A former Navy SEAL who carried the so-called nuclear football for President Barack Obama, Matt Maasdam, ’97, is now enjoying a different—and far less perilous—adventure. Alongside Henry Stafford, ’96, Maasdam co-founded Revtown, an upstart company injecting performance apparel fabrics into jeans, which have largely been untouched since the mid-20th century.
Leveraging their co-founders’ collective experience with athletic apparel powerhouse Under Armour, the two-year-old, Pittsburgh-based company’s premium jeans shake traditional denim construction by integrating Italian yarn and four-way stretch materials.
Stafford, Revtown’s CEO, and Maasdam, its chief operating officer, recently discussed the startup life and their U-M ties.
Play the long game. Stafford and Maasdam devoted their opening year at Revtown to consumer research and product development, including creating a proprietary product explicitly designed to “put a kickstart into denim,” according to Stafford. Amid the early hustle and hunger, they maintained an unwavering focus on the long game. “We were committed to taking the hurdles in stride and finding a way to push forward so we could have long-term success,” Maasdam says. “Laying that groundwork was necessary.”
Grow. Stafford, the former head of Under Armour’s North American business, admits Revtown’s opening year was a tough, lesson-filled climb. It required patience and listening, not rushing a product to market. “Ten years ago,” Stafford confesses, “I didn’t have that professional maturity.”
Embrace the grind. Taking a physical product from concept to market remains a layered, meticulous process littered with landmines. Stafford and Maasdam, however, navigated the entrepreneurial terrain step-by-step, landing on an innovative fabric, finding a high-quality factory in Guatemala, and then installing the direct-to-consumer sales model. “We’re a small brand and have had to cut through a lot of noise, but we’ve rolled up our sleeves and gotten it done,” Maasdam says.
Conviction isn’t optional. Read case studies of famous entrepreneurs like Apple’s Steve Jobs and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Stafford directs, and note the unshakable faith those individuals held in their businesses. “Belief’s easy to grasp at the beginning, but harder to maintain as struggles arise,” Stafford says. “You need to stay the course and put one foot in front of the other. Without conviction, it’s too easy to pack it up.”
Spot the differentiators. The world is full of intelligent, creative people, so what makes some stand out more than others? “Passion and hard work are differentiators that are contagious and drive results,” Stafford says.
Recognize others’ talents. Interacting with peers studying different arts and sciences while a Michigan undergrad, Stafford gained an appreciation for the diverse skills and capabilities others possess. He embraces that at Revtown a morning might include conversations with a photographer, a manufacturer, and a financial analyst. “Each has special talents and skills that I try to lean on,” he says, acknowledging that others’ areas of expertise are not necessarily his.
Value the Michigan network. Revtown’s largest advertising partner is Morning Brew, a media company led by Alex Lieberman, ’15, and Austin Rief, ’17, while former Wolverine standout-turned-Pittsburgh Steeler Devin Bush Jr., x’18, has touted Revtown on Instagram. “Everywhere we turn is Michigan, Michigan, Michigan,” Maasdam says. “You’ve done a good job picking Michigan, so now cultivate that network. Make this big place your own, whether that’s the Greek system or clubs. Be kind and generous and work on making good friends.”
Daniel P. Smith is a Chicago-based journalist. In previous issues of Michigan Alumnus magazine, he has profiled U-M alumni entrepreneurs such as Five Guys Burgers and Fries founder Jerry Murrell and business mogul Sam Zell.