It is a success story Matt Darby would never have imagined for himself.
Darby started out as a sportscaster, but when he began working in marketing for the American Quarter Horse Association’s racing department, he got a new idea. To him, it seemed like a no-brainer.
“I didn’t know anything about races or horse racing or horses or anything, but I had to go to horse races as part of my job,” Darby said, “and I went to my very first one about six weeks in and immediately I asked my coworker why the jockeys were wearing baggy silks.”
So he engineered Speed Silks using an expensive fabric called Aero Dimplex, but the push to sell them in a very traditional market proved to be difficult.
“When I first came up with the idea of aerodynamically-engineered jockey silks, everybody in the business told me it is not gonna work,” Darby said. “It’s not gonna make a difference. You’re not gonna get anybody to buy into the idea that aerodynamic drag is important, and I just kept on plucking away.”
Darby’s Speed Silks helped thoroughbred Justify to win the Triple Crown this year.
Justify’s jockey, Mike Smith, wore his silks to win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes, although he had a close call before Belmont.
“Up to this point I had been assuming that they were not gonna wear my silks,” Darby said, “but an hour before the race they’re interviewing the jockey on TV and there he is brand new, bright red Speed Silks, and man, that was the best feeling right there. So, I went from ‘It’s not gonna happen,’ to, ‘We just won the Triple Crown over the course of maybe 90 minutes.'”
Darby said despite the initial pushback he faced, some of the biggest trainers and owners in the horse racing industry are now using his Speed Silks and they are shipping globally.
Darby said when he began making the prototype for the Speed Silks, he had no investors. He and his wife funded the prototype, which he used to win the WT Enterprize Challenge and earned a $75,000 grant to get his business off the ground.
For other aspiring inventors and business owners, Darby said his advice is to know that everyone fails and overcoming those failures and staying humble are key to success.