Since its official launch roughly five years ago, the La Jolla, California-based company Jelly Skateboards marched to the beat of its own drum. It sells a line of clear, polycarbonate boards capable of stopping a bullet — a unique idea that has helped company president Sven Alwerud carve out a special niche in the skateboard industry. Though the road was certainly bumpy, Alwerud’s affinity for skateboarding kept him focused and provided a much-needed reprieve from the stresses of starting a business.
“I love skateboarding because it stops time,” Alwerud reminisced to Digital Trends. “It’s a beautiful thing because you’re just concentrating on one thing — moving forward.”
From the age of 12, Alwerud firmly grasped his passion for skateboarding. As he grew older, he turned a small bearing cleaning business in his hometown of Temecula into the (now) highly successful Jelly Skateboards. For years, his enthusiasm helped pave the way for Jelly to make a name for itself but today, Alwerud employs the help of a rather odd co-worker: A customized manufacturing robot.
Taking time out of his busy schedule, Alwerud sat down with Digital Trends to talk about his innovative robot, collaborating with his mechanical engineer father, and how he overcame the challenges of bootstrapping a skating startup.
The inception of the ‘Jelly’ skateboard
The origin of the Jelly Skateboard began with two 15-year-old SoCal locals who each possessed a deep passion for surfing and skateboarding. On one particularly normal high school day, the duo — Alwerud and his friend Cody Leuck — began doing something any teenage boys might do and completely dismantled their wooden skateboards. With the pieces flayed out in front of them, they thought, “how could we design a more flexible board?” Born from this idea was the concept of a clear skateboard manufactured out of bulletproof glass. Like anything (some boards are now made of aircraft aluminum), the process of prototyping an innovative new board was extensive.
Born from this idea was the concept of a clear skateboard manufactured out of bulletproof glass.
When Alwerud was in college, he fell so head over heels for one of his prototypes that he rode the thing to all his classes around campus — and other students began to quickly take notice. As the duo started fine-tuning this crowd favorite, they knew it needed to be durable, flexible, clear, and eco-friendly.
After several trials of combining traditional shapes with cutting-edge materials, they finally found the right combo that gave the feeling of surfing while skateboarding. With the removal of the wooden layer of Polyvinyl acetate found in traditional boards, the product became 100 percent recyclable and in 2012, Jelly Skateboards was officially incorporated. Now, Alwerud faced the greatest battle — funding his strange-looking board and bringing it to market.
Burning the candle at both ends
Once the final prototype process completed, Alwerud bootstrapped the entire venture to get Jelly Skateboards to the masses. To do this, he bartended five nights a week after traveling to hosts of trade shows during the day. A grueling undertaking, his hard work paid off as he was able to meet many high-quality contacts along the way. These relationships paved the road for Alwerud to eventually make the acquaintance of a key investor — from there, a partnership formed.
With capital in hand, Alwerud had the ability to offer two fully-customizable boards: a 26-inch shortboard named the KingSlayer and a 34-inch pintail longboard dubbed the Jelly Man O’ War. As the first batches of Jelly Skateboards began to sell, Alwerud quickly realized the demand for boards, trucks, and accessories was real. Plainly put, he needed help to keep up with the requirements of production.
Luckily for Alwerud, his dad — a famous robotics engineer — offered to help the upstart company and brought with him decades of experience which would prove priceless to the future of Jelly Skateboards.
Like father, like son
An old adage says, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” and in the case of Sven Alwerud and his father — Sven Alwerud Sr. — innovation, engineering, and design run deep in their family’s blood. After the skate and apparel company Zumiez placed a rather large order from Jelly, Alwerud Jr. knew a simple phone call to his father would solve a major production assembly need. After all, Alwerud Sr. — President of Inventek Engineering — is one of automation’s founding fathers.
“One of the biggest challenges of owning your own skateboard company is assembling skateboards. It’s just too time-consuming to assemble, pack, and ship,” Alwerud Jr. told us. “My dad worked for some of the most famous companies in the world such as Tesla, Ford, and Apple designing complex robots for major automation and mechanical integration production needs. So, I called him and discussed the large order from Zumiez and hinted, ‘When am I gonna get my robot?’ As any supportive parent would do, he replied, ‘Oh, heck no — I’ll make you one to do the assembly instead.’”
“This precision, combined with the most modern technology, created one badass robot that did the job.”
For perspective, creating a robot capable of assembling skateboards might set a company back upwards of $70,000. Luckily, Alwerud Sr. already owned the components for a robot that assembled pens. However, his company would not be completing the build of the robot for several few months, leaving the parts (essentially) up for grabs.
“My dad already had the parts and decided to use them to create a robot to help assemble my skateboards,” Alwerud Jr. added. “He designed the robot in two days and with his years of automation experience, he was able to use the simplest designs and techniques which helped reduce the chance of error and downtime. This precision, combined with the most modern technology, created one badass robot that did the job.”
Jelly hopes robots will help fuel its future
Moving forward, Alwerud Jr. hopes to reach the point where he can purchase another robot — similar to the one his dad built — to continue production of his skateboards. Despite its exorbitant price tag, he notes the efficiency and precision of such robots have the ability to replace “six or more workers.”
By taking advantage of this process, he knows he’d be able to achieve more high-quality products in a shorter amount of time — something which easily pays for itself in the long run.
Moving forward, Jelly Skateboards plans to continually work on new design concepts and manufacturing processes while simultaneously perfecting its current products. This is especially true when it comes to their popular Jelly Man O’War 34-Inch Long Boards. Sven added, “Besides the product being 100 percent high-grade bulletproof resin, we’ve worked hard to perfect the 11-inch radial concave design — creating a spring in the deck that gives the flex of a snowboard and flow of a surfboard.”
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