The way people work, travel and just exist in general is forever changed after the COVID-19 pandemic. Alex Levine, CEO of #Xebec has created a unique technical advantage for people from all walks of life with the #Xebec Tri-Screen 2 (a snap-on dual screen monitor for your laptop). The story behind the product is amazing. Learn how you can multitask on the go with this life-hacking product straight from the CEO himself on Dope Interviews.
You can check out the transcript below (please be advised transcript may contain typos or errors with less than 100% accuracy)
What’s good everybody, it’s your boy Warren Shaw here. And another dope interview session is on top, brought to you by 19 Media Group. We’re back. And this week’s episode, we’re diving into the tech space a little bit. But in a very functional way, at least in my opinion. I have my guy, Alex Levine, here, CEO of z back, Alex, how the hell are you?
Alex Levine (Xebec) 00:34
I’m doing great. I’m doing great Warren, excited to be here and happy to chat about kind of where we are in the future of work. So I’ve been crazy recently.
I can imagine we’re going to get to kind of all of that. So for the listeners, you know, I’m an honest dude. You know, we keep it a buck here on dope interviews. I came across the back kind of on Instagram, right? Those damn algorithms, they got me out. So you did a good job with promoting your social media. But in your own word is tell the people a little bit about what your product is about and why we’re even talking here today.
Alex Levine (Xebec) 01:08
Yeah, absolutely. So z back is a computer accessories brand that is focused on enabling this modern professional, who lives in mobile lifestyle to be successful wherever the world may take them. Our flagship product is the Z back try screen, which is this laptop attachment that adds two additional monitors to any laptop, easily tripling your screen real estate, and allowing you to maximize your productivity without sacrificing the portability you find with traditional monitors. So
What led you to this space? Right? So like, again, I saw the damn thing on IG and man. I’ll get to that a little bit later. But what led you here? What like, how did you get into this business altogether?
Alex Levine (Xebec) 01:51
Yeah, absolutely. So glad to know that our ads are sticky, and they’re working. So yeah, the easiest way to get through it. As soon as you buy one, we seem to stop throwing those ads right now. I’m joking. So actually, it’s a pretty good story. It was a number of years ago, this was the beginning of 2017, both myself and my co-founder, Trevor Russo were in consulting at the time working for large consulting firms. Trevor’s in New York City, I was here in Austin, Texas, returning to the traditional Monday through Thursday, travel where you fly to a client site, work hotels, airports, airport lounges, client sites, you know, coffee shops, you name it anywhere but a traditional office for four days a week, and then you’d fly home on Fridays and spend a couple hours at these, you know, beautiful offices that your consulting firms put together for you right and you know, the few hours we spent on those Fridays, you have these, you know, two 32 inch curved monitors Herman Miller chair, anti carpal tunnel wrist pads, every, you know, a gadget you can think of to optimize for the most productive environment. But the reality was, we were spending, you know, 90% of our work, we cuddled over the small laptop screens. And so that was the initial kind of the genesis of it, Trevor, and I’ve been friends for over 20 years now. And, you know, being individuals that were both in this consulting space and living this mobile lifestyle. Whenever I first came across this idea, I decided to reach out to him and go from there. But yeah, I’ve got an engineering and product development background. So it was a flight home from Chicago one weekend, I put together a 3d AutoCAD drawing 3d printed over the weekend busted out some old laptop screens. And that was the nasty version zero, what is now our feedback try screen.
So why this specific product? Is it just based on you know, like you say, you can have your own travels, and not being able to have that level of functionality, so to speak, as you were moving around. So typical, I have a problem. Maybe other people have this problem two, is that kind of why this specific product?
Alex Levine (Xebec) 03:56
Yeah, it started real organically and innocently, really, you know, was solving a problem for myself. I think just being kind of an engineering-minded, hacky person. I said, Let me see what I can do for it, actually, you know, brought it up that following week after I made it there and was at February of 2017. And my co-workers on my project up in Chicago were really excited. You know, they’re saying, Hey, Chris, one of those for me, of course, it’s been 48 hours sitting there watching my FTM printer go around in circles, that was very feasible but it’s cool to get that feedback. And so that I shared the product with Trevor, somebody else who I knew was in a similar space, you know, had a lot of trust with and a long relationship. And not only him, but his co-workers shared that same thought. And so we realized, wow, this isn’t just, you know, a problem that we face. But, you know, the market is, is that much larger, and we realized that consultants really at the end of the day, were just the tip of the iceberg. So it was, you know, yeah, trying to solve a problem that we were facing ourselves and just really exciting and, to this point, four years later to see how many other people have been able to take advantage of it.
