#104 – Imagine transforming your life through running, and the spark of that transformation leading to an innovation in the running world. That’s exactly what happened to our guest, Anthony Pong, CEO of Caterpy, and his business partner, Kaji.
Their partnership, born out of Kaji’s quest to quit smoking through the discipline of running, led to the creation of a unique shoelace that’s taking the running world by storm. Listen to Anthony as he walks us through his journey from a hedge fund to a global product distribution company, making waves with their innovative running gear.
Hear Anthony’s story and what led to becoming CEO of Caterpy
Discover how Caterpy’s solution helps runners and other athletes
Learn why movement is so important, even if its not running
Listen to the behind the scenes of Caterpy as a startup
Anthony Pong, CEO of Caterpy, graduated from the University of Florida with a Mathematics degree in 2 years. After university, he started multiple businesses, ranging from financial services to international product distribution. Central to all of his experiences are analytical skills and making data-driven decisions.
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Richard Conner: [00:00:00] Hi, my friend as runners. We’re always looking for ways to improve our performance and our overall experience. Well, today we’re going to talk about an innovative solution for running shoes, but it doesn’t require you to change the brands or shoes that you’re using today. We also get to hear a little bit about what goes on behind the scenes in a startup and how they bring new innovation to market. Hope you enjoy
Intro: Welcome to inspire to run podcast. Here, you will find inspiration, whether you’re looking to take control of your health and fitness, or you are a seasoned runner looking for community and some extra motivation, you will hear inspiring stories from amazing runners, along with helpful tips from fitness experts.
Now, here’s your host Richard Conner.
Richard Conner: Hi, my friend, welcome to inspire to run podcast. I’m so excited that we have Anthony Pong here today. Anthony is the CEO of Caterpy. He graduated from University of Florida with [00:01:00] mathematics degree in two years. After university, he started multiple businesses, ranging from financial services to international product distribution.
Central to all of his experiences are his analytical skills and making data driven decisions. So excited to have you on the show. Welcome to the show, Anthony.
Anthony Pong: Thanks, guys. Thanks for the introduction.
Richard Conner: Yeah, for sure. So, you know, I love bringing on entrepreneurs on the show to share, you know, your entrepreneurial journey, but also the great work that you’re doing to serve, you know, the athletic and sports community in particular running.
So we’re going to talk, you know, a lot about you and a lot about your company and products and how you’re serving the running community.
Anthony Pong: Cool. Looking forward to it.
Richard Conner: All right. So let’s just kind of start, you know, just roll back the clock a little bit and learn a little bit more about you.
Anthony Pong: Yeah, sure. So, I mean, I think we did a pretty great introduction., well, after college, I graduated with a math degree. Um, it was about 2011. Uh, I was in [00:02:00] school around 2009, right after the financial crisis. So, I personally didn’t think I could find a job. So, I thought I could only go out and make jobs.
You know, so my first job out of college, I started a hedge fund with a couple other guys. We specialized in algorithmic trading. Thinking that, , markets were turning bad and I wouldn’t be able to find a job elsewhere. , you know, good, good or bad timing, we, we kind of started the markets, , started the fund into one of the best market times in history.
, it was a really stable five year period of growth. So, you know, some things we learned, some things we didn’t do so well, , but that, that was my first venture out of college.
Richard Conner: All right. Wonderful. Well, thank you for sharing that. And, you know, I really love to learn more about like what led you down the entrepreneur route in terms of creating products for, you know, our community. So, you know, kind of tell us a little bit about that journey.
Anthony Pong: Yeah, sure. So, growing up, you know, it could also, it could be said that it was kind of trained into me growing up, , growing up, I would travel between the U. S. and Asia every year, just growing up, because my [00:03:00] family was there, my grandparents were there, and for me to just be accustomed for the culture, society, and my family there, , I traveled a lot.
