Every entrepreneur has a tale about his moment of inspiration, but few of them take place midway through an NFL practice. Mark Clayton, a former wide receiver for the Baltimore Ravens, was running pass routes and listening to music when he found himself repeatedly distracted by his headphones flying off.
“I was picking up speed pretty good when I put my foot down to turn left and my headphones went right,” he says. Clayton spent the following weeks sampling new headphones, but couldn’t find any he liked. So he drew upon his childhood art talents and sketched out his own idea for over-ear, lightweight wireless headphones that would remain in place even during strenuous workouts.
That was 2012; this past winter saw the launch of LIVV Headphones, active gear designed both for NFL players and the rest of us. (Mostly the rest of us.)
Clayton retired from the NFL in 2013, but a friend had pushed him to start thinking about his post-football moves a few years prior. “In the middle of it, with the money you’re making, the fun you’re having and the impact you’re having in the community, it’s hard to see life without football,” he says.
But he has adapted to his new digs. “I guess ‘founder’ is cool,” he says. “I’ve always been like, ‘I’m the guy who drew it.’ ”
The guy who produces them is Dale Lott, founder of Nashville-based Aurisonics and a former audio engineer who’s worked with the military and NASA. Lott melded rock star-quality audio performance with Clayton’s design.
Things have moved fast: In September Clayton launched a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $75,000; by October the campaign had raised $117,000. Deliveries are slated to begin in April.
Clayton says the progress has been fast enough to make his previous career pale in comparison. “Oh, this is harder. Football’s so easy. It’s just fun—you wake up and go beat somebody on a route and people say, ‘Whoa, he’s awesome.’ With this, you have to craft your message, work on branding, all that. But we have people who make it fun.”