So let’s go Got a little bit more into that, right? So as I mentioned, it caught me on it. And I’m a person who podcasts I’m starting to do a little YouTube stuff. And now even watching movies on Netflix and like, again, you’re always multitasking, so to speak, just, I saw as I man, I would love to get this thing for sure. Let me reach out, talk to them and try to find out a little bit about myself like, then this would actually be a dope interview, right? But who do you think the target audience really is? Is it really just the everyday person? Or just, you know, again, like, What are you? Who are you trying to go after in this now?
Alex Levine (Xebec) 05:31
And that’s, that’s a great question. And when it first started, you know, our focus was on these consultants, right? But then we realized consultants made up a small percentage of the number of business travelers. So you know, pre-COVID, over 7 million people travel every week in the US alone for business. And so that was a pretty striking number, we only came to realize that that was a much smaller chunk of the overall group of people at that point in time that we’re working rate regularly away from your standard office, right? Whether that be one day, a week, or five days a week. And it really seemed to be independent of industry. But we saw this crazy trend, there was an exponential growth from 2014 to 2019, over 40% growth in the number of remote workers. And with that, being exponential growth that really caught our eye and made us you know, really excited to continue to explore building products in this space. And, you know, the thing that we found most striking was it’s completely independent of industry like you said, you’re in podcasting and media. But we’ve also got, you know, customers that are insurance underwriters, or their content creators, or their financial analysts, or they’re the traditional, you know, software developer, hardware developer, you always think of having multiple monitors. But in this day and age, it really doesn’t matter. One of my favorite quotes we heard from our customers is I don’t know the difference between a gigabyte and a Giga hurt, but it doesn’t matter because I need the same tools and products to get my stuff done as somebody who is, you know, an engineer, more technical minded might need and so that was really our motivation was to build his brand, his brand around freedom and your ability to bring your work with you, wherever you may be. And to build products to cater to that audience.
We’re talking with Alex Levine here, CEO of Xebec, one of the hottest products out here in the tech world, make sure that you check them out at theXebec.com. Alright, Alex so let’s continue this conversation a little bit. behind any great product, because a great team you mentioned you guy, Trevor, right, who else kind of was behind the scenes, you’re putting this thing together, putting it together for you?
Alex Levine (Xebec) 07:27
Yeah, so in the early days, it was, it was Trevor and I and Trevor would be the first to tell you that, you know, four and a half years ago, no one would have even asked him to plug their HDMI cable into their TV. But you know, his background in finance. And it really his passion for business is something that I felt was a great ending to my Yang. We’ve also like I said, known each other for so long, we were kind of able to cut through any of the awkward phases at the beginning and our ability to communicate with one another is kind of incomparable to anybody else that I’ve ever worked with. In addition to him, you know, friends, family, I think in this day and age, everybody’s got you know, that great idea that they want to tell people about. And I think the thing that kind of differentiates Trevor and I as we’ve you know, always been really careful to say what we’re going to do, but as soon as we say we’re going to do something, we will see it all the way through and having the accountability from our friends from our family, you know, everyone from my wife to, to my parents to travers parents, as well as you know, once we got a little further down the line, you know, bring it up to September, October of 2019. And get involved with the capital factory here in Austin, which is a startup accelerator who’s been beyond you know, beyond helpful but integral to the success we’ve seen today, kind of each step along the way as we’ve achieved these milestones and really, you know, met those accountability metrics you know, it’s their support has helped us get to the next step.
So I’m sure user feedback is obviously very positive and you know, probably a great indicator of kind of how you want to potentially continue to move this thing forward. Is there anybody who might have shocked you in terms of the way they utilize it again, obviously, we understand it’s, I know I’m not trying to undersell it per se but when we’re attaching two screens to a laptop to make that laptop have three screens and be mobile That’s amazing. But is there any type of person out there that again was like damn, I didn’t think this would be the use that they did this thing for?