And so in these travels, I kind of got customers for language barriers, culture barriers, product barriers as well, right? Products are kind of built as a, as a end goal of societal needs. And so there are different products that you can see very clearly from different societal trends. And so just going back and forth between the two, I kind of realized this is what I was good at.
This is what I was interested in. Um, these were all where all my kind of family connections and strengths were as well. And so I wanted to dive deeper into it. So, , how I, how I got into this from the finances. So after doing the hedge fund, I started doing financial consultings for a little bit, , here and there, just different companies and places, , and ultimately I found the inventor of Caterpy, right?
So he, uh, full disclosure, I’m actually not the full inventor of Caterpy. I do run the company now, but I, I wasn’t the, I wasn’t the original inventor. Uh, he’s a guy in Japan, uh, named Kaji. And so I worked under [00:04:00] him, or I worked for him as his financial services consultant for a little bit. , while he invented Caterpy, he sold Caterpy really well in Japan.
And so he needed help expanding it globally. , I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. I spoke the best English. I was the most familiar with Western. Culture and Western society, , out of everyone in the Japanese company. And so it kind of just fell into my hands to try to expand the product distribution globally.
Richard Conner: Tell us a little bit about like what, what drove your partner to come up with this idea or this invention.
Anthony Pong: Sure. So my partner, Kaji, he’s actually a big runner. He’s a big marathon runner, um, has run the Tokyo marathon a few times. , he actually started running to kick his smoking habits, uh, smoking cigarette habit. And so that was his one of his, the, the only. Hobbies, if you will, that allowed him to, uh, markedly show a difference between stopping to smoke and not smoking, right?
Obviously you’re going to run better if you don’t smoke, but also running four hours straight blocks you from smoking for four hours, right? So the act of running itself not only [00:05:00] helped clear his mind of trying to smoke, uh, afterwards, but also in the moment stopped you from smoking. So that, that’s, that was his big inspiration to start running was to kick the smoking habit.
As he was running, he just kept dealing with shoelaces over and over again. He just hated tying shoelaces, you know, tying them on a run, tying them after training. They feel a little different from training day and running day. So after a lot of iterations, what he started doing was use a normal shoelace.
He would tie a little knot at the end of every aglet, aglet? No, no, sorry, uh, eyelet hole. So he would tie a knot just to hold the tension, loop it through the next one, find the right tension, tie a knot, hold it in place. So he would do that all the way up. So there were just these static knots, uh, at the end of each eyelet going up the shoe.
And then he started experimenting, Oh, if I made them a little bit smaller, and I used an elastic lace, then I could adjust the knots a little bit through. So then he started making, he physically tied knots, you know, every, whatever, centimeter, , and then used that as the shoelace. And so over a couple of iterations, probably one or two years, he figured out, hey, there’s a [00:06:00] modular system that we can use with one lace, with these elastic bumps.
iterated throughout the whole thing that allow for multiple uses, right? The not needing to tie shoes and being able to control your attention. And so it’s from his own need of not wanting to tie shoes anymore that he invented this. Um, he invented the first batch just for himself to use, just so he didn’t have to tie shoes, right?
Uh, as most great inventions are, the simple ones always seem to be the ones that work the best and the ones that, you know, weren’t intended to be sold. He just wanted it for himself. Uh, he got really popular with the running community, whether it’s the, the running group, the marathon group, you know, his, his local community.
Um, he just started making more, selling more, and uh, yeah, you know, over a relatively short period of time, it grew up to be, , quite successful in Japan.
Richard Conner: Oh, I love that. I love that. And I read online that there’s a lot more benefits, you know, and one of the benefits that you described is the feeling of the shoelace. If you tie it differently, you know, training or race day, but also in terms of like circulation, right? If you tie your shoelace in a certain way, it might impact circulation.
So, you know, can you tell me a little bit [00:07:00] about like some of the other benefits?
