A Better Lemonade Stand: Goldbug Audio Technologies
"Have you seen those boomboxes on sale at Cactus Records those high school kids are making?" my motorcycle buddy, Paul, asked a few weeks ago. He knew I had an interest in DIY electronics, I told him I'd check it out.
Cactus Records is a small independent record store here in Bozeman, and a visit there is a bit like stepping into a time warp. Used records, Grateful Dead t-shirts, punching nuns on a stick, and the smell of Patchouli conspire to give visions of tie-dye and the desire for incense. The old hippie in me loves the place.
And sure enough, on one of the counters amidst a cacophony of kitsch, was a hand-made desktop sound system in a cigar box. The accompanying hand drawn sign said, "Made by local high school geniuses!" Pretty cool, I like.
I gave my business card to the owner, and asked him if he'd contact the "geniuses" for me to see if they had an interest in having their story told. A few days later, I received an email from Ben inviting me to visit their garage workshop for an interview. Sweet, this should be fun.
Goldbug Audio Technology is headquartered in Ben's garage and is nicely outfitted with the various woodworking and electronics tools needed for the guys to craft their projects. (Kudos to Ben's dad for such a cool workshop.) Ben takes the lead in designing the electronics, Tuck does a lot of the fabricating, and Landon develops the industrial design. Of course, it's a pretty collaborative and informal affair, and I got the feeling that they were mostly just enjoying the process of discovering what they could pull off together. A big part of me wanted to put the camera down and join in the fun.
It all started when Tuck found a website where people were turning old cameras into night lights. He thought that was pretty cool, so he got his buddies together for a brainstorming session on what they might do in a similar vein. The idea they settled on was making cigar boxes into little table stereos, and they promptly started deconstructing various gadgets until they had enough bits to assemble one. It didn't sound all that good, but it was a start.
Ben's dad pointed the guys to DigiKey, and helped them source a couple of small power amplifier chips as well as introducing them to the beauties of solderless breadboards, and the prototyping began. Ben experimented with a few amplifier devices, and has currently settled on the STMicroelectronics TDA7266 7Watts/channel stereo power amplifier chip. The amp, resistors, capacitors, and circuit board are all sourced from DigiKey, but the guys are on a budget, so wall-warts and speakers are currently scrounged from around their homes and in local pawn shops. Each Goldbug Audio product is certainly one of a kind.
Tuck does a lot of the woodworking in the products, and the fit and finish of the completed products I saw was fairly impressive. Also impressive was the number of projects underway, and the wide variety of tools available. The guys have a pretty nice shop at their disposal, and they're putting it to good use.
Landon has an eye for design, and enjoys using his esthetic sense to give each product a cool look. I particularly like his idea of putting brass mesh material behind the speaker grills and port to give the box a finished look. I was also impressed with his desire to have the look of the grill resonate with the look of the cigar box.
The owner of Cactus Records had recently given the guys an opportunity to push past cigar box stereos by commissioning the reincarnation of an old console stereo. Ben, Tuck, and Landon had gutted and sanded the old piece, and had begun the construction of the bass speaker enclosure and openings needed to reinvigorate the console with their own special brand of audio sensibility.
A couple of times during my visit, I asked some gentle probing questions about their understanding of acoustics and electronics. Obviously, they're beginners and didn't know a whole lot about how an amplifier worked, or what determines the optimum size and shape of a bass port. But, you know, it really doesn't matter. What matters is they are brave enough to try. What matters is that they are engaged in their work and excited about the process of invention. This vigor will drive them forward and give them the continuing courage to overcome the challenges they face as they discover what those challenges are along the way. No need to clutter up their path with pesky details, this is about young adults being productive and engaged. Encouragement, as parents, mentors, and onlookers in cases like this, is the job at hand.
One of the wisest things I've heard said about raising kids is, "Catch them doing something good." It's awful easy to take those moments for granted; it's much easier to pick away at a kids failings than to find just the right moment to congratulate and praise. Yet, that's exactly what will get a kid excited about the world they live in. Recognition and applause for jobs well done will give them courage to take the next step, and the next. Pretty soon they'll have their eye on the ball and be off and running on their own.
The moment I saw the point of purchase display for the Goldbug Audio boomboxes at Cactus Records, I knew I had the opportunity to encourage these guys. They had done a really nice job of starting their own little micro-business manufacturing and selling a unique product, and I was the kind of guy that could appreciate that particular job done well. Writing this article is one way of encouraging them, but I wanted to do a bit more.
Val Kolton, President of V-Moda, had sent me a box of V-Moda M-80s for promotional purposes. The M-80 is a headphone I like very much (read full review InnerFidelity review here), and I thought these would be an ideal gift for Ben, Tuck, and Landon. Don't miss the video at the end of this article, their expressions as they received these headphones is good fun. Subsequently, they've told me they loved the headphones and thought "they rocked." So a big shout-out to Val at V-Moda for giving me some gear to do good things like this. Thanks man!
How You, Dear Reader, Can Help
There is another way to encourage these guys, but I'll need your help. They have a Facebook page for their little adventure, and I would love it if you could go there and "like" them. It's at Goldbug Audio Technology. Thank you for helping.
If you've got a teen of your own, take heart, encourage, catch them doing good stuff. As you can see, really cool things can happen, and you do make a difference.
Some good resources after the video.
Here's someone who has taken a business much like this to the next level: Boomcase.
"Your Teen Business" a resource site by a teenager.
A resource site: Micro Businesses for Teens.
Business Insider's "10 Awesome Business Ideas For Teen Entrepreneurs."