The guitar company PRS is the namesake of its founder, Paul Reed Smith. Not too long ago I watched a video of him doing a TED talk about his life’s journey building guitars and whatnot. I figured there might be a little overlap in his company’s story and ours.
I have trouble watching those TED talks, with their busy editing and the blow-your-mind punch line designed to make you feel like you’ve been living your life all wrong up until now. To his credit, Mr. Reed Smith did not try to blow my mind. He gave some down-home aww-shucks advice on how to get on in life, and then played a pretty good star spangled banner (I hope that was not supposed to blow my mind….sorry, but I’m surrounded by great guitar players).
No, the real zinger for me came less than a minute into the talk when he blurted out that to start the company he formed a limited partnership because that’s the only way a hippie like himself could raise a half a million dollars.
That was a bolt of lightning. ‘So that’s how you’re supposed to do it’ I thought. Because that is totally not how we did it. Chris and I did not raise a half a million dollars to start a company. We did not even really think about starting anything, Chris just wanted to work on guitars all day, and I wanted to do something else besides work at my crappy job.
There was a small amount of money left over from Chris’s college fund, and an even smaller amount of money that I saved up at the crappy job I had just quit. That’s what we used that to “start” our company.
We had no plan, did not know at all what we were doing, and had to figure everything out on the fly. It was the mid 90’s. In keeping with the indie-rock, post-punk times, we were, a D-I-Y guitar company.
It’s all come full circle now, and I can totally see the value in starting off with money and a plan. There are definite drawbacks to living in our little boutique, niche of the guitar market. It’s a question of scale, it’s hard for us to afford advertising in a market that’s geared towards PRS-sized companies. And without advertising, no one knows who we are, and so we remain a small company.
While I may be too old now to be a punk kid, maintaining the do-it-yourself ethos has worked out alright for us. Chris gets to work with guitars all day long, and I never work more than 30 hours a week and I even get to sleep in sometimes. The bills still get paid, the inventory comes in and goes out and the company hums along. Every now and then I think that maybe our time has come, and we should so something conventional, like form a limited partnership with someone who can really invest in the company, but that’s an awful lot of responsibility and I’m still not sure if I’m ready to grow up just yet.
See Paul Reed Smith’s TED talk: