Over the past half-century or so, portable music players became commonplace and have rocked the proverbial party in many forms. Back when kids bought 45s and went sock-hopping, record players came in suitcases. When rap first hit and cassette tapes were all the rage, boomboxes ruled the Reagan-era roost. And today, iPods are the music player of choice, with more than 275 million sold. The devices may change, but the song remains the same -- people want their music and they want it now. Enter the BoomCase.
When Dominic Francisco Odbert, 26, set out to make a music player of his own, he took elements of the past, mixed them with technology of the present, and created the BoomCase -- an iPod stereo inside a vintage suitcase powered by a rechargeable AMG battery. Odbert's inspiration? "I thought it would be fun," he says.
The fun has just begun for Odbert and his two fellow BoomCase creators, brother J.P. and girlfriend, Mary-Anne Sarao. The original model was constructed in December 2009 and debuted at a picnic in early 2010, which led to requests from friends, pushing Odbert to put a model up for sale on Etsy last August. It didn't take long for BoomCase buzz to hit the Web, and now he estimates that the company shipped at least 100 BoomCases in 2010. At an average price of $400, that's $40,000 in a pretty short period of time, which bodes well for 2011 sales. "Things are good, but it's overwhelming, and I haven't fully grasped everything yet," says Odbert, who now sells directly on the BoomCase site. "Seeing the BoomCase in Rolling Stone was shocking."
It's not hard to see why the BoomCase has garnered attention -- in fact, so much so that Odbert had to stop taking custom orders. The antique suitcases retrofitted with three-or-four speakers have an eye-catching design, but the BoomCase is much more than a hipster novelty item. Odbert assures audiophiles that the sound will fill a room, but also says the suitcase hi-fis are easy to use and are not designed solely for tech-savvy music geeks -- even if taste-makers like superstar Dutch D.J. Sander Kleinenberg own BoomCases.
For Odbert, the BoomCase is the perfect mix of art and commerce. A Sacramento native, Odbert learned to work with sheet metal from his grandfather, and his father employed him to help remodel foreclosed homes. During high school, Odbert bought, fixed and resold cars, and in his 20s, he made and sold his own pewter and silver jewelry. He had a prime spot in downtown San Francisco as part of the "Street Artist Program" where he was selling four to five rings and necklaces a day. A decent little business, but by then he was getting more and more interested in following his artistic muse.
He majored in visual arts at San Diego State University and, working under the name "Mr. Simo" (inspired by a long-lost Yugoslavian cousin), produced works that have been shown at home in California and as far away as Scotland. "Mr. Simo" works in sculpture, photography and large-scale full-room installations with audio and video, cutting-edge modern pop art exhibits.
Odbert just wrapped up his first graduate semester at Washington University in St. Louis, but a master's in visual arts will have to wait. The overnight success of BoomCases finds Odbert leaning away from art and back toward commerce, so he's taking a deferment. He says Washington offered him four years to return, but for now, he had to go on collegiate hiatus because his school projects were getting pushed aside. It takes three days to assemble a BoomCase and get the proper sound, so he can't be both a student and an entrepreneur. Plus, he has ideas for new BoomCase models using different bodies (like the guitar case version), and he's working on one that will have a 7-inch LCD screen for throwing old-school hip-hop karaoke throwdowns and whatnot.
"I have time to see how it goes, but I can't be separate from the business, so I'm not sure how school could work," Odbert says. "I thought I might want to go into academia, but now I have a full-time job."
Spoken like a man who is dancing to the sound of his own music.
The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 1/5/11.