By Dan Solomon
The supplement industry, it’s loaded with dynamic personalities, risk-takers, and innovators. Over the years I’ve gotten to know many of them. No two are alike. Some have achieved ungodly wealth while others have struggled to survive beyond the first year. The real trailblazers are the company owners, those courageous men and women who put their money where their mouths are in hopes of giving sustainable life to their vision.
For this week’s industry profile here on DigitalMuscle.com I’ve decided to shine a spotlight on Rob DiMaggio, the founder and formulator at Ironmag Labs and the brains behind the new MuscleGelz line of topicals. Those who know Rob will tell you that he marches to the beat of his own drum, a hard-working non-conformist whose un-filtered opinions are often as potent as his top selling supplements.
Before serving as a medic in the United States Army, Rob first became interested in the culture of muscle at around 15 years old, competing in a few local NPC bodybuilding events along the way. He earned a degree from Colorado State University before beginning a career in Information Technologies, a world that proved to be an ideal starting point for what would become one of the most successful consumer-direct brands in the “hardcore” supplement category.
I’ve known Rob for several years and I can tell you that he’s unlike anyone I’ve ever encountered. Describing him isn’t easy. He’s fearless. During a time when most supplement companies look exactly the same, Rob embraces his role as an industry rebel, weathering several storms along the way. He also enjoys his privacy, which might explain his reluctance to do interviews, prefering instead to let his products do the talking.
I recently sat down with the Las Vegas based CEO for a rare interview. We discussed his company, his business philosophy, his envelope-pushing formulas, and the overall direction of the supplement industry.
Q & A with Rob DiMaggio
Dan: What got you started in the business of bodybuilding?
Rob: In the late 90’s, when the internet really started taking off, I created a site called IronMagazine.com. This is where everything was born. Now referred to as IronMag.com, the site is an online blog and message board that posts original articles daily by several experts in the bodybuilding and fitness industry. IronMag also has several podcasts (available on iTunes) and a large forum community of aspiring bodybuilders, fitness enthusiasts, as well as veterans who all share a passion for the bodybuilding and fitness lifestyle.
Dan: When did you transition to Supplements?
Rob: I always had an interest in dietary supplements starting from my teenage bodybuilding days. I’ve studied chemistry, biology, anatomy and physiology. In 2004 I decided I wanted to create a natural testosterone booster which I named Anabolic Matrix Rx. My goal was to make an adequately dosed product that contained ingredients that worked, meaning there was actual science to back up the claims. After a lot of research I came up with the original formula for Anabolic Matrix Rx and found a manufacturer to produce our flagship product. Anabolic Matrix Rx went thru a few formula revisions over the years and is still one of our top selling products today.
Dan: You have a reputation for being a cutting-edge formulator. Talk about your love of science and formulation.
Rob: I have never really been driven by money, it’s superficial and that’s not my style. I’ve always been annoyed at how so many supplement companies literally will spend more money on packaging a product than on the ingredients that are in it. Not to mention the number of products that have been tested and found to be under dosed and not matching the supplement facts panel. While I am far from being a chemist I recognize the necessity of science and I base my formulas (and the ingredients I use) on actual studies that have been performed on them. We don’t rely on bullshit articles when selecting ingredients. We focus only on credible, published research. I like to do things that haven’t been done before.
Dan: Can you give us an example of a formula that fell into unchartered territory?
Rob: A good example of this is my latest patent pending Andro derivatives. We’ve been using Andro compounds for many years but after the FDA banned all prohormones in December 2014 I knew we had to come up with something unique. So we decided to enanthate all of the DHEA derivatives (this process is explained in detail in the patent we filed June 2015) including 1-Andro, 4-Andro, 5-Andro, Epi-Andro, Nor-Andro and R-Andro. This is something that had never been done before and the end result is a 30% increase in absorption and bioavailability of the compounds. The second part of our patent is the delivery system using the compounds 6,7-dihydrogergamottin (DHB) and Piperine to further increase the absorption of the DHEA derivatives. We also introduced a compound called Super-R-DHEA (Androsterone Enanthate), a highly bio-available 5a-reduced metabolite of DHEA and this is also included in our patent.
Dan: You’ve managed to build one of the best “consumer direct” brands in the business, avoiding conventional distributorships. Why have you been so successful and why have you remained so committed to this approach?
