Collaboration keeps Lectric Longboards rollin’ along
Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from the November issue of GCU Magazine. To view the digital version of the magazine, click here.
By Rick Vacek
As Levi Conlow sat in Tim Kelley’s office, the “biz-synergy” of the Colangelo College of Business played out in one highly educational scene. Conlow was at a key point with Lectric Longboards, the motorized skateboard business he and another Grand Canyon University student, Nathan Cooper, had created with considerable help from Kelley, Assistant Professor for Entrepreneurship and Economics. They were discussing distribution methods.
They soon were joined by the CCOB dean, Dr. Randy Gibb. Then Paul Waterman, another business instructor with a brilliant entrepreneurial mind, poked his head in. He was followed by Jon Ruybalid – yep, another mentor for the students’ venture.
“This was so cool,” Gibb said. “We’re right here talking about real business, making strategic decisions, not just doing an academic exercise.” This decision might have been the students’ most strategic of all: Kelley suggested that they move production and distribution from offshore to campus, where teams of students (yet more biz-synergy) would be hired and a workspace would be created (typical of the support from the University) to assist in fulfilling the rapidly growing list of orders.
But Cooper and Conlow know that what’s typical in CCOB is indeed unique. “They’ve done a ton for us, especially in the move to manufacturing and assembling in the U.S.,” Cooper said. “Tim, Paul and all those guys in the entrepreneurship program have always had an open door, and they encourage us to come in and ask them.”
Said Conlow, “Although we’re the owners, we almost have our own bosses. It’s good to have that, especially when we’re this young.” Conlow conceived the idea for Lectric Longboards two weeks into the 2015-16 academic year when he was walking to class from his room in Ocotillo Hall and another student whooshed by on an electric skateboard. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this is a need, not a want,’” he remembered.
He quickly scanned the Internet for the price of one, and the lowest he could find was $1,500. Then “the gears started to turn,” he said, “because if I want this and I can’t afford it, certainly there are other people who want it.”
Conlow’s solution was to make one for himself, and he mentioned the idea to Cooper, a fellow Minnesotan and marketing major he had met at a mixer not long before.
“He wasn’t going to be able to do it alone,” Cooper said. “He knew I liked figuring out things with electronics and that I also was in CCOB. It was a perfect fit.”
Cooper also had considerable experience working with wood (“I absolutely love doing this – to me, it’s an art form”), so it was up to him to cut the deck into the proper shape and attach the motor. Conlow liked it, and they decided to make 20 more and advertise them on Craigslist for less than half the price of their competitors.
“We had a tough time selling them, but they eventually all sold,” Conlow said. “At that point we were a little lost because if it was hard to sell 20, how could we turn this into a real business?”
There would be more tough moments along the way and more tough love from Kelley and their other CCOB mentors. The turning point came in April 2016, when they formed the LLC in Kelley’s office, and that summer they were making skateboards in a shed at the home of Conlow’s grandfather in Sun City West. Cooper slept on the floor of the guest room.
“We survived the summer, and then it was just like, ‘Well, this is real now,’” said Conlow, who was taking 22 credits as the company got going and graduated last December after just 2. years at GCU.
Along the way, they have remained focused on their simple goal: to create a community of riders. To make the skateboards safer on campus, they created a “Campus Cruiser” model that goes 18-20 mph instead of the usual 24-26. When an 11-year-old from Surprise, Ariz., asked if he could see one and told his friends about it, Cooper and Conlow brought samples to their young customers. They even brought pizza.
What makes Gibb happiest is that they created a program to give skateboards to foster children – an example of the Conscious Capitalism spirit that CCOB preaches. “They did that on their own,” he said. That spirit has led to mind-blowing growth. They are on course to make their first million dollars by the end of the year, and the next step is to fulfill orders from as far away as Australia and China by reducing the time it takes to make one board from 45-60 minutes to 30.
Their success has turned them into CCOB celebrities who get lessons from many sources. For example, it’s not uncommon for an instructor to give Cooper advice right in front of the class.
“It just relates even more, which is cool to see,” he said. “It seems like every teacher that I’ve run into at GCU knows about us and wants to help us and always is giving us constructive criticism on what we should do.” Kelley and Waterman have enjoyed a side benefit of their mentorship: They, too, ride Lectric Longboards around campus. But the coaching aspect is even more rewarding.
“For us, it’s fun. It’s why we’re here,” Kelley said. “Plus, we love riding the skateboards. Huge bonus.”
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.