Episode 100
April 5, 2022

Sparks, Sketches, and Sharks

with Max Kislevitz, Co-Founder of Bala

About this episode

Welcome to the 100th episode of Stairway to CEO! Today Lee spoke with Max Kislevitz, the Co-Founder of Bala, an LA-based movement company on a mission to create beautiful design-led, functional fitness accessories and equipment that will change the way people work out. In this episode, Max shares with us his entrepreneurial journey from growing up in New Jersey, to working in advertising for nearly 13 years, which led to meeting his wife, Natalie, and starting Bala in 2017. He talks about how a trip to Indonesia led to a sketch of the first Bala on a napkin, how they launched a Kickstarter campaign to cover the upfront costs in the first year of business, and how they landed a $900,000 investment from Mark Cuban and Maria Sharapova from pitching on Shark Tank.

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In This Episode You’ll Hear About:

  • What it was like growing up in New Jersey with family working in the toy industry, having the influence of entrepreneurial parents
  • The life lessons learned from being a lifeguard and swim instructor at a young age 
  • What he learned from his 13 years spent in advertising, is that products can become very meaningful not only to consumers but to creators 
  • How a one way trip to Tokyo with his now wife and Co-Founder Natalie, led to the idea of Bala
  • How after a workout class in Indonesia, the idea for Bala was sparked by a napkin drawing
  • The insecurities faced in running with the idea of Bala, that it was a redesign of a product no longer used
  • The fears they faced of being told no, not being believed in, and the fears of putting their idea on Kickstarter
  • The year-long process of finalizing the product and getting it to be everything they needed it to be
  • How they landed on Shark Tank, and how their episode airing two weeks before COVID hit helped skyrocket Bala
  • The advice Max has for founders wanting to go on Shark Tank, and how it’s been after the fact
  • How leaning into product innovation, and not just focusing on bangles has grown Bala further
  • What it's like working with a spouse, raising a family, and building a company
  • What’s next for Bala from product innovation, more content, and partnerships

To Find Out More:



“I'll admit that I don't think I've ever really known what I want to be when I grow up. I say it in the present tense because I think there's still a lot of life to live.”

“We noticed there had been a redesign of the adjacencies in this category, but not of the products folks are actually working out with, so we started sketching Bala on a napkin.”

“The challenge became, how do we start to bring this thing off the page? Early days it was just an incredibly iterative process.”

“Early insecurity was will people care? It is admittedly a redesign of a product no longer used to the same degree they once were.”

“We took a year to continue to develop the product and get to the perfect velcro closure that allowed folks to throw them on and off really simply.”

“We never thought about it as an at-home fitness product.”

“Like any pitch, focus and singularity around what your product or service is and why it's of interest, not just to your target audience, but the Shark Tank audience as well.”

“We wanted to make a deal, but we didn't want to make a deal that would really be a disservice to what it is we were trying to build at the time.”

“It really is this kind of intersection between fashion and fitness that didn't otherwise exist”

“We realized that making meaningful, functional improvements to the product, but also making them more beautiful would make for a more elevated experience for working out.”

“Baby steps are still steps. And as long as you're taking them, you're moving forward.”

Read the transcript

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