(From left) BumpOut’s Michael Israel, Zac Pierce, Brian Zamrowski and Matt Chacko//Photo by Tessa Marie Images
Three stories above West Chester’s busy Gay Street, in the Spartan offices of BumpOut, Zac Pierce cues up Pink Floyd’s “Money” on his smartphone. He sticks a small, adhesive silver disc on a doorjamb, then attaches the company’s eponymous speaker to the “coin.” At the touch of a finger, there’s a motorized whir and the speaker fully extends about an inch, filling the room with sound and bringing to life the device’s impressive bass response.
Well past the prototype stage, the BumpOut speaker is nearly ready for production, and Pierce is visibly pleased. “Usually you don’t get something this tight just out of the gates,” he says. “But there are some small things we need to adjust.”
Still, this powerful little speaker, which sports a sleek hourglass body, and its patented, adjustable coin are gaining steam. By the end of this past December, a campaign on the crowdfunding website Indiegogo had already raised $86,579— 167 percent of its original goal. The company also got celebrity oomph on Twitter from Mark Cuban of ABC’s Shark Tank, who’s become something of a mentor to BumpOut via the site.
On this drizzly morning after the holidays, Pierce and his partners, Matt Chacko and Brian Zamrowski, are preparing for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to pitch BumpOut to financiers, industry journalists and technology influencers. The device is expected to debut in May.
It’s an incredible list of accomplishments for a small product in a market crowded by competitors. But for Pierce, a serial entrepreneur whose experience includes selling golf accessories and million-dollar apartment complexes, it’s the next big step on a journey that’s led him and his partners, not to Silicon Valley or New York City, but to the center of West Chester.
The BumpOut offices certainly embrace the start-up vibe. In a deal they struck with the landlord, the scrappy personal-electronics company is occupying the space for a fraction of the advertised rent, and it’s clear by the minimalist furnishings that the prospect of a full-paying tenant moving in is ever present. But it’s from this vantage point—which offers balcony views of the QVC West Chester Christmas Parade—that West Chester’s Pierce, Wilmington’s Chacko and Malvern’s Zamrowski see the potential for the region to incubate entrepreneurial talent.
“A lot of people we approached said, ‘Oh, you guys should be on the West Coast, in New York City, L.A.,” Chacko says. “And we were just like, ‘Why? We can make it happen here.’ When it comes to local, I think we’re all very prideful guys of where we come from, and I think that’s just our mentality. When someone tells us, ‘You guys need to do this or that,’ we’re like, ‘No, we can do it right here at home and make a name for ourselves.’”
The idea for BumpOut came to Pierce in 2012 when, working for the Center City real estate brokerage HFF, he saw a group of kids walking along the sidewalk behind a friend with music playing on his phone. “I was looking at them, and they were all crowded around, and you couldn’t hear a thing,” he recalls, “and I said, ‘Why doesn’t someone make a speaker you can attach to your phone?’”
The thought got shoved to the back of his mind but continued to germinate, Pierce says. “I was so busy that I just couldn’t focus on it,” he says, “but then I just started playing with it. Then I got a 3-D animated video done, and when I saw it, I was like, ‘Man, that’s got some potential.’”
The possibilities led Pierce to leave the real estate industry in early 2015. With a 50-page business plan in hand and some pragmatic optimism, he focused entirely on developing the BumpOut speaker. “I did a lot of due diligence, because my gig before was pretty good,” he says, laughing.
Pierce and Chacko met while volunteering at their alma mater, Upper Darby High School. They’ve since boosted their public service with a signature project. On a rainy day last October, the company hosted its first BumpOut U event, with over 100 young people in attendance. The goal of its ongoing seminar on innovation and entrepreneurship is to provide high school and college students access to local businesspeople who’ve followed their dreams. “We look at ‘BumpOut’ as a verb—stepping to the side and continuing to move forward,” Pierce says, “but blazing your own trail based on what your individual interests are, not on just following the herd mentality a lot of people get caught up in.”
The objective is to take the concept nationwide, Pierce says, going into neighborhoods and cities where kids aren’t often presented with diverse career options to show them that their talents and interests are valued. “Millennials—that’s what they need more of,” Chacko says. “They need more people supporting them, instead of just shutting them out.”
The emphasis on giving back and staying local has also guided the company in other ways. After getting quotes in excess of $100,000 to design the slim BumpOut speaker, Pierce ended up getting a much better deal with West Chester industrial design firm DesignBranch. And while plenty of national marketing firms would’ve been qualified to set up the company’s Indiegogo page, it was West Chester’s Walnut St. Labs that got the gig.
The WSL team saw kindred spirits in the BumpOut crew. “Giving back to the community comes back to you in a number of ways,” says Michael Cresta, chief operating officer of Walnut St. Labs. “They’re all good family guys, and we dig the relationship—and that makes it even better.”