Interview: Christopher Kahl, owner of XTracPads | Lounge
By: Jonathan Kwan
November 4, 2006
This week at APH Networks, we've received a sweet opportunity to interview Christopher, the owner of well known gaming peripherals and accessory manufacturer XTracPads. XTracPads is one of the earlier players in the mousepad market and has been producing many innovative products such as APH Networks' favorite XTracPads Hybrid mousing surface. Over the years, they've continued to design and develop many products that distincts themselves from other manufacturers in this industry. Let's grab our notebooks and sit down and have a little chat with Christopher and get to know him and his company a little bit more.
Jonathan: We feel very excited to have Christopher, the owner of XTracPads, to sit down and spend some time with us today. Christopher, would you mind if you introduce yourself to APH Networks readers for us to get to know you just a bit more?
Christopher: Hi Jonathan, I’m very excited to be here and I think it’s great to meet your readers through this interview. Basically Im a regular guy that loves to play PC games. Im a family man with one baby girl (that I know of). I really LOVE making mouse pads and accessories because it’s a real challenge to keep improving our products to meet the demand of all our customers.
Jonathan: What's your daily routine on this job, and what kind of things do you process on a regular basis?
Christopher: I usually wake up and have my breakfast (thanks to my awesome wife who is a culinary expert) and Im off to the office. I like to start the day off with a 30 minute workout with my FPS game of the day. Right now Ive gone back to Desert Combat (a Battlefield 1942 mod). After that I break out the email and start answering them. On a typical day I have a lot of emails to answer and I try my best to answer them all. The rest of the day is always different so there’s no specific pattern actually.
Jonathan: Although computer gaming has been around for quite a while, the purpose of a mousepad, even now, is often overlooked. What sort of 'inspired' you to start XTracPads, and what did you believe in that you can make it something successful?
Christopher: I totally agree. I go to LAN parties as much as possible and often times will see someone with a high end gaming machine and a piece of paper for a mouse pad. I just think that’s funny. Back in 1999 I was at a local LAN and was playing some game and realized how awful my $1 mouse pad was. I knew there had to be something better so I started experimenting with different materials. Finally 2002 rolled around and I decided to make my first commercially available mouse pad, the XTracPads Pro. I loved it so much and everyone who tried it told me they thought it was killer. It was then that XTracPads was officially born.
Jonathan: How did XTracPads become what it is today? Were there any sigificant turning points in the history of XTracPads, or was it a steady growth?
Christopher: Lots and lots of sleepless nights, plenty of sweat and a little blood. In short, its been a steady growth for us.
Jonathan: Out of curiosity, how did you come up with the name 'XTracPads'?
Christopher: Back in 1999 when I came up with our hex pattern I decided XTracPads because of the “X” and “Y” axis that I was moving my mouse in to help determine an excellent optically friendly pattern.
Jonathan: What did you do before you started XTracPads?
Christopher: I was working for Microsoft doing tech support for MSN. I loved that job! (sarcasm) Actually I had had it up to here (opens hand to forehead) with people complaining and I just quit one day. Later that day my wife was really mad at me for quitting without consulting her so she made me open up shop as PCXmods.
Jonathan: How often do you make new products, and how many people designs them? What sparks you to create a new mousepad or accessory ever so often that makes it different from other mousepads of your existing line and a worthy product to be purchased?
Christopher: I like to make new products when a need arises. My main love though is improving what we already have. Our products are always in a state of flux and when I find something that’s more durable than what Im using now and overall better suits the need (as in our new Ripper v2 mouse pad). Usually its just me that comes up with new ideas and designs but sometimes, as in the case of our InstaGlide, someone with whom I work with comes up with a brilliant idea and we go to manufacturing that.
To answer your next question, that’s always a huge risk. Just because I think something totally rocks doesn’t mean our customers will like it. I try to consult some local gamers with my ideas then I let them play around with some prototypes to see how they like it/them. You just never know though.
