For 15 seasons, Mike Cammalleri was a scoring machine in the NHL. But little did anyone know he had a dark secret. Well, not dark, exactly, it was pink. On this episode of Get a Real Job, Cammalleri and his business partner John Celenza discussed the launch and growth of their brand BioSteel.
BioSteel is a line of sports drinks and on-the-go powder mixes aimed at delivering healthy hydration with zero sugar. Since its launch, the brand has become the official hydration partner of the NHL, and onboarded superstars like Patrick Mahomes and Luka Doncic as brand ambassadors. Listen to the entire conversation above and read some excerpts from Cammalleri below, which have been edited for length and clarity.
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“I got into the NHL in 2002 and it was a time when strength, nutrition, and training certainly weren’t where it was today. I met my childhood best friend John on a soccer field when I was seven years old, and we’ve kind of always talked about doing something. John’s been with me my whole career, in the locker rooms and training with me. And we would hear the common complaint from athletes which was that sports drinks on the market didn’t have the greatest ingredients: tons of sugar, food coloring and dye, and things like that. And I was also diagnosed with Ulcerative colitis at 11 years old, so I am fairly sensitive to things that cause inflammation in the digestive tract. As I kept going through my career, it became harder and harder to find solutions that were safe and drug tested and didn’t have so many artificial ingredients. So one summer John and I sat down and we’d said, ‘You know what? We’re gonna, we’re gonna start a company that’s gonna solve this problem and provide it to pro-athletes and the general population.'”
“We went down the product formulation route with a few different people for about a year. Then I started training with a guy in Toronto by the name of Matt Nichol in the off-season. Matt had similar problems with his athletes, and so he had kind of been working on different drink ideas. I had one of his drinks, which at the time was in a powder form, and I found that it was a great formula, so John and I brought Matt in as a partner in the company. And I remember, I was in my apartment in Montreal for training camp, and John comes in with this tub of our product. And he looks at me and said, ‘Mike, it’s pink.’ And asked what happened. And he said, ‘Well, the manufacturer said that if it had a color, people would drink more of it. So we’re gonna market a pink sports drink.’ And I was like, cool! That sounds fun. And another inspiration was at the time, the golf company TaylorMade made a white driver. And then a bunch of companies followed with copycats. But when you’re watching on TV, it didn’t matter what the brand actually was. If you saw white, you assumed it was TaylorMade. So we quickly decided, we’re going to start with one flavor, one SKU, and we’re going to own pink.”
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Hydrating the enemy
“John started selling BioSteel through our contacts in pro sports, and we stood by some principles very early on, one of which is that we wouldn’t give it away for free. We had customers who were some of the world’s biggest pro athletes, and we knew we had a quality product. We just thought, you’re going to make millions of dollars playing your sport, and we’re going to give you a hydration solution that is going to help you, so you’re going to pay for it. And so we had some of the biggest names in sports buying BioSteel with their personal credit card. And at the time, we were very coy about my involvement, since I was playing against some of these guys. So we just said I was helping out with marketing for ‘these buddies of mine’ who have this cool company.”
Every sale is the first sale
“We have very robust distribution, particularly here in Canada, but as we grow and grab market share, it all still feels exciting to me. So I’ve got three children and a wife and we’ll be out somewhere and they’ll be like, ‘We’re thirsty.’ And we just stop at a gas station and I walk in and see our BioSteel powders and a Biosteel fridge, and so it all still feels like the first time. It’s pretty cool.”