No, majoring in English at Furman didn’t directly prepare Ryan Roberts ’12 to become an inventor and entrepreneur. It did, however, prepare him to be ready when the idea came.
“The skillset that a liberal arts major gives you with world-class critical thinking and problem-solving skills, a thorough background in research, the ability to effectively communicate — those are all skills that translate really well to business,” Roberts said. “It certainly armed me with what I needed to jump into this space, yeah.”
The space is the reusable water-bottle industry, and the jump is Roberts’ patented insulated can and bottle holder called “TreadTop.” Dissatisfied with the grip on other popular can and bottle holders, Roberts decided to create one that “is so comfortable to hold that you’ll forget you’re holding it” with an eye on a specific group of potential consumers.
“The designs on the market, they were OK. You had different colors, but there’s nothing to really express your style. If you were into luxury cars or motorcycles or 4x4s, there’s nothing for that automotive market,” he said. “So I just kind of had an epiphany one day.”
The most unique feature of the TreadTop is the screw-off top that resembles a tire. The stainless-steel base keeps liquid in bottles or cans cool for hours by using double-wall, vacuum-insulation technology.
“TreadTop is not a conventional water bottle, but I still categorize it as a product in this industry since it reduces waste and utilizes the same insulation technology catalyzing industry growth,” Roberts said. “Users increasingly drink the entirety of their beverage, since the last sip is as cold as the first. This reduces gross consumption at a unit level — drink more beers and sodas to completion, and you’ll ultimately open fewer.”
TreadTop is available for purchase on Amazon for $19.99, and Roberts is working to secure agreements that would allow him to move inventory in different ways. The executive director of Furman’s new Office for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Anthony Herrera, introduced him to some of those potential business partners after the two met at the Furman Business Series breakfast in Atlanta in the fall.
“He said, ‘this is what I’m doing,’ and gave me a prototype … What he needed was a plan, and he needed contacts,” Herrera said. “When you talk about entrepreneurs, people think there’s this magical, technical skill or infusion of money that happens, and a lot of times what really needs to happen is connecting to individuals who can provide a resource or an open door … So that’s really what I did.”
Herrera is slightly underplaying the support he has provided, according to Roberts.
“Anthony is awesome. He is super well-connected, very supportive and just enthusiastic about helping,” Roberts said. “We chat all the time.”
Roberts still has a day job as a senior product marketing manager for AT&T in Atlanta. But it was more than four years spent at Crown & Caliber, also in Atlanta, that gave him the knowledge and confidence to believe he could launch his own business venture as he helped Crown & Caliber grow into a multi-million-dollar company.
“I was one of the original members at an e-commerce startup here in Buckhead, and every step along the way I kept analyzing our business model and identifying its strengths and considering ways to adapt the successful components to other fields of business,” Roberts said.
He founded Arbin Ventures LLC in October of 2017 to house TreadTop with the ultimate goal of producing traditional reusable water bottles.
Roberts wishes he’d had access to Herrera while at Furman, though he admits he never envisioned the path he’s on when he was an undergraduate.
“Everyone has that moment (of inspiration) at different times. Some people know in high school; some people know in college, and some people don’t know until they’re in their 40s. I don’t know if I would have had the confidence to go and jump into it when I was pursuing English in college,” Roberts said. “I personally needed a few years working at a startup before I knew what to look for, but I know there were a ton of friends that I had that would have been sitting in Anthony’s office all the time talking about stuff. And frankly, if he’d been there maybe I would have realized I could have started doing something then.”
Learn more about TreadTop by visiting its website.