Portrait of Tom Shipley

How Joining the Israeli Special Forces Helped Build Successful Brands With Thomas Shipley, Founder of Atlantic Coast Brands

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Tom Shipley is a serial entrepreneur who has sold over $1B through omni-channel marketing over the past decade. Launching with virtually no capital, Tom launched and grew Atlantic Coast Brands (ACB) into one of the largest direct to consumer brand, multi-brand companies in America. ACB created one of the hot new categories of women’s hair growth in 2010. Keranique, the first clinically proven hair regrowth system for women, Keranique dominates the market and is the #1 hair regrowth brand for women in America sold through DRTV, Online Channels, Amazon, HSN, salons and retailers such as Ulta, CVS, and Riteaid.  Over the past year, Tom shifted the focus of the company to a “Digital First Strategy”.


Tom attributes parts of his success to the gifts of adversity from his childhood and service in one of the Israel Defense Force’s elite special forces unit.  His process of going from 10k applicants to the 13 that completed the 18 month training is the foundation for entrepreneurship and leadership that is the foundation for success of his businesses.  Tom Shipley has 2 daughters and lives in New Jersey with his wife Pam where they are currently working on launching their next business which is all about impact. 

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Thomas Shipley talks about moving to Israel, joining the Israeli Special Forces, and how the training relates to business and entrepreneurship
  • How being in the army has helped Thomas to build his brands and achieve success
  • Thomas’ product development roadmap and his employ of the  blue, red, and purple ocean strategies in product development
  • How the idea for Keranique came about
  • The role Intellectual Property (IP) plays in building Thomas’ brands
  • Thomas’ advice to entrepreneurs about going all-in in business and about weighing the risks that they should and shouldn’t take

In this episode…

Any person who has passed through military training will tell you how difficult the initiation process is. Their training teaches them to be disciplined, persistent, strong, and realize that the impossible is possible. They learn never to give up and persevere through hardships. 

And these same concepts of resilience and perseverance hold true even for entrepreneurs. Thomas Shipley, CEO of the Atlantic Coast Brands, applies his learnings from his training for the Israeli Special Forces on his various businesses. He credits it for helping him grow in his entrepreneurial journey as he learned to follow his gut, to create his own path, and as he learned the importance of having structures and processes.

In this episode of Innovations and Breakthroughs, Rich Goldstein interviews Thomas Shipley of the Atlantic Coast Brands about his experience in joining the Israeli Special Forces and how he applies the lessons he learned there in growing his businesses. Tune in as he shares his product development roadmap, how he utilizes various strategies for product development, and the role intellectual property plays in his business.

Resources Mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Goldstein Patent Law, a firm that helps protect inventors’ ideas and products. They have advised and obtained patents for thousands of companies over the past 25 years. So if you’re a company that has a software, product, or design you want protected, you can go to https://goldsteinpatentlaw.com/. They have amazing free resources for learning more about the patent process. 

You can email their team at welcome@goldsteinpc.com to explore if it’s a match to work together. Rich Goldstein has also written a book for the American Bar Association that explains in plain English how patents work, which is called ‘The ABA Consumer Guide to Obtaining a Patent.’

Intro (00:09):
Welcome to innovations and breakthroughs with your host Rich Goldstein, talking about the evolutionary, the revolutionary, the inspiration and the perspiration and those aha moments that change everything. And now here’s your host, rich Goldstein, rich gold

Rich (00:33):
Here, host of the innovations and breakthroughs podcast, where I featured top leaders in the path they took to create change past guests include Rick’s is RA Kevin King and Roland Frasier. This episode is brought to you by my company, Goldstein patent law, where we help you to protect your ideas and products we’ve advised and obtained patents for thousands of companies over the past 25 years. So if you’re a company that has software, product or design, you want protected goal to go, go to Goldstein patent law.com with our amazing free resources for learning about the patent process. And you can email my team@welcomeatgoldsteinpc.com to explore if it’s a match to work together. You can also check out the book I wrote for the American bar association that explains in plain English, how patents work it’s called the ABA consumer guide to obtaining a patent. I have you today, Tom Shipley, Tom Shipley is a serial entrepreneur who sold over a billion dollars through Omni channel marketing over the past decade with almost no capital Palm launched and grew Atlantic coast brands into one of the largest direct to consumer brand companies.

