Garage Tales: The Ballad of Lief (S1 EP4)
Boombotix's founder comes into focus this week. Boy, does he have a story to tell.
If you missed last week's episode, read it here. Also, my bad for not getting this out on Saturday. I spent my Friday in the thermal baths of Papallacta. Highly recommend it if you ever find yourself in Quito.
Without further ado ...
Lief’s journey to founding Boombotix started on his daily bike ride to his job at DiCon Lighting. He’d be riding out to the company's office in Point Richmond, California, and figured there had to be a more fun way to listen to music than simply popping on his Skullcandy headphones.
At that time he had a side hustle: he ran an e-commerce business selling blank vinyl toys. (For those unsure what a vinyl toy is, think Kidrobot.) There was this one interesting-looking skull-shaped toy with big asymmetric eyes that he sold through Delicious Drips. At times, people would look at it and ask if it was a speaker. It wasn’t, but maybe it could be one?
After buying some off-the-shelf portable speakers at Target, he started hacking away at his first prototype. Using the machine shop at DiCon, our very own Dr. Frankenstein brought his creation to life.
While crude, his initial “Skully” did what it needed to do. It provided a fun way to bang his music while he road his bike. Plus on an aesthetic level, the skull shape appealed to him; it gave his speaker character rather than just another bland box.
He posted his creation up on his Delicious Drips blog. To his surprise, multiple blogs ended up covering the Skully. This strange alien-looking thing was an unquestionably polarizing object that stirred up conversations.
After getting positive feedback from his friends, many of whom were in the action sports community, he set about hacking together a round of prototypes. He gave up his lunch breaks to get more Skullys up and running.
Not too long after he started tinkering, the financial crisis hit. DiCon had to make some cuts, and well, Lief wasn’t part of the church group.
Over the previous few months, Lief had gradually found out that many of the people on his team attended the same church as his manager, Bryan. He found it curious, to say the least. When it came time for cuts, no one who went to church with Bryan got the boot. I suppose God had other plans for Lief.
Lief ended up moving back to mom and dad’s place to figure out his next move. To supplement his unemployment checks, he was creating paintings and putting them in galleries on consignment. It was enjoyable and made some money, but that wasn’t going to scale. There were more dollar bills to be had.
While he browsed job sites, his mind kept coming back to the Skully. His friends who received one of his 30 handmade models were fans of theirs. It was a speaker that could keep up with their lifestyles. With that initial batch out, there were people seeing them in the wild and asking to get their hands on them.
There was also the virality he had on the interwebs without doing much to promote it himself. He even got a look on TechCrunch, which made him feel like the fucking man. (TechCrunch is the outlet where tech bros dream of getting coverage.)
When he looked out on the market, there wasn’t much in the way of portable speakers. This was in 2009. These were the days before the Jawbone Jambox was out on the market. He saw a void in the market that he could fill with his Skully.
On top of that, the recent success of Skullcandy inspired him. As an avid freeskier, here was a consumer electronics brand that spoke directly to him. With many of the top athletes rocking their headphones, they had the action sports market on lock.
Not only did it speak to his community, but Skullcandy was also making noise in the mainstream market. You could find Skullcandy's products at places like Best Buy.
There was a proven path there. When he took stock of all the different factors, he figured his Skully could be the center of his own Skullcandy-like company. It was a way for him to still stay in tune with his artistic side, but if he played it right, he would also be able to bank up big time.
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Do you have a friend who also decided to start a company while living off unemployment checks? Can you do me a favor and forward this episode to them?
Next week on Garage Tales ... we continue Lief's story. He goes all in the Skullys, which leads to him kinda sorta living in a van.
This episode was edited by Mustafa Shaikh. Blame all grammatical errors on him.
You can catch up on past writings here.