Anthony Pong: Sure, absolutely. So, , in the running world, a lot of people focus on shoes. Obviously they’re important for the foot health and the comfort, um, within the shoe, almost everybody talks about the bottom of the shoe, but nobody talks about the upper of the shoe, right? The bottom of the shoe is where the impact is, where the.
bottom of your foot is, where your sole is, where cushioning is, we all understand that, but the upper of the shoe is how the shoe binds to your foot. Without good binding, your shoe can never reach its full potential, if you will, right? The binding, uh, as you guys have probably seen too, there’s different types of lacing methods for different pain points.
If you have heel slip, you have high arches, if you have different things, you can lace normal laces differently and have different kinds of tension patterns for your own foot. The point with our laces is to not need different. Lacing patterns. So you can lace just like normal. Our laces have elastic bumps every centimeter or so.
So it allows you to adjust tension to every row throughout the shoe. Meaning if you have wide feet, high arches, narrow heels, you’re able to adjust tension in every row of the shoe [00:08:00] independently to your foot shape. Um, the bumps lock in the eyelet holes. So every time you take your shoes on and off, they become slip on shoes that have that same custom tension.
So you don’t have to re tie your shoes every time and find that sweet spot. Now, the big problem we’re trying to avoid from tying shoes is the knot itself, right? So when you tie a shoe, the knot is the singular piece that holds it together. Uh, it’s the singular point of failure. So if your knot comes undone, your whole shoe comes undone really quickly.
The knot also becomes the choking point on your foot. Right, since tension isn’t controlled all the way throughout the shoe, all the tension will eventually build at the knot because that’s what’s holding it together and therefore it’s always the tightest part of your shoe. , you may start to get like a numbing pinching sensation from the top of the foot.
It’s called the lace bite and it’s, your lace is too tight. , from your feet getting swollen and it’s blocking further blood and nerves getting into your foot. So, with our laces, there’s two points to it. One is it being elastic, so it expands a little bit with your feet as they start to swell. And also, two, is it allows contention throughout the [00:09:00] entire foot, rather than bunched up at the knot, so it prevents that one singular lace bite that you may get from that, from the, from the knot that you may tie.
Richard Conner: Okay. I appreciate you sharing that. That makes a lot of sense. And I love, you know, what you said about, you know, Your, your partner inventing this for his own use, but, um, now it’s, it’s been popular and, you know, globally, I think you’re distributing this globally. And, you know, I think there’s the same goes necessity is the mother of inventions.
So, you know, really interesting how you’re solving a real problem. And again, helping our community.
Anthony Pong: Mm hmm, mm hmm. So, you know, speaking of communities, I know we talk a lot about the running community. So athletics is by far our main target market with this. , all athletes would be, uh, use cases for us that we would want to eventually get to running specifically, right? Because if you’re an athlete, you have to run at some point running as kind of the most.
human activity, if you will, for for our own legs and feet. And so we wanted to start with one of the most broad areas possible and work from our way from there. [00:10:00] Um, a big secondary community that we would see for us specifically would be the medical community, um, or sports medicine community, especially those with arthritis, foot.
Uh, hand back surgery, , or back pains, , the one specific disease for the U. S. would be diabetes or diabetics. You know, there’s a lot of feet swelling, nerve impingement issues already. Normal shoelaces literally are a tourniquet on your foot. And so we’re trying to solve this issue, right? So we’re trying to bring awareness to it, bring it both for the patients, for the doctors, for the customers, uh, and to solve them with the product too.
Richard Conner: I didn’t know that. That’s really interesting. And I love the, you know, kind of how you can use this same technology and help, um, different people, right? With, um, in this case of the medical side. So I love you sharing that. And then, you know, you mentioned about, you know, the running community, which I love to, you know, turn the story back to you for a moment.
So I know that you’re not necessarily a runner per se, but you run. So tell us a little bit about that.
Anthony Pong: Yeah. So, you know, I’ve, um, I’ve always run my life, my [00:11:00] throughout my life. Um, I’m a big tennis player. So throughout high school, growing up, I played a lot of tennis. High school played on the team in college. I played, , post college. I didn’t play competitively, but I still play, , in leagues or, or with friends or as my daily exercise, uh, with tennis comes conditioning, of course, and running is obviously the best conditioning.
