Regular readers of The Music & Sound Retailer might have noticed that, although we maintain comprehensive coverage of more traditional MI products like guitars, amps and drum sets, we also devote considerable page space to products that some might consider a bit outside the MI norm. Chief among these are lighting products, which are important not only because they can deliver a good margin for dealers and because they are growing in popularity by the day, but also because rapid technological evolution has led to offerings that increasingly have that “wow” factor that helps compel a purchase. Recently, The Retailer spoke to Will Komassa, President/CEO of Blizzard Lighting, and discussed the company, its product line, its strategic positioning and what the future might hold.
The Music & Sound Retailer: Let’s start with your background. Touch on the highlights of your own story as it pertains to music, technology and lighting. Tell us about the path you’ve traveled, bringing us right up to the present day.
Will Komassa: Well, everyone says this, but I have a unique background, I think, for this industry. I started out in college with a broadcast journalism degree with an advertising minor, and then I went to law school and got a law degree…both from the University of Wisconsin—Madison. But, up to that point in my life—and I still try to continue with it—I did a lot with music. I always performed from an early age. I had the opportunities that, hopefully, every kid gets and I tried to make the most of them. I did musicals in high school. And, while I was in college, I was in a group called the Wisconsin Singers, which is a hokey, hokey group, but still a lot of fun. I actually was their Tech Director, and so had a lot of experience working with theater professionals. I mixed live sound for them, too, so I spent a lot of time doing sound. But I also took some lighting classes in college, and ended up serving as the Master Electrician for the UW Theatre for a couple of summer seasons, which I really enjoyed.
I always liked performing, and I always loved the technical aspect of theater, as well. But I also knew that I had to support myself and make a living, and that’s why I did the other stuff.
After I graduated from law school, I worked for five years for a large CPA accounting firm, and I enjoyed that, as well. I worked with companies that were sending people overseas for business and we worked to try to minimize taxes, which sounds boring—and, looking back, compared to what I do now, is boring—but I liked it at the time. [Laughs.] When I wasn’t doing that, I was performing in a couple of different bands. In addition to performing with them, I was always sort of in charge of the sound and light system.
This one band that I was in, called Chapter Two, which is a horrible and clichéd cover band name, is where I met this guy named Bob. He’s about 20 years older than me, but similarly goofy. I would always bring these lights…usually secondhand that I’d buy off of eBay or whatever…to shows. They were always big and bulky and all the guys in the band who were older than me would always complain about these lights. They never saw the value in them. Everyone always loved the lights except for the guys who would carry them in and set them up. Well, I ended up leaving my job at the accounting firm. Not by my choice, unfortunately, like a lot of people over the last five years. While I was looking for a new straight job, I sort of started to revisit my passion for lighting.
I started working with a couple of OEMs overseas to import some product on a tiny—and I mean tiny—scale. But I ended up taking some of the lights with me to a band show and showing them around to these guys who had really been fairly lighting averse. I was going, “Look at these LED lights. Look at how small these things are. Look at how much they can do. And, by the way, they’re fairly inexpensive and they work really, really well.” And they were all pretty impressed, as well. And so I thought, “Gee, I might have something here.” And so, again, as I was looking to find a “normal person” job, I started doing this and started picking up steam. I ended up getting a few job offers from a couple of different places, but I decided I was just going to focus on this.
I forgot one little thing: Like I said, one of the guys in the band was this Bob character, who is sitting in the back of the warehouse right now. He ended up coming on board, as well. He was working a desk job in what was his chosen profession, but decided he’d had enough of that and he also had something that, unfortunately, is very important for a very, very new startup small business: He had a little money to invest. And so, we formed a partnership and started off that way. And here we are…it’s been about three-and-a-half years now.