“My sales were doubling every month”: This former IT sales guy swapped careers to start his own sports gear line
Lars Mueller started training in Muay Thai when he was studying a bachelor of commerce at the University of Guelph. A few years later, a car accident halted his practise, so he kept up his passion by starting his own line of combat sports gear called Techniques. When Mueller was laid off from his job in IT sales during the pandemic, he left his Toronto condo, moved back in with his mom and went all-in to turn his side hustle into a full-time gig.
—As told to Andrea Yu
“When I was 18, I lost my dad to cancer. At the time, I was studying at the University of Guelph, and I wasn’t in a good place. Alone and angry, I partied a lot and even got into a couple fights. I realized I was full of misplaced anger from losing a parent at such a young age. I needed a controlled environment with discipline and direction to let that all out. I was a big fan of combat sports, and I admired the fighters’ mental strength. I wanted to achieve that for myself.
“I found a Muay Thai gym in Guelph and went all in, taking classes six days a week. And I loved it. The owner of the gym was a police officer, and he made it very clear that he wasn’t teaching us so we could go out fighting in the streets. It was for fitness and discipline. He said, ‘If you fight in the street, I’ll find out, and you’ll no longer be welcome here.’ So that put an end to my shenanigans and getting into petty fights.
“The sport gave me a lot of clarity. To fight, I needed to put myself in a calm, relaxed state, similar to meditation. When I moved to Toronto in 2016, I was fighting at a gym in Mississaug while working as a project coordinator for a construction company. I participated in about 20 amateur and exhibition fights, and I won more than half of them. I also picked up some teaching on the side, training private clients one-on-one and running kickboxing classes at a local gym. But later that year, I got into a bad car accident and herniated two discs. I couldn’t lift weights or punch a bag anymore. I got a good settlement from the accident, but I had to stop practising Muay Thai.
“By October 2017, I’d found a job in IT sales. At the same time, I started toying with the idea of launching a martial arts business on the side. I wanted to create a line of quality combat sports equipment made with real leather. A friend of mine hooked me up with a manufacturer that could make what I needed at a good price. I used the money from my settlement to build up the company, as well as thousands of dollars from my own savings.
“I reconnected with a friend from high school who’s now a photographer and videographer, and he gave me a great rate to do some photo shoots and create content for the site. I was able to leverage my network of fighters to model the gear, and I linked up with gym owners to host the shoots. I knew that if I had great fighters wearing my brand, then gym owners would know I was legit and my brand would have credibility.
“I started with five products: boxing gloves, headgear, shin guards and two styles of boxing pads. We launched the week before the pandemic started. When Covid hit, I had no idea if I just dumped thousands of dollars into a business that had no future. But I knew I had to adapt. By early May, I’d been laid off from my job. I’d already been thinking about quitting, so the pandemic just forced my hand.
“I didn’t have any money coming in, so I moved back in with my mom in Oakville and built up my website, adding photos, blog posts and a review section. Then, around July, when things opened up again, I saw an uptick in sales, mostly among gym owners who wanted to carry my products in their shops. I remember doing my first big sale. The gym owner gave me a big fat cheque to stock some of my products in his gym. It was a moment where I thought to myself, You can do this. Soon sales were doubling every month, and I realized I could make a real business. I come from an entrepreneurial family, so running my own business seems well-suited to my personality. Plus I can talk about this sport and these products for hours.
“Things are winding down now that gyms are closed again, so I’m focusing on the stuff I can control, like my website. I’m also designing some apparel so I have more products to sell in a couple of months. I’d love to just work on my own business full time, and I think I can get there when things go back to normal.”