So I run out of necessity to condition for tennis, although I don’t actually run for myself. , since starting the company, I have been around the running community very often, both with running groups, marathon expos, , podcasts. You know, my wife is actually a big runner as well, so I am surrounding, I do auxiliary the, the running community quite a lot.
I am familiar with the lingo, although I, uh, don’t base myself as a true runner. I do try to do rums too.
Richard Conner: And, you know, and thank you for sharing that. And, you know, it’s great that you’re doing that because, you know, a lot of the guests that I bring on the show, we have these conversations, if there may be runners now, but they weren’t always runners. And it’s interesting to hear how everybody starts with running.
It’s either, [00:12:00] yeah, I did run, you know, cross country and track in high school, or I ran as part of. So I played soccer, I played, you know, some other sport and, you know, I did running or I had to run in gym class and it was punishment for me and, you
Anthony Pong: Yeah, exactly.
Richard Conner: actually want to do it.
Anthony Pong: But I think there’s a beauty in the running as well. You know, you’re a runner. So, uh, you know, everybody, there’s a reason why so many people like to run. You know, there’s a lot of new documentaries too where it almost seems like the humans are the ultimate runner, right? We have the most efficient way of running Because of our two feet because of our Achilles tendon because the way we can sweat You know, we can outrun most other animals in terms of long distance and longevity So, you know things like that make me think hey, I really should pick this up more.
We were born into this We were built for this. I really gotta expand on these strengths that we have all as humans
Richard Conner: Oh, well, you know, you’re on the show, maybe speak into existence here, you know, but, um, but yeah, But that’s really cool. And yeah, like you said, you know, I’m a runner as well. And I’ve been kind of on [00:13:00] this journey of not only running, but just doing things that I’ve never done before. Right. So, um, whether it’s strictly running or obstacle course racing, or, , you know, maybe running longer distances and that’s the journey I’ve been on.
And that’s been a lot of fun. , for me, but also hearing the stories and sharing the stories of others. And part of the fun that I’ve been having is learning about, , the gear and things that can help improve my experience and improve my runs. So, you know, products like yours, , and others to, yeah, like I said, improve the overall experience.
Anthony Pong: Yeah. Um, I mean, I think there’s, there’s a fine line right now with having too many products and not enough products right now. There’s a lot of, um, products out there, uh, from head to toe that, that, you know, people can accessorize up to running is a pretty unique sport too, where you have the ability to customize how much gear you want, right?
Tennis, basketball, everybody kind of has a set standard of gear, but with running, you can kind of go balls. You can have more, [00:14:00] you can have less and could be a little bit more minimal.
Richard Conner: Yeah, for sure. And it depends on what you’re doing too. Right. So if I’m, you know, running five K’s and my training is distance is relatively short that I may not bring, you know, as much gear with me, right. Versus, you know, longer distances. I’m bringing more gear, more hydration, you know, fuel and, and things like that.
So yeah, it also just depends on what specifically you’re doing, , and you’re running. So, so yeah. So tell me a little bit, you know, about. Okay. Like what’s kind of next for you? Well, actually, before we get there, one of the questions I like to ask all my guests is like, tell me one of the biggest obstacles that you face in your journey and how did you overcome it?
Anthony Pong: , so I mean, I think the biggest obstacle for us in any small business entrepreneur business is just straight up spreading the word, getting the word out there, right? Um, we, I believe we have a good product. I believe we have good margins and we, I believe we have good operations, but without the marketing and sales, nothing else really matters, right?
And so. As all startups, a lot of [00:15:00] effort in the beginning should be for marketing and exposure. , the plan of attack with us in the beginning was to hit it at every field, meaning we hit online sales. We had in person events, both small groups for, , running groups like weekly running groups up to the bigger ones for marathon training groups or sponsored.
