My brother Shaun Lee
and I were born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa where street musicians are creating amazing music using hand-made instruments that most people have never seen or heard before. From a hand drum made out of a plastic bucket to a shaker made out of an old water bottle seen in the video below, the ingenuity and creativity displayed by these musicians is truly inspirational.
Growing up in South Africa witnessing music played with instruments like these was common nature for us. But looking back neither my brother nor I really appreciated them. I think it's difficult to appreciate something until you live without it or until you experience it in a different context. (In 1998, my parents decided to move us to Atlanta due to the high crime rate in Joburg and concerns about South Africa's stability and future).
In December of 2011, while visiting family in our former hometown of Johannesburg my brother came across a couple of street musicians at a local market playing oil can guitars. He was in awe. He remembered growing up as a child in South Africa seeing these instruments being played and didn't think twice about them. But in that moment, being a recreational guitarist and guitar enthusiast (extreme understatement
) he had to have one. So he purchased one from a local market stand selling hand-made oil can guitars. Upon arriving back to Atlanta in January of 2012, Shaun tasked himself with the project of building a couple of oil can guitars with the assistance of his friend Josh Kirsch. Friends and family all around our community in Atlanta wanted to purchase their very own Bohemian Guitar. I could tell Shaun was on to something; he had a fire in his eyes that I had never seen before. People all around the world are showing amazing innovation by making instruments out of whatever they can get their hands on. Check out this hand made oil can guitar by a guitarist in Malawi:
At the time that Shaun started building his own guitars, I was an IT Project Manager at BCD Travel, managing PCI Security Standard
technology implementation and development projects. As the demand for Shaun's guitars grew, I started helping out, primarily leveraging my project management skill-set to help Shaun better organize his idea into a business. I had never started a company before so it was a challenge I was eager to take on (and one in which I am still enjoying battling with today!).
By May of 2012, Bohemian Guitars was born and we set out with the idea of utilizing the remainder of the year as a proof of concept (I was in full project management mode).
The team at the time included me, Shaun, Mark Friedman, and Josh Kirsch (I'll talk more about team roles and responsibilities in a future post).
During this time Shaun focused on mastering the build of the Bohemian Guitar and establishing a core set of processes and standards that each guitar would need to meet. We focused on selling at local arts and crafts shows around the Atlanta area. As the year progressed, demand picked up and we were selling as many as we could build. Normally that's a good thing, but we were limited on resources and we didn't have the capacity to expand. In October, I made my first trip to SF where I attended and represented Bohemian Guitars at the SF Music Tech Summit (SFMT). It was the first event of that kind I had ever attended. I was out of my depth. I had previously applied and been accepted to showcase Bohemian Guitars as one of the featured start-ups at the SFMT Summit. Looking back, I probably made a total fool out of myself. I had no clue how to network appropriately let alone pitch a company to a room full of successful entrepreneurs and music industry big wigs.
But two important things came from my trip to SF. Firstly, after attending the SFMT Summit I received validation that we had an interesting product that people wanted to learn more about. Secondly, I met Stewart Alsop
, who to this date has been one of the most influential people in Bohemian Guitars' success. It was Stewart who introduced me to Kickstarter, and it was Stewart who made me realize how powerful support from the crowd can be. Before meeting Stewart, I had never heard of Kickstarter, after meeting Stewart I was sure that Kickstarter was the final phase in Bohemian Guitars' proof of concept.
To this date Bohemian Guitars has been running as lean as we possible can. Kickstarter is the only outside "investment" the company has taken on and we currently have no outstanding loans or outside investment. But as we progress through the start-up phase it is becoming ever so evident that for us to fully execute our plan, investment is key and we look forward to leveraging the power of the crowd through SparkMarket