How, In Less Than 1 Year, Origaudio Has Had Their Product Featured in Numerous National Publications with Jason Lucash

by Jason -- April 26, 2010

This interview is the exciting story of Origaudio with the co-founder of the company, Jason Lucash. In less than 1 year, Origaudio has had their product named one of Time Magazine’s 50 Best Inventions of 2009, as well as been featured on The Today Show, Fox Business News, Parade Magazine, and just last week, QVC (you can check out their QVC coverage by clicking on the link). They focus on audio consumer electronic products. Their flagship product is the Fold-N-Play speakers and they have also recently released Rock-It.

In this interview we talk about how he got started with the product, how he’s received so much incredible press so quickly and their revenue projection for their first full year.

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For the transcript of the interview, I’m trying something new. I’ve used a service to have the transcript typed, so please excuse any typos.

If you have any feedback or recommendations, as always I’d love to hear it.

Tell me about your background.

Sure. Let’s see. UC Davis, managerial economics major. I went to Arizona State University where I did some business for the first year but partied too much. I went to ASU freshman year of college. I wanted to go to Davis but they wouldn’t let me in. I appealed that decision and they still wouldn’t let me in so I went to ASU. And then I applied as a Sophmore transfer and got into Davis.

But uh, growing up like entrepreneur, I guess. Yeah, I had like a candy stand on the corner of my, like where my parents live.  We would like go up to Safeway and buy you know candy from Safeway and Costco and pretty much resell it at a higher price point, my best friend and I. So we figured out like where my parents live in Danville, um, it’s only the main thoroughfare home from our elementary school so all the kids ride their bikes home down the street. So it was actually kind of crazy. We started selling them on the corner and then my parents live maybe like a mile away from the school, well one kid that lived closer to the school opened up a candy store like a couple streets before us, trying to undercut us.

So he was successfully doing it, but we still had our loyal customer base, so then what we started doing was bringing candy to school and setting up trays outside of the school on like by the bike racks outside of class and we were undercutting him and we eventually prevailed by shutting him down. So, I guess that was like the first thing and then in college I started my own like bartending and party serving company where you know we posted on Craigslist and do like all different kinds of events. You know, weddings, holiday parties, whatever; where people would buy the booze. We started doing this before I was even 21. We did this when we were 20, you know people would pay us $25 an hour or whatever to come to their event and pour at it. It was pretty good, it was pretty successful, it was my ex-girlfriend and I started doing this and it started taking off pretty fast and anyway we ended up doing a lot of the forty-niners and Golden State Warriors parties  and it was getting to the point where I was so busy every weekend doing parties I couldn’t really keep up with school. So I started hiring some of my friends to do it while I was at school, it became pretty successful. So, that was one other thing. And then I worked at Jansport for almost four years, in charge of all of their collegiate marketing and event marketing.

And promotions, especially a lot of their retail, a lot of their retail marketing and their retail promotions I kind of got my foot into that. Also, I did a lot of product sourcing overseas with factories in China. I would work with the factories in China for Jansport for their marketing type stuff, not their actual products. Even though I did work for some of their factories a lot that produced our product. But I knew all of the like the smaller like chotchky stuff.

The marketing promotion products?

Yeah you know anything from like uh beanies to like baseball hats, uh I don’t know, like blankets, like random yeah, like water bottles, stuff like that.

All that stuff and then that’s how I got in contact with um, the factory that produces our speakers.

Just to go back to the bartending. What ended up happening with that? Did you after college just kind of leave it off and move on?

Yeah it kind of like phased out. It was pretty good like, I remember for instance, it was like Memorial Day weekend and I wanted to go on a cruise with all my friends so I hired, yeah, actually Sharon went on the cruise with us. So, like a huge ten person wedding and I hired like ten of my friends to do it and it was like, you know, basically charged the person $25 an hour and paid my friends like you know, eighteen an hours, and the money was phenomenal and that was kind of like the last hoo-rah because after that we were graduating and it just kind of phased out a little bit.  People still emailed us for parties.  I got a job with Major League Soccer straight out of college, so I did that.  And it kinda of just fizzled away, so.

After college you went into JanSport.  Why didn’t you try to do something entrepreneurial right off the bat?