Thomas (01:35):
Brands Koenig dominates the market, and it’s the number one hair regrowth brand for women in America. Welcome Tom. Thanks so much for being here. Thanks, rich. Great to be here. Awesome. And so I noticed something in your bio that I found very interesting, which is that you were part of Israeli special forces. That’s correct. So tell me a little bit about that. That’s fascinating to me. Okay. Um, at the age of 20, I was at Florida state university and life was really good, but I felt that there was just something more and I had a connection to Israel and I had planned eventually to move to Israel and help build the, uh, this new Homeland for the first time. In 2000 years, Jewish, the Jews of the world had a Homeland and I wanted to do that after university. But then I was at university.

Thomas (02:25):
I was thinking about, I didn’t want to wait any longer to really have this massive impact to start my life. So I decided to move to Israel where I can serve in the army pay taxes and be part of building this new Homeland. And so I moved to Israel and to fulfill that dream, and I knew that what I wanted to do was go in the army. It took me a little bit time and a process to get in, but then I learned a lot of things along the way. Uh, one thing that I learned through friends is that, uh, the different levels and the different opportunities that are in the army. And if you’re going to go for something, go for the best, cause why not go all in and you have to have that vision and that reality. And I decided to go into, uh, to try to get into a special forces unit.

Thomas (03:11):
And again, the odds were impossible, but again, it’s where I learned that the impossible is just possible. If you could focus on it, envision it. And while I was a runner, I was never a great athlete. So the concept of an American moving to Israel, not an incredible athlete, I did not speak the language, could get into their selection process and being special forces was just impossible. But I didn’t know because you’re young how naive that idea was. But I envisioned myself that I was going to get into this unit and the, this specialty. And it was the hella, um, airborne helicopter airborne rescue unit, sorry. Um, was, uh, the odds of getting in a very small, what they do is they start with 10,000 people apply to get in the unit out of the 10,000 and apply to get the unit. They select about 500 people out of, after a bunch of different psychological tests, psychometric test, and a day of testing physically, how you are, they invite 500 people out of the 10,000 to go into hell week.

Thomas (04:15):
And they don’t tell you how long it’s going to be at somewhere between five days and seven days I went, their goal is, is to break you and see what happens when they break you either psychologically, physically, or they play mind games, they test your honesty was incredible period of time in the different tests they put us through. At the end of it turned out to be five and a half days for us, they picked 23 of us and to start a 18 month course and out of the 18 month course, there were 13 of us. But it’s where I learned the power that if you have a dream and a vision, no matter how impossible the odds are, don’t worry about the odds. Just focus on yourself, just put one step foot in front of the other, keep on going all in and you can achieve your dreams and that same basic concept. And so many of the concepts that I learned in the army and the special forces I’ve been able to apply to business where everything I’ve done, I’ve been told it’s impossible. I might as well give up, but you just keep on going. Entrepreneurship is not easy, but it is sure a great ride.

Rich (05:15):
And that’s an amazing message. And, uh, yeah, I mean the, the, the part that really intrigues me is I’ve, I’ve, I’ve heard, I’ve heard something about training that’s involved in, in various special forces, um, um, you know, entities and, uh, and it’s, it just seems insanity. Like I, I could never imagine. I mean, just the, the level of, of, um, determination, it takes to continue after everything tells you it’s time to give up and your brain tells you and, and just what it would take to go through all of that, um, is inspiring. And, uh, I guess, um, um, I can’t even imagine for myself of mine, it’s interesting. A buddy

Thomas (05:58):
Of mine told me, um, his one advice for me going the special forces. He said, when you’re going in, he said, and remember, especially if you’re testing, you’re going to look to the guy to your left. You’re going to look to your guy. You’re right. And you’re exhausted. You can’t take into this epi going days without sleep. And you’re just going, and you’re looking at them and they are looking so strong, but understanding their mind, they’re looking at you saying the exact same thing. And all you have to do is take one more step and then another step and the next day, and pretty soon the March, the exercise that we’ve done with and in business, the same thing as sometimes we’re in a slot, sometime things are really, really difficult and tough. If you’re strategically focused, just take, put one foot in the other and just gut it out. And it also in, and also those tough times.

