When the subject is lacrosse, Luke Aronson inspires confidence. He helped Medfield High School win two state championships, earned All-America honors as a senior, and played in Division 1 at Yale University.
But Aronson drew skeptical looks when he walked into a board room last year and told executives at one of the nation's biggest lacrosse retailers that the mesh pocket he designed with cousin Jake McCampbell was the best in the sport.
"They didn't come right out and say, 'We don't believe you,' but of course they're going to doubt us 'cause we're just young kids who haven't proven anything," said Aronson, 25, who cofounded a start-up called StringKing Lacrosse in the basement of McCampbell's parents' Medfield home.
Now, the fledgling company's mesh pockets are on the sticks of Major League Lacrosse stars and the once-leery retailer, Commonwealth Lacrosse, can barely keep StringKing's line of premium mesh in stock at its 14 stores throughout New England, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Commonwealth Lacrosse's original order of about 1,500 mesh kits sold in just a few weeks, and the chain recently asked StringKing to double its next shipment.
"Others have tried this before, but no one had ever been able to convince us that they make a premium mesh and that customers will notice a difference," said Jeff Copetas, vice president of marketing at the retailer's parent company, TSG Enterprises. "With these guys, there's a clear difference."
That difference, StringKing claims, is consistency. The new company — whose founding team also includes two other Medfield natives, Kevin Clopeck and Jeff Cutter — boasts that its mesh is unaffected by rain and will never "bag out," a lacrosse term for stretching caused by water and overuse. Every diamond-shaped hole between the strings is precisely the same size. The uniformity is meant to help players cradle and release lacrosse balls the same way every time.
For lacrosse equipment makers, mesh is generally an afterthought. A high-level player might spend $1,000 from helmet to cleats; StringKing's mesh kits cost $25.
But for players, the mesh pocket is "very personal," said New York Lizards attackman Matt Gibson, last year's Major League Lacrosse rookie of the year. In the same way that tennis players are persnickety about how their rackets are strung, lacrosse players like the mesh on their sticks to be just-so.
"But with most mesh, you can string it the same way on the same head and get a different pocket, just because it breaks in differently each time," said Owen Smith, a Boston Cannons midfielder.
StringKing's founders, three of whom played college lacrosse, see an opportunity to carve out a niche business that addresses complaints about the one piece of equipment that actually touches the ball.
The quartet has secured the backing of a few private investors, borrowed money from family members, and sold their belongings to pursue the business venture.
"We've got a lot of skin in the game," Cutter said.
So far, the gamble is paying off. In November, StringKing leased a small office in the arts district of Los Angeles. The new location allowed the entrepreneurs to test mesh outdoors during a harsh winter in New England and also reduced the cost of shipping from their supplier in China.
With a newly launched website, orders are beginning to pile up.
"I think if they've really solved these issues, it'll be huge," said Mike Stone, an All-Star midfielder for the Cannons who, like Gibson and Smith, plays with StringKing mesh. "Everybody will play with them."