Chris Turzinski and Zac Dudzik are the founders of Rogue Energy gaming drink
As best friends since high school, Chris Turzinski and Zac Dudzik have often talked about starting a business. When Zac, a workout enthusiast, came up with the idea of developing a specialty sports drink, they decided to pursue the idea.
What they discovered by looking at the competition was that the market was saturated.
“The extra space in this area was so competitive,” Turzinski said. “But since we were both big players, we looked into developing a drink for the gaming market. There were only three major competitors with one really dominating.
By spending time researching, they decided they were on the right track. The gaming industry was growing substantially, and specialty gaming drinks were growing with it. Turzinski drew up a rough business plan and talked to his family. In 2016, one of his family members provided the seed capital and Rogue Energy (www.rogueenergy.com) began to take shape.
“We defined a business model for e-commerce, not for the retail space,” Turzinski said. “We figured it out as we went, and initially we outsourced production to half a dozen manufacturers. We started with one company in New York, but the drink tasted horrible.
At that time, some of the funds that had been allocated for marketing were instead used to find a new manufacturer, and the result was a great tasting drink. They initially offered two flavors, stocked the inventory themselves, and did their own shipping.
“We were so young,” Turzinski said. “Within a day, we created our social media IDs and posted them to nobody. At first, maybe three people would see a post, and if someone even liked our Tweet, we contacted them personally.
Decisions were made primarily on cost, and the original graphics, created by a New Zealand company, had limited color to save money. As the brand took off, the logo remained basically the same, but the colors became brighter to reflect the excitement of the gaming industry.
The growth has been enormous. Since launch, the business, with an office in Ashwaubenon, has seen 300% year-on-year gains. While the pandemic has hurt many businesses, games have grown as people have spent more time at home.
“The pandemic has been a unique opportunity for e-commerce businesses,” Turzinski said. “People were buying online only, and we took the opportunity to add four new SKUs and redesign the website.”
The only issues came in 2020 when shipping delays made it difficult to order the plastic bins that house the product. Creative, the two men designed and patented their own bathtubs using a material that was easier to find.
This innate business acumen has enabled continued success. Their branding is exciting and embraces the fun of the game. About the company’ Facebook page, there are ongoing events, special-edition products, and collectible sets that sell out within hours. They have been an Amazon “Pick” product, and now offer 17 drink flavors with three more on tap for this year.
“There’s still one big player that controls about 85-90% of the market, but we’re one of the remaining three or four brands competing for the remaining 15%,” he said.
To get the most out of it, Turzinski says they try to stay ahead of trends and know when and how to evolve. A competitor recently launched the cans option (a powdered mix has been the industry standard) and there’s a feeling the market might change.
“Our biggest problem is how to stay ahead of the market curve and keep up with industry trends before it’s too late,” Turzinski said.
Staying on top of this can be a challenge as the two continue to work full-time at other jobs, are married with five young children, and aim to grow the business to $5 million in revenue. They have outside help, but there is a lot to manage.
There is a detailed marketing program which includes components such as the Rogue referral program with partners and affiliates enlisted to sell products. They work on identifying “influencers” who are promoting the product online, and they make sure the brand stays fresh with ongoing posts on social media sites.
When describing Rogue Energy, Turzinski says there are many products out there that contain cheap or unhealthy ingredients, but theirs is the most delicious and healthiest on the market. Gaming drinks are exploding in popularity and are now a $150 trillion industry in the United States. As they try to capture a larger share of this market, Turzinski says they also see the benefit of diversification and not putting all their eggs in one basket.
He said: “We have launched our second company, Empyre, (www.empyre.gg) two months ago in the gaming space with the sale of gaming peripherals.
And it does not stop there. There’s a third venture planned for next year, and the pair plan to continue growing from there.
“I love formulating ideas, coming up with ideas and seeing new things come to market,” Turzinski added. “There’s this moment when thousands of people receive it and buy it; it’s really cool. Plus, going to work with your best friend is really awesome.
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and former district manager of SCORE, Wisconsin.