Greg Rudolph had an inauspicious start in the skateboarding industry, “People might be surprised to learn that I have no idea how to skateboard! I actually fell off my skateboard the day I got it in sixth grade and broke my wrist!” Today, Rudolph heads Board Blazers, a company that sells LED underglow lights that let riders customize their skateboards, longboards, and scooters for style and safety. Board Blazers are popular with kids because they look cool, and they’re popular with parents because they make boarders more visible at night.
Why did you start your business?
It began in 2011 when I was a student at Arizona State University. Both my parents owned their own businesses and I knew I wanted to, but I had never had an idea. One night, I was walking around campus and I saw a student whose board was lit up. It looked really cool, so I went over and asked him about it. He was so excited to show it to me. He held up the board and said, “Bro, I duct taped Christmas lights to the bottom of my board!” I immediately thought the design could be improved.
The next year, I needed a summer job. I decided to start Board Blazers out of my parents’ garage with $1,000 and no prior entrepreneurial experience. Since then, it’s grown into sales across all 50 states and 20 countries around the world. It’s grown to be so much more than I ever imagined.
How did you get the funds to get going?
At various times, we have pursued other types of financing as the company’s grown. But, the original company started with my entire life savings of $1,000 of birthday money from grandma. I think it’s a great lesson that if your business starts small, that doesn’t mean it can’t grow large.
Have you heard of business credit?
Yes. When I started out, there was no credit involved. Over time, there have been various points where we’ve needed to use credit. Credit is an essential business tool. It can finance growth, and it can be an important tool for funding larger inventory and allowing for expansion. It can be used as a bridge for stabilizing cash flow. At all times, it’s important to closely monitor your credit so you don’t become over-leveraged and you don’t end up with any unpleasant surprises.
Managing the Business
What’s most challenging about running your business?
I think the most challenging thing is that you have to do everything yourself, because if you don’t do it, nobody else will. It’s up to you to get up every morning and kick-start the business to push it forward. It’s all on you. There’s no promise of a big raise, there’s no deadline you have to meet, there’s no boss riding you – You have to be self-motivated. Making sure you have that discipline consistently is the most challenging thing about running your own company.
How do you finance your business to manage cash flow or growth?
We’re lucky that we’re in a very cash-flow-oriented business. Many of our sales are direct to consumers, so we get paid upfront. Thankfully, being B2C-oriented, though not exclusively, our cash flow is very stable throughout the year and we are cash flow positive. We try to always maximize our cash flow as much as possible.
Do you use trade credit from your vendors or suppliers?
The vendors we use oftentimes extend credit to us, but we tend not to take advantage of it because our business maintains very stable cash flow.
What’s the biggest mistake you made early on?
In general, our business problem has always been maintaining enough inventory. We’ve been lucky to always exceed even our most optimistic inventory projections. Making sure we always have enough inventory on hand has been our greatest challenge. It’s actually a great example of a time when business credit has helped us be able to do larger inventory buys.
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What’s the smartest thing you did in your first year?
The best thing we did was to get a product to market right away. I started the company in March 2012 and we sold our first set on July 1, 2012. It was a very short product development cycle. I think the lesson there is that the product needs to be really good to go to market, but it’s never going to be perfect. Over time, we’ve continued to tinker with the product and improve various aspects, so it’s always getting better. You can’t wait until a product is perfect to get it to market, because you never will.
What’s the most rewarding thing about owning a business?
The most rewarding thing for me is watching a product go from an idea in my head to an actual physical product that I can see and touch and hold. It’s great to see other people enjoying it. This idea that I thought in my head is now being used by professional skaters and competitive skaters, and I even see it when I’m walking around the ASU campus. We get videos flooding in from other countries with customers talking about how much they really love using the light.
What does the future look like for your business?
This year, we’re really looking to focus on customer engagement. We want each customer to feel a personal connection with the brand. We want to reach out and have a fun and engaging social media presence. We want to be involved in the skateboarding community by sponsoring professional skaters and local skateboarding events. We want to be in local skate shops nationwide.
What advice do you have for someone starting a business?
Just start. Don’t let not knowing all of the steps of starting a business keep you from taking the first one. Just start by doing something, no matter how small. I think you need to complete that first step and each subsequent step will become clear as you go along. You learn as you go along. You don’t need to have all the information upfront.