I had the opportunity to interview Jeff Sevaldson, a former UST classmate of mine who is the Co-Founder of DrumLite™. No, I wasn’t compelled to interview them because their name also contains a play on the word “Lite / Light,” I was actually quite curious to see how they are using social to grow their business and how they managed to land their product at Super Bowl 2014!
Q1: Let’s start off with some background on DrumLite. Where did the idea originate?
A1: The idea originally was somewhat of a “spin off” of a permanent home lighting idea Joey and I did one year for the Fowler Business Concept Challenge (TSL client!). It was spring of 2011 and we had scraps laying around our house and one night I had a random idea to put the lights in one of my drums (Joey and I are both drummers ourselves). I mentioned this to Joey (an engineer) in casual conversation and asked him if he thought he could build something. Within 24 hours we had a prototype and were gigging around and showing people the lights in our drums. Other drummers were intrigued and started asking us if we could build kits like that for them, and the rest is history.
A2: I was actually approached by the director of Artist Relations at Pearl Drums. He called me on the phone one day in October/November and gave me the rundown on how they were looking to do lights for this “huge gig” that they had coming up. Apparently they had heard about us from other companies and folks who had worked with us in the past and said good things (special thank you to those companies!). In the call he alluded to the fact that the kit would be in front of the “largest TV audience of the year,” but I didn’t officially find out until December that it was for the Super Bowl / Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Even then we had to keep in under wraps until about 2-3 weeks before the Super Bowl. I was pretty excited when he told me the news!
Q3: How have appearances during the Super Bowl, CMAs, Jimmy Fallon, the Arsenio Hall Show, FOX’s New Years Eve Special (not to mention artists including Eric Church, Hanson, Sugarland, Def Leppard, Luke Bryan, Delta Rae, Sarah Barielles, Owl City, Kelly Clarkson, A Day to Remember, Panic at the Disco…) propelled your business to the next level?
Q4: Can you share some tips for growing a niche business like yours?
A4: I would say really understanding what your bread and butter is as a business. Too many businesses try to be everything to everyone. Don’t be afraid to tell people “No, this isn’t the best option for you, company X would be much better.” Sometimes we get totally custom requests (car lighting, home lighting, boat lighting, etc.) and sometimes what they are looking for is totally different from what we are selling. It took me about a year to realize that and it is always hard to turn away business, but in the end, I would rather have a customer get something that they are happy with above all else. Plus, it builds great repertoire with other companies and/or competitors – if they know you are referring people, usually they are likely to refer you in return.
Also, it helps immensely to be real. Make sure all of your contact with clients and customers is genuine. Make sure your tone portrays how you want to be perceived. We like to have a lot of fun so we rarely come across as uber serious on social media or even in emails with customers, for that matter. If we didn’t have our personalities and realness shine through and were too serious or firm or whatever, we would drive a lot of musicians away. Maybe that wouldn’t work if we were a finance firm, but I always think being genuine and fun is a lot better than bland and boring.
Q5: How have social media platforms played a role in marketing your company?
A5: Social media has played a huge role for us. We have to be a very visual company since our product is very visual. With social media, we can post photo and video updates where people can really see the product from a cool angle. YouTube and Instagram are huge for this because people can literally see a kit in action while sitting at home [contemplating a purchase]. That tends to be a big selling point for us since potential customers are ALWAYS curious how it will look or function on their own kit. We have a few videos on YouTube that show the DrumLites with many different types of drums and drumheads, so people can really picture how the lights will look on their kit. Additionally, being responsive on social media channels has definitely helped our brand and online relationship building immensely. Can Bounty paper towels or Kleenex say the same thing? Probably not… but for a small visual company like us – it’s huge!
Q6: The headline “Failed Kickstarter Reaches Super Bowl” is fantastic. Did you learn anything specific from the experience that you could share with readers?
A6: I would recommend Kickstarter to anyone whose product could have mass appeal. And when I say “mass appeal,” I mean anyone can use it, not just like it. I think that was the big thing when we did Kickstarter – there wasn’t a whole lot of our target demographic who was familiar with the platform and/or totally understood the concept. That might have changed now, but I still believe Kickstarter tends to work best with products that could have mass appeal. However, I still wouldn’t discourage a niche product from going on it –it doesn’t hurt to try, you never know!
I think that was our approach to it and in the long run, it didn’t make a ton of a difference that we didn’t get funded. I would definitely say that it made us hungrier, but we also knew that we would still keep going whether we got funded on Kickstarter or not. Actually, when Joey was a senior at UST, he pitched the DrumLite idea in the Fowler Business Concept Challenge. Funny thing was, we didn’t even make it past the first round. That made us all the more hungry because we had usually done pretty well in those competitions and we’re both super competitive. I think that fired us up maybe even more than the Kickstarter fail –haha! (True story: Emily and Martha of TSL competed twice in this competition before starting The Social Lights and can totally relate!)
Q7: What’s your favorite social media channel?
A7: Instagram. We tend to see the best engagement on there since it is 100% visual and our product is so visual. It’s also really easy to check up on, which is not so much the case with video platforms. Plus, I love seeing all the pics from all of us drummers playing around the world and what people are doing with their drum setups. Definitely helps provide some inspiration as well.
Wait, there’s more! Jeff has some solid advice for (aspiring) entrepreneurs:
“My number one piece of advice I tell anyone who has an idea for a business: Get out there and do it! Don’t spend forever analyzing the numbers. It’s good to do research, but so many people get hung up in the “business plan” stages that they psych themselves out before they even get to the market. The number one way to tell if a business idea is a good one is to get out there and start selling – even if you don’t have everything perfected at first, the market is the best way to tell if your idea is strong enough or if you need to make a pivot.”