What’s it take to create a business and have it start making money right away?
This is the dream of many an entrepreneur, and while there is not one single right answer — since people’s tastes and needs change all the time — you can learn a lot by asking those who have done it in the past.
For teens interested in starting their owns businesses, Greg Rudolph, creator of Board Blazers, is one of those people you might want to pay attention to — because his product is not only cool, but sales have taken off like wildfire very quickly. Fortunately for you, we had the chance to talk with Greg via phone recently, and we present his interview below.
Before we get to it, let’s talk about the product itself. The concept is simple: Board Blazers are brightly-colored LED lights which attach to the bottom of skateboards, longboards, your cat (just kidding) etc. with a super-strong adhesive to illuminate the ground while you skate around. They not only look cool, but they increase visibility and safety at night.
They sell for around 20-25 bucks for a set of four on the BoardBlazers.com site or Amazon, but Greg has supplied us with a couple of sets to give away to two lucky readers! Details after the interview.
This is Greg Rudolph.
First of all, congratulations of your success. I saw you through Entrepreneur Magazine and thought you had a great product, kind of reminds me of those neon lights you see under some sports cars and I thought it was really cool that someone had thought of that for skateboards…and they are affordable. Tell me what inspired you to create it?
Sure. Well, I started the company when I was a sophomore at Arizona State University…and I will tell you, I have NO IDEA how to ride a skateboard. In fact, the day I got it in sixth grade I fell off my new skateboard and broke my wrist. So that was an early sign that my pro skater career was probably not going to pan out.
With that in mind, I was walking — because I can’t skateboard — around the ASU campus one night in 2011 when I saw a student whose board was lit up. It looked really cool so I went over and asked him about it, and he was one of these real “bro” skater-dudes. And he was so excited to show it to me, he holds up the board and he goes “Oh BRO! I duct-taped Christmas lights to the bottom of my board!” At the time I thought it was just the coolest thing, but perhaps teh design could be improved.
So, long story short, the following summer in 2012 I needed a summer job. I always new that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and start my own business while I was growing up, but I certainly didn’t think it would happen quite that early. Turns out, I did some research and found out that this just was something that hadn’t been invented yet, so with that I started the company in March of 2012.
So its been a little over three years now. Tell us about some of the growth from when you first launched.
It’s been terrific. We’ve sold lights now in all 50 states and 16 countries around the world including some fascinating places you wouldn’t expect like South Korea, Germany, South Africa…and we’ve even shipped directly to several US Navy ships. I don’t know where the sailors are using them there!
They are probably cheaper than their official safety lights so they just stick them everywhere!
(laughing) I don’t know, but I won’t complain! So yeah, sales have been terrific…from 2013 to 2014 sales increased 114 percent year-over-year. For the first five months of this year, sales are up already, I think its 232 percent.
It’s far more than I ever expected.
I assume this is all a small operation, that you don’t have a manufacturing plant and its all outsourced–so you’re running kinda lean and mean?
Yeah, we do have five people on our team now so we’ve steadily grown, but the lights are made in China, and the adhesive is specially designed for us in Georgia — the state, not the country — and the assembly is outsourced and all of the fulfullment is outsourced.
So what was the biggest challenge you had to overcome in making this successful?
That is, surprisingly, the inventory. Keeping up with demand has been the biggest challenge. Its a great problem to have because sales have, constantly, far exceeded even our most optimistic projections, but it is still something we struggle with. Or I wouldn’t say we struggle with — its still a problem that requires a lot of our attention — but now we recognize it’s a problem and we don’t “struggle” with it any more.
A lot of people have great ideas like yours, but never see their products go to market. What would you say is the major difference between what you did and what others, who fail, do?
That’s a great question. In our case, we started generating revenue very quickly. I started the company in March 2012 and we sold our first set in July. So there wasn’t a lot of time in the ideation/design phase. We moved through that as quickly as we could. We continued to improve the product over time, but once we got the product really good, we started selling right away, so we reduced that amount of time where we didn’t have any income coming in to only a few months.
I think that separates us from a lot of companies that are constantly in the ideation phase but not actually moving into revenue.
That’s a great point. I think a lot of people do get stuck, where its “here’s this idea” but there is no sense of “how are we actually going to start driving revenue right away?”
Yeah, and I think [the secret] is reducing the time from ideation to sales….compressing that time frame as much as possible.
