The revvll Story – How a great idea strained us to the breaking point

revvll PRO Nives Oresnik

The Idea

It all started back in 2011 when a friend of mine brought me to a local gym facility that owned a classical rope climbing machine. It was a huge thing that featured an integrated bench and you are meant to sit down while pulling the rope. We instantly ignored the bench and started to go crazy on the machine not only pulling but also reversing our stance and pushing the rope or even pulling/pushing it laterally.

I was blown away by the options of that style of training. For the first time I wasn’t limited in any direction and could work with a steady resistance over the whole range of motion. All of it with maximum time under tension. The muscle pump that Rope Resistance Training (or Rope Training) gave me was unlike anything else I experienced so far. It got me thinking – wouldn’t it be awesome if you could have a Rope Trainer that would get rid of all the overhead of traditional rope climbing machines and instead be portable to be used anywhere, just like my prior invention – the aeroSling Dynamic Suspension Trainer? What would it take to shrink 150 kg to 5 kg? Well, it turned out that it took a lot…

The Creation

I knew that I had to basically rethink everything in order to make my vision a reality. We looked at all types of ways to generate resistance and they all had one thing in common – they weren’t working for us because they did not yield enough counterforce for what I had in mind.

Physical friction resistance, like in old recumbent bikes, was also not an option as the rope needs to continue to run when you reposition your hand at the end of a movement to grab more rope. Otherwise, the training experience becomes really jerky and you will always have to fight the initial inertia again which renders it basically useless. The only way to achieve this with friction is to have a huge counter mass which would make the product big and heavy again.

We ended up using eddy currents with a nifty transmission which allowed us to generate high resistance while keeping everything very small and light. Eddy currents are a really strange thing and while we know what it does science does not fully grasp why it is working exactly.

The Monster

Our other product lines are much simpler in their design and build. Creating a device like the revvll that exceeds 100 single parts per product was completely new for us. Still, I did not expect the amount of issues that we faced when we started to build the first customer units that we called the revvll ONE. They were all handmade and that meant that the specs were different on each and every one. Some were performing well while others would not run at all. We overestimated the precision that we are able to build with by a large margin.

revvll PRO eating aerobis headquarters in Cologne

‘Me eat up aerobis’

Customers also started to interact with the product completely differently then we were expecting them to. Yeah, who would have thought, right? There is still an iconic video somewhere where a customer started to repeatedly smash the unit on the ground while pulling on the rope.

Elliott Hulse revvll ONE

Da fuaak? For some reason that revvll ONE did not break. *sigh*

Another mistake was that I expected there to be a ready-made solution for a looped rope. From the beginning, we were struggling to create a rope that would be continuous and not fall apart from the torture we are putting it through. We started with textile ropes because that was the status quo on rope climbing machines and we had a lot of experience building these already for our Battle Ropes. We came up with 101 one ways to glue, melt, screw a textile rope together but none of them were reliable.

revvll ONE rope

This version was probably the best example of how not to do things. It was very complicated to make. We melted the rope in a custom machine, pressed it into a new shape, fused in nut and screw, and put over custom cups. It looked nice and you could screw it on or off. Only that the melting process was uncontrollable and invisible air bubbles made the connector break fast.

Mind you – this was all happening while we were actually already selling small amounts. The only way for this to work would have been to create a far bigger unit to reduce the stress on the rope – which wasn’t an option.

I was itching to show people what we had envisioned and everyone loved it and actually wanted it. I probably should have kept the lid on it for far longer – but it is easy to say that in hindsight. We were still figuring out how to make it work while simultaneously creating unhappy customers.

Hit The Brakes, Accelerate, Crash Again

I realized pretty soon that we needed to take our production game to a new level if we wanted to deliver on our promises we made to our customers. We stopped the revvll ONE production, re-evaluated every part, and went from handmade parts to injection molding and precision metal parts created by specialized production lines. This was a huge restructuring operation that only worked because I was able to attract reliable cooperation partners over the years. The result was worth it – we had the base unit under control and could produce big numbers of much more abuse-resilient revvlls.

revvll PRO Cornelia Ritzke

The revvll PRO itself is now standardized and sturdy.

I also found a producer that was able to create a special type of PVC hose for us that they would weld into an endless rope. Endurance tests worked well and we ramped up production again. The whole unit became a lot more expensive and so different from the revvll ONE that we ended up calling it the revvll PRO and charging more for it.

We were selling units again and suddenly we were receiving customer reports on partially broken ropes (or hoses) again. Sometimes after only a few hours of use, sometimes after weeks. First, only occasional reports were coming in and you still had hope – just to have it destroyed by a dozens of incidents a few weeks later down the line.

broken revvll rope

You can quickly develop an aversion towards hoses. Especially broken ones.

