In the Pits (and Thriving)

Have you ever driven 220 miles per hour? Toto Lassally has. That’s also about how fast he talks on his cell phone as he wrangles with a shipping broker to lower the price of moving a 20’ container from the port of Miami to Barcelona, Spain. Lassally is the founder of Speedcom Racing with offices in Daytona and Barcelona, and soon, Dubai.

Lassally’s company specializes in the communications equipment used in the endurance racing industry. Think Le Mans. Lassally’s customers are drivers (including the likes of Paul Newman, Tim Alen, Patrick Dempsey and Jason Priesly) and crew members who wear headsets equipped with special microphones designed to drown out the roar of the cars so they can stay connected and coordinated during races. Speedcom recently achieved annual revenue of $1.6 million in the US (up 27% over the prior year) and $1.2 million in Europe, all new revenue as a result of a recent expansion there.

Lassally knows his customers well. He raced professionally from 1997 to 2001, when he bowed out due to accumulating injuries from crashes. Born in San Salvador in 1969, he’s always loved cars. Serendipitously, his parents decided to move to Daytona when he was 10 years old. With a snicker, he recalls that he eventually gave college a try at Daytona Beach Community College, but when he found out his parents wouldn’t actually see the report card, he quit instantly.

Following his passion for fast cars, he got a job at a local car stereo installer. Then he moved on to car audio sales. From there he started his own car stereo store, and a second and third. He eventually sold the shops to buy a car to race as an amateur. Once that started, there was no turning back.

He burned through his money in a blaze. That’s why he ended up having to build his first walkie-talkie and headset system instead of buying one. "I had enough money for either the tires or the communication system, and you can’t drive without tires.” He would sleep in his van at the race track instead of in a hotel and ate a lot of Raman noodles those days.

Totl lassallyToday, Speedcom commands a 70% market share in the endurance racing market in spite of big gorilla brands like Motorola being in the space. By focusing his efforts on the smaller endurance niche within the massive racing industry, he’s been able to fly under Motorola’s radar. Note – I’ve seen this strategy work consistently. Big companies are either too slow to adapt to the special needs of a small niche or are simply not focused there because they look for the big market sectors and revenue opportunities only.

Lassally’s Speedcom has also established its dominance by innovating and protecting their technology. The company is constantly coming up with improved and new products and has patents pending on a variety of them. For example, he’s developing a breakthrough solution to deal with the ambient noise problem, and has pioneered “multi-talk” walkie talkie radios for the pit crew – all proprietary solutions.

Staying close to the customer has also been key. Now that his back is on the mend, Lassally is racing again. He doesn’t miss a beat on the needs of drivers and pit crews because he’s right in there, part of the melee in the pits and on the track.

To maximize revenue, Lassally has also begun to offer the component parts of his products, unbranded, to indirect competitors who cater to other racing circuits. So he’s making money off of his sector, but also off of the leading communications suppliers in other racing sectors, too.

Now, with his net cast far and wide around the globe, new growth opportunities stream in regularly. A construction crane operations company approached Lassally to provide headsets that would connect crane operators with ground crews. Cha-ching! $300,000 in new annual revenue.

Something tells me the slow economy is no concern for the fast talking, fast driving Toto Lassally. This one’s got fast growth written all over it.

(This article is provided courtesy of CNNMoney.com)

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Rich Sloan

Rich Sloan is chief startupologist and co-founder of StartupNation and host of StartupNation podcasts. He is also co-author of the acclaimed how-to book, StartupNation: America's Leading Entrepreneurial Experts Reveal the Secrets to Building a Blockbuster Business. Rich encourages you to [...]