Rich (06:43):
Yeah, that’s amazing. I mean, my next question was going to be how you took those lessons into business, and that’s obviously what you’ve done. So tell me how that has, how that’s helped you to build the brands that you’ve built and get the success that you have.

Thomas (06:57):
It’s interesting. I mean, ultimately in many way, businesses like a war that you have this overall vision, or, you know, what your, uh, your overall goal to accomplish or what war you have to win. But then there are distinct battles along the way. And all, ultimately you can’t take every hell. You have to pick which strategic Hills you want to go after, and then you focus on it and you kind of cur that Hill and you have to make sure it’s the right deal that you’re going up and just like, just like a war. So it’s the same thing as businesses, we pick our battles. We only go take one massive battle at a time and really focus and have a good plan, making sure that we’re going up the right one. And we accomplish that, that the team has also everything because ultimately why we are able to accomplish this great things in this little group of 13 soldiers that we had in the special forces unit is the quality of the character and what we did to bring ourselves together.

Thomas (07:47):
The same thing in businesses, it’s all about the quality of your team. And so there’s a lot of things that philosophy such as in the Israeli army commander says after me hurrah after me. So, um, I always would never ask any of my employees to do anything that I wouldn’t do. And I always looked at, I have to lead by example, otherwise, what type of leader, and if they understand where your heart is, and you’re all in with them, they’ll give all in back. And that’s been the foundations of all my businesses over the year. Uh, one of the things we did, we had a medics course, uh, which was part of our training as special forces. It was three months of menace course. And so one expressions that we learn is Hovish, TOVs have the shuttle military, a good medic is one who improvises.

Thomas (08:31):
And because in the field, you don’t always have the tools. You don’t have everything you need, especially when you’re dropped from a helicopter, we’re rescuing a pilot across enemy lines. And if he’s, if he’s injured, you don’t always have the tools you have to use your improv. You have to improvise in order to save a life, same thing in businesses, you don’t always have the tools. You don’t have the skills, the skills in that not necessarily have perfect knowledge of what to do, but you can always improvise. You go with your gut and you go with the skills that you’re given and you improvise in the situation. So there are so many different lessons that I was able to learn. It’s a master, it’s about disciplines, about what I disciplined myself doing. It’s a discipline that I teach my employees and structure and processes and training, the same thing you live in the army. There’s also one great expressions, which I learned, which I love, which is named [inaudible].

Thomas (09:24):
I will find the way, or I will make my way, I’ll create the path. And in businesses, the best thing you can do is if you can find an existing framework to work through. Um, and because people that have spent hundreds, millions, billion dollars, building different testing, what work and what didn’t work. So if you can find a framework and follow the framework that people who have been successful going through, that’s the best way to do it. But a lot of times there you hit different rows and there are no frameworks. And in that situation, you can’t quit. You just create a path, you create your way. And that’s what we’ve done is I try to find frameworks or I adapt a framework. If not, then we’ll create it. And that’s what we’ve done for all my businesses. Yeah.

Rich (10:06):
I love that. And, um, I mean, just talking about product development and my audience are mainly people who have something that they’re looking to bring out into the world, and they might not have much experience with developing a product and taking it from conception, bringing it out, getting it out there. And I love that notion of, uh, um, I will, um, you know, I’ll find the way or I’ll make the way, which is pretty much how you have to go about product development or, or bringing a product out out there is you look for some type of, um, some type of pathway. You look for some type of process, but most of the time there is no roadmap and you have to make it.

Thomas (10:45):
So let’s talk about product development first, because product development and understand that almost every one of our products we’ve ever carried in all of our brands over the last 15 years is we’ve developed. We have an R and D team in house. And so we’ve always developed our own products. And the first thing I’ll say, just because you can create a product doesn’t mean you should, you have to really understand what the market is. And so we hear a lot about blue ocean and red ocean, which is opportunities either in business or even a product in specific niches. And, um, I’ll go real quickly on this as far as blue ocean strategy. And then my take on it is, um, red ocean is you imagine a Mon ocean where there’s so much competition, there’s blood in the water, there’s sharks circling. Okay. And there’s a lot of demand there, but also there’s so much competition.

