Eric Birkemeier | ShredLights Makes Skateboarding Safe (And Cool)

Eric is the CEO of ShredLights, which manufactures high-performance lights for electric skateboards. ShredLights strives to make their customer’s lives easier, so their lights attach to skateboards (of course!) as well as helmets, backpacks, and onewheel boards. Their goal is to make riders feel safe at night, while still looking trendy. Eric shares more of his entrepreneurial beginnings and business philosophy with us here.

Value is More Important than Hard Work: The Beginning of ShredLights

Eric didn’t always aspire to be an entrepreneur. He was more focused on sports, but this all changed in high school. At the time, Eric had two incomes. One was from a job at a pizza parlor, where he worked extremely hard but only made $8.00 an hour. The other involved perusing thrift stores, where he would purchase, paint, and resell rare Air Jordan shoes on eBay. Eric turned a much higher profit from the latter. “I ended up making about $5,000 selling these Air Jordans,” Eric said, “and learned the valuable lesson that it’s not always about how hard you work, it’s about how much value you can provide.”

Eric kept this experience in mind throughout the rest of high school, and after graduating, followed his dreams to California. He attended college at San Diego State University where his interest in business led him to join the Entrepreneur Society. At the very first meeting, Eric participated in a pitch competition at the ZIP Launchpad, an on campus team that helps support budding entrepreneurs. This was a critical move for Eric as it was there that he stumbled upon ShredLights and joined the organization.

From 2014-2016, the ShredLights crew hustled to develop their product: skateboard lights. Eric was in charge of creating the website and immediately got to work. “I began learning the most effective ways to reach potential customers online,” Eric told me, “and how to develop a website that answered their questions before purchasing ShredLights.” Eric’s diligence paid off and, in 2016, the lights were up for sale.

Failure Leads to Success

Running ShredLights wasn't as easy as it sounds, though. Their first Kickstarter campaign actually failed. “After working hard for two years to make our first lights, we launched a Kickstarter with a goal of $40,000 but only raised $8,000,” Eric told me. “We didn’t receive any of the money as a result.”

The CEO at the time left shortly after, and the entire team was completely deflated. But Eric refused to give up, and knew there was another answer. “It was very difficult to find the motivation to continue working on the company after that failure,” Eric said, “but I felt that we just needed a different market to sell the product to.” Rather than continuing to promote ShredLights to the entire skateboarding community, Eric knew they had to narrow their target market. So, he niched down and focused solely on electric skateboarders. That move has proved to be the right one.

After that revelation, Eric became the new CEO. He now does everything from creating content to giving feedback to the engineering team and sending emails to potential customers. “I design and manage the entire website, shoot all of our photos and videos, send our newsletters, reach out to new ambassadors and influencers and anything else that will help raise awareness of our brand.” Although it’s put a lot on his plate, Eric is enjoying the role. Under his careful guidance, the company has prospered.

Thriving as CEO of ShredLights

ShredLights is constantly looking for ways to make their customers’ lives easier. “We try to make our products as versatile as possible,” Eric told me, “so that our customers have one less gadget to charge.” The goal isn’t to have a huge range of products for buyers to choose from, but rather to have several that serve multiple purposes.

Eric does his best to kill two birds with one stone: to make ShredLights both functional and appealing. He realizes that safety is not always the most thrilling topic, so he's worked hard to make their lights seem as exciting as possible. “We’ve tried to change people’s perception by making products that get tech-enthusiasts stoked to use their electric skateboards even more,” Eric said. “We do this by shooting unique content and riding at night in cool places.”

Always Looking for Improvements

Eric is also always looking to improve durability. “People rely on their electric skateboards to get to work every single day and home at night,” Eric said, “so if our products fail it can leave them without any lights for riding at night.” Eric does not take this lightly, and realizes the important role his product plays in customers’ lives.

To combat this, ShredLights has developed rigorous testing methods to ensure their lights don’t malfunction or stop working too early. Eric believes that the key to success is to continually assess and improve their products, which ShredLights has done with their most recent mount, the S-Lock. It’s the company’s “strongest and most reliable attachment mechanism ever” and “the most secure way to keep ShredLights on your skateboard,” according to the organization’s website.

Customer Feedback is Most Important

It was clear from our conversation that Eric puts a lot of emphasis on buyer opinions. “We take customer feedback very seriously,” Eric said, “as many times they help us find issues and come up with quick solutions.”

Eric’s best piece of advice? “Treat every customer as if they have the next big idea for your company.” He thinks this is something other businesses may not take as seriously, but to Eric, it’s common sense. “We’re in business to serve customers,” Eric told me, “so it’s crazy not to spend time and money listening to their feedback. Oftentimes, this even helps us design new items!”

Eric suggests using surveys and forms to collect consumer responses, then analyzing the data to spot new trends. If an issue is coming up often, or there’s something many buyers want, Eric will take note and get to work drafting a remodel. He suggests that this is what helps keep ShredLights in business, and what catalyzed the upgrades they made from their previous lights, the High Beams, to the current SL-200.

As per customer requests, ShredLights upped the brightness which increased the distance riders could see while using the lights. How long will the SL-200 last on full brightness? ShredLights has optimized them so they’ll run for 150 hours, as opposed to the High Beams’ 12 hour limit. Based on the numerous 5-star reviews on ShredLights’ website, users seem quite happy with the changes.

Don’t Wait, Act Now

Eric encourages business owners to think ahead and act quickly. As such, there is one thing he wishes he’d done sooner. “I would have come out with a helmet mount earlier,” Eric said. “We’ve found that helmet lights are the best bang for your buck for seeing where you’re riding, so I would have pushed to release an option for that.”

Now that ShredLights has released the helmet mounts, they’re selling fast. Eric learned his lesson, and will be sure not to make the same mistake again. 

In my opinion, Eric’s example is a lesson in solving the real problem your customer is having. In his case, that was limited vision. So, instead of making “lack of lights on skateboards” the problem, the challenge could be reframed as “lack of vision.” Always focus on your customers’ core problem first. That’s where product development starts.

What's Next for Eric & ShredLights

Eric is thinking big for 2020. Not necessarily by expanding their lights product line, but rather coming up with new ways customers can utilize their products. “With one light, we hope that our customers will be able to use it anywhere they want to,” Eric says, “and won’t need to purchase multiple lights.” To accomplish this goal, Eric plans to continue testing new mounts so that people can use ShredLights for a variety of activities. 

Ryan Chatterton Editor, Content Strategist, Digital Nomad, Coworking Influencer, Lover of Wine & Tacos