Joey Nesbitt ’12, a Broncos fan, admits that he wasn’t in a great mood by halftime during the last Super Bowl. That wouldn’t last long. (Not because the Broncos turned the game around; they didn’t.) Sharing the stage with Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers was DrumLite, which Nesbitt and Jeff Sevaldson ’11 invented.
The pair was together at Sevaldson’s place during the Super Bowl, which Sevaldson describes as “pretty surreal.”
“It didn’t dawn on me until like a week afterward, those lights that touched our hands were seen by so many people,” Sevaldson said.
DrumLite, started when both Sevaldson and Nesbitt were roommates at St. Thomas, is intended to bring focus to the drummer: an LED light is inserted into the drum, and comes in a range of different colors and effects.
Their clients include Lester Estelle from Kelly Clarkson and Pillar; Greg Garman from Selena Gomez; Steve Goold from Sara Bareilles and Owl City; Zac Hanson from Hanson; Mikey Martin from Shiny Toy Guns; and Mike McKee from Delta Rae. Amazon and dealers from Ontario to Florida carry their products.
They launched DrumLite after raising a mere $500 and quickly had to learn how to balance classes, exams and projects with the rigor of an up-and-coming business.
“We were limited on time and budget,” Sevaldson said. “It set us up good though. We weren’t spending on things we didn’t need. We just focused on the important things for the initial year really.”
Both also have adjusted to getting little sleep – all lessons that have aided them as their company continues to grow. (And as they both have full-time “day” jobs to occupy their schedules.)
Being featured in the Super Bowl has helped open doors to their company, particularly in the arena of brand awareness.
“We hadn’t been commercialized even though this technology had been around,” Nesbitt said. “A lot of people didn’t exactly know what we were doing. Then, instantly, millions of people could see what our company was about.”
DrumLite has a shop in St. Louis Park, and Nesbitt and Sevaldson now have three part-time people working for them.
One of their main undertakings is releasing a new controller, which will make it so that drums light up when they are hit. (A popular request, according to Nesbitt.) They’ve also been working on redoing the product line, which will involve upgrading the quality of their product to make it more “tour ready,” as Sevaldson said.
“We went through everything we didn’t like,” Nesbitt said. “We went back to the drawing board. We’re making it so you can gig with it seven days a week, throw it in a drum case and still be bulletproof all the time.”
A community of drummers
A huge part of their business is artist interaction. Their network, thanks to the Super Bowl and attending trade shows, has grown. Both Nesbitt and Sevaldson put emphasis on having a personal connection with their customers or potential customers. Nesbitt said having that kind of relationship is helpful, because they can help their musicians when they’re on tour if they need something for their drums or even just need to find a place to stay.
“Really, we’re centered on our artists,” Nesbitt said. “Our customers are really part of a family, a community, of drummers.”
They’ll also be able to continue to grow through that network by reaching out to popular artists with the hope of getting them to use their product.
In the mean time, they make sure to support customers who already used DrumLite. Nesbitt and Sevaldson frequently attend shows coming through the Minneapolis area that feature DrumLite. Nesbitt said, to him, it’s become the norm to see a drumset with their lights.
“The reverse is almost true now,” Nesbitt said. “If I don’t see the lights, I think it’s an opportunity, and we have to talk to this guy.”
For Sevaldson, he said that going to a show where DrumLite is being used is still a reminder of the impact they have on other people.
“As soon as I see the lights again in person – the stage goes dark, the drum lights pop on for the first song, and the crowd goes, ‘Ooh,’ – I’m like, oh yeah,” Sevaldson said.
Both admit they enjoy seeing their product on television, but seeing other people’s excitement is still a prime reward for them.
“The Super Bowl was pretty sweet,” Nesbitt said. “But I love getting a picture of a younger artist – a 12-year-old – in their laundry room with their drums on. Maybe their parents take the picture. They’re grinning ear to ear. I feel like I really helped that young drummer. They’re not dreading practice. They’re excited to turn the light on and rock out. We want to make drumming fun.”
Success in the form of a good partner and dedication
Although their business has grown and their lives have changed, Nesbitt said they still carry the workload “50/50.” Nesbitt, who graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, works on the operations side of things while Sevaldson, who majored in entrepreneurship and communication, focuses on sales.
They describe their strengths as complementary, an important factor to the success of the business.
“I’m good at reading his mind, we’ve known each for so many years,” Sevaldson said. “It’s challenging to work with someone whose strengths are your weaknesses. Joey is very linear and mathematical. He’s good at the engineering stuff and how to make the product better. I wouldn’t have a clue. I’m more of a creative thinker.”
Nesbitt also said that it’s important that they hold each other accountable.
“I don’t recommend starting a business with a partner who isn’t equally invested,” Nesbitt said.
That kind of dedication is a vital component to their business, and they offer up the same advice to anyone else who is looking to start up their own company: Go ahead and do it.
“People get hung up on, ‘I need investors, I need this, I need that,’” Sevaldson said. “People told us we would need five grand and we looked at each other and went, ‘Crap.’ You just need to get out there with the product.”
“The biggest hurdle is not starting,” Nesbitt said. “You start small and get feedback from your customers. You can always change things as you go on. If you never get started, you can’t.”