Thomas (11:35):
Those are difficult areas. And if you’re identifying a new product to develop, is it in this red ocean? This blue ocean concept is that there’s no competition. There’s no one out there. So you can be innovative in the first, the challenge is, is a lot of times in blue ocean, there is not a demand the product yet. What you want to find is the sweet spot. What I call a purple ocean, which is meeting the two together, which is basically where I’m going to see an area of high demand. And I’m going to create, uh, a product where I see there’s high demand, but I’m going to create a new vehicle, a new, uh, as that I can grab people out of this, uh, red ocean and I have something unique and distinct, and I’m going to pull them into my blue ocean or what I call purple ocean, where I have demand.

Thomas (12:22):
And I have something unique in your vehicle. And I’ll give an example. In 2008, we were looking, we are, our hydroxyl tome brand was going strong. It was a hundred million years, and that was great. But we were looking for the next product opportunity. It happened, it was inspiration came from my mother that said she had, she didn’t really care about her skin. And she said, Tom, I’m having, um, some hair loss. She can see my scalp and my mom’s not being, she doesn’t care about this thing. And then my sister had, um, some hair loss and thinning hair from over-processing and I went, okay, opportunity. Where’s the white space here. And again, where’s the blue ocean. And there an identified that there was no product on the market for women. There was no brand out there for women’s hair loss. There was Rogaine for women, a single item, single skew, but there was nothing there.

Thomas (13:07):
So you have this one out of every three, women suffer from hair loss about the same as men, men had more visible, and it happens younger for, for the same rate for different reasons. But again, you have this large market and everyone’s focusing on the men’s market because it’s more visible. It’s more talked about the women they weren’t. So, um, I said, if we can develop a hair system for women that is unique in the way we approach it, and as unique vehicle that we can do, we can dominate the market because it’s one of every three women it’s massive and no one owned it. So we did is we had our scientists spend two years developing a, um, a system to regrow hair and with all the different, identifying all the causes of hair loss and what we can do to address it and developed it.

Thomas (13:53):
And the fact that we came in with a system that was, uh, based on beauty, but it was based on science. That’s the mix of the two clinicals behind it. It works, but we focus the message on from, um, a women’s beauty perspective, but no one’s ever done that develop the system specifically for women. And that’s how we took a red ocean concept of hair loss for men and women, and made a specifically about women and we developed system about it. So therefore, when we started launching, it was Christmas every day, every channel we launched and was in the money because we hit on a need and a product we’ve actually developed products in the past and launched it. And there was a strong of a need and they died. And just as if I can just segue a little bit, just as important as a product is also the name of a product. So we had a great, I, you know, one product we did some research on was a women. Uh, women has issues with their pores being enlarged. So we came up with a, which it was a poor minimizer to shrink the size, the poor. So you don’t have the visual spots all over their face. So we see a lodge this on radio, and it was a poor minimizer as an it, you know, hydro hydraulic pump for a minimizer. But when you hear the word core, what do you, how do you spell that

Rich (15:08):
Pre

Thomas (15:09):
Correct. But you know, some people thought P O O R O or minimizer, okay. So product may make it died. It had equipment depth to it. So product names are very important. Okay. But again, identifying, making sure, identifying a strong niche market where there’s a problem, identifying how you can be different and how you can pull people in create your own. Uh, red OSHA is very important to really have and making sure that the market is big enough, that you can scale it. You don’t want to have a solution where the, uh, population that can use it is an equal 10. What you want is N equals 10 million or 15 million.

Rich (15:47):
So it sounds like the purple ocean strategy is finding an area with this proven demand, but yet you have a superior solution. So, okay.

Thomas (15:54):
It’s different. It has to be a different vehicle then, because if I just have a better product, doesn’t mean you’re going to win. There’s so many better products out there than Microsoft, for example, but they win because they were early in it, but they had something that was different back then is you have to have a differentiating factor that is important enough for the consumer. And let me give you an example. I have an argument with our product development team all the time, our scientists, they say, this is a best product. I said, you might say that, but I can’t make claims about it. And the consumer will not know that that individual function or that does meet it doesn’t mean anything to the consumer. The fact you’re excited as a scientist doesn’t mean the consumer’s going to be, I have to be able to present it in differentiating. If I can’t tell the story of why this is so much better. And it means something to her, it does many things. So the best solution doesn’t always

Rich (16:41):
Got it. I’m curious what role you’ve seen IP play and in, in building the various businesses and an expanding of new markets.