What advice would you give teenagers out there who want to start their own business?
No doubt: JUST START. You don’t have to know every step to take the first one. Don’t let not knowing how to do every aspect of the business hold you back from getting started because all of the information that you need is out there. Anything that you don’t know how to do can be found or sourced with enough Google and a few phone calls.
So if you have an idea, just get started and even if you don’t know every step of the plan, just by taking the first one, each following step will become more clear.
What do you recommend they study or learn first in order to make it? I mean real-world stuff, not school stuff.
Be observant. Think about what makes YOU want to buy a product, because chances are that those same things appeal to other people as well. So as you are going through your life be observant and look at the things that appeal to you, and trust that what appeals to you is probably what appeals to most people.
That being said, I certainly wouldn’t discount the value of an education. I started the company when I was a sophomore in college and it eventually became far more successful than I imagined, but I always made my first priority getting my college degree, and I am SO GLAD that I did.
I know there is a lot of debate right now as to whether higher education is important for entrepreneurs. I am really glad I got my college degrees, I got two of them, because college gives you the ability to recognize good opportunities versus bad opportunities. We are all presented with so many opportunities and new business ideas, but education gives you the framework to be able to decide whether its an idea worth pursuing or not.
Furthermore, once you have a good idea, I think that education also gives you tools to act upon it. So you may have a good idea but you don’t know what to do with it and how to take that next step unless you have that educational background to know where to go with it.
And lastly, as we all know, success is the result of connections and what college does is it allows you to surround yourself with successful people.
So for those three reasons I think education is, surprisingly, very important and beneficial for entrepreneurs. I also say that, just in your every day life, being observant is the best thing that you can do to prepare to be an entrepreneur.
What are your degrees in?
B.S. in Marketing and I also got a B.S. in Supply-Chain Management.
What’s been the best advice you personally have gotten in business?
Oh, no doubt: “Keep your overhead low.” The easiest way to increase your bottom line is by saving a dollar, not making a dollar.
Alright. And if you could do one thing over in regards to this business, what would it be?
I would outsource our fulfilloment earlier. I was so hesitant to outsource the fulfillment of our product because I really wanted to maintain that kind of high-touch level of customer service. But as I found, by outsourcing the fulfillment — we’ve chosen to go with Amazon as our fulfillment provider — they are able to provide bettter customer service and fulfill the items so much faster than we were able to do on our own even though we were focusing on it.
So while I was really hesitant to outsource fulfillment, I wish I had done that earlier because they can do a better job because they are experts and can do a much better job at it. Its one of their strengths, so taking our time to do the fulfillment takes away from our strengths of doing the customer service, managing and making a great product.
How long did it take for you to outsource?
We started outsourcing last summer, so it took, what, two years?
What’s next for Board Blazers and your company?
Well, we’d really like to expand to more retail stores. We’re alreadfy in a lot of locally owned skate shops nationwide but we’d like to expand it to more chain and big-box retailers. But, I’ve also started another business called the Beyond Business Institute which really grew out of people asking me to share what I have learned from my entrepreneurship and my leadership experiences.
So I do motivational speaking for large groups as well as consulting with other product companies and coaching of full-time professional entrepreneurs. So as our company has grown and I’ve been able to get a little more removed from the day to day operations of Board Blazers, I have been able to shift to helping other people follow their entrepreneurial ambitions.
I’ve always had the entrepreneurial mindset so I have a few bright ideas, you might say, up my sleeve.
Looking forward to what you do with those since this one’s doing pretty well!
That will be a follow-up article on Teens Wanna Know!
Here is your chance to get your own set of Board Blazers. One winner will get a set of “Wild White” and the other will get a set of “Crazy Color-Changing.” We will pick which winner gets which set at our sole discretion.
1. Follow @teenswannaknow on Instagram (we will follow you back)
2. Post a picture on your Instagram account of your whatever you plan to put your lights on if you win: skateboard/longboard/rollerskates/forehead/sneakers, etc.
3. In your description, write whatever you want, but you have to mention @teenswannaknow and use the hashtags #TWKgiveaway and #boardblazers for it to be a valid entry.
4. We will pick the two winners this Friday June 3rd at 11:59 p.m.
5. You can enter more than once to better your chances.
6. We will only ship to US addresses.