He doesn't really have a face to speak of, and he has a hole where his belly should be. He's hollow and has holes in his head, but he's got a distinct personality.
Hickman's creation is iGuy, a distinctive semi-human-shaped case for the ever-popular iPod Apple's pocket-sized music players, in case you're not technically savvy and it's garnering a whole lot of attention for Palo Alto-based Speck Products.
The 34-year-old Hickman, Speck's general manager, gets to the office early usually before 7 to avoid the worst of the commute traffic between the Peninsula and the San Ramon
home he shares with his wife, Lea, and three young daughters, Emily, Gracie and Lily.
Most people are arriving at their desks but Hickman's already more than two hours into his day when he pauses to discuss all things iGuy.
Q: How did Speck Products end up creating iGuy?
A: We started Speck in 2000 as a consultancy group and we were creating cases for PDAs (personal digital assistants).
Then, in 2002, just as the iPod was really taking off, we went from designing products for other companies to doing our own thing. We got a booth at MacWorld in January of 2002and started signing up resellersto sell our iPod cases. We've been growing steadily since then. Every month is a little more in sales, a few more retailers on board. Every quarter we get a few new products out there. We've gone from super small to shipping over a million units and doing a healthy business in the low tens of millions of dollars.
Q: Until iGuy, your cases were pretty standard.
A: It's been interesting watching the iPod evolution. We're now in the fourth generation, and there are now mini-iPods and Shuffles. We have to constantly reset our line every time Apple introduces a new iPod.
Our cases have generally come in hard case, rubberized skins and leather case. We were continually redesigning those three cases. Last January we started to come out with a bunch of break-out cases, like the "tough skin," which was inspired by the tire treads of a Hummer: beefy, protective and with a strong fashion component. It's like soccer moms driving a Hummer they like to look cool along with the protection of the car, but chances are they don't take it off road too much.
Then with the shuffle, we introduced options on the cases for hanging it off your backpack, putting it on a key chain, fixing it to your shirt with a pin clip or wearing it on a lanyard.
Q: So little by little, you've been branching out and making cases more adventurous, more fashion conscious. And then came iGuy?
A: We were really looking for something that would be our breakout. We were trying to figure out what would make the perfect Christmas gift. One thing we've realized is that one thing all iPod users are passionate about their iPods. It's a point of joy in their life, and it's our job to accessorize that. That's where iGuy came from. He's a toy that celebrates the fun of the iPod.
Q: One of iGuy's distinctive features, along with his sturdy legs and long, bendy arms, is that he has a little butt. It must have been interesting to be in design meetings discussing the butt.
A: The iGuy is sort of Gumby inspired, and Gumby doesn't have a butt. iGuy needed to have a butt. We all agreed on that. But there were discussions about the size of the butt. It was a little like that movie "Weird Science" where the teenagers create a woman on their computer and have to decide how big her breasts should be.
Q: Well, the butt isn't too big, but it's definitely noticeable.
A: We actually had one of the leading retailers in the United States for Apple accessories, and they loved the product but felt the butt made it too racy to put in their stores. That was an isolated incident, though. If other companies had felt that way, we might have had to rethink the butt.
Q: How are iGuy sales?
A: We're challenged to keep up with demand. We're signing up a lot of new vendors. The iGuy has essentially been sold out for the last three weeks. I won't tip the hat with our total numbers, but we're selling as many as we can make, and we can make many thousands a week.
Q: How are people reacting to the little white silicon guy?
A: It's always fun to have the iGuy conversation with people. When we're discussing our line of products, it can be pretty cut and dried. But the iGuy always gets people cracking up. That's great from a sales perspective, but what's even better, what's freakin' awesome, is that people are coming out of the woodwork to sell our products. We just signed a contract with Urban Outfitters. I never thought we'd be selling our stuff there.
Q: What is the appeal of iGuy? As a case, he's actually a little impractical because he's on the big side and you can't slip him into your pocket.
A: The appeal is very "Dilbert"-like. It's a toy, but not so much for kids. Like "Dilbert" is a cartoon, but targeted at fun-loving, stressed-out executives with money to spend.
Q: Isn't it possible that iGuy will now inspire accessories of his own? Imagine little Bermuda shorts for his stubby legs.
A: Sure. Why not? That's a good business opportunity for someone out there.
Q: What's next for you and Speck Products?
A: We've got a few ideas in the works nothing to announce. But let me just say that iGuy probably won't be the last rubberized dude coming out of Speck Products. By the end of this month we'll have a mini-iGuy. Right before Christmas we're going to have some more fun products. I promise.
-For information about iGuy and Speck Products, visit www.speckproducts.com.
You can e-mail Chad Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (925) 416-4853.