story and photos by Kim Souza
Jason Lucash, co-founder of Calif-based OrigAudio, is a new brand of retailer taking the nation by storm – educated, savvy and not afraid to start and run his own company all by the age of 30.
Lucash is a Millennial who says he left a “dream job” of corporate jet-setting on the world stage for JanSport to try his hand at entrepreneurship.
He spoke last week at the Emerging Trends in Retail Conference held at the University of Arkansas. His business methods, though unconventional, are none-the-less savvy and resonating well with consumers.
Lucash studied agriculture economics in University of California and landed his sales job with JanSport via a listing on Yahoo! Jobs. But it was clear from his hour-long presentation that he’s been bitten by the entrepreneur bug and there’s no turning back now.
“I had a great job traveling some 600,000 miles – literally across the world and back – which gave me lots of things to consider and led me to crazy idea No.1 – take inspiration from your food,” Lucash said.
While he and his business partner Mike Syzmcak, who also worked at Jansport, were traveling in Asia they were inspired to make pop-up, paper speakers fashioned after Chinese take-out boxes. The speakers would amplify the sound from an iPod or iPhone.
As musicians, both guys were constantly lugging around heavy speakers when they traveled, speakers that were useless on the beach where they liked to hang out in their spare time, he said.
Lucash said they got a prototype together and found a manufacturer in Asia. They pooled their savings with a $30,000 loan from mom and then ordered 6,000 units in 2009. Soon after, they launched an e-commerce site with help from a freelance programmer in Hong Kong they hired from www.freelancers.com.
“I still have never met the guy in person but he helped build our site,” Lucash told the crowd. “This led us to crazy idea No. 2 – start a business in a bad economy."
Neither Lucash not Syzmcak were ready to quit their day job at JanSport just yet, but tried to market their product online with a $0 budget using social media sites selling a half dozen or so speakers a day. That was until Billboard Magazine picked up their press release they sent with the help of PitchEngine.com, another social media site they recommend.
“We brought on an intern that had worked for us at JanSport and we agreed to pay her commission. Her boyfriend was a Marine and she thought the product would be an easy sell for corporate gifting and actually pitched it the U.S. Marine Corp. They bought it, ordering 50,000 speakers to be used for campus recruiting gifts for 2009,” Lucash said.
Three months later their invention made Time Magazine’s “50 Best Inventions of 2009” list and they have never looked back.
Within the first 120 days of business OrigAudio grossed nearly $500,000. But even so, Lucash says it was "money going out, money coming in" much like running on a hamster wheel that is so typical for small businesses.
The Fold n’ Play speakers, which are made from recycled materials and require zero external power gave them instant appeal among eco-friendly retail chains, and priced at $14 the unique product was a favorite gift item.
Lucash and company followed the playbook of a serial entrepreneur and began to expand their product base to the “Rock It” a transducer that turns just about any object into a speaker when it’s attached.
The paper cup, the coffee table, or an entire wall for bigger sound is possible with the Rock It that Lucash calls the poor man’s version of surround sound.
“We continue to add new products, either original or an improved customized version of something already out there,” Lucash said. Today OrigAudio has eight products which is opening the doors to more retail chains.”
When asked if he had a comprehensive business plan, Lucash said not until six months ago.
“You really don’t need a business plan to start, if you have a good idea and passion enough to market it … then the business plan can come later,” Lucash answered.
That’s not the kind of advice one typically hears from academia or the corporate business world in general. But Lucash is among the fearless generation who is quite comfortable doing business their own way.
Jeff Amerine, adjunct professor and technology licensing officer at the University of Arkansas, says Millennials are very comfortable in their own skin and often don’t bother with conventional protocol if they can see some better way to accomplish the same goal. He says they are not afraid of failure, but see it as another opportunity for something better.
Lucash says his firm has still spent $0 for marketing or advertisement but he admits media has helped him sell his product with numerous mentions in news columns, magazines and television spots since Billboard Magazine picked up the initial press release in 2009.
Since inception, OrigAudio has sold about 2 million units and is doing business in 38 countries with product in 5,000 stores.
Lucash admits the road wasn’t without a few struggles, but says there’s always room in this world for good ideas that are backed-up by passionate people.
When asked if there was anyone he wouldn’t do business with, he told the group they had turned down a commercial proposition with the tobacco industry, to which the audience applauded.
Lucash told the group he had bought back his mom’s interest and both he and Syzmcak each still own 50% of the company. He said they are working with a team of strategic angel investors to raise the needed capital for more expansion as the business continues to bring more retailers aboard and franchise online stores in other countries.
Duncan MacNaughton, chief merchandising officer for Walmart US, had a front row seat in the audience that Lucash addressed last week.
When a member of the crowd offered to step in and take OrigAudio business to Wal-Mart Stores, MacNaughton spoke up and made it clear that he could make that happen.
MacNaughton said in his closing remarks at last week’s conference that retail is in the midst of evolution and the increased rate of speed at which the world is changing is having a disruptive effect of the entire industry.
“Lucash has been able to do in three years what it took history more than 100 years to accomplish,” MacNaughton said. “My take away from Jason’s presentation is don’t over think it.
“That’s right down to the way he names the products by asking the group to brainstorm and toss out their best idea – winner gets $500. I love it,” MacNaughton said.