The Founder of Uclips
Hi! My name is Eliott Ekindi. I'm a French alumni of Saint Louis University. I graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree, played D1 tennis, and I'm currently pursuing my Masters in Engineering Entrepreneurship at the University of Notre Dame. During covid I needed to train at home but I had a limited budget and space. I thought "how can I optimize my equipment?" and Uclips were born.
Our mission is to optimize home gym equipment. Nobody should feel limited the way I did during covid, so I will keep designing tools for people to train at home on any budget even with limited space.
I believe people should work towards becoming the best version of themselves and build life long healthy habits. My favorite is weight lifting because it makes me strong, look good, and healthy. I tend to say it's simple "Just me and gravity", hopefully that makes sense to you too! :)
This is the part that usually makes me laugh: when I say "we" in an email or anything for that matter, I mean me! I stock inventory under my dorm bed and fulfil orders from the university post office. My friends in this picture help me a lot! For example when I leave for France and inventory is coming in, they help fulfil orders. I'm grateful for them so here is a shoutout to my boys (from right to left): Adam Behun, Théo Ortis, and Stuart Ray.
Why did I invent Uclips?
During the pandemic, quarantine prevented me from training my sport, tennis. As a D1 university student-athlete, working out from home was imperative. Immediately I thought of building a home gym. My father had weight plates, a barbell, and dumbbell bars in his basement.
The problems with these plates were that they took a lot of space, they were unorganized and expensive. Then, I came across adjustable dumbbells at my university. They solved two of the previous problems: space and organization. Thus, I looked at the prices for these dumbbells, and found a deal for a used set of adjustable dumbbells ranging from 5 to 40kg (10 to 90lbs) for $350.
I thought if I can get these dumbbells on a barbell, they would solve the last problem (expenses) and I would not have to worry about dealing with plates anymore. Therefor, I sold some plates and bought the adjustable dumbbells. Then 3D printed the first version of the Uclip with one function: putting dumbbells on barbells.
From that point on, I looked at what else people did in home gyms with plates that we could not do with dumbbells. I came across the vertical pulley system, so I thought if I attached a rope to one of the holes in the Uclip I could do that too:
The next step was to make a horizontal pulley system. I took another rope, another pulley and tied a knot around the squat rack to make make it work:
The issue with the rope going through the main hole of the Uclip was that, I had to take out the rope and tie it back in to switch exercises. This was not ideal so I had to find a way to attach the Uclip to the pulley without using the main hole. The following images represent my experiments in the span of about a year and a half :
You may notice that the last versions have magnets on them. The previous versions had magnets too, but I took them out to put them on the new ones. The idea of the magnets came when I came across collars that could be stored on squat racks using magnets. Then, I thought about how collars worked. Essentially, all collars use the same mechanism: they compress the barbell and use friction to stop the weight plates from sliding off. I tried implementing this in the Uclip:
Now that I had functioning prototypes, I found an online manufacturer to make 20 pieces for me. It wasn't until I had the physical pieces with me that I thought "hey, there's got to be magnets I can screw on this". Obviously, there were, haha. So I spent the next 6 hours drilling holes in my parts (I had to catch a flight early next morning).
It turns out the manufacturer made them in the wrong thickness... I could not afford new ones, so I had to adapt the smaller pieces to fit in my grandfather's tool house.
Thankfully it worked out, now I had to understand logistics, and that was a whole different beast. I knew plenty about engineering but nothing about supply chains, warehousing, shipping rates... So I worked with a fulfillment center and they helped me out.
THE FUN PART
As I was figuring out the logistics, I finally got to the fun part, social media! Showing people how the product can help save money and space for budget gyms like mine :)
When I started showing Uclips to the world, the general feedback was: "They're nice, but too expensive and I'm afraid they would damage my knurling". I got to work and made the design simpler and more efficient. I took out the safety mechanism out which was the main cost for the product. Made the product symmetrical with a D ring on each side. Then designed a soft interior for the interior to protect knurling
1 year later...
Keep in mind that I am writing this a year after I wrote what was "the fun part": The manufacturer refused to make more Uclips!!! It turns out manufacturing Uclips was a nightmare using conventional sheet metal manufacturing. The reason being that symmetrically bending thick steel requires custom equipment. To make the prototypes the manufacturer used step bending, which is much more expensive than regular bending. They did not tell me or their colleagues so for the next 3 months we were trying to make Uclips the wrong way. Essentially the problem was that the main holes did not align, so the bar could not slide in.
THE LIFE SAVER
During these 3 months I got a lot of worried customers, one of them gave me a call Benjamin Elster :
Ben: "Hey man, why are Uclips taking so long to ship out?"
Me: (depressed voice) " Hey Ben, I'm sorry but... I don't know how to make them anymore..."
Ben: "Look, I run a fitness business and I can help you make them"
Me: (surprised) "If you can fix my ever-lasting problem, I will happily take it!"
In a couple months, he had helped me make the first batch of Uclips, and they were awesome!!
When the first customers got the Uclip 1.0, the customer feedback was great and we quickly sold out! I was sincerely grateful for my customer base, but there were still improvements to be made:
- Reinforcing and stabilizing the D Rings or make another hole for carabiners
- The protective lining needed to stick better
So, we made the D Rings double bolted, thicker, and had the protective lining be custom printed with adhesive all over instead of using glue. This was a better alternative than having a second hole in the Uclip, because otherwise the carabiners would take up too much space when hung and the lining would not be supported by the countersunk bolts. The two bolts stopped the D Ring from rotating about a single bolt which inevitably stabilized the D Rings. We also figured out that a reason the lining was pealing was because it was gripping to the bar when loaded. A detail we adjusted by making the diameter of the lining slightly bigger than the clips.
The next steps for Uclips will be making sizes that fit 1 inch shafts, all types of powerblock dumbbells, different colors and refining the design further. Finally, although I am French I had to start selling in the US because of the bigger market. I do intend to start a base in France so I can serve European customers. Cheers!