“Lawe i ka maʻalea a ku ʻono ʻono; Acquire skill and make it deep.” – ʻŌlelo Noʻeau
Like a good teacher, Stuart Kam is there.
The Brazilian jujitsu black belt isn’t teaching martial arts though. He’s sharing his story of how he started a nationwide business and is offering his manaʻo to Native Hawaiians who want to learn from his example and be inspired by his success.
Kam’s business, ATH, offers a sports supplement line made from whole food ingredients. Products, which are intended to boost athletic performance, are sold direct to consumers through athorganics.com.
The company recently leased a 5,000-square-foot warehouse facility on Kamehameha Schools’ land on Cooke Street. In addition to serving as a small fulfillment center, the Kakaʻako location will be used as ATH’s media center to help build its brand presence and a private training facility for ATH sponsored athletes will eventually be housed at the site as well.
After modest beginnings, this past year the company has started to gain traction seeing 200 percent year-over-year growth.
But even though he majored in business administration at Oregon State and took nutrition classes in college, Kam said the path toward a successful business has not always been an easy one since the company was founded in 2012.
“The first year was very painful, and we just started off really small,” he said. The biggest challenge we had was capital. I didn’t have a ton of money. Actually, I didn’t have any money to start a business.
“Our first production order was like $2,000. I basically rolled the dice and threw it on a credit card. I think we did about 200 bottles, and we flipped that over and just kind of repeated the process to build up the cash flow.”
Kam said that when he looks back, it was a lack of experience and knowledge about his particular business that stalled him, but having the ability to network with other e-commerce brands, and learn from their mistakes, helped his company become successful.
“My advice to anyone who is interested in starting a business would be to just go for it,” Kam said. “Seek out knowledge, and seek out people who have done it before.
“In starting a business, you’re going to have obstacles. Every single business has experienced adversity, some more than others, but every successful person has overcome adversity. Never give up and just keep going forward.”
ATH’s flagship product is a post-workout mix of carbohydrates and protein that helps athletes recover better. Kam said it was the first product the company produced and its uniqueness helped propel them to get the business started.
Today, their best seller is an all-natural turmeric-based pre-workout mix designed for endurance athletes that features only plant-based ingredients.
Athletes who have used their products include former UFC champion Max Holloway, Kam’s former jujitsu training partner, UFC fighter Yancy Medeiros, Hawaiʻi surfer Seth Moniz and even former Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
“ATH is a great brand made up of a good group of guys working locally here in Hawaiʻi,” said Nicholas Adler, a commercial real estate broker with CRBE, Inc., who helped Kam secure the lease for his new facility.
As a commercial real estate broker, Adler’s primary focus is industrial leasing and investment sales. He currently represents Kamehameha Schools’ industrial portfolio which consists of roughly 1,400,000 square feet in the Kalihi and Kakaʻako submarkets.
“What’s really awesome is that Stu can operate his business from anywhere, but he chooses to be here in Hawaiʻi. We really need more local entrepreneurs who will operate within the state rather than venturing elsewhere,” Adler said.
“Stuart is just one of those guys who is very genuine and always willing to offer advice and different perspectives. He empowers other people to take control of their own health, not only with his supplement line, but also through his training facility. I think he’s an inspiration to a lot of different people.”
Kam, who is as haʻahaʻa as a true martial artist should be, said he wants to help others succeed in business as well.
“I definitely want to help out other Hawaiians and anyone who is trying to start up a business in Hawaiʻi because I know how difficult it is. I’m always happy to connect and network with people and help push them in that right direction,” he said.
Kam said he’s pleased to be a Kamehameha graduate working with Kamehameha Schools.
“Being able to work this deal with Kamehameha Schools and lease this property means that we’re going to have internships to inspire current Kamehameha students and other young Hawaiians to pursue their business dreams,” he said.
“That was actually Nick’s idea. He asked me if I was open to having internships and I said ʻof course!’ That was one of the reasons why I started a company because I wanted to have the ability to take whatever knowledge I gained through my own experience, and spread that and help inspire other people to take that leap of faith and just go for it.”