2017 Start Up Business of the Year Winner – Trayvax
originally published March 2017 in Business Pulse magazine–
Made To Last
Innovative wallet – King’s 3rd invention – takes off from crowdfunding start
By Dave Brumbaugh
Trayvax Enterprises has a distinctly specific recipe for success: an innovative product, solid values proven over time, and a modern financing technique.
Founder Mark King is a good business chef – his Bellingham company has sold approximately a half-million unique, metallic wallets to outdoor recreation, industrial, and military customers around the world since the company launched.
Unlike the proverbial mousetrap, King didn’t set out to build a better wallet.
In fact, the wallet wasn’t his first invention. That was an electric car. He designed and built in as a teenager growing up on Bainbridge Island. “I created it to drive to school,” he said.
His first dip into entrepreneurial ventures came when he was a student at Bellingham Technical College pursuing a degree in machining, after he had started and dropped out of Western Washington University. He developed an organilectic (food texture) analyzer. “It would analyze the ingredients in a granola bar,” he said. “I sold it to General Mills and it paid for my schooling. Then I dropped out at BTC, too.”
His next dip was literal – a snorkeling outing in the waters of Hawaii. “I saw plastic bags floating around under water, and got the idea to make something that could be reused and not thrown away as often…a product to replace the use of plastic bags,” King said. “I ended up designing a wallet that carries things securely and sleekly.”
It wasn’t that easy. He moved to Bellingham at age 20 – six years ago – and he described how he spent half a year building his first office after first working out of his apartment. “At first I kept developing prototype after prototype, and I would forget them (when going out). I knew I wouldn’t forget my wallet.
“People kept telling me it wouldn’t sell, it was not a good idea. But I was dedicated to making it work. I finally came out with a metal wallet with spikes on the side that made a bottle opener. With a huge stroke of luck it sold a lot on the internet.”
A wide variety of extraordinary wallet styles evolved from there. “We sell innovative metal/leather wallets to people who are sick of their wallets falling apart.”
Designed to withstand the toughest conditions – and offer the most utility of any wallet, metal or otherwise, on the market – Trayvax wallets are built from the highest quality materials and assembled by hand in their Irongate light-industrial area facility. Their metal enclosures also offer radio frequency identification, or RFID resistance for credit and debit cards.
“I want our products to be handed down through generations and to last long enough to take on the stories, adventures, and sentimentality that make a product worth hanging on to,” King said. “In an age where products are made to fail, we are making products that are guaranteed to last at least 65 years.”
Like with many startup businesses, financing was a huge challenge for Trayvax Enterprises. However, King succeeded without taking a single loan or incurring any debt – and he still hasn’t.
“I spent my last $80 on launching an online, crowdfunding campaign,” he said. Until then he was machining every Trayvax wallet by hand and powder-coating the aluminum faceplates with a small counter-top oven.
“I turned my studio apartment into a manufacturing line, hired four people, and put my bed in my loft. After seven months, we were able to move into a larger facility.”
Now, 32 employees work in two buildings assembling, packaging, and shipping several hundred wallets a day. In developing a cutting-edge product, King said those 32 employees are the most important part of Trayvax Enterprises.
“We are a culture-centric company that is only as good as the people that we hire,” he said. “We take good care of our teams.” He cited the provision of healthcare, snacks, a paid book program, camping once a year, a pay-to-quit program, “…and many other perks. Our teams are the company, and it’s very important to me that they are taken care of.”
Like its signature wallets, King believes Trayvax Enterprises will operate for many years to come. The company currently offers five different wallets, plus accessories. King said they have a variety of camping innovations, outdoor gear, and industrial gear in developmental stages to expand the product line.
“The company isn’t about you – it’s about the people that work there,” he said.
“As an entrepreneur, you are assigning yourself to a life of serving and it won’t be easy. Find high-level mentors who understand you very well and listen to their guidance.”
“I’ve always wanted to help make the world a better place through technology, and I love the outdoors. I’m grateful that I can put the two together.”
Trayvax has drawn attention as widely as an article in The New York Times and a TED Talk. His themes consistently lean to his philosophy about entrepreneurship. “It is about philanthropic endeavors as much as it is about innovating,” he said. “Satisfaction comes from doing for others and creating change that’s bigger than you.”