Alex Levine (Xebec) 09:26
Yeah. I mean it It spans the spectrum. You know, like I said, we were thinking very practical spreadsheet PowerPoint, you know, software developer user, right. You know, these very business oriented use cases and the number of businesses and uses that have you know, come out from whether the original trial screen or due to the enhanced features we’ve done to the screen to is blowing our mind everywhere, from you know, getting into specifics but a big football team up in Cleveland, their front office having the ability to bring a little extra space into the war room, during half day, or a starflight type of group out of Alabama that has their mission control station at home and in their office. But as soon as they join with the helicopter, they run out of that space. And so it’s been pretty crazy to see how people use them in the more extreme settings. Also, you know, use cases with the US military as well. I mean, it’s a rugged, portable machine that gives people the ability to use it in the field, you know, three things that we have no experience in as as users as employees, but it’s really cool to see out there. But then also kind of the more traditional, right, the vast majority of our customers are, you know, that that that father who stays at home with his kids, and is knocking out work while they’re splashed around the pool, and he can just bring his laptop and whole set out to the patio and get stuff done. Or maybe it’s, you know, a younger couple live in a, you know, an apartment in New York City, and they don’t have the ability to have a massive office dedicated, right, because they don’t have the square footage. And so they’re just whipping up their office space, shutting it down. And you know, we’ve heard some customers say, thank you for giving me this because my husband was giving me a hard time about making a mess of the dinner table every night. And so now I can just pack it all up and throw it in a backpack. And so we’ve seen the extremes and we’ve seen somewhere in between, but I think just given the flexibility if it says you know, as far as going across the other side of the world, working in a camper van being a digital nomad, or just simply being able to hop around different rooms in your house. You know, that freedom and that flexibility is really what we’ve seen, it’s been really exciting.
It’s really exciting. I’m just I’m picturing you know, I mean, you know, as a dad, you know, laying out by the pool, whatever, check in my fantasy team or something like that. I want to do some other things, too, right? It’s like, you know, it’s an amazing, amazing concept. I want to ask and you know, we’re gonna keep it a buck here, as I said, not to mention those other people to talk about a lot of great other things as well, too. I want to touch on that too. But do you have any, like direct competitors, people trying to knock you off? patents and things of that nature? Like kind of where are you in that space as well?
Alex Levine (Xebec) 11:59
Yeah, no, I mean, and that’s that is a is a crazy reality that we’re in so we were fortunate to get our utility patent issued of October of last year, so just about a year of having on our belt, and it’s funny almost as soon as that patent was issued was when the knockoffs started the marketplaces that we’re all very big fans of as consumers are pretty good conduits for a lot of these knockoffs overseas to be able to list you knock them down it’s like a game was what we called whack a mole right it pops up knock it down and pops up somewhere else as well as their own independent websites as well and you know I think when you create a space like this with a product that’s so visually striking it you know it it lends itself to being you know, potentially copied but you know, it’s kind of the best form of flattery there’s some other competitors that are in this mobile workstation space that operate outside the bounds of our IP, which we’re totally happy to compete with. We honestly think competition is an amazing thing as long as people are playing by the rules and we’re building a bigger network for each other Of course we think our products are you know, have an edge on the other ones out there in the market the legitimate ones but yeah, it’s been pretty wild year almost exactly since we’ve seen those pop-up but we’re doing our best to try to knock them down and get them out of the way
Okay, get him up out of here man we don’t want to knock off you know, I mean, we don’t we don’t want to regular congratulations you know we’re number one in that pattern and so forth and it was one of those things so we you mentioned a certain team that we can’t name so to speak but are there would you be open to licensing agreements and logos and things of that nature or what and and it’s fine if you would, but would you consider that selling out you know, I mean as well what do you ultimately want to go with
Alex Levine (Xebec) 13:48
there? Yeah, I mean, you know, there’s really nothing stopping a company from you know, buying 100 units and slapping their company logo on them giving them to their employees right? I mean, sure there’s violation of Terms of Service somewhere there but we’re not there to track those people down for us what we really think you know, kind of differentiates us from anyone else in the space and we’re really motivated Trevor and I to jump into this computer accessories space as a whole was really to be this voice of this modern consumer right this modern professional and build those tools that enable people to be the peak version of themselves both professionally and personally right. If you can go up to you know, Pittsburgh a week early to spend the week grandma’s house before 85th birthday, um, you play cards and eat dinner with her at night, but hold your conferences in meetings and run your podcast and edit your videos during the day because you have the tools with you. That’s what we want to be able to do, right? We want to be that voice for this modern professional, you know, we say five auto professionals or model professionals and I think that that’s kind of the best way to go about it. It’s a really cool industry because everybody is an expert consumer of it, right? It’s not, you know, medical hardware. Were you know, if you’re not a physician, you may not be familiar and it’s not oil and gas down here in Texas, you know, oil and gas kind of is king. And if you’re not working in the field, you’re not really familiar with how those tools work, you know, when it comes to keyboards, mice, additional monitors, whatever it may be, having the having the best tool, it really can change the way in which you operate. And so we really think that, uh, that we’re kind of on the cutting edge, there has been interesting, you know, 2018 2019, we’d go around to pitch competitions and tell people, hey, we really think this remote work thing is the future, you know, the 44% increase over the five period five year period I was telling you about, but we heard a lot of, you know, that might work for you. But it doesn’t work for me, for these reasons. And it wasn’t even as bureaucratic as you may think. It wasn’t like, Oh, that’s outside our policy. It’s, it was, hey, this, this just isn’t gonna work. We’re too collaborative. But people, you’re the one silver lining of the past year and a half that’s been insane has been the flexibility that people been able to find, with this remote work, you’re spending more time with your family with your job, you know, your co worker can be somebody that you don’t actually work with. My wife, Trevor, and a friend of ours had an Airbnb up in Salt Lake City for four months, and we were skiing during the day and working at night and all sitting next to each other working for three completely different companies. I think that that’s kind of the beauty of what the internet gives you. And we want to be able to build these products to support that, that mindset beyond just kind of the features and functionality of each individual product.
