Garage Tales: The Ballad of Lief Part 2 (S1 EP 5)

Mustafa Shaikh
5 min read

Well, last week I missed sending something out. I recently crossed my goal of sending out a newsletter on a weekly basis for one year.

I figured I'd give myself the week off and enjoy the islands of Bocas del Toro before having to move to LA. If anyone is looking to take a tropical vacation, I couldn't recommend this set of islands more. Truly one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, which is evidenced by a bunch of old white guys having now moved there.

Sunrise, not sunset, from Skully's House.

We're back in the inbox this week. We're picking up with Lief's origin story. If you missed the first part, you can read it here.

Without further ado ...

In early 2010 Lief decided to go all in on his vision for his consumer electronics company, which he dubbed SkullyBoom. First things first, he needed money.

He went around to his friends and family to raise the initial capital. He collected checks as small as $2500. Hey, something is better than nothing.

His parents even kicked in $10,000. They figured Lief was a hard worker, and if it didn’t work out for him, well, it’d at least be a good learning experience.

All told, he raised $50,000. That was enough to pay for his first purchase order from a factory in China he had been working on prototypes with.

Once he got his first batch of SkullyBooms in, he started hitting the pavement hard. His strategy was primarily based on setting up shop at music festivals, street fairs, and action sports-oriented events that he thought his would-be customers would be. Along the way to these events, he’d stop off at bike shops and skate shops to see if anyone would take his creations into their stores.

He quickly realized that in order to make these road trips work, he had to make a big sacrifice: he had to give up his Subaru WRX. The WRX wasn't up for the load that Lief had to bring on these trips. For a guy who loves cars and loves driving fast, this was no easy task (see: current-day nerdy Facebook posts about the type of tires his current racing rig has).

With the shoestring budget at his disposal, Lief settled on a cheap GMC Savannah 1500 that was originally used for transporting oxygen tanks. This car wasn’t by any means a beauty. What beat-up windowless cargo van is? The van actually was later known affectionately around the office as the raper van (which until writing this piece, I didn’t realize is a moniker dubbed on all vans that fit the description).

During this time Lief was working out of his parent's house in the suburbs of San Francisco. While it was free, he wanted to find a space that was a little bit more in the action.

He was able to find a studio on 16th and Bryant in San Francisco's Mission District. The studio was leased by Mike North. (You know how there are certain guys who you've never not heard someone say their first and last name together? Mike North is one of those dudes.) Mike North had a little loft space that Lief was able to rent out and utilize as his base of operations.

The only catch was that Lief wasn't able to sleep there. So after he was done with his day (which usually ended pretty late), he'd make the roughly 30-minute drive down the peninsula to his parent's house.

There were, however, other nights that he didn't make the drive down. Either he was just exhausted from the day of work, or he had to be back up early in the morning. What was the point of spending time driving down late at night, just to drive back up early in the morning? That time could be spent sleeping.

So, like many other people in San Francisco, he started sleeping in his car. He'd find somewhere in the Mission to park, roll out a piece of foam, and go to bed. On days when he really felt like living large, he'd head up to Dolores Park and sleep there.

Early mornings were tough. He'd wake up and nature's calling. Rather than opt for San Francisco's public bathroom aka the sidewalk, he would find the closest Starbucks. These days were well before when Starbucks's bathrooms became a free-for-all, so he had to actually buy the smallest, over-priced coffee. (Random unnecessary side story: This reminds me that my former editor-in-chief at my college newspaper, Will Kane, wrote a daily piece about a different sidewalk turd in SF for the short-lived publication, Ratter. This was a guy people thought was going places with his writing career, and somehow he finds himself covering shit. Journalism is a tough bitch. Will, wherever you are now, I hope that experience didn't leave you with PTSD.)

Lief didn't envision voluntary homelessness as part of SkullBoom, but at the same token, he wasn't complaining about it. He was so focused on his work at that point that his personal discomfort didn't bother him too much.

By 2011, he was ready to take a step up from the Raper Van. There was enough traction at Boombotix that he needed a slightly bigger spot than Mike North's studio to operate out of. He scoured Craiglist for a cheap place where he could both live and base the operations for Skullyboom in.

Only a short walk from Mike North's studio, he found a potential option on 23rd and Capp—a rollup garage with a decent-sized loft that he could plunk a mattress in. He knew to get this spot, however, it wasn't going to be easy. If you were living in San Francisco at this time, you know how competitive it got to get an apartment. (In fact, I wrote a piece on this a little while back as part of my "712 Hayes" series in which I likened finding an apartment to "The Hunger Games.")

Lief was ready to put on a charade. He went to the open house with his girlfriend, Sarah, at the time. Sarah and Lief played the role of a young San Francisco couple that both had jobs at startups. Lief may have left out the part that the startup he was at had him spending nights sleeping in the back of a cargo van.

The act worked. He was offered the spot and signed an 18-month lease.

He moved in shortly thereafter and got the office space set up down below, and his bedroom up top. It wasn't much, but coming from his parent's house and the Raper Van, the bar was low. And now that he had a bathroom on-site, he could spend even more time focused on getting more SkullyBooms out into the world.

If this episode found its way to your inbox, make sure to subscribe for next week's episode!

Do you have a friend who complains about how tough their job is? Can you do me a favor and forward this episode to them?

Next week on Garage Tales ... Lief runs into a couple of hiccups in the early days of SkullyBoom.

This episode was edited by Mustafa Shaikh. Blame all grammatical errors on him.

You can catch up on past writings here.