All these customers spent a lot of money, we spent a lot of money, and again the product did not perform to our own standards. After a lot of back and forth the hose supplier admitted that he wasn’t able to control the fusing process and we stopped production again. By this time, we had already sold serious numbers and these customers needed to have a working solution or their money back. The problem – I had to create a solution out of thin air and it felt pretty much running out of air to play with. It is a really tough situation to be in. You have employees, customers to satisfy, and bills to pay, and no one will – or even can – tell you what to do. It is a time where the only one you can rely on is yourself. That feels pretty lonely.

The Pressure Is On

So here we were. A product that has awesome potential and works really well – apart from a part that is 5 mm big and still unreliable. Substantial investments into the tooling had been made, open purchase contracts were looming, and customers were waiting and rightfully demanded a reliable solution. Paying everyone back was really not an option from a financial standpoint.

I started with a clean slate and looked for a new producer once again to supply us with a rope that would work reliably. After a lot of searching we started with a company that was willing to experiment with us. They are specialized in mechanical belts (think fan belt on your car) which is a huge plus because it is already similar to what we do with our revvll rope. Still, it took many iterations to get to a rope that was actually working. It required rethinking material, structure, profile, and a deep believe that it can be done even when everybody else, including the employees, is having serious doubts. I don’t blame anyone, it is hard to stay motivated when you only get calls from unhappy customers and have no way of knowing how it is going to play out in the end.

Rise From The Dead

After I had the rope design nailed down, I then had to alter the revvll PRO setup to cope with the changes. The needed alterations were substantial as the new rope had different dimensions and properties. The alterations had to be made in such a way that we were also able to upgrade every unit already sold. We did not want to leave a single customer behind even if updating these units would be hilariously expensive for us. Only the results count, not how you get there. The result I am after is 100% happy customers.

So we kept running in silent mode and upgraded all units that were reported to us with the new setup. 99% were not operating due to a broken rope. Units from Russia, units from Israel, units from everywhere. I fixed most of these revvlls myself. It amounts to hundreds.

revvll repair selfie

Silent night, holy crap. Celebrating the holiday season by fixing revvll units at night.

I see the mechanical work as a kind of redemption for ultimately causing the issue in the first place. But even more so it was crucial to see each unit that had been out in the wild and investigate how all the parts coped with the action. Nobody else can do that – only you as a developer can really draw meaningful conclusions and therefore it does not matter if you are the CEO or just a gifted office table tennis player.

table tennis

It’s the truth. I have the gift of Table Tennism… as long as I can return backhand. Which I will. No matter if it is appropriate or not.

Where was I? Ah, right – upgrading the revvlls. Nobody else can do that work for you – only you as a developer can really draw meaningful conclusions and therefore it does not matter if you are the CEO or not.

The other thing that changed is that we do an intense automated testing cycle now. Basically with every major change to the product – it has to complete a 40 hour cycle done in 8-hour non-stop sessions running at full throttle with the highest resistance setting.

revvll testing

Generated load on the e-motor is up to 750 Watts with a speed of 1,2m/s. In short: fast and hard.

Even after that time the unit needs to still be operational and good for many more hours.

Rolling Again – This Time For Real!

What you read here is basically my first public statement that we have dealt with the issues that kept us from scaling the revvll production. We have serviced hundreds of units with the new setup in the last months. The amount of rope failure is zero.

revvll mounted on frame

We have worked off all of the Backlog on orders that accumulated during that time and are building up stock.

With the revvll PRO aerobis offers you a product unlike any other and that I am very proud of. A truly unique rope trainer built the best way I know how. Tested in gyms as well as private homes all around the world. 100% made in Germany.

The Future

We iterate pretty fast – faster than any company I know in the fitness industry. Rest assured that we have plenty in store for you. Give yourself the pleasure of training with a revvll and feel why it has ultimately been worth all that hassle of developing it. You can buy revvll rope trainers here or at one of our partners.

Personal Conclusions

Since I started being an entrepreneur in 2006 it has been a constant learning experience. You have to learn, evaluate, and adopt constantly or perish. It also served me well to deeply understand how things work on a micro-level, even if you are not operating the machines yourself at some point.

Otherwise you will never be able to connect the dots and see what is working and what isn’t. You have to be a Jack of all trades and have to build up a team of people that are specialized, better than you in their specific field of work, and highly motivated to execute.

The End Is Only The Beginning

As the quest for the perfect setup comes to an end, the journey of the revvll only begins. We want to thank all of our customers that have had troubles with the early revvll versions and trusted in us perfecting it. It cannot be taken for granted that customers endure these kinds of problems but they realized the potential the revvll has. And in the end, it all paid off.

Sportive greetings,
Elmar Schumacher, CEO of aerobis