You mentioned some pitch meetings and things of that nature. So you know, when I say I don’t think I’m super techie, I’m you know, I’m alright. Yeah, I mean, I can get by, and I want vision, things of that nature. So is it something? Again, I’m going to go mentioned in my name, would like, would you go on Shark Tank? Yeah. And I mean, it like, really kind of put this thing to scale? Is that something that you guys would even do?
Alex Levine (Xebec) 16:47
It’s no, it’s interesting, you know, we’ve been able to, we’ve explored plenty of different opportunities. You know, there, I love Shark Tank. Personally, when we were in college, one of the organizations I was a part of brought on, had a lectureship series, you bring in a special lecture to teach here at UT in Austin for one day, and we brought in Daymond John, and I was nerding out the whole time, so huge, huge Shark Tank fan. But I think it’s interesting, you know, there is, I think once you kind of get under the hood, you get into to understand how these businesses operate. You know, at the end of the day, everyone’s kind of a business. And so, you know, the world of fundraising, and startups can be really glamorized. But then, you know, as soon we, you know, tell us to people all the time, as soon as you sign that $10 million, series A, well, now you have, you know, you have liability to go ahead and execute on that, right, you just went out and pitched it. And you know, for some people pitching can be a lot easier than executing. And so it’s been interesting. We’ve been really excited to be able to stay as independent as we are. But we’re always looking for opportunities to get out there and scale and the organic growth from our customers has been super helpful to get us here today.
I think that’s a great answer. I mean, yeah. Hey, you’re in Texas, you know, you know, Mark Cuban, he’s in Dallas. It’s good, right? Maybe you’ll see this or hear this. Yeah. And you know, why don’t you want to get involved? But again, I mean, don’t give them no discounts.
Alex Levine (Xebec) 18:16
You can negotiate that’s for sure.
My guy Alex Levine here. CEO of Xebec, you know, we’re about chopping it up here about this great product. Alex, let’s talk a little bit about this price. Alright, you know, again, told you We’ll keep it a buck. It’s not a buck. Yeah. It’s a little pricey, little on the aggressive side. You know, what has been user feedback kind of about that? Are there plans–could there be plans to maybe get that down some, Black Friday specials, man? I don’t know. Just so you can get it in the hands of more people
Alex Levine (Xebec) 18:50
No, I know. And that’s a very valid question. You know, when we launched the tri-screen, the original tri screen, it was on the market for 449. But we ran a pretty frequent $50 off discount. So it was in the 399 range with the tri screen to price did go up and 25% substantial 499 $500 you can buy a halfway decent laptop for that price. A big reason for us having to do that was you know, this crazy ripple effect that COVID had in the supply chain world. As well as in the freight and shipping world. You know, we’ve seen our freight costs go up 10x the cost to get something ocean freight, it is now two or three times more expensive, that it wasn’t good airframe to just a year ago, component shortages have been while everyone’s heard of, you know, the chip shortage, everyone from Apple to Ford, right. That’s why there’s no f 150s on the dealer lots. And then for us, specifically, the LCD panels a major component of our product. Interestingly enough, it’s the glass over the LCD panel itself that was in shortage, and so that causes these massive spikes in these components and so for us, we’re kind of looking around it Trying to see what we could do to make things make sense. And we realized that you know, it is it is pricey, it certainly doesn’t, you know, become a easy option for everybody else. But we feel like we’re pretty tried and true as a business, we’re not running you know, sneaky discounts or any of those other things on our website, you won’t see that there’s some deals we’re giving to people that put in their cart, and they leave we try to be, you know, the brands that you know, delivers the same price to everybody. Before, we’re really excited, definitely keep your eyes out in November, that’s when we are always running our sales, Black Friday, and we’ll see what happens then. I mean, inventory constraints with the shipping delays could cause us to kind of sell out of that rather quickly. But yeah, we try to try to keep it tried and true. I think one of those frustrating things about you know, a lot of big box stores is, you know, I could go in and buy the same thing that my neighbor buys. And I spend $75 more because I just didn’t get that one coupon in the mail. And so we want to make sure that people feel like they got what, uh, you know, you got a fair shake out at the very least,
no, that’s important. And I think as a business owner, you want to have some sort of, you know, integrity and reputation that people can likes, you know, what, though, that’s a good product run by good people. So, you know, I commend you for that, you know, again, and, and the price, it’s a worthy product, right. And then right now, this supply chains, and I know, some of my other interests that I work in, I understand. Yeah, I mean, I don’t want to have to be charging people 20 to 25% more, but we’re getting tax. And you know what, I mean, it’s really just trying to it’s just cost of doing business right now, unfortunately. So I can appreciate that for sure. For all that you get out here, just a couple more, you know, and just once you got up your sleeve, yeah, I mean, it seemed like a real innovative team. So you have this now launching and whatever, there’s gonna it’s going to be successful, it is successful. And I should say, So, what’s next? What else can I can see back to?