Well I got the job with Major League Soccer straight out of college and I worked for Major League Soccer for the first year, in charge of all their events and the event marketing for North America, so that was an awesome job.  I travelled non-stop.

I wanted to get a solid job out of college instead of working for myself.  I wanted to go into sports marketing.  I interned for the Oakland As in college for two years, and the Sacramento River Cats, so I thought I wanted to go into sports marketing.

So I took a job with Major League Soccer.  It was very well paid and it was a fun job.  I travelled for 20 weeks in a row, non-stop.  It was awesome.  And then as I was working there I kind of realized I didn’t want to work in sports anymore because it made me hate sports, which I didn’t really…

It’s true.  I think any job you have, if you do it too long, it de-values and you desensitize yourself to it, you know.  Like when I was working for the Oakland As, you realize how big of you know, a dick some of the players are.  Obviously, being close to them and working with them all the time makes you hate baseball.

The Oakland As were my favorite baseball team, but everyone was always like, when you work there, don’t you work like…you know, you come in at 8:00 in the morning and you work until 5:00, then there’s a game at 7:00 so you have to work the first part of the game.  Everyone is like, don’t you stay and watch the game afterward?  I’m like no.  After you work all day, the last thing you want to do is be around baseball.

The same thing happened with soccer, so then I’m like I found the job with JanSport, backpacks, I’ll try this out.  I was looking for a job in the Bay area.  I got offered a full time position in New York with Major League Soccer and I didn’t want to move to New York, so I thought I’d try this out with JanSport, but that’s where the idea for Origaudio came about, when I was working for JanSport.

Can you give a brief background on Origaudio?

Yeah, so in December of 2008, I was in Korea and I met with the company that developed the actual speaker part of the speakers.  So I sat down.  I was going to Thailand on vacation and I sat down with these guys and presented the idea to them because they have their speakers on a hard polypropylene plastic that didn’t really have  any give to it, and they were 1-watt, and kind of bulky.  They took up a descent amount of room in your backpack or suitcase, and I was traveling and kind of wanted some speakers that were portable.

So, I sat down with them and we went back to the idea of developing a speaker that could come flat and when you needed it, it can fold together like a Chinese take-out box or whatever.  Anyway, so I sat down with them and I’m like you know, here’s my idea, and it might sound crazy, and me at a table with you know, four Koreans who had never met before.  I worked with one guy at the factory through JanSport for a little while since we were working on some project sourcing stuff with them.

This is somebody then you met through JanSport through the marketing chotchkies?

Yeah, exactly.  The company also has another division that does promotional product sourcing.  So I started looking at their site and their products more and I saw the speakers that didn’t really fold, and they were the plastic.  So that’s like the idea really sparked from that.

So I pitched them on the idea in Korea and you know, it was definitely a weird meeting situation.  They didn’t seem too receptive at first, and I said it would be huge in demand, big- something made out of recycled material, it would be phenomenal. And they’re like, “yeah, but in Asia it wouldn’t be as popular”, like, it’s not about Asia, like in the States, this is kind of like… So I left Seoul and got back home and communicated with them more and more, and finally got like, a paper sample, and the paper seemed pretty right and I’m like, you know, would develop the guidelines for it, and finally I got working sample of the speakers in maybe like, February of 2009, and I was like, “you know, I think I could sell the hell out of these things.” So I called Mike, who I met from Major League Soccer, and he was doing some part-time- I hired him at JanSports to do some work with us, just contracted stuff, and I’m like, “I’ve got this idea, I’ve got some speakers here and I think we could sell them, the profit margin’s pretty good, and it would be a huge risk but I think we should hire some artists, put some designs on them, and build a website and start selling them to the public,” and he’s like “yeah, for sure, I’ve got nothing else going on right now.” So, we kind of developed the Origaudio from that.

Were there any issues getting the product from Korea to bring it into the US? How did you go about doing that?

So the factory’s in Shanghai, it’s just the offices are in Seoul. And the engineers and the whole company is based out of Seoul but the factory’s in Shanghai. So I knew about importing goods from China just because I was doing a lot of it with JanSports for promotion products, so I really wasn’t too worried about the importation. It was different for me because this was electronics, which I’d never really done before, but I had a- I knew a good freight forwarder out of California that I called and he handled the first shipment for us to Chicago. You know, the biggest thing for us was trying to figure out where the hell we were gonna store all this stuff, because, yeah, our business is based on Mike’s house in Chicago, and I was living in a little bit, you know, a small apartment in San Francisco, and we had six-thousand speakers coming through. So, we cleared Mike’s cars out of his garage in Chicago and convinced his roommates to let us store all the speakers in his garage, and and that worked out for us, but there wasn’t really any importation problems.

