Marketplace: Brydge types up a bright future in Park City
Nicholas Smith and Toby Mander-Jones had often kicked around the idea of starting a business on the side — nothing too time-consuming, but something that would be a fun way to earn a bit of extra cash.
It started when they found a Kickstarter project that interested them: high-end Bluetooth keyboards for iPads. Intrigued, they bought 200 of them and built a website and focused on selling them in the areas around Southeast Asia, where they were living at the time.
When the keyboards sold in a flash, they knew they were on to something.
“Things started to go well, and we’re like, ‘Hang on. Maybe we should look at this a bit further,’” Smith said.
They soon made a decision that changed their lives. The founders of the Kickstarter project didn’t have a clear vision of how to turn it into a legitimate company. Smith and Mander-Jones did. They bought the brand.
Two years later, their company, Brydge, has begun to make a name for itself in the keyboard and mobile accessory world. This spring, they uprooted their lives and moved from Singapore to Park City, the place they believe will help them take the company to the next level and make it a household name.
Smith and Mander-Jones, who are both from Australia, decided to make the move after receiving $4 million in their Series A fundraising round last July. The strategy of the business quickly changed. It was time to focus on realizing the full potential of Brydge.
“2015 was the year that we consolidated ourselves and built a really strong online business,” Smith said. “2016 is all about really flipping that and growing the retail to build a great brand that resonates in a way that many others don’t. What we’re trying to be is a premium brand that does everything right that others don’t.”
It didn’t take long to identify Park City as the place to become that brand. The town provides quick access to an international airport and the area provides a large pool of the type of talent they’ll need to scale the business.
“This lifestyle that Park City has is amazing and incredibly unique,” he said. “It’s like a melting pot for startups, tech, sporting, outdoors, and everyone is here because of a lifestyle. Everyone is here to enjoy what they do and enjoy after work, too, and that’s a big driver for us. The proof is in the pudding. We’ve hired an amazing team here.”
When Brydge moved to Park City, it brought its entire fleet of keyboards along. What started as one product blossomed into a full range, with a keyboard for each size of iPad, all sharing the same characteristic: a design that looks indistinguishable from an Apple product. Anyone who’s ever used a Macbook Pro will be familiar with the look and feel, right down to the backlit chiclet-style keys.
“I think we identified a gap in the market for that,” Mander-Jones said. “There’s a lot of people who make plastic (keyboards), and I’m not going to disparage them, but there really isn’t an Apple-esque mobile accessories company. There are 300 million iPads out there. We saw a huge gap for that.”
Customers have responded with enthusiasm. Brydge has sold keyboards to people in nearly 200 countries and is in about 1,500 stores around the world, ranging from Simply Mac to AT&T retailers. And recently, Smith and Mander-Jones were hustling to fill perhaps their most significant order yet: Best Buy is set to stock their products in nearly 900 locations.
The importance of that deal is hard to overstate.
“It’s immediate validation, not just to our customers but to (Best Buy’s) competitors, like Target and so on and so forth, who say, ‘Hang on, they’ve got that — we need that,’” Smith said. “To have gotten to this point is fantastic but it’s only the beginning.”
Even if it is only the start, Smith and Mander-Jones have had a long journey over the last three years. Smith left a job at Adobe and moved his family across the world. Mander-Jones, a lawyer by trade, abandoned a stable and lucrative career path.
But it’s all been worth it. They see the company as a chance to be “masters of their own destiny.” It’s an opportunity they aren’t taking for granted.
“You could never even dream it,” Mander-Jones said. “It’s been a great ride.”
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