Initially, the Jammock was just a way to relax and snap out of the tedium of the Infantry Officer's Basic Course at Fort Benning. Conceptualized as a way to relax in his 2002 TJ after a long run, James used his engineering and test skills to refine the Jammock into the rugged beast you see today. The Jammock is the first and only load bearing soft top that's Made in America. To date, over thirteen thousand Jammocks have been sold.
If you've got a few minutes:
In 2005, while stationed at Fort Benning, James, a young US Army Infantry Officer bought his first Jeep, a red, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X. Wanting to be off-post as much as possible, but still wanting to extend his leisure time, he fashioned the first Jammock using an old hammock-mini from Ranger Joe’s. Although it was very comfortable, it was prone to breaking as the weight applied was uneven, and ended up over-stressing some parts. This idea was shelved for a few years due to deployments and other duties.
Fast forward to 2011 when James made his second Jeep Wrangler purchase, this time a green 2002 Sahara. Recognizing the faults of the first model, the beta was made of 3/8? rope and woven into a hammock-like net between the roll bars. This version of the Jammock was robust, but it took over an hour to install and wasn’t suitable for use as a secondary soft-top (no sun or water protection).
In early 2012, James was still trying to find the perfect material that would offer the flexibility, semi-permeability, fade-resistance and comfort necessary to make the perfect Jammock. This package would also have to be easy and quick to install. Through much trial and error, James finalized his design and decided on 1000 denier Cordura nylon–one of the strongest and most wear-resistant fabrics made. He built prototypes and tweaked them through testing and evaluation. The final product is what you see today.
I made the first Jammock in April 2005. It was an old Army-style string hammock that I cut into a rectangle and strung onto my Jeep. Pic below.
Years passed. In 2008 I took a lunch break and designed a logo, then I bought some Jammock business cards. I used one of these to pick up my wife (then she was a woman I met at Disney World) in July 2008. Mind you, there was no actual Jammock business at that point.
In early 2012 I decided enough was enough. I had a few thousand dollars kicking around, a basement, and some spare time. I ordered material and got to work. The hardest part was choosing material, I decided on trampoline material because I thought it would be the strongest and it had a nice hand to it. I was mistaken. I also thought that Jeep owners would like their Jammocks in tan to match my Sahara Wrangler. Also wrong. The first logos were green on tan, like my 2nd Wrangler. The only redeeming features of the trampoline material was that it was translucent and pretty inexpensive.
Once I had the prototype I shopped it around to American factories. No one would touch it. See below for a Jammock I made. Note the rough edges and loose weave on the top edge. Note the very small buckle on the bottom left. The contractor folks beefed all of this up and made it neater. A close up on the original buckle. Very inexpensive, but, come on.
Note again the loose weave, but the double stitching and pull tab. I tried to make it professional looking. I cut the fabric with a soldering iron. Lots of awesome fumes.
Initial testing. I’m sitting on boxes of heavy floor tiles. This was 300.6 pounds.
The prototype had a floating strap sewn through the hemmed fabric. You could move it or pull it out.
The previous version was translucent, enabling you to use it as a windjammer and pet barrier much more efficiently. Losing this functionality with the switch to Cordura was not that big of deal, however.
I have a close friend who works for a large group of manufacturers and asked for his help. He laughed at me and stressed that he was a lobbyist for AMERICAN manufacturers e.g.: those who do not make small ticket easy items. I finally found a guy who took my prototype and added some nice finishing touches. I ordered my first 100 units. At the time, this was a significant outlay of money.
The first prototype from Tacoma was pretty big and very nice. See it in comparison to my Jammock. Note the improved buckles and added edging (plus straight stitching). Unfortunately, to make it universal fit, I had to shrink it from 27” to 24” wide. The JK has a smaller space up top. I only found that out the night before I did the actual first PO when I went to a local Jeep dealer under the guise of buying a new Jeep. I asked the salesman to help me fit it. I realized with horror what I had almost done--I almost ordered 100 Jammocks that wouldn't fit any Jeeps.
I threw a party on Memorial Day 2012 and asked everyone there to fill out a form (a likert scale) after using the Jammock. I was able to get lots of good data from a fairly diverse sample size. I used this critical issues testing and evaluation plan I wrote (I used to test weapons for the Army so I learned some stuff).
I opened my (online) doors on 9/11/2012—unfortunate timing. I went to bed thinking I’d wake to hundreds of orders. Wrong again. I did sell two on the 13th to an enterprising young man named Kevin Drain. I sold my next one to a guy I had to drive 40 miles each way to show the Jammock. I tried to schedule meetings with clubs but no one bit. We did a semi-pro photoshoot. My friends helped and I bought them dinner. I thought the pics were great.
I filed for a patent (eventually denied) and then re-filed (currently pending). I filed for a trademark.
I would sell nine more in 2012. Then one unit in January 2013, two in February 2013. No traction. I trolled the forums. There were a few folks asking for black Jammocks. They were adamant that if it were black, they would buy one. I was uncowed. No way does this matter this much to a Jeep guy, right? No way. Way. What I was most adamant about was doing another production run without having a proof of market. I did not want to double down and spend more cash. Nadia came up with the idea to do a pre-order sale for JammockBlack, that way I could test the waters and fund the next run. So I did. In March I sold 22 units pre-order. At an average price of $125 a pop that more than paid for the next production run. We did an ok business for a bit.
I jumped into the Forums—Wrangler Forum, Jeep Forum, Reddit/r/Jeeps—all of whom can be very hostile to outsiders. I fielded a lot of dumb questions and a lot of rude ones.
In April 2013 I went to Jeep Beach Week in Daytona. This was a watershed, my step dad and I sold 20 units in one day—but the big key was showing it to hundreds of people and allowing them to try it themselves. The key to selling the Jammock was to get asses in seats. Once I’ve got you in the damn thing, you’ll want one for yourself. Earlier on I had to facilitate this. Now other people do it for me and show it off to their friends, increasing my critical mass of people who own Jammocks. The snowball effect in action. I also met a sales agent who got me my first big client, Extreme Terrain they remain my oldest client. The sales agent was key. He left Jammock shortly thereafter and then I hired him again in November 2015. He got me into Morris 4x4 and Quadratec—folks I’d been courting for years without success but who my agent was able to score big sales based on his reputation.
To maintain momentum, I do Google Adwords, Facebook ads, I hired a publicist to run my Twitter feed and that evolved into her doing my whole PR schema. I hired web folks to redo my website not once, twice, but thrice (three different sets of people), spending all told a few hundred the first time, many thousands the second (I gave them cash upfront and 10% of my gross—stupid, I know), and lastly a few K for the current iteration with which I am happy.
I’ll end here for now, but the bottom line is this: for the most part you have to tell people that they want to buy your stuff. I know it sounds patronizing. But it’s the truth. And you not only have to tell them, you have to show them why they should buy your stuff. And you have to make it as easy as possible for them to buy your stuff.