the pocket is what really determines performance on the field, and that the plastic is there only to support that perfect pocket, so that's how the AON was designed.
Somebody throw me a ball!
E-Lacrosse: Why 1322e?
DeSpain: The 1322e is really a clever name. 13 is the atomic number for aluminum and 22 is the one for Titanium. I have to give credit to our marketing guys on that. The shaft gives you the perfect strength to weight ratio for the majority of lacrosse players. We took an aircraft grade of aluminum alloy, enhanced it with titanium, and came up with the perfect material for lacrosse shafts. We also paid particular attention to the shape of our shafts. The 'elongated octagon' shape and smooth edges were chosen to give players maximum response from their shafts.
E-Lacrosse: What's the response been so far to the products?
DeSpain: Excitement. Coaches, players, and parents have been asking us, "Why hasn't someone done this before?" The sport needed a responsible manufacturer who is attentive to the customer's needs. Lacrosse players all over have been saying, "Why is the gear costing so much? Can't we get good equipment at a good price?" We're under the impression that our customers are smart people, and they'll know a good deal when they see one. That's why we're confident in our ability to make a difference in this competitive market.
1 Lacrosse at the Olympics
E-Lacrosse: I saw lots of 1 lacrosse tape at some events this year. Was that a promotional? How did that go?
DeSpain: It was a huge success. This was the first promotion we ever did, and it was during the peak point of our production and preparation for entering the market. Early on, we were throwing ideas around at a marketing session about how we could market the company in a way that was different from the competition. That's when one of our guys said "hey, why don't we make lacrosse tape with our logo on it." We instantly knew the idea would be a hit. After all, how many times on a lacrosse field do you hear a player ask, "Does anyone have some tape?" So, we made a bunch of lacrosse tape with our logo on it and sent it out to the 2008 MCLA Championships in Dallas, TX. We hired a couple girls from a local modeling agency to come on out and pass out the tape to everyone and just tell them that 1 Lacrosse was a new manufacturer coming out soon. The response was great. Everyone at the tournament got some tape and learned about 1 Lacrosse. I'm not sure if the success was because of the tape or the girls.
E-Lacrosse: I noticed the head is not symmetrical in its appearance from the front - very creative. I assume it is balanced and that is just a visual deception.
DeSpain: That's quite an observation, John. Yes, you're absolutely right. The head is balanced, of course, but we looked around and saw that all heads are perfectly symmetrical, and we wanted to be a little different. Most lacrosse players are this way, where they want to have a little something that's different, that they can call their own, and that's no different from us. That asymmetry is just a small way of us having our own unique feature out there in a world of duplicates.
Showing kids the game at the Olympics
Brian with a new lacrosse fan
E-Lacrosse: How have you dealt with the new rules for 2010?
DeSpain: I think all lacrosse manufacturers have spent countless hours going back and forth on this issue. I personally think the rules are good, and they're going to have a positive impact on the game. On the other hand, it's going to cost us a lot of money to comply with the new size regulations. So, what we've done is we've decided to make a head that complies with the rules, while still being real close to the normal lacrosse head shape that people are used to. After all, we believe it's all about the pocket anyways. So we're designing a new head around a slightly different shaped pocket that will still give you the same performance. I think it's good for the sport.
E-Lacrosse: In this increasingly bad economy, is 1 Lacrosse's stance that they are positioned to take advantage of that with the direct sales model and no middle man?
DeSpain: Absolutely. We're just as worried about the current economic conditions as the next guy. But like I said, we know our customers are smart people, and they'll be even more likely to do business with the smarter companies during times like these. Quality equipment at affordable prices sounds good usually, but it sounds even better in today's market.
E-Lacrosse: Is it a thrill seeing your first sticks come off the line?
DeSpain: It's the ultimate rush to see the results of all this time, energy, and investment. I'm not a father yet, but I when I hear my friends talk about the joy of having their first child, I think back to seeing the first AON coming off the production line.
Halloween at 1 Lacrossse
E-Lacrosse: I understand you lived in China for a year getting all of this done. What was that like?
DeSpain: That's right. I knew that in order to make this work with our vision, we were going to have to manufacture in China. Also, I knew from reading countless books and articles about business in China that it would be difficult, and if we didn't do it right, we would have many problems as a new company that could be detrimental to our success. So, I decided that I would live in China until we were 100% confident in our suppliers and their ability to consistently make good products. During that time, I learned a bit of the language, I became educated on how to do business in China, and I developed deep relationships with the factories who are making our products. Relationships, or 'Guanxi', mean everything when it comes to doing business in China. The whole experience was priceless, and looking back, I wouldn't change a thing.
The AON head comes in very unique packaging
E-Lacrosse: You are the first manufacturer owned by an MCLA grad. Where did you play and will MCLA be a big part of your marketing?
DeSpain: I played at Texas A&M University, and had the opportunity to serve as the Team President for two years. There are many big names in lacrosse that have come out of this college club league, and it's exciting to see the rapid growth of the MCLA. I believe these players and coaches represent a very important part of America's lacrosse community. They are playing at the highest level in all of the growth areas around the country. So that's who most of the future lacrosse stars are watching on the field on a regular basis and looking up to. Yes, the MCLA makes up a big part of our marketing demographic.
A 1 Lacrosse magazine ad
E-Lacrosse: Do you see your products ever being sold in retail stores?
DeSpain: I don't want to rule out anything. Our company's vision will always be to offer lacrosse players quality equipment at affordable prices. However, if we find a way to increase our distribution and allow us to keep our prices low, then we'll entertain the idea.