Editor's note: This article originally ran on November 5, 2004
Rarely do business opportunities arise from a bleeding nipple.
But Andrew Hopper ran right into one seven years ago, soon after he drew blood from his chest protrusions as he competed in the New York Marathon.
Shortly after the race, Hopper, by chance, met a man who had patented a protection aid for male nipples. Hopper, a hedge fund manager who'd recently graduated from business school, bought the patent and eventually started selling Nipguards.
Now, as Sunday's next New York Marathon approaches, Hopper's sales of the circular disks that provide breathing room for a runner's nipples, keeping them safe from 26.2 miles of shirt abrasion, are growing more quickly (up 25 percent this year) than athletic-industry-giant brands like Nike and Gatorade.
And unlike those others, Hopper doesn't have to come out with a new product or flavor every year.
Nipple bleeding is a common occurrence among male long-distance runners. Until Nipguards came along in 1999, Vaseline and band-aids served as the only remedies, and they were often unsuccessful. The Nipguards technology includes a medical adhesive that keeps them on through a marathon's worth of sweat.
"I've heard all the stories, from people putting Duct Tape on their nipples to having them surgically removed," said Hopper.
Yes, Nipguards is the self-proclaimed "world leader in chafing protection!" And those who run for fun for hours know that the $8.95 price tag for 10 Nipguards is the best value in the entire sports world. (A close second:: An ice cream sundae in a mini-helmet.)
As the number of people running marathons increases each year, Hopper's business only gets better. If it continues to grow at this rate, he'll surpass $1 million in sales in a few years. The only flaw in his model? He admits he hasn't yet hit on a way to keep women from wearing jogbras.
If there was a breakthough moment for the Nipguard revolution, it was last year when humorist Dave Barry wrote about them in his Holiday Gift Guide. Said Barry: "We don't believe that any thinking person can look at these photographs (on the Nipguards website) and not realize that 'Bleeding Nipples' would be an excellent name for a rock band."
Joking aside, Nipguards are breeding loyal bleeding customers.
Excerpts from the published love that people have for this product, courtesy of nipguards.com.
Zach from Kentucky: "Before I discovered NipGuards, my nipples would often become erect and chafe against the jersey I wore for basketball. However, with NipGuards in place, I can play without fear of bleeding, cracking, scarring, or other painful side effects of my nipples. I showed my nipples to all of my teammates and they couldn't believe it!"
Cheryl from Michigan: This is a HUGE breakthrough in the field of male nipple protection! My tubby husband, Winston, no longer has the sorry excuse of "tender t-----s" to keep him from getting buff. He can just get his fat, lazy keester out of the Barcalounger and start running. I'm getting him several packages to put in his Christmas stocking."
Hopper has no regrets about buying the patent and getting into the nipple business. That is, except the part of every day of his life now when he opens his email and finds 300 pieces of porn spam.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, will run his first marathon in New York this Sunday, Nov. 7. Even if a competing brand of nipple protection debuts at a much lower price, Darren will stay loyal to Nipguards. He can be reached at email@example.com