Jason Lucash loves to travel, and he likes listening to his favorite music during his trips.
So, inspired by the design of Chinese food takeout boxes, Lucash and his business partner, Mike Szymczak, created flat audio speakers that fold into a small cube, like origami.
Their idea became the basis of a company, OrigAudio, in 2009 and has brought them media attention from Time magazine to ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
Now, four years later, OrigAudio has 10 types of audio products, a warehouse and factory in California, 15 employees and nearly $8 million in sales so far.
The success earned Lucash the title of Emerging Entrepreneur of 2012 by Entrepreneur magazine and the keynote speech Tuesday morning to open the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Middleton on Tuesday morning. He called his speech “Some phone calls and a couple crazy ideas
can launch a business.”
“Take inspiration from your food,” Lucash told the crowd, calling it “crazy idea No. 1.”
The business started in the midst of the recession — “crazy idea No. 2,” he said — with the speakers made in China from recycled materials and shipped to customers out of Szymczak’s parents’ garage in Chicago.
Three months later, two things happened that propelled the company quickly. An intern for OrigAudio, who was dating a U.S. Marine, came to work one day with an order: her boyfriend and his Marine buddies wanted 50,000 of the speakers. Around the same time, Time magazine took notice and named the “ingenious” foldable speakers, which fold out to cubes about 3 inches on a side — one of its 50 best inventions of 2009.
“I never read Time magazine; I didn’t know the power of magazines,” Lucash told the Middleton audience. “The rest of 2009 kind of went a little crazy.”
More products came along, including Beets headphones, priced at $30 with the company donating a can of beets to local food pantries for every pair sold. Lucash, whose previous job was heading JanSport’s collegiate marketing, promoted the headphones through unedited, homemade-looking videos made in Lucash’s mother’s kitchen and posted on YouTube.
“We sold a pair of headphones every minute for the first week of April,” Lucash said.
Appearances on the QVC shopping network and “Shark Tank” followed. OrigAudio won a deal from one of Shark Tank’s stars, Rob Herjavec, but by the time it would have gone through, the company was making $2 million a year and didn’t need the investment, Lucash said.
Bit by the entrepreneur’s bug since childhood, and inspired by his grandfather — who still publishes community newspapers in Florida and writes a blog at age 88 — Lucash, as a third-grader, sold candy to schoolmates from a stand outside his family’s California home. In college at the University of California-Davis, he ran a bartending business for parties.
Getting kudos from Entrepreneur magazine for OrigAudio was “like winning best actor award,” he said in an interview after his speech.
Citing JanSport co-founder Skip Yowell as his “business idol,” Lucash had these words of advice for entrepreneurs: Don’t take yourself too seriously, but take the business seriously. Get good insurance, a good lawyer, a good bank and have a good product. And if you have an idea, go out and try it. If you fail, it’s no big deal, he said.
The conference runs through Wednesday at the Marriott Madison West in Middleton.