Jonathan: XTracPads has been innovating some pretty original products that receives rave reviews from various review sites. Have you ever made a product very similar to another product already on the market? When you see a product on the street that's so obviously similar to something XTracPads made, how do feel about it?
Christopher: Sure have, a mouse pad :) Just kidding. Yes. In the beginning, Everglide had Teflon tape that they called, umm, Mouse Glidez or something like that and they were charging a lot for it so I decided to come up with a product that I thought was better and less expensive. We called it Eels and even today it is one of the best Teflon mouse tape products you can buy. Other than that I would say no. I have seen a few of our products imitated though and every time I see that I am flattered that competitor companies like our inventions so much that they want to copy us. Its actually pretty cool.
Jonathan: Many of your products are advertised as 'Made in USA'. Why do you choose to do so instead of manufacturing in other countries?
Christopher: Great question. We make all our products here (in the USA) because too many computer companies choose to go the least expensive route and make their products overseas. Ultimately this is not good for ones economy (nationally speaking) so I am doing our small part by sticking with less profit and trying to do the right thing in my opinion.
Jonathan: Many gaming oriented companies sells headphones, keyboards and mice. Are you planning to expand into this area as well?
Christopher: You know, all our products are made in the USA and to make most of these other items we would need to go overseas. So I think for now, I will say…. Maybe! lol
Jonathan: Are you currently developing any new XTracPads products? Think you can leak us any news?
Christopher: Yes, we have a really cool new pad that were working on but that’s all I can say right now. Sorry.
Jonathan: What's your outlook of XTracPads within the next 10 years?
Christopher: Within the next 10 years I expect mice to be close to obsolete so mouse pads wont be as necessary. Of course, I could also be wrong.
Jonathan: Well, anyway, let's talk about the other side of you. Up to this point we've understood a lot more about Christopher and XTracPads, but on the personal and sort of 'geeky' side like most of us -- let's start off with the personal ones and we'll alternate between them -- what's your favorite subjects in school?
Christopher: Heh heh. Well, I love music so I would say rock and roll is a big part of my life. Music class would be pretty high up there but sitting in at #1 would be art class followed closely by English. Actually I don’t much care for school but it was a necessary part of my history I suppose.
Jonathan: On the geeky hand, what kind of computer(s) do you have?
Christopher: I have a few. I have a Lian Li P4 for my business stuff. A nice Shuttle AMD system for semi-portable gaming a couple of laptops and am working on building a new gaming rig here before Christmas.
Jonathan: What mousepad do you use, and what aspects of a mousepad do you think are most important?
Christopher: I use our Ripper XXL gaming mat to cover my desktop and a HYBRID for everything else. It sits on top of my Ripper XXL. When I go to LAN’s I prefer the Pro pad that we make just because it’s rather small and the most portable pad we make.
Jonathan: What do you do on your spare time, and what are your hobbies?
Christopher: In my “spare” time I like to hang out with my family and when Im not doing that I like to mess around with my electric guitar. Im not very good at it but when the volume is at 11 (that’s one past 10) just about anything sounds decent.
Jonathan: What kind of music do you like? Any bands or singers you particularly like?
Christopher: Im old school. I really like 80’s metal like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. I also like classical music too. Actually I like most kinds of music but 80’s metal is my favorite all the way.
Jonathan: In terms of movies, what kind of movies do you like?
Christopher: I like movies like Good Fellas and Casino. My favorite is Scarface though.
Jonathan: What kind of games do you usually play when you have time?
Christopher: I like FPS games that don’t take up too much time or have a huge learning curve.
Jonathan: Before we finalize, I got one last question. What's your favorite website? *Poke* *Poke* *Hint* *Hint*
Christopher: Oh man, is that a loaded question or what? Well, for my daily industry news I LOVE APH Networks of course!!!
Jonathan: Anyway, I was just joking around in my previous question. Thanks again for spending time with us in our interview, Christopher, and we are extremely happy to have you in with us today!
Christopher: ‘Tis my pleasure Jonathan. Thanks for having me on. L8r!