By Shelley Gillespie
David Stuebe had an idea at Christmas 2013 and is now busily putting it on people’s laps.
The Gilbert man wanted a desk for his laptop computer, but all of the ones he saw were heavy and poorly constructed. So, he and his team designed one.
Launching a Kickstarter campaign for 15 days, he aimed for 100 orders. When the orders mushroomed to 1,100, he felt his concept was validated and started a company called iSkelter, after The Beatles’ song, “Helter Skelter.”
CNN, Time Magazine and other national press placed his Slate Mobile Air-Desk on “best of” lists.
“If Apple made a lap desk, it would look like this,” Stuebe said at his factory in Ahwatukee.
With partner Jon Irons, of Tempe, who started as an employee and bought into the company, Stuebe found receptive customers and acclaim for his lap desk.
Designed in a minimalist style, it is created from three-ply bamboo sourced from locations in China. Bamboo, one of the fastest growing plants, is a sustainable product.
iSkelter chose its own blend of the bamboo, which is created with non-toxic products. Since the bamboo is processed with natural strands, every lap desk is unique.
“We take two to three hours to make each lap desk with an average of 60-90 made per day and up to 200 units produced daily,” said Stuebe, who employs a staff of nine.
The staff cuts the 4-by-8-foot sheets of bamboo, nails them with plastic nails, creates cut-outs and sands every item twice. Hand-finishing is the final step for each product.
The company now produces 30 variations of the desk, with options for white board inserts, slots for iPhone and tablets and colored mousepads. The lap desks even come in left and right-handed versions. There also is an adjustable unit that allows a user to either sit or stand.
“Sitting for hours is as unhealthy as smoking,” Stuebe said to explain the adjustable unit.
With the massive cutting equipment, the storage space is minimized. The company stores finished products with Amazon and other vendors so it can focus on creating the products and move them out.
To Stuebe, “Made in American means everything.”
So is family.
“Going to work every day, we provide jobs. This is a family business. My brother does the website. Jon and my father-in-law do production. I do the graphics and the final sanding,” said Stuebe.
Heather Brumfield, who started as a university intern, is now a staff member. Her arts and design background come in handy for the company’s online marketing efforts.
“She is also polishing her photography skills so she can take our product photos,” Stuebe said.
Products are made with carful attention to the comfort of future owners.
“We bevel corners and sand everything smoothly so our products won’t scratch legs or laps. There’s no warping,” Stuebe said.
Their product line has expanded from lap desks.
Beauty stands are like vanities for the lap, and include a slot for a tablet to serve as a mirror. “Hover X and Hover X+” are lap desks that gamers love. “Pilot” allows the lap desk to rest on chair arms.
Products range from less than $30 to $2,000. Most the lap desks are priced between $69.95 and $109.
“None of our products are ‘cheap,” but they’re a little above those of poor quality,” Stuebe said.
Stuebe and Irons are excited about a children’s play equipment line that they’re launching in March, named after Stuebe’s young daughters, Lily and River. The children’s products will have the same durable bamboo with modular sections for climbing and slides.
With their orders, which ship to UK, Germany, Denmark and Canada, and their retail customers like Urban Outfitters and Touch of Modern, iSkelter has been busy this holiday season, producing their items as fast as possible and shipping them daily.
“We’re busy normally, but this is insane,” said Stuebe.
From a corner of another shop when they began less than three years ago to a shop that is busy at least 12 hours a day, they figure they’ll need to expand.
Stuebe believes the company’s success is based partly on his employees’ ability to live up to the iSkelter’s mantra: “Every detail matters…Our products are meant to last.”
Their dream, Stuebe added is simple: “We’d like to buy our own location with a retail store. That’s our ultimate dream for two years.”