Alex Levine (Xebec) 21:55
Absolutely. So we’ve got a great team here in Austin now. We’re actually not just in Austin, where we’re all over the country and across the world. 10 full time people and then a couple dozen additional, you know, contractors that we’re working with everywhere from you know, South Africa to Hong Kong, Shenzhen, you name it. And so we’ve got a great team, it’s crazy to look or, you know, look back almost two years ago and go from two of us to you know, 15 plus. And so yeah, we’re always working on the next thing for us what we want to do you know, our our goal is to be the leading name in mobile computer accessories, right? We want somebody to say, Hey, I just got this new gig where I can work remote, you know, full time I want to get everything in the Z back swag bag, including the bag itself. And then I’m setting ready to go right so it starts with just your monitors our tri-screen product, which you know, I love. I’m a nerd and I geek out on that stuff, too. But then it can get more simple, right? We just launched a laptop stand on Tuesday, and that’s available on our website. Now. It’s an amazing incredibly low-profile, foldable stand that sticks the bar on your laptop, but it can prop up and be used at any point. I’m using it right now. So I’m I love when I’m bending my neck over from there. Yeah, Bluetooth keyboards, mice. powerbanks, you know, a comfortable everyday carry backpack. And what we say is the entire office that you can fit in a backpack, including the backpack itself. So that’s where we’re at. We want to build that perfect office setup that you can pop up and be ready to go. You know, whether that be in your home office in the corner at the coffee shop down the way and hopefully not look too ridiculous with Mission Control popping up the Starbucks.
Oh, man, you’re trying to get people to z back down, right?
Alex Levine (Xebec) 23:44
Oh, hey, yeah, bring it on. Let’s do that’s all on my end. So I’m like, hey, let’s we’ll ride right alongside right alongside
My guy, Alex, anything else for the people hear about the product? Again? You said the lookout in November might have a little black friday special and so forth and so forth. A little teaser, but anything else before we let you get out of here, man, this has been amazing.
Alex Levine (Xebec) 24:04
Yeah, you know, I mean, I think I think one thing is, you know, we preach this freedom message, right? This mantra of free yourself. And that’s something that we truly, you know, live by something that we think really makes us stand out, you know, from September of 2019 through May of 2020. September sorry, of 2020 through May of 2021. Both Trevor myself you know, we were living this digital nomad remote lifestyle started in in Denver made our way down to Santa Barbara. Then we were in Tulum, Mexico for a while, like I said, in Salt Lake City. We made our way down to Miami and then finally back here to Austin, my wife and I did that because she had the flexibility to get up and go, we were, you know, between two leases so we threw our dog in our SUV and everything we needed. We Had you know the trip of a lifetime and you’re definitely confined over you know what we could have done over the past you know 18 months but we felt like going out seeing the world and you know sharing those experiences without trying to you know put yourself at risk from a professional perspective was really exciting that’s what we want to go out there and motivate people to do right if you’ve got an opportunity to do something jump in a camper van and drive with your buddies down the coast and spend a week camping and you know working from the beach and you know the more opportunities you can say yes to anything to free yourself from kind of these antiquated expectations of you know working harder as opposed to smarter just say no open the door and free yourself that’s what we’re looking for.
Amazing Amazing. Alex Levine here CEO of Xebec we thank you so much for being here that’s all the time we have for today. Make sure you check out the site at theXebec.com follow them on Instagram as well to same name. I’m your guy Warren Shaw from 19 Media Group This has been another Dope Interview we’ll catch you next time