, running groups that go to marathons, we would go to a lot of trade shows, both running expos for consumers and retailer trade shows to sell to the retail stores. We would market to, and then we would sell to retail shops as well. And then we would sell to distributors. Right? So it is a point of attack in every level.
I think the important thing to do is be able to measure. What kind of effort you’re putting into it, what kind of returns are you getting out of it, rather than have it as a qualitative judge, have a quantitative in terms of a return. And so, you know, obviously on the ones that you do better on you, you, you hone a little bit better and kind of dig, uh, uh, double down into it more.
The ones that you don’t do well, you either try to fix or you drop as, as a, as a marketing channel. And so there’s been a lot [00:16:00] of AB testing for online ads, right? Online, I think since COVID is, is obviously the most, uh, scalable way to, to grow exposure, uh, and to grow sales, right? So AB testing with online ads since COVID has been, , the main objective over the past three years.
Previous to that was probably a little bit more emphasis with in person shows just to get the ball rolling with in person shows, in person sales, in person, , retail exposure too.
Richard Conner: Yeah, for sure. And you know, it was such a challenging time over the last few years. So, um, I think there’s some pros and cons, right? So having that exposure through digital, let’s really expand it over the last couple of years. I mean, this, we were talking about this earlier, this podcast was born out of the pandemic.
Right. Um, but now that we’re back in person, it’s great to have kind of this multi channel, uh, opportunity to, to reach people.
Anthony Pong: And you know, the, the devil is in the details, both in person and digitally there, there are many more facets, right? So digitally there’s blogs that we should be doing or that we have, uh, there’s [00:17:00] SEO keywords, you know, there’s ads, there’s landing pages, there’s followup, uh, emails, there’s texts, right there.
So there’s, there’s many different systems within each group to really, um, complete through, right. But before we can measure how things are, how, how effective things are.
Richard Conner: So, you know, let’s talk about like, what’s next, like what’s next for you as a tennis player with some running and then what’s next for the company.
Anthony Pong: Yeah, sure. So I, you know, the sky’s the limit for us right now. Um, I, I mentioned earlier that Japan sells really well. So just to put some figures to it, Japan has sold over a million pairs a year for the last seven years straight. a year, which is crazy, right? So, uh, you know, we see that the U S market can be much bigger.
Uh, we’re not close to capacity that we believe. We believe the U S market is probably three to five times bigger than the Japanese market. Um, so that’s just within shoelaces, right? So within laces, we have a couple of different variations or types of laces that we have to come out with. So, right now we have the run [00:18:00] version, the Caterpy run version, which is our most signature product that has equally spaced bumps all the way through, or we have a casual line that’s called Caterpy Air, where it looks normal halfway and just bumps at the very end to hold it in place.
It’s a little bit more for the sneakerhead, casual shoe, everyday Nike shoe that you wear with jeans, not as performance based, but still no tie, still a little bit of those benefits, uh, just not as performance and not as tightly based. You know, so these are the two lines that we’re working on immediately with the US. So one is sports based, uh, and one is casual based. So those are the two main target markets. There are a couple sub industries in terms of, um, workers comp, with like factories, with, um, healthcare workers, you know, uh, or boots and dress shoes too. So all shoes eventually could be the market, um, but I think those are much smaller categories than the sneakers between sports and casual.
So that’s just within shoelaces. Now, our technology or patent is in a elastic string and rope, not necessarily laces. So what this could be applied for can be used for a, a couple different [00:19:00] industries. One of the main other things we’re starting to make and sell right now would be hair ties and bungee cords.
Um, these are just smaller, uh, consumer type products that you can kind of see and feel the product, um, without needing to use the laces. Um, these could also be used as drawstring, right? Drawstrings or hoodies. You pull through, the bumps get stuck. You don’t have to tie your hoodie. Drawstrings for sweatpants or for board shorts.
