Entrepreneur: Greg Rudolph, founder of Board Blazers, which sells colored adhesive lights for skateboards, longboards and scooters.
“Aha” moment: The light bulb went on in 2011 when Rudolph saw a fellow Arizona State University student riding around campus with Christmas lights duct-taped to the bottom of his skateboard. Rudolph, then a sophomore in the business program, wasn’t a skateboarder himself, but he recognized a smart idea when he saw one. He knew that skateboarders appreciate the ability to customize their gear, not to mention the safety benefits of being more visible at night.
“The majority of skateboarding accidents occur while riding on the street, not at skate parks,” Rudolph explains.
Getting rolling: Buoyed by $1,000 in personal savings, Rudolph tinkered with the idea in his parents’ garage. He scouted Chinese manufacturers online, sent them a lighting product he’d purchased along with dozens of changes he wanted and asked if they could produce his vision. Four months, several hundred dollars and countless emails and photos later, he had a working prototype. “I was very lucky that the first set of lights I ordered was exactly what I had in mind,” he says.
Pimp my ride: Battery-operated and waterproof, Board Blazers attach with adhesive pads, illuminating the ground below. Available in eight colors and sold in packs of four for $24.99, each light is the diameter of a quarter and less than an inch thick. The lights can easily be turned on and off with a twist and can withstand spins, jumps, flips and other tricks.
Out of the garage: Sales took off after Board Blazers lights were featured at a 2013 SXSW event. Today Rudolph, CEO and “secretary of skate,” manages a team of five independent contractors from an incubator space in Tempe, Ariz., an office he gained access to by winning a prestigious startup contest, one of several he has won since 2013.
Cashing in: In addition to selling through boardblazers.com, Rudolph’s product is available at Amazon and a handful of stores in California, Florida and Arkansas. He says he has sold tens of thousands of light sets to customers in 15 countries.
The majority of Board Blazers customers are 14- to 22-year-old boarding enthusiasts and parents buying gifts. To reach skateboarders, Rudolph relies on Facebook and sends demo teams to events such as the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing. He also advertises on parenting blogs and posts articles about skateboarding safety (helmet, anyone?) on his company blog.
Future looks bright: Rudolph, now 23, graduated from ASU last May. Although he wants to pursue an MBA, he’s not backing off Board Blazers any time soon.
In addition to developing other skateboarding accessories, he’s pushing to get his product into more U.S. retailers, as well as pursuing partnerships with skateboarding manufacturers and competitive skaters (professional skateboarder Ricky Rodriguez began endorsing Board Blazers last year).
A champion of student entrepreneurship, Rudolph gives talks at high schools and colleges. Although he found balancing his studies and his startup to be tricky, he says the crash course he got in streamlining operations and generating revenue quickly was priceless.
“I could apply what I learned in the classroom to the business, and vice versa,” Rudolph recalls. “It was the best type of internship.”