Greg Rudolph is a college senior and honors student at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business and the Barrett Honors College. He is also a 20 something that happened upon a business idea and is now juggling the roles of college student and entrepreneur as his business lights up!
Walking around campus one night in December of 2011, Rudolph noticed a fellow student’s skateboard, with the underside lit up. It may be in his genes—Greg’s parents are both solopreneurs and his cousin runs a dog-walking business in New York City. Regardless of genetics or the family environment, starting a business while in college was not on his radar, but he was impressed by what he saw. Skateboarding at night at ASU is pretty common, but doing it with lights was new. When Greg asked to see how the student made the board, the skateboarder showed him Christmas lights and a battery pack duck taped to the bottom. Greg recognized this as a great idea that was ripe for better design, and a quick Google search that night came up empty for practical commercialized products. As he headed home for the holidays, Greg tucked the whole thing in the back of his mind.
By March of 2012, Greg learned that his employer for the past four summers had closed, eliminating his chances for a guaranteed summer job. Thinking that starting the skateboard light business would be manageable, Greg decided to use the summer to launch the new company.
Choosing to take it one day at a time, he started with a name—Board Blazers LED Underglow Skateboard & Scooter Lighting. Next up was the logo, then finding a manufacturer for his specialized design, followed by building the website. He didn’t have a business plan and in many ways that worked to his advantage—if he had considered the magnitude of what he was trying to do, he may have been scared off.
Throughout this process, Google was Greg’s key consultant. He found most of what he needed online, from a manufacturer in China to ramping up on SEO for his website and generating PR. As a business major, Greg also had the invaluable opportunity to reach out to his professors. They helped with optimizing his Facebook advertising campaign, devising a cost structure and understanding new product development.
The two biggest hurdles for Board Blazers were getting the bank to allow Greg to open a business account and generating sales. The bank finally got past his age, but three weeks into his launch, Greg said, “it was kind of scary that nothing happened right away.” Sales finally kicked in when his marketing efforts to excite the media materialized with stories on Fox News, The Orange County Register newspaper, and the American Express Open Forum site (to name a few). Things picked up quickly from there and profits soon surpassed earnings from his previous summer job. Today (less than a year after launch), Board Blazers are sold over the web and on Amazon in eight countries and in more than 40 states.
Greg graduates in a year and he already has a number of new product ideas to expand the company. With graduation looming, he is grateful to have found a job and a boss he likes. Luck is both made and won, and Greg had a little of both when he first saw those lights.
If you are a college student, recent grad or young professional, check out Campus CareerFuel. For another great startup success story, meet Tom Szaky, Founder of TerraCycle. Tom dropped out of Princeton to start what would become a multi-million dollar business.