No Pain, No Gain: Theragun Founder Jason Wersland on the Power of Word-of-Mouth Marketing

UPDATED: May 7, 2024
PUBLISHED: October 24, 2023
Theragun Founder Jason Wersland

What do Gal Gadot, Rob Gronkowski and Diddy have in common? How about Chelsea Handler, DJ Khaled and Cristiano Ronaldo?

It’s not a riddle, or the setup for a bad joke, though the answer is more specific than, “They’re hugely famous.” All of these A-listers—actors, musicians, athletes—are obsessed with Theragun.

The ubiquity of the Theragun—an industry-defining home-massage tool from the wellness company now known as Therabody—makes it feel like this was an overnight success story. One minute, Kyrie Irving was getting his back massaged with a Theragun on the sidelines during the 2017 NBA Finals, to the confusion of his teammates. The next, E! News was reporting on Theragun’s celebrity status, and everyone from Maria Sharapova to your pickleball-playing mom had their own, or at least wanted one.

Of course, most things that look like an instant sensation aren’t. As Therabody founder and chief wellness officer Jason Wersland laughs, “It’s the typical 10-year overnight success story…. I like to say I failed my way to this point.”

The invention of the Theragun

In 2007, Wersland—a chiropractor who’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit—suffered a terrible motorcycle accident. Looking for a way to relieve the pain from those injuries led him to design the first Theragun, a makeshift percussive therapy device he fashioned out of power tools.

Wersland had a theory that this kind of device could help alleviate pain, increase range of motion and more. Over the next several years, he worked tirelessly to refine and perfect his homemade prototype. He’d seen and felt the impact this massage gun could have on aching muscles. Now came the tough part: developing a device that he could take to market. “I just tried to figure out what made this so magic,” he says, reflecting on those early years. “‘What was the science? Could I tweak things to make it better?’”

Almost a decade after his accident, thanks to constant research and development, countless designs and multiple business partners, the very first Theragun, the G1, hit the market. The sleek blue-and-black body was almost unrecognizable from Wersland’s first punk-rock, Mad Max-ian Theragun prototype.

The Theragun’s secret: honest celebrity word-of-mouth marketing

This is the part where Therabody’s rise starts to feel meteoric. Justin Timberlake, who Wersland says he treated for years, was the company’s very first investor, and soon, it seemed like everyone who was anyone was investing with Therabody. “Daniel Craig, 2 Chainz—I can go down the list of people. Rihanna. They all were clients and patients,” Wersland says.

Wersland is modest about his list of star clients, but his Los Angeles-based chiropractic practice has quite a roster. For years, he’s been a trusted advisor to Olympians and athletes including Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as actors and musicians.

But Wersland says he never asked any of them to pose for a photo or to feature Theragun in an Instagram post. Maybe that seems insane—if you have some of the biggest athletes and celebrities backing your product, wouldn’t you ask them for a little social media boost? As it happens, his instincts paid dividends. While he didn’t solicit advertisements from his clientele, their buy-in has been critical to the product’s success.

“When it came back around and they realized this wasn’t about my social media numbers, it was really about trying to help people feel better, they were all behind it,” he says. And what’s more: These people were spreading the Thera-gospel, not with their social media followers but with their personal circles of friends, family members and teammates. “They validated the effectiveness of it, and then that person became a voice—a mouthpiece—for us,” Wersland says. “They became a voice to their community.”

Therabody’s success is science-backed

Wersland, of course, is a tireless evangelist for Therabody’s line of products. He says a friend recently gestured to his backpack and joked, “‘Do you have a Theragun with you?’ I’m like, ‘Hell yeah, I have a Theragun with me!’” he laughs. But his connections have continued to be important for the brand, especially those in the world of sports.

“A lot of people ask, ‘Why do you work with athletes?’” Wersland says. “I felt like, early on, if I could make a difference in a professional athlete’s life, someone who has access to anything and everything, then I could definitely make a difference in an everyday person’s life.”

That’s always been part of Therabody’s mission, too—a belief that people should have access to tools they can use at home, rather than (or in addition to) seeking out treatment from a physician or chiropractor. The products are effective, efficient and easy to use. Wersland wanted Therabody’s massage devices to empower people to take control of their own wellness.

More than anything, Wersland simply credits his success to the fact that Therabody’s devices, which now include the Theragun PRO, Theragun mini and Theragun Elite, work. He knows that their claims are big—releasing tension, removing pain, increasing flexibility—and says it would feel “too sales-y” if you read it in an ad. But the fact is, thanks to the brand’s science-backed development strategy, the products do make a difference. And because they do, people talk about them. “I really feel like that’s what’s helped us grow so quickly: word of mouth,” Wersland says.

Jason Wersland’s advice to entrepreneurs

Following the success of Therabody, Wersland is often asked for advice from entrepreneurs who are starting out, especially in the health and wellness space. His answer is always the same: “Consistency, persistence and delusion. You have to have equal parts.”

It’s not enough to be consistent, day after day, or persistent, though both certainly matter. (For example, Wersland went through four business partners before the Theragun even launched; he says he had to buy the company back three separate times.)

“The delusional part is, you’re gonna have people who are closest to you that don’t have that fire in the belly like you do, and they’re gonna tell you that this isn’t going to work,” Wersland says. He’s heard it from everyone closest to him: his parents, his brother, his best friends. 

“You’re gonna hear from people, ‘Dude, you’re crazy.’ And I’ve kind of associated, when someone says that to me, that I’m on the right path.”

“Part of the recipe is struggle,” he concludes. “Part of the recipe is getting to the point where you question everything. When you get to a point, you’re almost there.” 

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo courtesy of ©Therabody, Inc.

Cassel is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor, a co-owner of Racket MN, and a VHS collector.