Thursday, June 9, 2011
Brian LeGette- “Serial” Entrepreneur
Brian LeGette is a philanthropist and entrepreneur responsible for starting companies in several fields. His first company, 180’s, a consumer apparel company makes 180 degree ear warmers. It was once Inc. Magazine’s ninth fastest growing privately held companies in the U.S.
Originally called Big Bang Products, the company was started by LeGette and his Wharton School friend, Ron Wilson. They both started out as engineers and knew they wanted to be entrepreneurs. They were both interested in athletics and decided to start a business together.
Their first idea, a made in China, a CD rack that rotated fell through. Wilson hit on the ear warmer idea as he had been thinking about it since his college days at Virginia Tech. He used to have to walk across its Quad every day and said it was like a big wind tunnel.
They went through a hundred different designs and finally had a prototype. Wilson started hawking them on campus. Their breakthrough came when they got a spot on QVC. LeGette sold zero the first few minutes on the air, the next few minutes he sold 5,000 ear warmers. He then became a regular on the show and the company took off.
They then decided to move the company to Baltimore and were joined by Wharton classmates and two toy designers from Milton Bradley and started trying to come up with other products. They started making sunglasses, beach towels, pool flotation devices and a line of collapsible beach chairs that turned into back packs which became the most successful.
The ear warmers, however, produced the most revenue, jumping from$1 million in sales in 1999 to $7.4 million in 2000. Staffing rose and the next year revenue went to $15.2 million and staffing increased to 36.
LeGette decided to start making some changes. The name then changed to 180s, he also changed the sales structure of the product. The success had come from selling the ear warmers in large department stores where they were available to everyone and were selling as fast as they could be produced. His new plan was to move the product to specialty running and skiing shops. It was then that the company decided to sponsor a team of nonprofessional athletes, Team 180s.
The shift in model affected the growth of the company and the need for more financing and more problems, including Wilson’s departure. Ultimately, the company was turned over to a private equity firm which bought out the investors and took over controlling share of the stock. The company had grown too quickly and needed significantly more capital.
LeGette left 180s and has since been involved in numerous ventures such as, an international medical laboratory accreditation, Big City Farms, which has set out to create a network of city-wide urban greenhouse operations in cities across the U.S. and ZeroChroma, a company that makes cases for mobile electronics.
Brian has an MBA from Wharton School and BS in Electrical Engineering from University of Maryland. He has received numerous awards, one of which is the Ernst and Young’s Maryland Entrepreneur of the Year award for consumer products. He also holds numerous patents and patents pending in many countries all over the world. He serves and directs on boards of several educational and philanthropic institutions. He is also the co-founder of the b4students foundation, a mentoring program that targets inner city youth in Baltimore and is currently considering ex-offender reintegration issues.
Lisa C. Lawson