• Human Octane Announces Shut Down: What This Means In The Sport Of OCR (And Why You Should Care)


Written By: Katie Purcell



On Monday evening, an IG Live Video posted by Human Octane Founder and CEO Brent Kocal dropped a bomb on the OCR community when he announced that Human Octane will be closing up shop: forever. There hasn't been much elaboration around the announcement aside from the IG Live Video and an email sent out Tuesday morning to those on the email list, but the site is currently running a massive liquidation sale with everything priced 60%-75% off (in fact, nothing on the site is currently priced at over $35), so you'd better hustle over there if you want to grab what's left before it's gone!


The Human Octane story is important, because it's relevant to all of us. So I just wanted to take a minute: to address the situation, share my thoughts, and explain how I think this fits into the current OCR narrative as a whole.


Human Octane: WHO (They Are), WHAT (Happened) & WHY (Such a "Solid" Company...Is Liquidizing.)

In 2015 Brent Kocal had a vision: to make a premium apparel line just for outdoor muddy athletes, to make us feel like invincible badasses who could take on any course: crushing PRs, and eating barbed wire like it was for breakfast. Sounds like a cool idea, right?? 

...and it was! Athletes all over the OCR world were seen proudly sporting their Human Octane apparel on Race Day: even some of the Spartan Race pro team!

Human Octane athletes at Spartan Race

However, there was another side to the story: of a brand that was well-known and well-regarded to the outside world, but still working frantically behind-the-scenes to improve their bottom line. In the end, even their killer combination of sweet marketing visuals and social media content, cheeky "Rebel Runner" branding, and glowing athlete endorsements were not enough to sustain or grow HO to its full potential.


In the IG Live Video Kocal throws his hands up and says,

"I finally got to the point where I'm like 'F_ck it.' I'm not the right guy to do it. I don't know if somebody else is...a lot of people out there are going to say that I suck as a businessman, and maybe you're right. I certainly proved it in this case."



The simplest, overarching explanation Kocal pointed to was lack of experience: while he knew he had a great idea and a "hot" market (OCR was big back in 2015... remember??) he admits he had zero experience with apparel or with online retail. He further elaborated on a couple of key points that he thinks may have driven Human Octane to its current state, illuminating for his audience some behind-the-scenes struggles that ultimately combined and contributed to its demise.

Some Of These "Key Struggles" Mentioned Include:
🔥 How Expensive & Complicated The Sales Funnel Is Re: Cost Of Customer Acquisition
🔥 The Ridiculously Long Length Of Time Required To Design/Create New Apparel
🔥Being Arrogant AF: By his own admission, Kocal confessed that not only did he have zero experience before he started Human Octane, but he also approached it with an attitude of
arrogance that did not ultimately work to his benefit. In the world of OCR where big egos and posturing is the norm, the line between confidence and overconfidence/arrogance can be a hard one to navigate: and Kocal freely admitted that in hindsight, this was an area where he could have improved.

While there was no "one thing" that sealed the deal for Human Octane, Brent mentions making a series of "25ish really bad decisions" which he thinks ultimately added up to some irreparable damage (think: Death By One Thousand Cuts).


Brent gives his account on how everything went down in one raw, unflinching video take. He looks directly at the camera while he tells his story, and his sincerity is palpable:

"I have failed. I have failed trying to make this company do anything. I've ridden the bull for four and a half years and it's time to be done with it.

I'm raising the white flag.

We are liquidating everything we have...and that sucks...but I’m totally at peace with it. And I’m  totally at peace with whatever people want to say: about me as a businessperson, or as an idiot in general...I am totally at peace with that so throw all the  stones you want."


But...I watch this video and no part of me wants to throw any stones: and I'll tell you why.   


The O.G. "Rebel Runner" Speaks From The Heart, Leaving Us All With A Powerful Lesson

As the saying goes: everything in hindsight is 20/20. It would be easy to look back over decisions that Human Octane might have made, or choices regarding the direction of the brand, and criticize....or even to take it one step further and say what we would have done differently that would have led to our ultimate success where HO came up short. But after listening to Brent Kocal's message...and witnessing how the intensity of his passion shines through - even in the darkness of his adversity - the viewer can be left with only one impression: 

In the IG Live video, Brent drops the pretense of any ego and speaks openly to the viewers: the emotion is raw, and it's real. He owns his mistakes and the part he played in why he's at where he's at. He pushes past the personal embarrassment that he says he feels and takes full responsibility for the situation: even though it would have been easy to try to point fingers or shift the blame to outside forces (for example: an unpredictable/volatile OCR market constantly going through upheavals, or hyper-price sensitive consumers who demand quality, but are often unwilling to pay for it.)

...And then he even went one step further to point out that he doesn't regret the way things have turned out on this wild ride, because of the lessons he has learned from it...and that's when he became a real MVP:


"What’s fantastic about this entire thing...and one of the reasons why I’ve got so much peace with this...is because so badly I needed to be taught the lesson of humility. I really did.

...And that’s what I got.

It’s funny how you start out doing things thinking that you’re going to achieve something with it. And what I’ve found...is that the Universe sometimes has a different idea for the lesson it wants to teach you. And in this case, the lesson that it taught me was humility."


The level of introspection and self-awareness that this required...and the commitment to finding a lesson - then pushing past the discomfort to share that lesson - was truly powerful to witness. In a situation where so many would have chosen self-pity or avoided the "real talk" in favor of some eloquent-sounding excuse for this sudden "change in direction," Brent Kocal leveled up and expressed true gratitude: ultimately leaving us with the lesson in humility and authenticity.

