By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Brack Owens, winner of this year’s “What’s the Big Idea?!” business competition, comes by his interest in musical instruments naturally; he’s the son of a musician.
Today, the Kingsport native officially launched AmpTrader.com, an online site designed exclusively to serve individuals who want to trade guitars. He says it’s the first website of its type targeted at “gear heads or tone snobs.”
For Owens, it’s a natural progression from his days as a drummer in bands, like his father, to his more recent work as a guitarist who also likes to trade the instruments. More important, it fills a void that Owens says is not being met by sites such as eBay and Craig’s List.
“Most people consider them to be ‘buy and sell’ sites, not trading locations,” Owens explains, adding that “gear heads or tone snobs” want to tryout a guitar before they buy it. In addition, many guitarists like to regularly trade instruments even though they may have a number in their collection.
“These people needed a place to trade, and a webpage with a communal atmosphere would be the perfect forum for connecting these trading individuals,” Owens says he concluded about two years ago while observing the frequency with which guitarists in bands regularly changed gear. So, he began to work on the concept.
“I had some funds that I saved,” he says in describing how he engaged Design Sensory to develop the company’s beta site.
He was also familiar with the “What’s the Big Idea?!” competition, thanks to Jed Eaton, the drummer in Owens’ current band. Eaton is one of the principals in LineShark, a finalist in the 2012 competition.
So, we asked Owens if he just entered for the experience.
“I was in it to win,” he said emphatically while acknowledging it was a challenging time personally. His wife had just delivered their second child, a son named Bo, the week before the program started.
“She picked-up the slack,” Owens explained, allowing him to participate in the regular meetings and mentoring sessions led by local business executive John Sharpe.
“It was well worth my time,” he says in citing the training sessions and networking events. “I had no business training, although I took several business classes in college. How to build a successful start-up wasn’t exactly part of my college curriculum. I learned more in one class with Shawn Carson (Tech 20/20) regarding that than in my whole college experience.”
AmpTrader.com allows individual traders to create their own profile that includes a listing of all their gear. The site is a classifieds style website that incorporates elements of social media to allow traders to connect with each other.
Owens says the site also includes tools that allow users to barter back and forth. Traders can propose trade offers and counter until a trade agreement is met. The site is self-policing, meaning users can provide feedback and rate others users with whom they’ve traded. The start-up’s revenue model comes from advertising, posting fees and a percentage of sales.
For now, AmpTrader.com is an “after hours” undertaking for the Environmental Consultant. As if the full-time job, family, and a start-up are not enough, Owens is also active in a local band, something that he has done for years.
“I did band stuff for a while when I came to Knoxville,” he says of the relocation to attend the University of Tennessee where he majored in geography.
“I got in a couple of bands and toured,” he added, acknowledging that playing in a band took precedence over college. “I finally wised-up and got back in school.” He subsequently earned a Master’s Degree in Geographic Information Science at Northwest Missouri State University.
AmpTrader.com is creating a virtual community for guitarists, enabling more people to trade. The ultimate vision for the site is to develop a one-stop-shop where guitarists can trade, buy, sell, read gear reviews, participate in discussion forums, and watch video reviews of new products.
Owens balances that vision with his other priorities while saying, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”