The Birth of !!!MANIC Salamander

This dream of making fantastic new things, and improving existing machines, has been with me forever. When I was six, I wanted to learn to ride a bike. My dad didn't have time to take off the training wheels, so I asked where the crescent wrench was. I looked carefully at the threads, following them around to see which way the nuts turned. That was my first mechanical feat. The next day, I could ride a bike.

By the time I was ten, I could rebuild coaster brakes. By the time I was nineteen, I had welded my first car together out of used plumbing pipe and junkyard bits from seven different vehicles, including three different motorcycles. By the time I was twenty one, I had repaired all the broken electronics at my college radio station.

I have been riding since I was twenty-two. I do all my own repairs, including engine rebuilding and tire mount + balance. I have around 200,000 miles on motorcycles, including 86,000 and counting on a Yamaha XS400 I bought in 1991 for $300. I have been in research and development since 1989. I have done custom and prototype machine building, electronic, digital or mechanical, since 1993. I have been in charge of research and development, service, and production for a small microscope company since 1998. So you see, I was totally put here to make gizmos for y'all.

!!!MANIC Salamander was a gleam in my eye in the mid-90's. I always wanted to make my life inventing things. Not just anything. Really good, smooth-running, high-quality things. Functional things and silly things - either one had its attractions. Anything people want. But the market that really turned me on, the market that I felt I knew best, was motorcycles.

In the spring of 2002, I decided it was time to roll. I can do this now. Ever since, I have been working day and night most of the time, going through the intense process of planning and constructing a business, a vehicle for me to someday make a life inventing full-time. And of course, holding down my day job.

The first part of 2003 is dominated by the setup: Incorporation, mailing address, accounting software, design finalization, financing, ordering. It is toward the end of June that my first work on marketing begins- the ad, the website text.

The first part of 2004 sees the fleshing out of our product line, with models of the products to fit more bikes. Now, with a more robust, widely applicable product line, we can push harder on the marketing.

It's scary to lay down money for something like this. Every product means thousands of dollars committed to inventory - you can't go too small, or your price for parts skyrockets, and you can't sell it for more than you paid. But what if nobody wants it?

I talked with Andy Goldfine of Riderwearhouse over lunch a year ago, looking for advice. He mentioned a concept he called 'Planet Andy.' On Planet Andy, everyone thinks like him, and of course, they all want his stuff. But guess what - On Planet Earth, very few people think like Andy. So sometimes his stuff just sits there - representing money he can't spend on stuff people will buy.

That's pretty serious- every flop means thousands of dollars that may never be recovered. Very scary. How many people will be happy on Planet Paul?

But this is the life I want. I love to ride. I love to invent. In motorcycling, business, or the rest of life there is a beauty to vulnerability, an awe one feels watching a vulnerable thing floating gracefully through danger, its skill and natural gifts making it seem invulnerable - at least for now. Every living creature must roll the dice every day. It is time for me to play my hand. It's a decent hand. If I learn fast, I'll win my future.

-Paul Ashman

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