Back in the day…
I first met Thomas Nunn back in 2004. We were both in the military (U.S. Air Force) at the time and were serving as meteorologists stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. In fact, I actually remember the day I met him – I was still in training and he was giving some sort of briefing to my class. He had been awarded a few really decent awards during his time in the military for
sucking up hardcore to the right people knowing his job and military customs inside and out, and I figured he’d be a fairly decent guy to get to know. I’ll spoil the end of the story and say that it didn’t rub off on me. To this day, Thomas is the guy that deals with things very diplomatically – sometimes to a fault, and to quote him, I generally “accomplish things through sheer force of will”. Together we make one halfway normal individual I think.
Over the course of the next few years, Thomas and I became pretty good friends. Seemed we both had a love of critical thinking and brainstorming. We were always sitting around throwing ideas back and forth that we thought were interesting. Didn’t particularly matter what it was… whether it was devising schemes to overload our coworkers computers by writing batch files to send hundreds of thousands of net send messages via command line (Windows XP DDOS attacks anyone?), yammering about the latest games we were into (COD for me, WoW for Thomas), or discussing any of the 10,000 different business idea’s we had swimming around in our heads. We were intelligent, outspoken, hungry, and had an entire laundry list of things we wanted to accomplish.
I spent most of my free time during these days teaching myself 3d modeling and the inner workings of Photoshop. Call of Duty had come out a year or two before, and I got caught up with the inner workings of creating several reskin and map mods for the first few of the games in that series. Thomas was running a company and website that sold World of Warcraft t-shirts and accessories.
Thomas wound up getting out of the military about 8 months or so before me and landed a job that put him in Antarctica for a year. Needless to say, staying in contact was interesting and life pretty much went on in different directions for the two of us for a while. I separated from the military and took a job as a software trainer and proceeded to travel around the world teaching meteorology software. I got married and had a kid, but I couldn’t shake that feeling that I needed to be doing something more.
Meanwhile in the Netherlands…
This guy Peter Brands, who was going by the online pseudonym “L3p”, was starting his planning for a computer mod. Peter had always been into PC gaming and computer modding, and as most PC gamers will attest, there is a huge amount of ‘status’ placed on the gaming rig components that you own. Peter wasn’t concerned as much with the status as he was with making something that he could be proud of – and not finding himself overly happy with any of the offerings that were on the market for PC cases – he decided to simply build his own.
Peter is an electrician by trade and works for a yacht company wiring up electrical systems for multimillion dollar boats. He prides himself on taking something that is completely messy and makes no sense, and cleaning it up – anyone who has ever worked on or around servers or electrical systems knows that often this job can be maddening.
Peter decided that rather than have a computer case that is just another run of the mill box that would sit under his desk, he would instead transform the desk itself into the computer thereby eliminating all associated ugliness. He set out to make this a reality and around two years later his desk build went viral online. Everybody has written stories about this guy and his crazy ass desk – Gizmodo, CNET, you name it. And for good reason. I mean, look at this thing. It’s gorgeous.
And so begin the turning of the wheels…
Thomas, ever the mindful businessman, saw and fell in love with the L3p desk. He saw an opportunity. Nothing like this was on the market – and it obviously had a following, at least to the extent of generating massive amounts of coverage online. Why was this not an actual product? Wouldn’t other people like having something this cool in their houses? Something that people could get out of the box and set up without having to build it completely from scratch as Peter had to. Something insanely convenient and awesome looking? Hell yes they would.
So he contacted Peter who (admittedly) was a bit skeptical in the beginning. Imagine if someone contacted you over the internet out of the blue and said they wanted to make a company to manufacture and sell something you had created… I would have laughed myself all the way to the delete pile with an email like that. Perhaps I am just a tad too skeptical these days though. As luck would have it though, Peter remained open to the idea; even if at the time it might have been just a bit naive of him.
Next step was getting an engineer. Peter was good at hammering and dremeling his way to something beautiful, but if this was going to be a product that an average computer owner would want, a product that could at least attempt to compete on an open market with other PC cases, a certain level of specificity and detail was going to need to go into the design. Peter’s desk is awesome, but creating another one exactly like it would be next to impossible. A starting point was needed. Something that could be produced in quantities. It needed to be re-engineered from the ground up. Enter Scott Bruins.
Scott had finished college and was working full time as a CAD designer. He knew computers inside and out and had posted a few different computer designs that he had come up with on GrabCAD.com which is where Thomas found him. Initially Scott was hired on with the understanding that this was going to be a relatively quick and painless design. He signed the NDA and got to work. 6-8 months later, he was still working and we started to feel bad. He is a hell of an engineer, so we posed the prospect of coming on board and working fully for Red Harbinger to him and luckily enough he agreed.
Having an awesome idea and a really cool looking product with a fair amount of hype and visibility does you no good unless you can actually produce this product. We needed somebody with a bit of logistical experience. Somebody that understood the manufacturing process and could source parts, deal with the manufacturers, and eventually cover shipping and receiving. Chuck Prill was a nice fit for this. Having done a fair amount of manufacturing in his past, and the fact that he had an airplane hangar on his property, he was brought on board to handle much of the day to day liaison work for our first few prototypes. Unfortunately, Chuck has since decided that the PC manufacturing game wasn’t for him, and has left the company – but that’s another story for another day.
