Cathie Anderson

Roseville businessman builds on 2005 ‘Survivor’ winner’s idea

At a friend’s wedding reception in El Dorado County, sales coach Jason Everett ended up sitting beside “Survivor: Panama” winner Aras Baskauskas. The chance meeting led to a business deal years later – and now a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Everett had been educated in the school of hard knocks, working various sales jobs after “barely graduating” from Amador High School. He learned quickly, however, and did so well in sales that he eventually started teaching others the skills he acquired through his company, Business Refuel. His bio touts his ability to help companies significantly increase their gross sales while also reducing their costs.

Baskauskas, on the other hand, had an MBA from the University of California, Irvine, where he played on the basketball team and was honored as a Big West scholar-athlete for three seasons. He used a portion of his million-dollar “Survivor” prize to expand upon a headwear business his father had started.

The business, which Baskauskas rebranded as Tundra Gear, sold Russian-style fur hats known as ushanka for the flaps that can be drawn down and tied to protect the wearers’ ears, jaws and lower chins. Baskauskas took over the company after the 2005 “Survivor” season and negotiated licensing deals with professional sports leagues to produce the caps in team colors and with team logos.

“He basically updated the look, created new colors, made them out of synthetic fur,” said Everett, a Roseville resident. “He made them in orange and in red and in pink and in blue and in all these colors that worked with sports teams, mainly NHL, NFL, NBA teams. … He spent almost seven years growing the brand.”

Everett enjoyed learning about Baskauskas’ concept, he said, but he didn’t give it any more thought until, after a day on Tahoe’s ski slopes, he was struck with an idea for winter head gear: What if he integrated Bluetooth technology into a beanie, making it possible to surf tunes and adjust volume without an earbud popping out of your ear?

He said he immediately thought of Baskauskas and called him for advice, but Baskauskas told him that he was thinking of selling Tundra Gear. Everett didn’t have quite enough capital to buy the company, so he rang off.

The next day, he said, a friend of his called him up and asked him whether he had any ideas for a business investment. Everett wrote up a business plan and recruited several minority investors. They acquired Tundra Gear, with Everett as the lead investor, for an undisclosed price.

He introduced the Bluetooth-enabled beanie last winter, he said, selling it at the Tundra Gear website and to boutique owners. In February, he said, Staples will offer the beanie in its February catalog.

While Everett continues to work on expanding that product’s retail sales channels, he also is introducing a Bluetooth-enabled headband that he’s calling the Tundra Band. He used a Kickstarter campaign to test the market, he said.

“People vote with their wallets,” Everett said. “In a consumer study, people might say, ‘Oh, this is a great product. I would definitely buy it. Oh, how much is that – $100? Sure, no problem.’ But when you say, ‘Take out your credit card and buy it,’ they say, ‘Oh, I can’t buy it right now. Let me think about it.’ 

Kickstarter buyers, known as backers, are providing the seed money that Everett will use for the initial production. Backers get the product for as little as half the anticipated retail sales price of $99. As of Monday evening, Everett had raised nearly $20,500, surpassing his goal of $17,000. The campaign ends early Wednesday.

The retail price tag might seem steep, Everett said, especially compared with the Bluetooth-enabled headbands being sold by Tenergy for $49.99. But, Everett said, he’s aspiring to offer sound quality comparable to wireless headphones from Beats by Dr. Dre or Bose at roughly a third of the price.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee