We met Paul Budnitz, the entrepreneur who made cycling cool

He is multifaceted, unpredictable, neurotic and passionate about his work, but above all he knows how to dare. This is how entrepreneur Paul Budnitz defines himself, considered by many to be a genius. He now lives in Burlington, Vermont, although he is very often in New York on business. And it is launching a couple of projects, in two sectors in which it is active: that of the homonymous Budnitz bicycles, trendy and super light, and that of the Superplastic design toys, which are about to explore a new frontier in the field of animation and entertainment.

“In Burlington, a very creative city, I feel really inspired, being calmer and in contact with nature, even if New York, where I lived for many years, is still the city I am most attached to and I go back very often. But this balance, between a more serene and a more dynamic life, is fundamental for me now, ”he explains. Born in Berkeley in 1967, the son of a nuclear physicist and a social worker, with an immense propensity for meditation, he was the founder of the Kidrobot brand, thrilling adults, including many businessmen and traders of Wall Street, to collectible designer toys, with both high and cheaper prices ($ 5 up to $ 5,000 or more).

In fact, Paul has also founded a dozen other companies. “The truth is, I’ve been running business all my life,” he admits. A computer genius, and a hacker, since he was a child, at 15 he wrote safety analysis software for nuclear power plants. And he even created video games for the legendary Commodore 64 computer. After high school he studied film, photography and sculpture at Yale University. In college he had already invented the M.O.B. business, selling clothing he co-designed for museum stores. So he paid for his studies by simultaneously starting a business selling vintage Levi’s and Air Jordans jeans to collectors (he sold them in Japan for $ 16,000 a pair). Graduated with honors in art, he managed to make “93 Million Miles From the Sun” on his Macintosh, the first film in history edited on a home computer (as Wired magazine attested in 1996), which won an award at the Festival of the Berlin Cinema in 1997.

“Since there were no convenient ways to edit a movie on a computer in 1995, I had to hack my hardware system to edit my movies,” he confesses. Subsequently, he devoted himself to music with his own band, made up of friends. And he launched the MiniDisc company, hacking Sony’s MiniDisc players, so they could be used as recording devices, inspired by a model discovered in Tokyo. It reached a value of $ 7 million in 2001, thanks to software he had made himself, but as soon as he learned about Apple’s iPods, Budnitz preferred to drop everything, knowing his days were numbered. Instead, he focused on Kidrobot, in a garage in California, in 2002. From there he developed the path that led him to the current situation. Now, having sold the brand in 2012, he has started a new super-trendy brand of toys, Superplastic, founded a social platform for artists, Ello, also sold in 2016, and an incredibly successful bicycle brand.

Why did you decide to launch into the toy market?

The idea came to me around 2002, when I saw some interesting and strange vinyl toys in China and Japan. They immediately seemed to me artistic objects, which matched best with my aesthetic idea of ​​fashion, comics, graffiti, cartoons, music and fine art. In the beginning people thought I was crazy… They didn’t understand if it was art or if it was just toys. We started the brand in New York in 2003, then moved to Boulder, Colorado in 2010. I collaborated with artists, such as Tristan Eaton, with whom I invented the popular models Dunny and Munny, and then involved other fine art and graffiti artists. , which I have always loved, even before they became as fashionable as they are now … Meanwhile, my toys, Budnitz & Eaton, landed in a museum, the MoMA in New York, and at the same time we were selling well online and in stores. In 2007, I created a toy-inspired fashion line that even sold in the large and elegant Barneys department store in New York. Meanwhile, Kidrobot was getting bigger and bigger … (The company started with two employees and reached 90, from a base of $ 300,000 to over $ 15 million, ed.)

Why did you later decide to sell?

Sometimes I have to confess that I regretted it, but then, at that moment, I felt extremely stressed, the production was constant, like meetings and I never stopped working. I was bored. I needed a break and new stimuli, to do something different.

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