Thomas (16:50):
Um, well, intellectual property is, um, is extremely limited. It is a Holy grail in certain ways, because again, if you, if your IP is locked up, um, and you can defend it, you basically can hold off your competition. And it’s, it’s really, uh, in which is really critically important. And sometimes, you know, especially in skincare, it’s a lot tougher to do, to have a really, um, uh, to have IP that, um, that is patentable that no one gained, especially from a function perspective as what type of IP and what type of patents you’re involved with, but then to protect what you have is extremely important.

Rich (17:29):
Yes. And, um, so, I mean, you mentioned, um, kind of going into the Israeli armed forces, like your naivety of believing that it was even possible to pursue this dream. And I kind of likened that to a lot of inventors who naively Nively believe at, they can make it right. And they don’t realize what the odds are stacked against them. I think many of them do make it without ever having realized how strongly the odds were stacked against them. And I’m just wondering what, um, uh, what, what lessons you feel would be helpful for them to, to, um, to get into this appropriately understanding the risks, but yet also knowing that it’s possible for one person to, to do it. And that, I guess if you’re going to do something, then you should, you should go for the best, like you said before.

Thomas (18:20):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s really, really interesting is that, um, as I shared that, um, every time you start a business, the odds are stacked against you. The probability you’re going to survive a year is very small. The probability that you’ll you’ll scale over a million is extremely small five, you know, 10 million forget about it, a hundred million, forget about it. The odds that you’ll last for five years at that scale are almost impossible. So, but that’s not what entrepreneurs think when they start a business, therefore, um, you know, you, you have to be competent in yourself and be passionate amount and go all in with what you want to accomplish, which I’ve done with our various businesses. But when you go all in, you have to be willing to, um, you never write a check that you can’t cash. So for example, if you’re willing to go all in and lose everything, okay, you’re willing to do that, but make sure that your partner’s on your side otherwise.

Thomas (19:15):
And that’s what I’ve always been fortunate to have is a wipe. That’s been by my side. So I’ve, I’ve gone all in. We can do that, but when we have an existing business, the one thing I want to do, and, and, uh, Charlie Munger, uh, Warren Buffett’s partner talks about this. And he says that when you have an existing business, what you want to do is the rescue was, should take in the risk. You shouldn’t take the risk that you should take is if you want, if you have, and again, he is as a different expression, but I’m going to a different animal is going to talk about cats. I’ll talk about a sheep. Okay. You can always, you know, you’re going to take risks and you can share all the, um, all the wool off the sheep. And that’s an okay risk to have and risk this season’s harvest.

Thomas (19:56):
You’re going to give it all away. That’s fine. But what you don’t want to do is you don’t want to risk it where you’re actually taking a risk and actually skinning the sheep, because if you skim the sheep and you’re going all in with the risk and you might end up with no business, so everything is about your risk profile. But when everything is, you’ll have people around you that, um, that are going to doubt you just make sure you have your data and your research done. And your it’s not your, it’s not a hundred percent on a gut and understand the magnitude of risk you’re taking. And if you’re really passionate about it, then go all in, but understand the risk you’re taking, but go on all in.

Rich (20:32):
I think that’s awesome advice. And, uh, I really appreciate it. And so if, um, if people want to learn more about you, how can they, how could they find out?

Thomas (20:41):
Well, I use more or less my Facebook, um, to share ideas, concepts, uh, interesting. So you can find me at Tom Shipley on Facebook is the best way to find me. Great. Thank you so much. I appreciate you taking the time and I think these are really valuable lessons for, for entrepreneurs. Great. Great. Thank you, Richard. Good luck.

Outro (21:06):
Thanks for listening to innovations and breakthroughs with your host, rich Goldstein. Be sure to click, subscribe, check us out on the web@innovationsandbreakthroughs.com and we’ll see you next time.

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