Rob: I think I would have to say because I have always stayed closely involved in everything at IML and I listen to customer feedback. We have always remained a direct to consumer brand, meaning we don’t use third party distribution. By continuing to run our business this way it allows us to stay at a level of operation where I can control our direction as a company. I think much of our success comes from the reputation we have built over the past decade of producing products that really do work, based on science, not just hype.
Dan: Your company has a reputation for creating “envelope pushing” products. Talk about the perception that you are an extremely hardcore brand? Are you comfortable with that perception?
Rob: Yes we definitely have had our share of envelope pushing products over the years which started with Super-DMZ Rx. I believe our heavy focus on prohormones as well as being a leader and the first to use several compounds has fueled this hardcore perception. I guess I am comfortable with it because I think it says a lot about IML and what we do as a company. To me the hardcore reputation means we put out products and use compounds that are new and innovative rather than copying what others do.
Dan: Do you see a lot of your formulas being copied in the market place?
Rob: It’s become very common to see IML use a new compound and then before you know it there are 20 other companies using it. There are literally several examples of compounds and formulas IML has used first, even product names, which have then been copied. It’s a compliment but it is also frustrating which is why I decided to patent all of our new compounds.
Dan: Does IML carry products that a more casual “less hardcore” athlete would be interested in?
Rob: Absolutely. We currently have 27 products in our line and only 7 of these are prohormones. We carry everything from a great pre-workout to some very high quality protein powders. We are also going to be launching IML Hers this September, a new product line geared toward females. We have always had a difficult time marketing our products to the ladies so we are excited about this new line which will be hosted on its own site and even though it’s part of IML we are going to separate them as far as the store front and marketing.
Dan: There has been a lot of buzz surrounding the release of Super DMZ Rx 5? Tell us about the updated formula and how it compares to the previous generations of Super DMZ Rx?
Rob: In the past years I have had to re-formulate Super DMZ Rx due to compounds being banned. The current version 5 that came out this past May is the most expensive version we have made to date. It’s hard to make any comparison since the new formula is so much different. Super-DMZ 5 can be considered 3 products in one as far as the ingredients we used which is why it’s priced high. However once people start using the product and see that it really does work, the price typically becomes a moot point.
Dan: The industry was taken by surprise when you recently announced the arrival of long time bodybuilding personality Bob Cicherillo to your team. Why is Bob a good fit for the brand?
Rob: Yes there was a lot of talk about it that’s for sure. It was a little unexpected. Bob is an accomplished pro bodybuilder, extremely well known and respected in the industry. He also helped bring Bodybuilding.com to the next level which is what we’re striving for with IML. Bob has a big presence in the bodybuilding industry being the IFBB Athlete’s Rep, emceeing over 30 shows per year including the Mr. Olympia, working in the media, and the list goes on.
Dan: What’s your overall opinion of the current state of sports nutrition?
Rob: Well it’s all about making a quick buck at least with the majority of supplement companies out there today. There is very little science behind most products, just pretty packaging, celebrity endorsments, and a lot of hype and not much as far as results. Unfortunately there is no real regulation in the supplement industry. More and more companies are getting caught doing things like “amino acid spiking” and their labels are simply not matching up to what is actually in the product. This ultimately damages the entire industry.
Check back soon for more commentary from Rob DiMaggio and be sure to check out the new IML Research Blog exclusively at DigitalMuscle.com. Visit www.IronMagLabs.com and www.MuscleGelz.com to learn more about his entire line of supplements.
Also See: Supplement Review: Ultra Male By Matt Samansky
Dan Solomon has earned a reputation as a leader in the world of fitness & bodybuilding publishing. Having conducted many of the industry’s most wide reaching interviews, Dan served annually as host and lead commentator for the Mr. Olympia contest, the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic, also having appeared as moderator at the Olympia Press Conference. In 2018 Dan was named Chief Olympia Officer by American Media to oversee the Olympia brand and its showcase event held annually in Las Vegas. Additional Credits: Co-Executive Producer for the movie BIGGER, The Story of Joe Weider, Creator of the Pro Bodybuilding Weekly radio show (2005), a first of its kind program, for which he was awarded the IFBB’s Lifetime Achievement Medal by co-founder Ben Weider. Prior to creating Digital Muscle, served as Senior Features Editor at Muscular Development Magazine and has worked with many of the top brands in both nutrition and media. Dan’s favorite thing to talk about? Baseball.