More About the Author
Paul Budnitz is an artist, designer, filmmaker, author, and photographer, and serial entrepreneur.
Companies Budnitz has founded include the social network Ello, designer toymaker Kidrobot, and luxury city bicycle manufacturer Budnitz Bicycles. He is the author of several books for children and adults, exhibits as a photographer and filmmaker, and has founded over a dozen companies.
The son of a nuclear physicist and a social worker, Paul Budnitz was professionally coding safety analysis software for nuclear power plants by the time he reached high school. He also created video games for the now-legendary Commodore 64 home home computer. By the time he reached college he swore he'd "never touch another computer again."
Budnitz studied photography, sculpture, and film at Yale University, earning honors and a degree in Art in 1990. His first two films, 93 Million Miles and Ultraviolet won awards in Berlin and many other film festivals and were distributed worldwide. Artforum magazine hailed 93 Million Miles as "one of the best films of 1998."
As Budnitz' energies became increasingly devoted to moving images he became aware of gaps in existing technology. "Since there weren't any affordable ways to edit a film on a computer in 1995, I hacked my own hardware system to edit my films," he says. He made the first feature film to be edited on a home computer, an achievement chronicled in Wired Magazine in 1996.
That combination of entrepreneurial spirit, a keen aesthetic sense and encyclopedic love for global popular culture, and a well-developed talent for hacking would characterize all of Budnitz' future ventures.
"My grandfather was a small-town doctor and he used to say that I was missing a gene that told me that some giant risk I am about to take with my life is both stupid and dangerous. I'm grateful for this. Everything beautiful that we create in life requires a leap of faith."
For Budnitz, one venture lead organically to the next. He started his first business, M.O.B., while still in college, selling clothing he created to museum stores worldwide. This soon evolved into collecting, selling, and modifying vintage Levis and other wearable cultural artifacts, such as classic Air Jordans (which Budnitz sold in Japan for as much as $16,000 a pair).
In 1997 Budnitz began recording sound for his 16mm films on MiniDiscs, a new audio format that he'd run into while on a trip to Tokyo. Soon Budnitz was hacking and customizing MiniDisc players for film and sound recording and selling them on the then just emerging Internet. By 2001 Minidisco.com had become an $10 million business run out of a garage on software Budnitz had written himself.
Budnitz' career took another unexpected turn in 2002 when he came across images of cutting-edge vinyl toys that were coming out of China and Japan. These toys included "vinyl toys based on cereal box characters, and remixed GI-Joes turned into stylized B-boys."
He recognized the quirky, intricate toys as works of popular-art, pieces that mixed many aesthetic movements he loved -- including fashion, cartoons, graffiti, comics, music, and fine art. Budnitz sold Minidisco and sunk the proceeds into founding Kidrobot in a California garage in 2002, leveraging the technology he'd developed for his older businesses. He moved the new company to New York City in 2003.
"When I first started this company is was impossible to explain to people what I was doing. People would ask, 'are they art or are they toys?', and I'd say, 'Both, and selling them is part of the artwork too.' Now the toys are in museums AND they're for sale in stores."
Budnitz called upon the talents of friend Tristan Eaton, the illustrator he'd worked with on his previous animated films. Together they created Dunny and Munny, two of Kidrobot's best selling characters. With a philosphy of collaboration, Budnitz brought in hundreds of other fine artists, graffiti artists, and illustrators to work on toy projects with him. Kidrobot produces roughly 60 new toy projects each year and its toys are sold in thousands of stores worldwide.
In 2006 Budnitz co-designed much of Kidrobot's acclaimed limited edition apparel line. In December 2009, 10 Dunny and 3 Munny toys created by Budnitz & Eaton were accepted into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Kidrobot's innovative toys were also the centerpiece of the 2006 Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Museum Design Triennial.
Budnitz has worked with many of the world's top artists, designers, and fashion brands. A short list includes artists & illustrators Frank Kozik, Dalek, Doze Green, Tara McPherson, Gary Baseman, Huck Gee, Tristan Eaton, David Horvath, Shepard Fairy, Eboy, Tilt, Mist, Joe Ledbetter, and Paul Pope; Designers including Heatherette, Lemar & Dauley, Jil Sander, Dries Van Noten, Marc Jacobs, Visionaire, and Paul Smith; Musicians including Swizz Beatz, DJ QBert, and Gorillaz; and brands like Nike, Barney's NYC, LaCoste, Burton Snowboards, The Standard Hotels, Siemens, Swatch, and Volkswagon; and many, many, many others.
Budnitz also conceived the Kidrobot Room (within Peter Gatien's CIRCA mega-nightclub in Toronto). In late 2006 he authored the book I AM PLASTIC: The Designer Toy Explosion, published by Harry Abrams Press. This was followed in 2011 by I AM PLASTIC TOO, and his children's bookcreated with Aya Kakeda,The Hole in the Middle.
Budnitz left Kidrobot in 2011 to concentrate on new projects.
In 2010 he founded Budnitz Bicycles, following up on his lifelong passion for cycling. Often called the Aston-Martin of bicycles, Budnitz uses titanium to create the fastest, lightest, and most beautiful city bicycles in the world. "I couldn't find the bicycle I wanted to ride, so I created my own." In 2012 Phaidon named Budnitz, "The man who made bicycles beautiful again". Bicycling Magazine named the Budnitz No.3 the top city bicycle of the year in 2014.
Budnitz co-founded Ello in 2013 along with his partners Todd Berger and Lucian Fohr.
"We were fed up with ads and manipulation of mainstream social networks, so we decided to make our own."
Within a year Ello had millions of users and has received acclaim for its positivity and transparency from both arts and mainstream press worldwide.
Paul Budnitz splits his time between Vermont and New York City, where he rides his bicycle and wears size 13 sneakers.
Learn more about Paul on Ello at http://ello.co/budnitz.