Yeah, afterwards, on all the other shipments we’d done, we got pulled for… you know, intense customs inspections before, but now we have a continuous bond with, you know, the Department of Homeland Security, which speeds-up the customs process for us, bringing the stuff into the US, which is a lot better and more helpful, so…

One of the things that- it’s just amazing to me, Time magazine, Fox Business News, the Today Show, Parade Magazine, Billboard, QVC, and I’m probably missing a ton of other. You’ve gotten your products on all of those things. How do you do it?

Interviewee: Yeah, that’s a… pretty good… we’re pretty lucky. The cool thing about, like, Origaudio, we have zero paid marketing. I think last year, on marketing, when we broke it down, we spent maybe like five-hundred dollars, I think, and that was just for our launch party and just, like, random stuff. Then this year, in terms of marketing, our total marketing spend is probably… maybe like… four-thousand dollars, total, and that’s like just South By Southwest and Bonnaroo, that’s about it.

The cool- the thing about Origaudio is, you see, I haven’t taken a dime out of the company actually.  It’s all…everything that I’ve earned has stayed in it, same with Mike, we haven’t withdrawn any money from it.  We’re keeping everything in the company and, we’ll start kinda’ taking, well we have to by law now, take some kind of quarterly, y’know, bonus or whatever, but I still haven’t taken a dime from the company, so.  It’s pretty cool. I mean, I need the money soon though.

I can imagine, you’ve been doing this for well over a year now, so…

Yeah, we’re getting close to it, but back to like the press thing, right.  So we’ve gotten awesome press lists that are pulled from previous jobs, well not previous jobs, but contacts in different PR agencies that I know.  A lot of good friends have helped us pull some good lists together and literally what we did when we launched Origaudio we did a mass press blast out to, y’know, everybody and their mother and put a press release out on the wire.  It got picked up pretty decently, the first big publication to actually cover it was Billboard and Billboard’s a decent, y’know music mag.  It’s not as big as Rolling Stone, obviously, but it’s still a pretty good music magazine.  They put in a print and after that, everything kind of snowballed.  We had stuff like good online press, bloggers and then Time Magazine contacted us in October of last year and they said we were in consideration for the top 50 list and I’m like, “No. Way.” Y’know.  I immediately googled the previous year and the top gadget, I think, was the iPhone.  So I’m like, “We’re not going to compete.”  Then they called us in November and they’re like, “You know you’re on the list, you’re number 36, or whatever, and the list is coming out tomorrow online.”  So that was November 11th and it went online on the 12th and then the same morning our speakers were on The Today Show.  We knew that Time Magazine wanted to keep our speakers to do some tv shots with it, but I thought it would just be product shots with it, I didn’t think they’d actually feature it on The Today Show and that morning, November 12th was the day that our business changed forever because it went live on the web that day.  We had, I think, on that day maybe like 4,000 speakers left of the initial 6,000 that we ordered.

From the very initial order?

Yeah, so that initial order came in in August.

And the product felt ok, like there was nothing major, we picked some small eco-stores and it was moving, it was moving decently, on the level we sold, like, 5 to 10 a day, maybe. Mostly like to friends and stuff, then word started spreading from Billboard, but November 12th was, like, crazy.  I mean, I was flying out here to Gainesville and I was gone all day, but I woke up at, like, six in the morning and my phone was going off non-stop.  I finally answered it and it was my cousin out here in Miami, and she’s like, “Speakers are on The Today Show.”  And this was, like, six in the morning west coast time and I was like, “No, No way.” So I set the DVR, and drove to SFO, called Mike and I’m like, “Dude, what’s going on?” and he’s, like, “Site traffic’s out of control.” Cause we’ve been tracking all the zen-carts and any other given time at six in the morning we’d have, 1 to 3 people on the site and he’s like, “We’ve got close to 700 people on the website right now.” I’m like, “Oh my god, the site’s going to crash!”