Before peace'ing out he also thanks everyone who has supported the brand over the years, before he rides off into the sunset (a.k.a., ends the video recording):


"I appreciate everyone who bought, and I appreciate everyone who didn't buy, because of what it taught me.

If you bought from us in the past or you represented us, you are awesome. I really appreciate that."


The video was a roller coaster of emotions to witness, and I started to reflect on the greater OCR context which allowed this to happen in the first place.



Why Human Octane's Story Is Relevant To All Of Us

I personally identified with a lot of what Brent described in the video: partly because I have experienced similar issues within my own brand, Fierce Gear OCR (the site where you're reading this article).

As a business owner in the world of OCR, who became inspired to start the business because of my experience as an OCR athlete, I can attest to how passionately OCR entrepreneurs approach our mission. The Human Octane site states that literally everything they do is in an effort to help athletes "feel invincible," so that they can push farther than they had thought possible: this sentiment of what I'll call "defiant self-empowerment," which flies in the face of our preconceived/limiting beliefs, is common among OCR brands.

We start these brands because we truly love the sport and we have seen firsthand how much good it can do in peoples' lives: so we pour our hearts and souls into our efforts to help athletes reach their full potential, and develop the sport as a whole.

But, here's the deal: while all brands appreciate when we spread their message: via positive word of mouth, testimonials, and Instagram/Facebook posts singing their praises...brands can't survive on social media shoutouts alone!!


In an Instagram post responding to the HO announcement, Human Octane Athlete Bill Brumbach brings up several key points that I think are important to note here. After repeating the news that Human Octane would be closing down and apologizing for not personally doing more to support/promote the brand, he calls us all to action:

"...as Brent said, this came down to selling product in a market where people are always after the lowest price. It's not the first time an OCR-specific apparel company has closed up shop because of price point. But here's the thing, Human Octane was a small business ran out of the USA. We have special days dedicated to #ShopSmall and #SmallBusinessSaturday

...Maybe we as a community can start to see the value of mom and pop companies that pour their heart and soul into making a quality product, and cough up a little extra cash to support these small businesses.

You know who benefits when you buy 2XU in bulk when they go on clearance, besides yourself? Exactly. I don't either. "


...I am probably biased, but I couldn't agree more.

My suggestion for what to do with all of this? Let's follow Brent's example and learn something from the Human Octane story: something that will allow us to come out better on the other side.

So many of us are attracted to OCR in the first place because of the raw grittiness of it: the challenge to take a risk and really live your life with reckless abandon, and to screw the status quo in favor of playing in the mud. That is what some of these smaller/bootstrapped OCR entrepreneur brands are protecting, and that is part of what we lose when they have to shut down because we fail to support them.

Take a second to think about the OCR brands that you like. If you can think of any that...
🔥 Has a message you dig...and you like what it's all about/what it represents
🔥 You know it stands for quality
🔥 Is run by people who you think are genuinely rad...and they actually care about their customers
🔥 Is relatively new (or a small business that is still growing)

...Or we will all lose: when the only brands we're left with are big and corporate and generic. (Ew.)

There's a lot of things in OCR we can't control: the price of race registrations...what the weather will be like on Race Day...or whether we get a massive hole in our pants during the barbed wire crawl at mile 3. But one thing we do have a say in is the culture itself: because we are the ones who create it.


Okay...I Get It: Supporting Small Businesses That Rock Is A Good Thing. But I Can't Think Of Any Off The Top Of My Head...Any Suggestions??

...I'm so glad you asked! While there are a lot of high-quality OCR brands out there that I love/support/endorse, I want to call out a few in particular. Each of the following companies checks off the boxes listed earlier: they are owned/run by suuuuper passionate people who know OCR, are committed to quality, and they want to see you succeed as an athlete.

They are authentic and truly "one of us"...and they are all at a stage where they need our support (and our purchases!) so that they can continue to rock'n'roll for years to come. Some of them may look familiar from their feature in the Fierce Gear OCR Holiday Gift Guide in 2018 or 2019...click to review the guides for a more detailed brand description!

A Few Small-But-Mighty OCR Entrepreneurs That Are Too Legit To Quit:
🔥 Force5 Equipment: Leader In OCR Training Equipment
🔥 Frog Fuel
🔥 Hoplite Outfitters
🔥 Shower Toga
🔥 Bleggmit
🔥 VJ Shoes USA
🔥 Brave Soldier
🔥 AltRed by Sur
🔥 Fierce Gear OCR
(especially those sweet performance tanks: amirite??)



 Let's spread the love, people.



To wrap this up I'll address Brent directly by sharing my thoughts re: the themes that stick out to me as an outsider, when I look at the response Human Octane has been getting since making this announcement. Financial considerations notwithstanding, the outpouring of support speaks directly to the Human Octane legacy: through the eyes of those who will miss it most.

In my opinion, the only real failures come from time that is wasted: either through time spent not pursuing our dreams, or time spent continuing down a path we already know isn't the right one. Neither scenario is the case here.

Human Octane might not have taken off in the way that you wanted it to: but during the pursuit of greatness, you created something that was so much more. You built a community of strong, empowered individuals...and you helped them embrace their inner badass. The Human Octane tribe brought people together who otherwise might have never met: and some of those people went on to make memories together that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

Because of what you did, real people changed for the better. Then at the end of the day you left it all out on the field, and handled the situation with a level of authenticity and grace that totally raises the bar for the rest of us.

...And all of that...is worth way more than a few pairs of shorts...(even if they do have a badass logo!)


Rock on...over & out :)




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