MIND YOUR BUSINESS: A Spotlight on Local Entrepreneurs
We are starting a new column in the Messenger, “Mind Your Business,” which profiles local entrepreneurs. We kick off with Chris Duncan, who is working with Southern Oregon Angels to secure funding to re-launch production for his latest business adventure, Alpaca Guitar.
Rogue Valley Messenger: The Alpaca is a specific and unique guitar—an “go-anywhere adventure guitar.” Was this born out of a need that you personally had? Perhaps from taking a guitar camping or to the beach, and finding it didn’t do so well in the elements?
Chris Duncan: I’m a go-anywhere kind of guy; love to travel, hike and camp. Having tools as well as instruments that can keep up to the rigors of true adventure is a must. The Alpaca is a rugged, purpose built adventure guitar that sounds fantastic. It is impervious to water, weather.
RVM: I can see why the guitar is named Alpaca—for its durability, ruggedness. Is there a story behind the name?
CD: Whenever we have lived on farm property, our family has raised llamas; and I hiked a portion of the PCT with a pack llama back in 2000. Raised for their incredible wool, the alpaca is a smaller cousin to the llama. With all the distractions of starting a new business, I was a terrible farmer, and our llamas kept escaping my mediocre fencing attempts and running amuck in town. We were the talk of the town, as our “alpacas” kept getting loose and running up/down the highway with a rogue sheep in tow. That’s the long story. The short story is that animals make great product names, and are easy to craft logos around. Alpaca also makes a clever double entendre with (say it like you’ve been drinkin’) “I’ll pack-a.” Much more fun than “Duncan Guitars.”
RVM: Was there an “a-ha” moment that you realized you either/both wanted to design a new style of guitar, and/or start your own business?
CD: The a-ha moment for the Alpaca guitar project was after traveling with a guitar on a 12 month sabbatical. Half way through the trip, our wooden guitar was ruined from the changes in temperature, humidity, and wear/tear. When we finally parked the RV to settle down again, I began researching and working on a better design.
RVM: Do you remember the first sketch or drawing of the guitar? Was it on the back of a napkin?
CD: Pfff.. Napkin sketches are for those that don’t have modeling clay and paper plates. The first designs came from cardboard templates, bulked up with paper and cardboard, and filled, formed, and textured with plastilina modeling clay. After a few prototypes, I went straight to digital modeling, which is how the current guitars are designed.
RVM: You recently relocated from Vermont, which has a strong tradition of entrepreneurs (perhaps best known are Ben & Jerry’s). How does Southern Oregon compare?
CD: Southern Oregon, in my opinion, is just now spreading its wings and realizing the value in a vibrant startup community. What I’m really excited about is it’s focus on “real” products. Many cities have placed a high priority on attracting tech focused business, and are really struggling. Southern Oregon start-up community is much more about consumer products and local manufacturing. Products you can hold in your hands. Ideas that are drawn on a napkin (or modeled with clay) that an entrepreneur has been passionate about and now wants to build, or sell.