You pull through, the bumps get stuck, you don’t have to tie your shorts anymore. We’ve thought about doing these for elastic dog leashes, right? So you don’t want the whole, uh, dog leash to be elastic. Maybe, maybe the first foot by your hand is elastic, but the rest of it is static, and therefore you still have some control on the dog.
Um, if you wanted to hold it closer, but if the dog is, you know, chasing or something or chasing a score, you still have a little bit of elastic give for your shoulder, for your elbows, for the, for, for those big dogs too. Um, we thought about rock climbing, tree climbing ropes. Right now there’s only tear away rope, which is a one time use, um, rope.
Most elastic ropes are too elastic, and so if you catch a rock climber and it could be too elastic, you fall to the next [00:20:00] level, next ledge. So our technology, our patent is able to control the elastics in certain parts. So we’re able to make a rock climbing rope that catches people a little bit better, but not be fully elastic where it could drop to the next level.
You know, so rope and string is the ultimate goal of our patent and manufacturing, uh, where this could be applied is, is almost too many industries. You know, we have to kind of be careful and pick and choose, uh, which next industry you want to get into really vet the market, see what pricing is like, uh, understand it completely , before we try to expand it to 10 different markets and fail at all.
Richard Conner: Yeah,
Anthony Pong: So choosing the next industry is a really important step for us, uh, as a next step.
Richard Conner: Agreed. Agreed. Well, I’m so happy you started with, uh, sports and running. So, you know, community definitely appreciates that. And it’s been really educational to learn, you know, the technology that you bring and how it can help us again as runners. So I really appreciate that. So, , Anthony, what would be the.
I kind of, as we wind down here, what would be the one thing that you would [00:21:00] say to inspire our community to run?
Anthony Pong: Um, so I would say there’s not so much emphasis on running as in just getting out and moving, right? I think there’s a little bit too much go out and run run miles miles miles. It just makes it seem and feel really scary I’m an athlete and I don’t even like to run right so to convince a non runner or non athlete to run in the first place It just is a bigger hurdle.
I think the marketing of it should be a little bit easier Just get out and move sweat a little bit. Don’t be afraid to sweat right when you can build up to the running. That’s great But, you know, you don’t have to force it. Just get up. But getting out and moving is incredibly important. Um, as you probably know, right?
Healthy bodies and healthy mind are one. There is no way to be mentally healthy without being physically healthy, ultimately, uh, long term at least, you know? So I do think reaching out to the community, getting people out there. Being healthy and active as a group is incredibly important. Um, doing it as a community I think is usually more fun.
You know, humans ultimately are more social creatures [00:22:00] than independent ones. And so join a running group, get in, get, get, go to an outdoor activity. You know, maybe it’s, maybe it’s not running. It’s just a outdoor sport or something. But I think get out there, start sweating, start moving. Get your body moving, get your mind moving.
You know, it’s all, it’s all connected.
Richard Conner: Love it. Love it. Great advice for our community. And how can our community find you in Caterpy and follow your journey along?
Anthony Pong: Absolutely. So if you guys wanted to search us on online, uh, our name is Caterpy. You can find us on Google, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok. It’s spelled CATERPY. Uh, sounds like the Pokemon Caterpie, but with a Y instead of P I E. Yep. Um, you can find us on our website of course. So caterpy.Us is our U. S. site or caterpy.Com is our global site.
Richard Conner: Okay. All right. I’ll put that information in the show notes as usual to make it easy to find you and Caterpy. So Anthony, thank you again so much for coming on the show, sharing your journey, sharing the story behind Caterpy and how it can help our running [00:23:00] community. So with that, thanks and have a great day.
Anthony Pong: Thank you so much, Richard, and uh, appreciate being on the show. Thanks everyone.
Outro: That’s it for this episode of inspire to run podcast. We hope you are inspired to take control of your health and fitness and take it to the next level. Be sure to click the subscribe button to join our community. And also, please rate and review. Thanks for listening.