By Emily Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal
Sometimes inspiration comes from unlikely places. For inventor Mark King, a snorkeling expedition gave rise to a new wallet company.
In August, Trayvax Enterprises wrapped up its second crowdfunding campaign.
The campaign raised $64,235 for a new computer-automated CNC machine which will allow Trayvax to manufacture its latest line of wallets.
The company was born in 2013, after King pitched his original wallet design to the internet in a Kickstarting campaign. That raised almost $45,000.
Since starting the company, the 26-year-old has set out to create a culture that one would expect to find more at a tech start-up than a machining warehouse.
“I come here everyday and I feel like we’re a family,” King said, of his warehouse with around 32 employees.
He offers a book club – employees can get up to a $100 bonus for reading one of the offered books; options range from books on self-improvement and leadership to books on outdoor skills and adventures.
When an employee wants to leave the company, they can get $1500 to do so.
“If somebody doesn’t want to be here, we want to make it easy for them to move on,” King explained.
Building a company with this kind of culture has always been King’s goal.
He had a hard time finding a good fit in college.
He dropped out of both Western Washington University and Whatcom Community College.
It finally clicked when he enrolled in a CNC machining program at Bellingham Technical College.
Through machining, he’s able to turn the ideas he’s always coming up with into physical objects.
“It posed a solution to bringing a product from inception to reality,” he said.
It took a couple of tries before he got his big break. After pitching a number of inventions, King read that General Mills was looking for a new machine that analyzes and tests the texture of chewy granola bars.
He pitched his idea for the machine and it drew the company’s interest.
They flew him and his prototype out to Minneapolis to see it in action.
He used the money from General Mills to buy and set up his manufacturing warehouse in the Irongate neighborhood.
He’s now using that warehouse to make Trayvax wallets.
He got inspiration for that product in an unusual place.
“I was snorkeling in Hawaii and I saw a plastic bag float by me,” he said.
He started thinking of ideas for something people could carry around and collect plastic bags in.
“It ended up being a wallet because you don’t ever forget a wallet,” he said.
It’s especially hard to forget this one. The original Trayvax wallet looks unlike most others – it’s made of two pieces of metal held together with paracord.
It has a carabiner clip, finger grips, a bottle opener and, of course, a pocket for carrying plastic or reusable grocery bags.
After developing the final prototype, King put his last $70 into video editing software, and made a video to put on Kickstarter.
He pitched it as a “wallet for life” for outdoors and industrial use.
He set a fundraising goal of $5,000. He raised $44,312.
The Trayvax Facebook page has almost 350,000 fans, and King said word about his products are mostly spread through word-of-mouth.
“You can’t sell any product unless its worth talking about and worth raving about,” he said.
Trayvax now offers four different models of wallet, plus the recent Contour, which was the focus of the most recent crowdfunding campaign.
But King isn’t stopping with wallets.
He has a dream to expand Trayvax to manufacture all kinds of outdoor equipment.
His dream is for Trayvax to one day have 5,000 employees working to manufacture products made entirely in the USA.
“I think that would do something good for the world,” he said.