The Floyd Leg

The Floyd Leg, Corktown
In my endless quest to beat The New York Times to the scoop, I couldn’t have been more excited to discover The Floyd Leg earlier this fall. My co-worker, Michael, saw the product at his neighbor’s apartment and was immediately taken by the unique piece of furniture. The Floyd Leg is a creative furniture piece designed for a mobile society. Individuals order what is essentially four clamps and create table space with a flat surface of their choice. It’s a basic household item that can be elevated in whatever way the owner sees fit and is easily transported.  

This ingenious idea was thought of by University of Michigan graduates: Kyle Hoff and Alex O’Dell. The company was launched earlier this year and funded through an exceptionally successful Kickstarter campaign. The Floyd Leg is especially unique because the product is manufactured in Detroit. Hoff and O’Dell have established partnerships with multiple local suppliers to create an item that is American made from start to finish. I recently sat down with Kyle to discuss his experience starting a company in Detroit.
Ann Arbor is the golden child of Michigan, when picking a location to start your company, what attracted you to Detroit?
I was in Detroit. I lived in Chicago before I moved to Detroit.  I left my job at a large architecture firm because I was looking for something different. I had a friend who was launching a business in Corktown, called Practice Space – a shared workspace incubator.  I moved there to design and build the space and see where it went from there.  I was planning on launching and testing this out at some point but I didn’t necessarily have a timeline. I was just going to see how things went but Detroit ended up being a great place to launch from.  I’ve always been interested in manufacturing in the Great Lakes region and urban/local manufacturing, so it really worked out. It’s a great place to have something built because there is the infrastructure to have things made in the city.
I recently did a post about co-working spaces and you operate out of Ponyride.  What has your experience been working in this kind of environment?
It’s great. We moved here in July. We were working out of Practice Space before and it’s a little tighter there. There’s not as much room to have materials out.  We were still looking for something that was co-working because we like the atmosphere and having a collaborative workspace but also we wanted space to have our stuff out – products we’re prototyping and pieces that people can see because sometimes people don’t understand when we explain it.  We were looking for something in between and Ponyride has been great.  There are a lot of people starting businesses here and a lot of them are product start-ups.  Even if they aren’t in the same industry it’s good to talk to somebody if you have questions about accounting or sharing a printer.  It’s been great, it’s a cool space to be in.
Manufacturing is slowing finding its way back to Detroit. Do you think it’s the start of a massive shift to domestic production or a niche industry?
I think manufacturing here is an interesting thing. It hasn’t necessarily left, it’s just most often fed by the auto industry or military contracts.  There’s this infrastructure here to get something built but it’s sometimes difficult to break into that because they have their clients and they have their people they work with so if you’re on a smaller scale it’s hard to get in the door.  It took us a long time to get the ball rolling but there are definitely places here to get things built.

Investing in Detroit isn’t easy but you seem committed to the region. What are some challenges you’ve experienced and how would you like to see it improved?
Most of it is at the manufacturing level.  It’s not super easy to bridge between the manufacturing sector, which is closed off because of the auto industry, and the start-up/small business. I think Detroit has the opportunity to bridge that because there is manufacturing at different scales here. I’d like to see the lines being connected better between someone on a smaller scale trying to get something big because I think a lot of these companies found over the last number of years that they need to diversify and find different things to manufacture.  I think there is opportunity here. I think it’s been a great place to start a business.
You’re young. How was your youth been a benefit and have you found it to be an impediment?
I think one of the hard parts about starting a business – at any age – is being credible to people. At first you might be ignored or pushed off because you are young so we typically call first so they don’t know [laughs]. We have some credibility now after the Kickstarter and being in business for a while.  It’s one of those things that give you more credibility. On the other end, being young and being a start-up is attractive to people.  Also it’s a product we’re selling to people our age so I think that helps us hit the core of what we’re after.
The Floyd Leg was your first product. You recently unveiled the Floyd Shelf. Where do you see the company going? Continued product development, a retail location, or a combination?
We have the Floyd Shelf and in a couple weeks we have this Floyd Utility set coming out.  It’s more for heavy use: co-working spaces, offices, dining tables.  It’s much stronger and can take a lot more intense use.  The original Floyd is more for residential, lighter use.  The overall concept of the company is rethinking how people buy and engage with their furniture, acting as a framework to help people create a piece and also thinking about how the piece gets to them because a lot of what we’re based around is making it an accessible item that can be purchased online.  It’s a market between a massed produced IKEA piece and a high-end designer piece of furniture – we’re navigating in that area.  We have a scope of products we’re planning on releasing in the future that fall in how people buy, engage and create their own pieces. It’s also built around nomadic lifestyles and smaller setting of the apartments and housing we live in now.
How have people responded to the product? Is it what you expected? More than you expected?  Kickstarter obviously had a big impact.
It was well beyond what we ever imagined.  It was mind-blowing and one of the hardest things was scaling up to meet that demand but it has been great. One of the most amazing things is getting pictures from people showing what they made with their furniture and how they use it.  Seeing it in a house in Brazil or New Zealand, it’s really great because people interpret it differently. If anything that’s been one of the best parts about it is seeing what happens with it because it’s a simple thing but it gives people the opportunity to create their own thing.
 

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