Standing at 5-foot-11, Adam Goldston ’09 knew he had his work cut out for him.
“I’m obsessed with jumping higher,” the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences alumnus said. “My goal has always been to do a free throw line dunk.”
The Los Angeles resident’s commitment to add inches to his vertical jump meant long afternoons training on the court. Little did he know that the frustration of missing his mark would lead to a unique business idea.
As teenagers, Adam and his twin brother, Ryan ’09, who graduated from the USC Marshall School of Business, dreamed of leaving their mark on the shoe industry. The teens came to understand – after playing on travel teams and on their high school basketball team – what dedicated players and street warriors wanted from a shoe: more bounce.
The brothers’ entrepreneurial spirit, however, was sparked much earlier.
Their father, Mark Goldston, was chief marketing officer of Reebok and developed the Reebok Pump, the first shoe to have an internal inflation mechanism, and the Energy Return System, a technology created by Reebok in which plastic cylinders are placed under the midsole of an athletic shoe.
When Mark became president and chief operating officer of L.A. Gear in 1991, he gave the boys, then 4, a firsthand look at the importance of thinking about the customer when he brought home a test pair of the shoes he was working on – the popular L.A. Gear Lights.
Adam and Ryan would jump on the marble bathroom countertops of their Sherman Oaks home to catch a glimpse of the blinking lights on the back of their shoes in the mirror. The test run resulted in designers moving the lights to the side of the shoes so kids could see them without the help of mirrors.
“We like to say that we’ve been in the sneaker industry for a long time,” Ryan said.
In 2005, the brothers came to USC, where they played on the Trojans basketball team and dabbled in football. Hoping to one day found and run a thriving company together, the brothers enrolled in USC Marshall. While being a business major suited Ryan, Adam had second thoughts.
“I just learned the business major was not right for me,” Adam recalled. “I have always considered myself a people person, and my athletic adviser recommended sociology.”
He found his place in the field with the help of several faculty members in the department, including professor of sociology Ed Ransford and Julie Albright, a former lecturer in sociology who currently teaches at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.
That same year, the twins made the difficult decision to bench their childhood fantasy of becoming professional athletes and focus on breaking into the shoe industry.
By 2007, they began laying the groundwork for their business, Athletic Propulsion Labs. With their individual talents, they worked diligently to design a company that would provide exclusive high-performance footwear.
Adam drew inspiration from his hope to jump higher when he helped create their slogan, “Stop Dreaming. Jump Higher.”
“For those who say that a sociology degree can’t make you successful in business, I beg to differ,” Adam said. “Sociology let me learn a lot more about people, which is really important in order to stay up to date in this enterprise.
“The major is really beneficial because it helps me better understand and get inside the minds of the groups that we’re targeting as customers.”
Adam and Ryan bounced ideas off their dad and worked with industry veterans to design their Concept 1 basketball line, which features Athletic Propulsion Labs’ Load ’N Launch technology. Players experience an instant increase in their vertical leap of up to 3.5 inches, they said.
The brothers founded the company in March 2009, two months before they graduated.
And they don’t plan to stop at basketball. They hope to carve a niche in other areas such as women’s running.
“We hope to have built a really strong, substantial presence in the athletic community,” Adam said, inside their Beverly Hills office. “We want to be the top-market product.”
Athletic Propulsion Labs’ product line has already caught the attention of the National Basketball Association. In 2010, the company’s Concept 1 shoe was banned from the 2010-11 season based on the rule prohibiting “undue competitive advantage.”
Athletic Propulsion Labs has attracted basketball players of all ages and experience levels in search of that elusive competitive advantage. The twins know something about competition. Born 45 seconds apart, their parents refuse to share who is older because of their constant toe-to-toe wrangles.
“Growing up, we were competitive in every aspect of what we were doing,” Ryan noted. “Now, we work better as a team.”
But sibling rivalry surfaces every now and then. When asked who they believe is older, Adam promptly responded: “Probably me because my beard is thicker.”
“Yeah, but I’m taller,” Ryan shot back.
“It’s the hair,” Adam said.
As far as that free throw line dunk Adam has always dreamed of making, one more brainstorm and he’s there.