Paul Budnitz is an artist, author, filmmaker, product designer & entrepreneur. He is well known as the founder of Kidrobot, the world’s premiere creator of art toys. He has designed hundreds of products, created Kidrobot’s apparel lines and retail stores, and collaborated with many of the world’s top artists and designers. More than a dozen of his toys are featured in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

But what did he do during his very early career? Find out here.

1. In 8th grade my friend Matt and I realized that we could make a lot of money selling fireworks to our friends at school.  We took the train to chinatown in San Francisco, bought fireworks, and resold them at a huge profit.  The only issue was that fireworks were illegal in California at the time.  I was also a bit of a computer geek, and made the mistake of programming my customer lists onto the teletype computers in the computer lab at my school (this was before computers actually had screens).  What I didn’t realize was that our computers were an experimental project connected to the mainframe at the University of California at Berkeley, which was controlled by the US Defense Department.  Someone discovered that I was selling explosives through government computers.  I was immediately arrested and suspended for a week.

To my father’s credit, he seemed to think what I’d done was more clever than evil.  So I had some days off school and had to promise not to do it again.

2. When I was in 9th grade I was hired to edit one of the first BASIC computer program books.  Basically, it was a book of programs that did different things (saved your recipes, played tic-tac-toe with you).  You had to type the programs into your computer and save them, and you could then use the apps.  None of them worked.  I spent the summer making them not work even more, but since nobody at the company that hired me could use a computer nobody really cared and I was paid anyway.

3. When I was in 11th grade I was hired to design games for the Commodore 64 home computer.  I wrote a very violent take game and was never paid.

4. In college my friend Ben and I designed and sold T-shirts based on our designs, though I have to admit that it was mostly Ben’s artwork as mine mostly sucked.  The t-shirts were massed produced in a garage in random colors of ink and dye.  Very 1908′s.  By the time we’d graduated it was a international business and I’d paid for university.

5. I then screwed around doing various things I don’t want to talk about for a few years, and started a business with my friend Shawn selling used Levis and other vintage clothing to the Japanese.  I once sold a pair of 1940′s stiltwalker levi’s jeans, deadstock, with 14 foot long legs, to a Japanese collector for $35,000.

I could go on, but we’ll stop there.

I eventually ended up founding Kidrobot and my bicycle company Budnitz Bicycles.  We make high-end titanium city bicycles based on my designs and they are truly awesome.


We’ve asked professionals in creative industries what jobs they have had in the past to get their foot through the door (or at least pay the rent). For more in the “My First 5 Jobs” series look here.