Then there’s me. I was one of the last to be officially brought on board. I was approached by Thomas initially to come up with some logo designs for Red Harbinger and though we didn’t wind up using my designs, I managed to wedge myself into the company doing graphics work and was eventually given the VP position by the team. Kind of funny how things work out sometimes. I was put in charge of controlling the public release of information about the company and its products as well as the production of all graphic imagery associated with the company and its corporate image. It sounds so official when you say it like that. Really I just sit in front of a computer all day and make things look pretty. I don’t update our Facebook page nearly as much as I ought to. I do a LOT of brainstorming with Thomas about the direction that we want the company to head in. And I slap people when they post info that hasn’t been confirmed – but honestly that hasn’t happened in a while. Yup, that sums up a normal day for me.
Lastly we have Youri. Youri was an interesting one. Early on, somebody threw a picture of Peter’s L3p desk out on 9gag with a link to our Facebook page. Youri found his way to us through there and quickly began doing his research. Right away he showed up on our radar – fielding questions in the comments of our pictures, carrying on discussions with other folks, and keeping things interesting. This dude didn’t work for us, we didn’t know him, we had never spoken to him outside of a cursory ‘Thanks’ in the comments section of a few images, but here he was – busting his ass for us. That doesn’t occur every day, so naturally we saw an opportunity to fill another gap we had – customer service. Youri is one of the nicest people I have ever had the privilege to meet and is always willing to give 200%. No matter what time of day it is or what mood he is in – he is on point. I’ll never forget asking him if he wanted to come on board… he didn’t even try to play it cool. I thought he was going to shit himself. Unmatched enthusiasm – good words to describe this dude.
The first few prototypes…
If you have been following along for a while with us, you’ll know that we started building prototypes about a year and a half ago. We were (are) limited on funding, so we have to be pretty responsible most of the time when it comes to what we build. Parts are expensive, especially large custom parts, and even more so if you want them created quickly. Interestingly enough, during our search for a decent manufacturer we discovered that most places won’t give you the time of day unless you are willing to place an on the spot order for $100,000-$500,000 worth of work. We aren’t as massive a company as some of the others, so trying to figure out the best path forward was a tremendous headache. Initially we just needed a proof of concept prototype, so naturally we told those companies asking that much money that they were f*#king crazy and to piss off. Or maybe we got told to piss off… the details are a bit sketchy at this point. We finally found a manufacturer, and although they were pretty slow to get around to building our first prototypes (and a bit on the expensive side) they were at least willing to make it for us.
Unfortunately there were about a billion things that needed to be changed on each of our first, second, and third prototypes. Mind you, we only had one engineer working on this, and it is insanely easy to change one small thing on a part and have it affect 15 other things on 15 other parts, each of which affects 15 other things in turn. Scott went in and had to tweak everything in CAD several times for months to get everything right, we drastically changed the leg design something like 12 times, and we decided to add further functionality to the desk to make it compatible with a larger assortment of gear and accessories. Each time we added something, it required a redesign of many of the core pieces. By the time it was all said and done, we have had a solid 2 years in development that closely followed this methodology. We fought (no shit… I mean brutal, no-holds-barred, pull no punches, out for blood, gore, guts, and veins in our teeth, eat dead burnt bodies style fighting) and were at each other’s throats countless times throughout this process – something that is bound to occur when you get a group of people who are all passionate about the same thing but have differing opinions on how it should be created or the right way to approach it. But at the end of the day, you suck it up and get back to work because you realize that everyone just wants to accomplish the same goal. You get some things right, you get some things wrong. But for a product launch, nothing can be wrong. It has to all be perfect.
Where we stand today…
We have had a few mishaps along the way to be sure, and sadly we have worked with a few people that we no longer work with – but to be honest, I think we are better for it. Most of the crew that we have at Red Harbinger has been working 100% for free during nearly 100% of their free time for the past 2 years… That fact ought to speak volumes more than I ever could about our dedication to all of this. We are to the point now that the design is done. We have a few distributors on the line that we are working with that plan on retailing the desk. We just recently launched our new website which is a MAJOR improvement over our last one. That last site was way too expensive to be as glitchy as it was. The manufacturers have been chosen and are ready to begin our first massive scale production run. All that is needed now is the funding to begin the production process… but we have a plan for that too.
Along the way we have had the privilege to work with some amazing individuals from some of the best companies in the world: NVIDIA, Steelseries, ZOTAC, Blizzard Entertainment, ASUS, Razer, Evil Geniuses, and Luxion just to name a few… We have made a truckload of friendships with people from around the world and have also had such tremendous patience and support from the PC modding community and PC enthusiasts everywhere. Honestly, the community is what has kept us going I think. So many kind words (not to mention tons of expectations at this point) from such a massive group of people… There really aren’t any words to express our gratitude. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun. We really hope you enjoy our stuff both now and in the future. We definitely have a lot of cool stuff in store for you.
Thanks for playing folks… the game is about to get really interesting.