Jason Krywko was 27 and in a marketing class at USF Sarasota-Manatee in 2006 when he developed the business plan for Sleek Audio, a company in Palmetto that develops and manufactures the world’s first acoustically tunable earphones. With sales figures projected to reach eight figures in 2011, a contract with major hip-hop artist 50-Cent just announced and sponsorship of the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans this season, Sleek Audio has taken off.
Starting out selling hearing aids for his father after high school, Jason quickly learned the industry was lucrative and thriving in Florida and he could do very well for himself and his family if he just stuck with it. Jason, deciding that he wanted a degree, did a lot of research and thoughtful planning and selected the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.
Fast forward to Jason’s Basic Marketing class in 2006. His assignment was to write a marketing plan and he mentioned to his professor, Dr. Noel, that he’d like to write it surrounding a product his dad had developed – in-ear earphones, acoustically tunable, fashioned after hearing aids. “It took awhile for Jason to get interested in the class,” said Dr. Noel, Instructor of Marketing in the College of Business at USF Sarasota-Manatee. “When he mentioned the earphones, he seemed excited, so I said, ‘Let me go visit and see the product.’ When I got there, they let me listen to an iPod using their earphones and then another well-known, high end earphone and I told them, ‘You’re onto something here. You need to take this to the next level.” From there, Dr. Noel said “Jason grabbed the reins and ran. His excitement and interest in the class increased and he involved the other students by asking for their opinions about branding and design.”
The business plan Jason developed in class, with assistance from Dr. Noel, secured a large Small Business Administration (SBA) Loan and from there, Sleek Audio was born.
But his connection to USFSM didn’t end there. In early 2009, Jason received an email from fellow USF Sarasota-Manatee alum, Chelsea Duchene. “I remembered her from my marketing class because she always blew the curve!” he said. Chelsea had seen a feature story on Jason and his success and asked if he was hiring. “We had to bring her on board,” Jason stated. “I remembered her from class, how smart she was… and it was nice knowing that she got the same quality education I did. It was a no brainer to ask her to join the team.”
Today, Chelsea is their Organization and Promotions Coordinator. “It was great to get in at the ground level and grow with it,” said Chelsea. “As we grow, we’re going to need interns. We’re looking for interns from USF Sarasota-Manatee in particular.”
Chelsea was instrumental in connecting the company with a fellow bull and current student at USF Sarasota-Manatee, Amanda Evora. Amanda was one of the USA’s pairs skaters at this year’s winter Olympics. Sleek Audio donated earphones to both Amanda and her partner Mark in support of their participation in the winter games.
The USFSM connections don’t stop there. Early in the business process, Jason was contacted by another USF alum, Lukas Gilkey, the founder of AudioJunkies.com. Lukas asked Jason if he could take a shot at promoting the earphones online. In the first day of promotion, Sleek Audio got over 18,000 web hits and their servers almost shut down. It’s been rapid growth ever since. So rapid, in fact, that they will be looking to expand their staff by 15-20 employees in 2011, adding to the 16 currently working at the Palmetto location.
“One thing we are so proud of is that we’re bringing the manufacturing from China back to Manatee County,” Jason commented. “We’ve had a lot of problems with production there and it’s much easier to oversee when it’s right here in town. That move is underway and should be fully integrated in the near future.”
Less time traveling to China leaves more time to travel to see potential customers, fitting individuals and teams for custom earphones. “So far, over 500 professional athletes wear our earphones,” Jason said. “We’re the official audio sponsor of the Tampa Bay Rays and guys like Derek Jeter and Cliff Lee have really great custom designs.” Curtis Jackson III, better known as 50-Cent in the hip-hop and R&B world, has also joined forces with Sleek Audio, announcing the launch of ‘Sleek by 50 Cent,’ carbon fiber headphones at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in early January. “Things are going very well for us right now, despite the economy,” Jason remarked.
When Jason is asked about his success, he never forgets where it started. “For me, the biggest thing was learning how to manage and organize myself and learning how to run a business,” he said. “To have the opportunity to write a marketing plan that turned into a business plan and then get a large loan… and then go back and talk to my professors, receive more guidance… how many people can say that? The small class size and continued connections make a big difference. I was encouraged and received a lot of help when I was at USF Sarasota-Manatee. I’m really grateful for that.”