Like A Boss
At The PPAI Expo 2018, Jason Lucash, CEO of Origaudio, mistakenly left his phone behind when he stepped away from the company’s booth. Due to the flood of attendees trying to catch a glimpse of the 27 new products being launched at his booth, he couldn’t push past the crowds to get back in. With his wicked sense of humor, Lucash appreciated the irony of the moment.
Since he founded the company in 2009 with partner Mike Szymczak, it’s safe to say that Lucash has been on a roll. His first invention, Fold ‘N Play Recycled Speakers, are origami-inspired portable speakers that start out flat and fold open. The company had only been selling them for three months when Time magazine called.
“Time included us on their ‘Top 50 Inventions of 2009’ list,” says Lucash. “After that happened, we went from selling 10 to over 1,000 speakers every day. We sold all our stock. Then we received our first promo order—over 50,000 for the U.S. Marines, which was pretty cool.”
What followed was a press whirlwind, with Lucash and Szymczak appearing on The Today Show, CNN and Fox News. That notoriety led to an opportunity to pitch a new product on Shark Tank. “The night that Shark Tank aired, we sold about 50,000 pieces of the product that we took onto the show, which is called the Rock-It™ [a gadget that uses vibration technology to transform anything hollow—like a cup— into a speaker].
Lucash’s entrepreneurial chops come naturally—his mother, grandfather and great-grandfather all started their own businesses. He followed in their footsteps early on, rolling out a candy cart in the afternoons to sell snacks to kids on their way home from elementary school in his hometown of Danville, California. And as a college student at the University of California-Davis, he ran a party/bartending business that served about 70 events a year, including weddings, bar mitzvahs and awards parties.
Following graduation, Lucash directed grassroots marketing and promotional events for Major League Soccer, then joined Jansport, where he managed collegiate and promotional strategies. It was there that he and his coworker, Szymczak, learned the ins and outs of manufacturing backpacks. And, in his role at Jansport, he ordered millions of dollars of promotional products, which was how he was introduced to the industry.
“Jansport’s logo is actually a four-color process photo of a patch. Back in 2006, it was really hard to find products on which we could digitally print our logo. So, on the buyer side I was frustrated because it wasn’t easy to find something we could source,” explains Lucash. “That’s part of the reason why, when we started this company, we wanted to flip the process on its head and do things the way we thought they should be done. As a company, when everyone else zigs, we zag.”
For Lucash, that means committing to no order minimums, no setup fees and five-day turnaround times. In addition, all their products come in high-end retail packaging, and they have recently introduced completely custom bags that are locally cut, sewn and finished in 72 hours. “This has been the fastest-growing sector of our business, hands down, for the past year and a half,” he says. “No other supplier is crazy enough to even think about doing it, but Mike and I learned the bag-making process from our years at Jansport.”
Lucash capitalized on this knowledge when he dreamed up the idea of recycling the Origaudio booth backdrop used this year at The PPAI Expo.
“We hired an artist from Argentina to paint really cool graffiti-style artwork on our backdrop. After the show, we made about 220 custom bags from it. Each one is unique, with a limited-edition number, and we donated all the proceeds
to Chemo Duck, a charity that provides an educational play therapy tool for kids
The bags sold out, with more than half pre-selling at the show. “It was a great experiential marketing opportunity, and we’ll probably do something similar next year,” says Lucash. “The idea was to keep a piece of Vegas as memorabilia while also donating to a good cause.”
This is not the first time that Lucash has had success repurposing something old. In 2013, Origaudio had a large stock of headphones that weren’t moving. So, parodying the popular Beats by Dre™ headphones, Lucash filed a trademark for Beets by Origaudio™, printed a vegetable on the side of the product and created a promotional video.
“Within the first hour, the video went viral. We were selling thousands of headphones a day and moved the entire inventory in a month,” says Lucash.
As part of the promotion, a can of beets was donated to the local food bank for every piece that was sold. “We eventually got banned from four grocery stores in Orange County because we were consistently wiping out their stock of beets. And Second Harvest Food Bank finally asked us to make monetary donations in lieu of any more donated beets,” he laughs.
Lucash attributes his product development and marketing ideas to “lots of late nights” and hardcore market research.
“We shop the markets in major metropolitan cities all over the world to see what’s trending in retail and what the needs are in this industry,” he says. “We also ask our customers what they want and then do early rounds of testing, including blind testing on pricing. Rather than buying products off a factory shelf, we conceptualize and build everything from scratch. It’s a formula that’s worked really well for us.”
For the past four years, Origaudio has doubled its sales year over year. “We’re growing at a rocket ship pace,” says Lucash. “We started with two employees and now we have 53, with two offices and over 20 reps across the country.”
He predicts that Origaudio will sell over $24 million in promotional products this year, and they’re having fun doing it. Lucash says the staff is made up of young people who understand the Millennial market, and he describes their corporate culture as “pretty ridiculous.” The company motto is, “Make Awesome Happen,” and each employee is encouraged to interpret and carry this out in their own unique way.
Outside the office, Lucash is a Million Mile Traveler who admits to wanderlust, and he’s an avid snow skier and biker. But he has recently become more of a self-professed homebody since he and his wife welcomed a newborn daughter to the family.
Asked what the future holds, Lucash says, “We’re not a company that has a five- or 10-year growth strategy. We’re always going to be a company that adapts and changes based on the market and what our customers want.”
In the short term, Lucash says he and Szymczak are focused on increasing their space, talent pool and product line to meet customer demand. “The future for our company is very promising. We’ve grown at a rapid pace, and we’re going to keep doing that.”
Terry Ramsay is associate editor of PPB.