Due to our busy lives, we can’t help but forget to take care of our bodies. We sit in chairs all day long, typing away for a living. Then we arrive home and just fall into our beds, sleeping the night into day to start another routine. This puts a lot of stress on us, especially on our necks. We harbor some tensions every single day and it continues to grow painful and affect the rest of our bodily functions, causing headaches, migraines, etc. Fortunately, Steve Sudell has developed the “neck hammock.” This is a simple cervical traction device for neck pain relief, reduction of tension headaches and migraine, improvement of relaxation, and more. Steve Sudell talks about the product in detail and its benefits.
Our guest for this episode is Steve Sudell. He is a physical therapist out of Santa Monica, California. He is an entrepreneur and Founder of the product called the Neck Hammock available on Amazon and NeckHammock.com. Steve shares with us his life story on how the Neck Hammock came to be. He describes the different neck problems and conditions the Neck Hammock has been able to help people with in the comfort of their own home. He shares with us the importance of trusting your intuition and going with your gut instinct when it comes to making important impactful decisions. He also shares with us some important steps to help you grow a great product. Please welcome, Steve Sudell.
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The Neck Hammock with Steve Sudell
On the podcast, we have Steve Sudell. Steve, how are you doing?
Steve, where are you from originally?
I am originally from Jupiter, Florida.
Are you still down there?
I currently live in Santa Monica, California. I’ve been here for six years now.
How did you get into the medical profession?
I grew up playing sports. When I was rehabbing my shoulder for post football injury and I am wondering what I was going to do with my life, I’m like, “Physical therapy, this seems like it could be fun, helping people.You are staying fit yourself into dealing with health.” I went into athletic training at the University of Central Florida. That was a nice transition into the physical therapy program over there at St. Augustine and Ihave primarily, since then, been working with CrossFit-type athletes and athletes in general, creating a nice bridge between physical therapy and personal training.
You have a great product on the market called the Neck Hammock. How did that company startup? Why did the company start up? Explain how this company all started.
The simplest way that I can put it is necessity breeds innovation. As someone who grew up playing sports, I’ve dealt with neck pain over the years and there was nothing that I could give myself at home to work on that other than me going to see a chiropractor or a physical therapist. There’s nothing I can do on my own. Fast forward to when I became a physical therapist, I was introduced to cervical traction. Cervical traction was one of those modalities that helped every single time. We had our own $2,000 unit in our physical therapy practice that I use every time I tweak my neck. I have my own smaller clinic.
One day I was working out and tweak my neck again and I decided that I want to recreate cervical traction, soI did using a long resistance band wrapped around a pole. I laid down it for ten minutes and ten minutes later, my neck pain was totally gone. I knew that I was onto something. I had to spend the next two and a half years developing that idea because it’s complicated. It’s the back of the head and your ears are very sensitive. I wanted to make something that was comfortable that snugly and securely wraps around the back of your head, but still also creates that clinical-grade cervical traction that you need the amount of decompression that you need to be effective. I also wanted to make it something that was very affordable and you could travel with it, something that you can put your sock drawer when you’re done or storing your luggage when you’re traveling on the road.
When you first started doing this, was there anything out on the market that you saw that was like filling this capacity for the traction at home?
The current products that were on the market were very cheap and ineffective like the over-the-door traction units. There are so many things that I don’t like about those. They’re in the $40 price range and they’ve been around for decades. Zero Innovation with those particular versions in forever or you have the other model, which is the cervical, the Saunders Cervical Traction unit, which is great but it costs a few hundred dollars. It’s big,it’s bulky, takes up a lot of room andjust collect dust when you’re done using it. There was nothing that within the price point that I wanted to make it at and also had the portability component as well.
A lot of people have these great ideas but it takes a ton of work to get it from drawing everything out in your head to being on the market. What was that process like for you, where you’re like, “I have this great idea?” I’m sure you ran into a couple hurdles there or it was probably a lot of work to bring it to fruition, correct?
Yes. Whenever you come up with an idea, it’s a long road. It’s much longer than you ever think it would be. Even when you think you’re close with the prototype, putting things together like the manufacturing and marketing. There are so many other elements like legal trademarks, copyrights and patents you should get. It’s costly and it takes a lot of time. It’s one of those things that requires a lot of patience.
EM 71 | Neck Hammock Neck Hammock: Necessity breeds innovation.
