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Spikey entrepreneur doesn't fit corporate mold

Miachi, Hacky Sack for hands, originated with lighter tossing at Vanderbilt

Published: Monday, May 24, 2004

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 21:07

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JOE BURBANK/ORLANDO SENTINEL

Perron hams it up in Cocoa Beach.

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JOE BURBANK/ORLANDO SENTINEL

´Myachi Man´ Sebastien Perron, with his triple mohawk, warms up before a performance at a surf shop in Cocoa Beach, Fla.

The Orlando Sentinel (KRT)

ORLANDO, Fla. -- It's a typical day in the life of Sebastien Perron. As he stands in the middle of Ron Jon Surf Shop, surrounded by a flock of adoring tweens, he juggles a three-inch rectangular bag on the backs of his hands.

"Remember the Hacky Sack?" he asks, referring to the kickable foot bag. He tells his audience this toy is a Myachi, a Hacky Sack for the hands.

Before long, the kids have bought their own Myachis, for $5 apiece, and are miming Perron's tricks.

This is what Perron does for a living: He plays.

Perron and his partner Jason Loeffler play all over Florida, showing kids the art of Myachi.

They're men in their 30s but 12-year-old boys at heart, a blend of the Pied Piper and Peter Pan.

But they're also college-educated, business-savvy professionals who, along with partner Steven Ochs, have sold half a million Myachis.

"We realized the real world was not for us," Loeffler says. "So we created our own world."

Myachi, before it was known as such, started as a college game. At Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, Ochs and his friends flipped around a lighter on the backs of their hands.

One day, Ochs stitched an old Guatemalan wallet around an empty lighter. And so the Myachi was born. The name blends the words my and chi, the concept of the energy or power in Eastern philosophy. Mr. Miyagi, the character from The Karate Kid, also inspired Ochs.

When he graduated, Ochs put Myachi on hold and landed a job as a stockbroker in New York City. He soon had a six-figure income, a closet full of Hugo Boss and Zanella suits and an empty heart.

He didn't want to grow up -- or grow older, anyway -- and regret never "going for it."

So in 1997, at age 25, Ochs quit his job and researched the yo-yo, the Frisbee, Beanie Babies and the Pet Rock to see what made them work. He scoured the New York garment district for fabrics and made the first 10,000 Myachi hand sacks himself, using a friend's sewing machine.

He also met Perron, a champion Hacky Sack player and an entertainer who performed at school assemblies. Perron, now 31, is a talented juggler. An instant Myachi magician, Perron could flip the toy artistically in dozens of moves. Ochs asked Perron to help him promote his brainchild.

But even with two people running the show, it was a struggle. As Ochs' savings dwindled, his credit card debt grew. Slowly, though, the Myachi took off. Ochs, now 32, developed sponsorships with SoBe, the drink, and Coke. He met Loeffler through a mutual friend. Loeffler was selling golf equipment, but the job didn't suit him.

"My hair was always too long," says Loeffler, 33.

Besides, a post-college experience working on a boat had fueled his wanderlust and destroyed the appeal of traditional jobs. So Loeffler too was a perfect match for Myachi.

Nine months a year, Loeffler and Perron live in Cocoa Beach, Fla., and troll the state, showing kids how to play Myachi at schools, surf shops and game stores around Central Florida. They also attend toy trade shows and, during the summer, hit beach towns in the Carolinas, Maryland and New York.

Ochs lives comfortably, running the business and developing the brand from Nashville, Tenn.

"Good things come to those who work hard. Put that on my gravestone," Ochs says.

Perron and Loeffler couldn't disagree more. For them, "work" is a dirty word. They prefer the term "guerrilla marketing." In other words, they go where they're not invited.

"It's easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission," Loeffler says.

The pair have been kicked out of many places. After getting the boot at Orlando's CityWalk, they paused before each security camera to show off some mad Myachi moves.

Why not ask permission?

"Nine out of 10 times, they don't understand," Loeffler says. By "they" Loeffler means adults, the establishment.

Certainly, most members of the establishment don't sport three 15-inch spikes, sculpted into submission with Elmer's glue and poster paint.

Kids come up to Perron just to marvel at his spikes, which stick out of the Lexus he drives around. Then they notice the Myachi he's tossing around and ask to try it.

That's the point.

Perron's coif is a marketing tactic, not a fashion statement, and it works. Except when it rains. A few raindrops and Perron's hair melts. That's why he never leaves home without his hair dryer.

He takes longer to primp than his wife, Jessica, who is the first to call her husband a big kid.

Before they married last year, Perron owned only shorts and Myachi shirts. Now, Jessica reports, "We've expanded. We needed to get some pants for trade shows. And a collared shirt."

Loeffler, meanwhile, hasn't had an address for four years. He lives in the colorful RV painted with the Myachi guys' cartoon likenesses.

Kids see the guys as pals, not adults.

"They do something that I would always want to," says Nick Wideman, 12, a Myachi aficionado in Windermere, Fla. "They create something new, an art."

Unlike most adults, 11-year-old Jimmy McLaughlin of Orlando says, Perron "acts kind of funny, like a kid sometimes. He has fun a lot."

Perron lives in the moment and has no plans to get a real job anytime soon, even though he and his wife are expecting a baby girl this month.

He has played Myachi with 70-year-old men, so he figures he'll be hawking the toy for many years.

"You're supposed to do what you're good at," Perron says. "I'm really good at going to concerts and festivals, meeting people and playing games."

Besides, growing up is so overrated. ___ (c) 2004, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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