VAIL — Ken Hoeve has been riding the wave of drop stitch technology for years, literally, as a stand-up paddle boarder who became one of the first locals to regularly run rivers on a SUP starting in the late 2000s.
Hoeve gained recognition for pushing product adjustments and innovations based on his use of those products in the field.
He’s also known to be a talker at the bar, and a poster on social media.
In other words, if Hoeve has an idea to make your product better, he’s probably not going to keep it a secret.
“He’s such a good guy at creating content and being excited, but he’s not really good at keeping his mouth shut,” said Ryan Guay, a longtime friend of Hoeve’s.
At one point recently, Hoeve’s gift of gab became such a concern of Guay’s that it nearly ruined his off-the-grid adventure.
“I got invited to go on a 6-day trip on the Green River, and the last conversation I had was with Ken he said ‘Are we ever going to do anything with these ideas, because otherwise I’m going to go to so and so, and I’m going to tell them about it,’ and right then I dropped cell phone signal for seven days,” Guay said.
On that trip, he decided if Hoeve had managed to keep his mouth shut about their business idea that week, Guay was going to tackle the business full-on when he returned.
Drop stitches, dropped call
The weaving process of drop-stitch mends polyester material in a way that allows inflatable objects to take on the properties of a hard yet-flexible material like fiberglass or plywood.
Drop-stitch technology’s history goes back to 1950s in the U.S., when NASA and the Air Force researched the technology. Today NASA, on its YouTube page, displays a video of a 1960 test film from the Langley Full Scale Tunnel of an inflatable airplane developed by Goodyear. Drop-stitch technology was used to create the inflatable craft.
In the world of stand-up paddle boarding, drop-stitch technology means you can create a vessel which is 10-feet long and floats on water, yet can be deflated and rolled up like a sleeping bag for storage. The concept has brought great organization to Hoeve’s life, as his many toys aren’t always so easily stored.
So when, a few years ago, Hoeve found himself staring at a broken fiberglass box on Red Sandstone Road – a box that had been, five minutes earlier, unbroken and attached to his truck – he asked himself, was this a situation that could have been prevented by drop-stitch?
Hoeve began pitching his idea to create drop-stitch car carriers to Guay, a longtime friend of Hoeve’s who grew up in Colorado. The idea began to grow based on the outdoor experiences of Hoeve, Guay and a close and tight-lipped group of their friends, which led them to the ultimate in pain-in-the-neck piece of equipment when it comes to storage — the truck topper.
With a storage friendly-truck topper as a hallmark product, an idea for a complete business and brand called Flated emerged, prompting Hoeve to keep a lid on things. But the progression of the potential business wasn’t happening as fast as Hoeve would have liked.
“Finally I called Ryan and I said if we don’t stop dragging our feet on this I’m going to start telling other people about the idea,” Hoeve said.
But he didn’t receive a response, as the call had been dropped.
Flated in business
Hoeve decided to give Guay some time to ponder the suggestion, and was pleased that he did. A year and a half later, they have two other business partners and full line of products for sale on their website, as well as the necessary legal muscle to guard the investment.
“We’ve spent a lot of money on protecting our intellectual property, so we have three patents pending,” Guay said.
Products include an inflatable truck topper, an inflatable car carrier, and an inflatable pet carrier.
Colorado resident Alex Hotze recently acquired a truck topper and used it on a trip to Oregon.
“I was expecting the wind to push it around when you’re going 85,” he said. “But the contact with the bed rails has a gripper on it that grips to the bed rails really well. We were able to fit so much more stuff in our truck for our trip.”
Hotze said he had the truck topper out of the packaging, on his truck and ready to use in about 15 minutes.
“I didn’t need any help at all,” he said. “The way it fits is super secure and you can walk right on top of it.”
Hoeve said in addition to the organization and satisfaction he’s found in being able to use the product himself, he also received a valuable business lesson in the process.
“It was probably good for me to practice some discipline and keep my mouth shut,” he said.
For more information, visit getflated.com.