When you had the prototype, did you start going around to other physical therapist office and chiropractic offices and saying,“What have you got here?” What was the general public’s first thought on the product?
The thing is because I have my own physical therapy practice, I was able to test it on real clients. I would just get their feedback, people who did have neck pain, andsee what they thought. Based on the dayin, dayout comments and feedback, I was able to tweak the design, tweak the amount of tension in the bands and tweak the placement of the pads. I was able to get real feedback from real people on what they thought of it, which is great.
For the people wondering what the Neck Hammock is and how they use it, what do you do,what do you need and how does it work?
The Neck Hammock is asimple device that utilizes cervical traction.A mechanism of decompression that’s been around for decades. All you literally have to do is pull it out of the bag, wrap it around a door knob or attach it to a door jamb, lie down and relax. You can adjust the amount of tension depending on how much traction do you think that you need. The cool thing is that your body’s pretty smart. It knows how much tension it wants and doesn’t want. If you want to increase the tension, you just scoot further away from the door. You want to decrease the tension,you can just scoot closer.
I’ve never tried the product. I’ve been looking at the reviews online. Everybody seems to be loving it.They say it’s very comfortable and everything. Is there anybody that should not be using the product or should consult with somebody before using the product?
We have a list of contraindications listed on our website because it’s not appropriate for 100% of the people. Name one product that’s good for everyone, you can’t do it. People who have had a cervical fusion, for example.We want to make sure that the fusion has completely healed. We want them to consult with their doctor before they recommend cervical traction. There are other things like rheumatoid arthritis or instability of the cervical spine. If you’re too young, we don’t want you to stretch your neck that much. The one thing that I will say that is very unique about this device versus other cervical traction devices is that you control the amount of tension that you want.
Some of the other devices, they just give you this fixed controlled amount of pressure, which in my opinion is the most dangerous part.When you’re in control, the chance of you hurting yourself drops dramatically. I’ve created in fail safes to where if you try to give yourself too much traction because there are people that want to crank on their neck, but that’s not exactly the healthiest thing for them to do.It will gently slide off of your head so you cannot give yourself that much force. Some other devices have a chin strap. I don’t have the chin strap intentionally so that you can’t really lock yourself into having excessive amounts of traction.
I liked this product because I love when people can become their own doctor per se, when doctors are giving exercises to do at home, stretches. This seems another great product where people can take their health into their own hands. What conditions do you see the Neck Hammock effectively is helping out?
One of the reasons why it’s been so successful is that there’s such a wide demographic of people who really need it. For me personally, when I was sitting down a lot behind the computer, doing a lot of documentation or whatnot, the muscles in the back of my neck would become very stiff and tight that decompression was very helpful for me. Then you have the opposite end of the spectrum of people who develop text neck, who are looking down all day long. The cool thing about this device versus others is all you have to do is shift the middle pad lower to the middle of the neck and that will help restore the natural C curve of the neck.
I’m very glad you brought that up because that was one of my questions. The technology now is not helping out anybody’s necks. We’re constantly at desks all day. We’re looking down, we’re looking forward. A lot of people have a forward-reverse curve. It’s going in the wrong direction. When I was looking at some of the videos, I was thinking to myself, “This is great for a lot of people, but a lot of people their necks might be so far reversed that it could be almost harmful to them.”You can actually use this device to restore the curve as well.
That’s something that we certainly need to do a better job of educating the two different ways of using it because not only can you help restore it by moving the pad lower, but it creates a gentle cervical traction so that it doesn’t have so much compression through the actual joints while you are trying to restore that natural C-curve. I try to give people the test. I’m like, “If you have text neck, use it this way. If you have general neck pain, then you probably could benefit from general traction.”
Have you gotten any feedback with tension headaches or any type of a headache at all? Does it work with headaches too?
I was having a tough day. I spent a bunch of money on legal fees. I was wondering whether or not I should even go through with this thing because I spent so much money. One of my friends texted my wife saying, “I want to let you know that I’ve been dealing with this nasty tension headache for the last 48hours. Nothing will get rid of it from pain meds to caffeine or drink water. I did ice and heat but nothing helped. When you weren’t in the office, I went upstairs and I laid in the Neck Hammock for fifteen minutes and it’s the only thing that helped relieve my tension headache. My tension headache was gone after that.” That was cool and inspiring for me. For tension headaches specifically, it’s been extremely effective. That’s an area that I knew that it could be pretty effective, but until we started getting actual feedback, that’s an area that a ton of people can benefit from.
