By Lesley Snyder
“I’ve spent the last six months perfecting my own recipe for Buckwheat waffles,” reports business wizard Paul Budnitz. That’s when he’s not authoring books, pioneering designer toys, exhibiting as a photographer, producing award-winning films or revolutionizing the commuter bicycle.
Beginning in 1995 when he produced the first feature film edited on a home computer, Budnitz has been hacking, transforming, and creating for decades. He founded over a dozen highly successful, some multi-million-dollar, companies – and he’s your neighbor.
Frequently described as a “serial entrepreneur,” Budnitz sees reinvention as a necessity. “It’s sort of like extreme freelance,” he explains. “I never intended that – every company I start and grow is completely engaging to me at the time. I won’t stop until it’s been successful.”
Even as a 12-year-old, his business ambitions were inventive and arguably risky. “A friend and I started a business selling firecrackers to our friends,” he recalls. “This was in California, and fireworks were illegal, so we eventually got arrested and suspended from school. I’d managed to computerize my customer’s orders, which was a big deal at the time, and I was treated leniently for being very clever.”
By the time the young salesman entered high school, he was coding safety analysis software for nuclear power plants. As a college student, he was more interested in pursuing a career in the visual arts, specifically photography, sculpture, and film – and he wound up becoming a different sort of craftsman.
“I studied art at Yale,” he shares, “but I’ve got a problem with authority. I ended up starting and running my own businesses, mainly because it was the fastest way to get to do the things I wanted to do.”
Budnitz’s most successful company to date is Kidrobot, an online seller of art toys. Each collection is thoughtfully designed through collaborations with world-famous artists.
“[Kidrobot toys are] sort of hard to describe unless you see them,” he admits. The term “toys” seems a modest understatement of these pop art icons; several Kidrobot pieces were accepted into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Fueled by a lifelong passion for cycling, his newest business endeavor, Budnitz Bicycles, rolled into Burlington’s South End in early 2013. The company’s titanium, cro-mly steel designs have slimmed the commuter bicycle into its “fastest, lightest” form yet – bikes so beautiful, they caught the attention of Vogue magazine. The shop shares 47 Maple Street with JDK Design, a team that Budnitz admires.
“Michael and Giovanna Jager own and run JDK,” he explains. “They’re a world class creative agency and also just the best kinds of people. Michael is a rare creative genius. Both of them inspire me.”
With a list of worldwide successes, Budnitz deems his crowning achievement something closer to home: “Family and friends that I love and that love me,” he confides.
Budnitz relocated to Shelburne with his wife, Sa, an occupational therapist and parent counselor, and their daughter. “Everyone knows it’s beautiful here,” he remarks, “but for me, arriving here was more about the people than anything else… Politically, religiously, economically, nobody is in control, and people have had to learn to get along and respect one another… In my experience, there are few places left in the U.S. like that.”
The industry titan is currently working on a new internet business with Fresh Tracks Capital of Shelburne. “They’re amazing people, and we’re going to change the world!” he beams.
And they just might do so; this is no winning streak of mere luck. Budnitz is a masterful businessman whose intellect, intuition, and insightful networking has transformed the “business of doing business” into a seemingly foolproof career – and one might wonder what this entrepreneurial genius can’t do.
“I can’t sing. I have a voice like a tin can in a blender,” he reveals. “When I was a kid, all I wanted to be was a rock star like Elvis Costello, but since I couldn’t actually hold a tune, I ended up doing things like making bicycles. Sometimes it’s what we can’t do that leads us.”
One could argue that Budnitz is a musician of sorts – an impresario orchestrating a harmony of brilliant ideas, resources, and sheer prowess. And if past successes are any indicator, his next venture is sure to be music to the ears.