Yeah, so the site looks fine and I got in contact with our developer in Hong Kong and he’s like, “The site will be fine.”  Basically, by the end of that day we’ve sold, well, that day, I think we sold five to six hundred speakers on our website, which was pretty awesome, and then it kind of snowballed after that.  we had Parade Magazine, the following week, put it in their holiday gift guide, which was awesome because that was actually bigger than the Time Magazine thing.  Parade’s in 32 million newspapers across the country, so that was pretty damned good.  Then the Time thing came into print right after the Parade thing and then some other different publications started covering it, we got some tv requests and then the Consumer Electronics Show called us.  Usually, it’s the other way around, you have to call the CES way in advance to try to get a booth space, but they contacted us, they’re like, “We saw your product in Time, we want to include you in the show, are you guys interested?  Here’s the booth, the booth fee’s $6,000 for a 10×10 booth.”  And I was kinda’ like, “No way!”

I’ve done a lot of trade shows before, like I’m not paying 6 grand, just to get lost. My Mom is like, “You know you should really do it, I think it will be good!”, and I’m like, “Alright!”. So you got to do it and then, the show worked out really well to our advantage, our booth was constantly packed and stuff, you know and people were coming to seek us out at CES, which actually still blows my mind.

Yeah! That really helped. And then the show helped catapult us into some good press opportunities for this year with the Rock-it since we launched in January. Fox Business shot us in a show and a couple of other TV segments funded a show on the product. And then good print press come of out it, like in June, June’s going to be our big press month here and we will be on Reader’s Digest, In Style and on Rolling Stone which are pretty big Mags here in the U.S. Readers Digest is actually the biggest publication in the United States which, I didn’t even know.Yeah, their circulation is like 12 million. So I think that’ll help.

QVC will help as well. But we’ve got pretty lucky with the press and see its all free. That’s.. press to us, I’ve always said like, any of the press is a good press. No matter even if we’re in like on a small, someone’s small travel blog. All of this gives us good exposure, you know!

Just, rewinding a little bit. So, the first one, you said you just put it on the wire and it got picked up?

We just put it on, Yeah! We put it on the wire, but we also blasted it to editors of all these magazines, I had a press list of about 3000 editors and magazines and newspapers across the country. I felt like no one really wrote us back for them instead of popping up at some places at you know, in my google alerts, I get notifications. Then as more and more editors got interested in it and as they got closer to holiday’s season it was really to our advantage because the speakers were like perfect stocking stuff for 16 bucks. You know like literally fits in your stocking too. And, so we started getting some goods like holiday gift press including another press pass in September, October where more people were interested in wanting to write about it and you know at first we were trying to be skimpy doing our press samples where we, the initial forecast was that we were to be giving it out at like 100 units to press, but we ended up giving them close to like, maybe like 400 to 500 away as press samples, just because you know at first I thought we had to do that to get the word out and it worked out pretty well.

You said the list was from previous contacts?

Previous contacts and then a lot of them. I had two consultants working at PR agencies. That helped us get access to the press lists. And then the press, you know serves us like that, access to press databases. It’s close to like, something like 20,000 dollars a year, it’s ridiculous, would get you this access.

Some of my contacts who i will not name. Helped us with some awesome lists to help us out. I didnt still have to express this but we’ll use.. We’ll probably use again them this summer getting ready for holiday gift guides as well.

So, changing subjects slightly. If you were starting over and kind of interested in getting into this space consumer electronics, music, whatever. How would you do it? What advice would you give to somebody that was interested in getting into this consumer electronics space?

The thing that I’ve learned its super super cut throat. That’s the biggest thing. It’s like non stop like, the problem with, it’s the problem working with China, because obviously knockoffs, trust issues, you know, all kinds of stuff. I never understood how cut throat electronics are because, you have to stay on the leading edge because in one second, everything will change. You know people saw the ipad coming and the ipad was launched and now a lot of people are thinking what is.. a lot of people are gearing towards building products for the ipad. And the one thing that we’re working at when we go out there in a couple of days is go and get some ipad related stuff too but i think you have to stay on like, stay ahead of the curve. And I think also like, the thing with China.. Yeah, China’s becoming like, I think a little more mainstream for producing products now, and production. I know a lot of people are moving factories offshore - or not offshore, but to like Bangladesh, India, you know, Philippines. Because China’s becoming very, very expensive now. Also, a new tax in China is being imposed, I think May 1st. There’s an extra, I think 1500 dollars on containers leaving China going to the United States. So a lot of people are either moving shipments to other countries, or - to consolidate goods - or they’re moving factories all together. So China’s been very difficult to work with, it’s been OK, but I think the two main things is staying like ahead of the game, and trying to predict like what’s gonna happen for electronics. And also, I think the like labor issues, and like working with a factory that’s a little more, I don’t know, maybe in a different location besides China, but that’s very difficult.

Yeah, so. I think mostly just staying ahead of the game, trying to predict like what’s next.

Last question - what’s next from OrigAudio?

In terms of like products, we’ve got a new product coming out June 1st, it’s called Sphere. And it’s a higher-end like set of speakers for like your laptop, or iPod. Mostly we’re gearing it towards like the laptop consumer. Cuz the cool thing is it’s a USB-powered. They’re rated at like 3 and a half to 4 watts each, and the sound quality is really, really good.

The fold-n-play are 1 watt?

Yeah, fold-n-play is 1 watt. Fold in player you have no amplification whatsoever, so they’re powered off of your device, and the sound quality’s OK on them. The Sphere though, it bumps. It’s pretty freakin loud. It’s shaped like a softball. We wanted to develop the speaker as - you know, back to our roots where it comes together and it breaks apart, or, you know, kinda like the Origami concept. So we developed a base like a softball kind of device, and splits apart into two orbs, we’re calling them, and so it’s powered off USB power or 3 triple A batteries. But the cool thing about it, too, is we put an external USB slot on it, so the biggest thing is like, for us, when you plug something into your laptop you lose the USB slot. And depending on how the USB cord’s built, it’s hard to even get something else in there. So we wanted to make something that had a USB slot on it so you can put like a memory stick into the speaker, so you can put your iPod into the- you know, plug into the speaker.

So we built it like that, and we got the price point pretty low on it. I think we’re gonna launch it about 29.99, here in the US. And so that’s coming out, and then in terms of Rock-It and our product distribution, we picked up some pretty big accounts and we’re in the process of, we picked up Fry’s Electronics which is big on the West Coast. We picked up Toys ‘R Us for the speakers, and then hopefully in the fall we’ll be in Best Buy and Target and also MicroCenter, Hastings, and Fred Meyer, which are some other big mass retailers here in the- it’s, but the biggest thing right now is QVC. We’ve got QVC on Thursday for the speakers. Between 8 and 10 pm eastern time. And it’s also Earth Day, which works out pretty well. And then we’ll be doing as of just now the Rock-It on QVC in June. Which is actually good for us; the biggest thing with the Rock-It is when it sits on the shelf it’s really hard to explain it. The box is OK, it’s not like, it’s still, when you see it, it says “portable vibration speaker” and no one has any idea what the hell that is, you know?

You notice a lot of our business has been doing really really well for online retailers we’ve got one online retailer accessory geeks which is selling, you know, a case a week, which is pretty good. Cuz we notice that places where you can post up a demo video on how it works moves the product a lot faster, because people can see how it functions and the cool aspects. So QVC for us is huge, because 98 million homes are gonna watch us demo it, which is awesome. And they move so much product. And it’s really great exposure standpoint cuz, remember like you and I talked a while ago about the infomercial type thing, but QVC’s, the cost to us is pretty minimal, and the exposure’s 10 fold out of it. So I’m really hoping the product does very very well on QVC, so.

Are you, plugging Fold & Play on Thursday, or Rock-It?

Yeah, Thursday’s Fold & Play. Yeah, so, and that’s, we’ve got a pretty good time slot, it’s like Prime Time, and it’s Earth Day, so I think Fold & Play will do pretty well, but then Rock-It will be in June, so. They’re also picking up Sphere, probably for the summertime as well.

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3 Responses to “How, In Less Than 1 Year, Origaudio Has Had Their Product Featured in Numerous National Publications with Jason Lucash”

  1. Hi Jason,

    Fantastic interview. Just listened to it. You had great questions!

  2. Very cool interview, Jason! I remember seeing those speakers when it was on the Time list. I totally want a rock-it, by the way!

  3. Thank you, I appreciate the feedback!

    Matt — I sent you a coupon code that Jason sent me a few days ago, if you decide to get one.

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