EM 71 | Neck Hammock Neck Hammock: When you are in control, the chance of you hurting yourself drops dramatically.
Making any type of product, I could imagine while you’re going through the works of everything, there’s probably a little bit of resistance you hit. I’m sure you might have shown this to somebody and they’re probably like,“That doesn’t sound like it’s going to work.” Did you get a lot of resistance just coming up with the product and showing it to people?
When I would show people the product, they will look at it and be like, “That’s a good idea,” or you’d have people flat out say things like, “No, that’s not going to work. People won’t know how to use it.”Until I got them in it. Most of the people that got into the device, they got it. They had the benefit. Just simply seeing it, looking at it especially because the early prototypes that I tested people on were not completely refined to what it is. There’s definitely a ton of people and even big companies too that we spoke with that they’re like, “The mass consumers are not going to want this.” Then we had our Kickstarter launch and proved all those people wrong that people do want this type of thing because they can see, they can feel it just by looking at the videos.
What was it that made you keep going and pushing through and knowing that you did have a great product?
I constantly kept testing it on myself and on my patients and getting their feedback. You sometimes have to listen to your gut. When you know you’ve made a better mousetrap because I knew that this was a much better mousetrap than the other devices out there, I had to believe in my instincts and just go with it. For me personally, when I got past using it for neck pain, I use it now for meditation. It’s like my fifteen minutes to get away from technology, relax and that’s where I get so much of my creative energy from is the time spent in the Neck Hammock. I knew it had so many different purposes and functions that it would be one of those things that is worth pursuing.
There’s so much that goes into a product like this. When it comes out, did you have to bring anybody else in to help you get your vision out there?
I was fortunate that this is my third invention. I had already been introduced to some industrial designers and I had been introduced to different patent attorneys. I understood somewhat of a foundation of how to make an idea happen. In order to have a successful Kickstarter campaign, after doing all the research, you’ve got to ultimately hire people who know what they’re doing. If I was to make my own video and put it out there, it would not have had nearly the success as putting it into the hands of professionals and having them make something truly special out of that.
Like the actual commercial of how it works and everything getting it professionally done?
Like on our Kickstarter page, for example. I have no idea to even make a webpage look nice. That’s completely out of my area of expertise. To hire someone to put my vision down on a webpage that looks aesthetically appealing and it feels to the audience was important. As you know, being a healthcare clinician, I have had zero experience with anything web design or technology related or whatnot. Everything has been truly about learning how to help people. This has all been 100% learning experience for me on how to create a product and have it be successful in the eCommerce world.
Where can people purchase the Neck Hammock? Is it all over the place now or are you in stores or just online?
We’re primarily online. We have our website NeckHammock.com. We are also an Amazon seeking finance there and we’ve been picked up by Sharper Image. They’re selling the Neck Hammock. The Grommet started selling it. We’re now trying to make a push for retail, which is something that I am realizing takes a while. Nothing just happens overnight.
How do you recommend it used? Can people use it every day or a couple times a day? What’s a good use for it?
It depends on everyone’s body type. Use the analogy of flexibility. If you saw someone who is extremely tight, you’d probably recommend that they stretch their hamstrings three times a day until they start to improve their flexibility then they can start to taper the amount that they use it. The same thing here, if you have a lot of tightness in your neck, you can use it three times a day for up to fifteen minutes each time and then as you start to become more flexible and the spinal hygiene improves, then you can use it as needed. Everyone’s a little bit different on exactly what they will need.
EM 71 | Neck Hammock Neck Hammock: In order to have a successful kickstarter campaign, you got to ultimately hire people who know what they’re doing.
Is there a point where you can be on it too long?
We recommend that people don’t use it for longer than fifteen minutes because ultimately, people will probably be going to use it closer to twenty. We’ve had people fall asleep in it for two hours. You can overstretch the muscle and ligaments. I don’t recommend that. I recommend that they cap it for fifteen minutes. That’s all you need for it to be effective anyways.
Steve, where do you see this going in the next five years? Where would you like to take it?
My whole objective with this was to provide neck pain relief at an affordable price to thousands of people out there who need it. I want this to be in a place to where it’s readily available whether it’s online or in retail stores, which can allow me the opportunity to even make it better. We have some newer versions that we’re working on here in the future. We want to have a whole line of affordable portable products that can provide people with different sorts of pain relief beyond just their neck.
