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Brad started TechKeys in 2012. They detail the beginnings of their company in their Starter Story interview: 
Q: How did you get started on TechKeys?
Long before I had the idea to start a company, I had a broken keyboard. My background is in IT and I have a group of friends lovingly named “The Nerds” who are my go-to for any questions technical in nature. So I sent an email to the nerds and asked which keyboard should I buy? One of the replies suggested trying a mechanical keyboard. I had some sticker shock spending $70+ on a keyboard, but I use my keyboard day in and day out and always had the mindset to splurge on the items you use most in life.
In the process of doing some research on what was the best product for me, I stumbled onto a community of keyboard enthusiasts at geekhack that were doing some fascinating things. I was drawn in by the visuals of makers creating custom keycaps, custom key layouts, and sharing vintage models. It was on geekhack that I was introduced to the concept of a group buy. Many entrepreneurs come to understand the inherent limitation in the manufacturing process known as the MOQ (Minimum Order Quantity) and pricing that is dependent on quantity.
It was just simple inquiries that landed me coverage on Gizmodo, Linus Tech Tips, and Wired.
Being a community of enthusiasts, we were able to organize our collective buying power (similar to Kickstarter) to place a group order for an item to be manufactured. This process started with an interest check to pitch an idea and see if people would be willing to buy it, followed by placing pre-orders, then invoicing (typically through Paypal) so that one organizer collects all the funds, and then finally ordering and distributing the products. This process has some inherent flaws:
- It takes a long time from start to end
- It places a lot of trust in the organizer to handle money and delivery
- The organizer must have the knowledge of how to work with manufacturing
- Everyone must agree on a design for the product
I was brimming with ideas for products and took on the responsibility of organizing several group buys. Doing so was a lot of work, and I was providing products to buyers at manufacturing cost, which was not sustainable. After getting the hang of the manufacturing side of things, I changed my workflow based on a key observation:
When group buys were completed there were community members who saw images of the final product, having missed the window of opportunity to buy, and wanted to make a purchase. After this realization, I would leverage the buying power of the group buy to manufacture additional inventory, and then offer them to buyers who missed the original buy, but with a standard retail markup.
Dealing with buyers on an individual basis on an internet forum became too chaotic, so that was the impetus to start an online retail store. After deciding on a name and purchasing the URL, I used basic site builder software and PayPal buttons to share all my inventory with the community in one easy to find location. As time went by, I generated enough revenue to support full manufacturing runs without the need to use the community to fund the buy.
Contributors to this article:
- Pat Walls, Founder @ Starter Story
- Wiki Updater