Today, Troy Faletra’s products are sold around the world. He’s been written about in Sweden and worked with fire departments in Japan. This fall, his ThrowRaft products will get some of their biggest exposure yet, thanks to a branded merchandise partnership with the NFL Players Association. For Faletra, it’s not just success – it’s confirmation that the idea and the product he fought so hard to bring to market was needed and wanted.
“My story is one of the stories where I didn’t get accepted by the industry, and I’m still not accepted even though we’ve got millions of dollars in sales, we’re in Walmart,” he says. He has, he says, been lowballed and told his product and company aren’t worth anything. “I still don’t get that respect,” he says. “Now that I have this, there’s going to be some major, major heads turning.”
“This” is in fact something big. ThrowRaft is currently releasing a series of NFL player themed life jackets, the first time the association has got into this line of products.
“I would call it the biggest partnership in the marine industry as a whole,” Faletra says. “In everyone’s lifetime, there’s never been a partnership in the marine industry with an organization like the NFL Players Association. And that’s really the reality of what I’m doing.”
The life jackets will be styled to look like the jerseys of some of the league’s biggest names. They’ll look good, Faletra says, but it’s not just about style.
“Nobody wants to wear a life jacket; that’s just a reality of safety gear,” he says. “The fact that every boat on earth is mandated to have life jackets on board for every person is one thing.”
In the US, depending on the state or body of water, life jackets must be worn by all boat passengers 18 and younger. But that doesn’t mean they have to be happy about it. “It’s like, ‘Man, I have to wear this big, orange, bulky thing,’” he says. “There’s nothing cool about it.”
But what if mom can show them a Tom Brady one? Faletra even imagines the TV commercial. “‘Would you wear one if Tom Brady had a life jacket?’ And then Tom Brady pops out and hands these kids life jackets.
“I’m 48 this year and Dan Marino was kind of our hero. Part of that vision was that yeah, I was a kid, I had to wear a life jacket, this was nothing cool for me, but I loved Dan Marino.”
Now kids who love Mahomes, Brady, Rodgers, etc. will have something cool. Dolphins Nation doesn’t get left out either.
“We have a Tua model as well, which is really awesome.”
When Faletra pitched his idea, officials were receptive.
“They came back and said, ‘Troy, you’ve been treading water for a long time,’” says Faletra, whose company has been around for about a decade. “We believe in what you’re doing and we believe if there were jersey-styled life jackets, people would wear them.”
He believes a partnership between ThrowRaft and the NFL Players Association, which must approve a product like this, is a natural fit.
“They’re the ones that literally control all the players, all the contracts, all the media, everything that’s got to do with the NFL Players,” he says. “What they care about is the safety of their players on and off the field. What ThrowRaft cares about, the reason I came to market, is I care about safety.”
But of course, safety isn’t always cool. This time though, Faletra reckons it is.
“It’s kind of a unique deal,” he says. “We are bringing to market the top 20 plus players, basically. We’re doing their signatures; we’re doing youth, adult – those will be foam. Those are all signature models.”
To bring one new life jacket to market, Faletra says it’s a huge task.
But this isn’t actually a new life jacket, it’s a model that’s already – only now, ThrowRaft has dressed it up NFL Players style.
“That’s all I did, and that’s the beauty of it,” Faletra says. “I’ve taken the same life jacket that’s been selling for years and I put something cool on it.” When you see the designs, they pop! They’re super, super cool.”
He’s now looking at branching into college teams and other sports.
New flotation devices require Coast Guard approval, and that isn’t easy to come by. These days Faletra is vice chair of the Life Jacket Association; he’s actually been called upon to write standards for new products. He’s made himself into an industry expert. In a world dominated by big, established companies, he saw no other choice.
“They blocked me,” he says of the industry. “They told me no one would ever want your ThrowRaft product, and there’s no standard to build one. I was over here writing standards for something that hadn’t changed since the Titanic.
“It’s a unique, diverse group of people who actually writes standards.”
It’s not enough to have an innovation; you’ve got to explain how and why it’s going to work – come up with the safety standards, basically. Faletra admits he got a bit obsessed with ThrowRaft in the early years. The former fisherman and yacht captain quit his day job. His marriage ended. He kept working.
He saw himself as the underdog.
“I’ve been told more than once that I’m worth nothing, I’m just wasting time,” he says.
Today he sees himself as an industry disruptor. When he first reached out to the NFLPA, ThrowRaft wasn’t really a life jacket company as a whole; as the name indicates, they focused primarily on throwable flotation devices.
“And I thought no, I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m going to make life jackets cool, like I always thought I could. We’re going to focus on what the people want. We’re putting everything we’ve got into what we believe people are going to wear.”
They’re expecting big things this holiday season. But for Faletra, there’s always the next thing. He always feels like it’s not big enough.
“It’s really hard for me to celebrate when good things happen,” he says. It’s what’s pushed him to be an innovator. He’s always onto the next thing.
That’s not to say the lifestyle is all work. The early riser frequently surfs before a day’s work; on the day Fort Lauderdale Magazine catches him, he’s already been out fishing.
“I got up this morning, went fishing, caught three tarpon, boated one. Caught a couple barracuda. And was in the office by 9 oclock.”
He also found a new relationship and now has a 3-year-old daughter, Saylor.
“That was such a surreal moment,” he says of her arrival. “That definitely ignites some fire.
“My goals now are different. When I had Saylor it changed me and made me push my brand even more heavily. I look at things differently than I did five years ago.”
She’s a swimmer, she loves riding on his paddleboard, she loves the boat.
“It definitely makes me think about how I can build a better product for the next generation,” he says.
For now though, he’s caught up in the hectic world of getting to market the biggest product ThrowRaft has ever done. “When design came back to me, I didn’t know what to do,” he says. “I was almost in tears.”
He wants to get paid, don’t get him wrong. But the lifetime ocean-goer and new-ish dad sees this as a mission, too.
This isn’t some niche market thing that only a few people are ever going to use. “We’re talking about something that we’re going to get more people to wear life jackets,” he says.“I went to the NFL Players Association because I want to save more lives.”
He’s a couple years shy of 50. Every man in his family has died before 65. “If I’m going to live, I need to start living,” he says. “This is my moment. And I think of disruption. This is the biggest thing the life jacket industry has ever seen.”
His competitors will do similar stuff. But he was here first. And he wouldn’t have believed this six months ago. He doesn’t really celebrate – “I get a lot of satisfaction putting something on my LinkedIn page; that’s how I celebrate,” he says.
He’s also planning on going to Costa Rica to film some promotional materials wearing the life jackets – and to enjoy the Costa Rican waters. It can be a hard life, the life of the marine industry disruptor. But it can be a good one.
“It’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s still surreal,” he says. “I think it will be really real once I get the product in my hands.