Randy Hetrick knew he would transition from the military to a business career at some point, but he didn’t know that it would take 14 years. As a Navy SEAL officer, Hetrick had developed leadership skills. Without realizing it at the time, he also took away from the military the inspiration for his business venture: the fitness training tool now known as the TRX, short for total resistance exercise.
While a SEAL squadron commander, Hetrick had invented a simple bodyweight-resistance device — using only a jiujitsu belt that he’d packed by mistake and a bit of parachute webbing — to help his team stay fit and ready while waiting to launch missions.
“We would deploy into [combat] zones where we’re on standby for an operation, waiting for a green light for days or weeks with no way to train,” he says. “We couldn’t just go for a jog in some of those areas without flagging that something’s up.”
Hetrick eventually arrived at Stanford GSB with his well-worn prototype in hand, not thinking that the device — affectionately known as the “gizmo” — would be more than his own personal training tool. But when he hit the gym, Stanford athletic coaches would stop him to ask about his invention and request samples for their teams. That’s when Hetrick knew that he might have a product he could build a business around.
Hetrick recalls that his first year at business school “was really tough, because of my absent math skills. It was humbling to come from a pretty self-congratulatory position to now be at the bottom of the curve, and it took some adjusting.”
At 34, Hetrick was the oldest among his classmates, and he soon fell into the role of “granddaddy,” helping his young friends stay grounded. “I remember sending an email out to the class when everyone was freaking out about midterms,” he says. “I told them to relax because I’m the knot at the end of the rope, and as long as you look down and see me, you will not slip by.”
Basic Training, and Then Some
“Second year, Stanford GSB became my incubator. Every single class I took, I would make my class project about my business,” says Hetrick. His classmates confirm that if you were in the MBA Class of 2003, you saw him carrying his gizmo everywhere.
Coursework in financial modeling, operations, marketing, and branding offered lessons that Hetrick could apply directly and immediately to the company, which is now known as TRX Training. “I still have the plans for the company that I built with one of my teammates in a marketing class,” he says. “I took a branding class with Jennifer Aaker, [the General Atlantic Professor of Marketing], and everything was on building a brand for the business. I recruited everyone.”
After graduation, Hetrick didn’t have to look far for recruits. “When I got in my very first load of inventory, I used a whole bunch of classmates to help me assemble the packages,” he says. He quickly outgrew the grassroots assembly line, and the TRX now has millions of users worldwide.
As his business grew and his brand became successful, Hetrick had to protect his intellectual property from copycat designs. Again, he looked to his Stanford GSB education for assistance.
“Challenges will always proliferate as you grow your business,” he says. “Stanford GSB gives you a good working familiarity with all of the different disciplines you may need as you run the business. You’ll know just enough to be dangerous, and then you can go deeper when needed.”
Photos by Shae Rocco