Are you working on anything for the low back like decompression?
That is a pretty interesting mousetrap because it requires a lot more forced than the neck does. That is something that we are actively working on. It’s also trying to make it affordable as well because that’s increasing cost.
What is the price point on the Neck Hammock?
Everyone can get it at Amazon and your website and everything else. Steve, anything else you’d like to share about the product or your story or anything like that?
The biggest thing that I would like to share is when you have an idea, sometimes you just got to go for it. It’s hard to connect the dots looking forward but looking back of all the things and all the shit that I went through and all of the things that I learned, I’m so eternally grateful for the entire process. If I have another idea of moving forward, I know that he back roadmap on what I need to do to get there. You’ve got to put in the hard work and you’ve got to take a gamble and even if you fail, you’ll still be okay. The entire inspiration for this for me that lit a fire under my butt to make it happen was my younger sister was dealing with leukemia. I was sitting in the hospital room with her when she was going through so much pain. I had this idea in my head that I was like, “Life is too short for you to sit on things and if I have an opportunity to help people, I need to do it.” That was the catalyst that got it going.
What were some of the big roadblocks that you would hit that you had to get over?
I would say overall from a patent perspective, like what patents I would immediately try to pursue, what type of advertising I would try to go into immediately, how much money I should be spending on developing X, Y and Z. I know now what manufacturers to go through because initially, the first few manufacturers were expensive and didn’t produce a great product. Now that I have all those connections and relationships, I can pretty much pick, plug, and play for the next ones.
Choosing these people to be with you is a huge thing. How do you do that? Do you go with your gut feeling most of the time? How do you choose these important people to bring in with you to make this product successful?
Listening to your intuition goes a long way because every single time that in the back of my head I’m like, “I don’t really know about this person.” They sound like on paper they may have shown you the world that all the success but in the back of your head, you just know something’s not quite right. Every single time I’ve had that feeling, I’ve been right. I pay attention to my intuition. I work with good people, even if they’re more expensive or they’re less qualified. If they’re fired up, passionate and just like good genuine people, you can work with that because you can make people better and smarter the more that you work with them as well.
How do you take this great product and continue to grow it? Is it more of a gradual growth or do you see sometimes where it just skyrockets up? How do you grow it from here?
The third leg of the stool would be retail. Once we can get it in retail and have a full eCommerce presence, full Amazon presence, full retail presence, that’s the way that it has an opportunity to grow. As far as speed, from what I found, it can spike at any time depending on what celebrity mentions you or what media outlet. Those things can happen. We’re in talks with QVC. That could be a big thing for us as well too.
EM 71 | Neck Hammock Neck Hammock: When you have an idea, just go for it. Life is too short for you to just sit on things.
Throw you on Shark Tank.
We thought about that, but at this point, we don’t know if we even need it with what we’re doing, maybe for other products down the road or other additions to the product. Things like that could cause an immediate amount of growth but that’s not necessarily the best thing from what I’ve found. Growing too fast, not knowing how to adapt to it can also get you into a lot of trouble. I’m cool with the slower growth type route.
Steve, one question I usually ask my guests at the end of every show, what would be one piece of advice you would like to just give the audience something that you’ve taken with over the years? It could be anything that’s something that’s resonated with you and helped you out to where you are.
I would say that the power of people and connections is one of the most undervalued assets that you can have. The people that I’ve met over the years who have opened different doors for me or created different connections to me to different marketers, retailers, and designers or whatever.The more people that you put yourself in contact with and develop positive relationships with, you have no idea when, later on down the road that can pay huge dividends for you. That’s one of the things that I’m learning and I can start to now see that having been in the industry for close to a decade now.
If anybody has any questions or anything like that, they bought the Neck Hammock they want to know a little bit more about it, where can they go to find that information?
You can go on our website, NeckHammock.com or you can email me directly, which is Relax@TheNeckHammock.com. You can put, “Attention, Steve,” if you have a question specifically for me. I’d be more than happy to answer your email every day. You’re not dealing with a massive company. You are dealing with a very small group of people so I see everything that goes.
Get them while they’re still small. He’s growing. Steve, thanks so much for coming on. I enjoyed this episode. Everybody, go check out Amazon and check out the Neck Hammock and if you like it, leave a nice review. Steve, thanks again for coming on and I look forward to talking to you soon.
I really appreciate it.
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