Not Your Grandma’s Tiger Balm: Cal grads reinvent ointment

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Gone are the days of Tiger Balm, Bengay and SalonPas. Flex-Power is new hot topical ointment, endorsed by over 70 world-class athletes, including Jason Kidd, Steve Nash and Charlie Wi.

The company is making headway into the global market, and it may very well “become the next Vitamin Water,” says co-founder and V.P. of international business, Kenneth Yun, 24. U.C. Berkeley graduate Yun — along with co-founders and fellow Cal graduates Rasheen Smith and Bejan Esmaili — wanted to create a long-lasting product that would bring relief to all types of athletes without the nasty scent of more popular brands.

Flex-Power’s cutting-edge nanotechnology uses “liposomes” that, upon application, deliver pain relief gradually to deeper muscles, as opposed to the temporary fixes and superficial relief other brands offer.

“If you’re used to Tiger Balm, or patches that smell like your grandmother’s old closet, this is the new wave — just how PowerBar reinvented the granola bar and Gatorade reinvented Kool-Aid, we’re doing the exact same thing,” Yun said.

The three enlisted the guidance of PowerBar founder Brian Maxwell, and Flex-Power was established in 2001.

Along the way, Yun has benefited from the guidance of Smith, 30, and Esmaili, 42.
He affectionately refers to them as his “adopted family.”

Born in Korea and raised in Alameda, Calif., Yun’s parents had wanted him to be a doctor or lawyer, and he was headed in this direction until he met Smith and Esmaili.

“Not to say that those professions aren’t respectable,” Yun said with laughter. “I think that there are opportunities for people to excel — maybe it’s that [Asian American parents] have tunnel vision. Luckily for me, I had great mentors, Rasheem and Esmaili, so instead of listening to my parents when I entered college, the two of them guided me.”

Yun was only 18 and a still a student majoring in American studies when he started at Flex-Power, working on everything from developing relations, business structure and marketing.

“Prior to this, I wanted to go to med school because I didn’t know of any [other career tracks],” he explained. “I was just a rookie, but working with Flex-Power molded me into really focusing on branding and marketing. Right off the bat, I was given the task of international business development.”

A practical crash course in business, the opportunity at Flex-Power led Yun to the position of V.P. However, he admits that it is a small company, with everyone pitching in for everything.

One of their main objectives now is to bring the product over to the Korean market, where they hope its popularity will trickle down to China and Japan.

Today, the product is sold in Vitamin Shop, but the company hopes to expand its reach further domestically as well.

They are currently in negotiations with REI and HEB, a grocery chain in Texas. “Right now, we’re heading into some of the major retail stores, expected in 2008,” Yun said.

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