“This business couldn’t have existed 20 years ago,” said Jason Marburger, the driving force behind Fireball Tool.
Practically speaking, Marburger was still a teenager back then.
But more importantly, YouTube had yet to be invented.
“That’s my main source of marketing – showing a tool being used in a natural way, as opposed to a straightforward salesman approach,” Marburger explained. “Because I’m not a salesman. I’m a welder – a maker.”
He’s also something of a celebrity, with 73,000 YouTube subscribers and 22,000 Instagram followers.
Among Marburger’s three dozen videos is a step-by-step guide for building a high-speed belt grinder out of go-kart parts.
His most recent video – showing how he cut out a complicated “sword breaker” knife using a Mach 500 Waterjet – was viewed 60,000 times during the first five days it aired.
Marburger has sold more than 10,000 of his patented Mega Squares worldwide.
Fellow welders occasionally request he autograph the tool before his wife, Jessica, ships it off.
During a recent interview, Marburger discussed his business philosophy, audience blowback and bucket lists.
S-R: Where did you grow up?
Marburger: In Spangle, just south of Spokane.
S-R: What was your first job?
Marburger: When I was 14, I worked as a laborer mending and painting fences on our next-door neighbors’ horse ranch.
S-R: Did you have a favorite class in high school?
Marburger: Growing up surrounded by wheat fields and farm kids, I gravitated to auto shop and welding.
S-R: Did you have a career in mind?
Marburger: I did. My grandfather Ben Mitchell was a millwright for Kaiser Aluminum, and I became fascinated with metalworking watching him when I was growing up. I remember him saying, “Get a trade. You’ll always be valued, because something always needs to be fixed.” And I knew from shop class and FFA stick-welding competitions that I was good at this stuff. So I went to millwright school at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene. The week before I graduated, I was hired on as a journeyman millwright at a steel mill in Antioch, California.
S-R: What’s a millwright?
Marburger: Someone who maintains hydraulics, takes equipment apart and rebuilds it, and knows rigging and machine operation.
S-R: How much did the job pay?
Marburger: $75,000 a year. That was 2001, when I was 19.
S-R: How long did you do that?
Marburger: Two years.
S-R: What brought you back to Spokane?
Marburger: I missed the area and didn’t like California traffic. And I knew I’d never be able to afford a big shop and a piece of property.
S-R: Do you recall a moment or event that changed the direction of your life?
Marburger: Yes. In 2015, a salesman at Norco (a local medical and industrial gas supplier) invited me to set up a booth during an open house. Salesmen for all the big manufactures were there. I went in with my little pickup and, like a gypsy, set my squares on a table, and had a crowd around me all day long. That made me think I had something – a solution to people’s problem.
S-R: What was your job back then?
Marburger: I was a custom fabricator – basically an independent contractor.
S-R: How difficult was it to launch a tool-manufacturing business?
Marburger: Norco said I should have a website so people could find me. I built a basic one but went weeks without a single sale. Then a colleague encouraged me to shoot a YouTube video about my tools, and sales took off.
S-R: Had you ever done a video before?
Marburger: No. I’m super camera-shy. I love metalwork but had never shared my projects with anybody. Putting something on camera was pretty scary.
S-R: What do you recall about your first video?
Marburger: That was three years ago, when I was building an overhead crane. The video quality was kind of primitive, and early comments were very negative – “That’s not going to work” … “That’s going to break” – because they didn’t know my background.
S-R: Did you worry the business might fail?
Marburger: At the beginning I was OK with it failing because I was still working my day job. I just didn’t want to go through life wondering how come I didn’t try.
S-R: Your more recent videos are very polished. What changed?
Marburger: I started taking more time and getting input from friends, who’d say things like, “Can you explain that better?” My little brother, Jaymis, has really upped my game.
S-R: You seem comfortable in the videos – like you’re hosting a party and inviting guests to join in the fun of building something.
Marburger: My dad, Wes Marburger, taught at Lewis and Clark High School for 30 years, and I pull a lot of inspiration from him. When I’m in front of the camera I tell myself, “Be excited!” If I’m excited about the project, viewers will be, too.
S-R: You clearly enjoyed making the go-kart belt grinder. Is that something you sell?
Marburger: I would like to eventually sell a version of it. Videos of me making a prototype tool are a good way to get viewers’ feedback and gauge whether it’s worth moving on to a production model.
S-R: What’s your business philosophy?
Marburger: I want to solve problems I feel have been ignored during the last 20 years.
S-R: What’s a typical workday?
Marburger: I start at 7 in the morning and leave the shop at 4:30. But my brain never shuts off. I’m always whittling on the next idea or project.
S-R: What do you like most about your job?
Marburger: The flexibility, the diversity and interacting with my customers through YouTube.
S-R: What’s been the biggest surprise?
Marburger: That when I went to buy a three-dimensional square, nobody made one. It seems like something someone would have come up with decades ago.
S-R: Have others copied your design?
Marburger: Not in the cast form I sell. But guys will weld pieces of steel together to make copies.
S-R: Do you mind?
Marburger: I think it’s the best compliment somebody can give.
S-R: What has this job taught you about yourself?
Marburger: When I worked for employers, I always felt I could give more but was only there to do one specific task. At Fireball, I can share my knowledge with everybody.
S-R: Where’d the company name come from?
Marburger: I’ve caught myself on fire a lot of times – every welder can relate to that. And Fireball is an easy name to remember.
S-R: Who are your competitors?
Marburger: I don’t really have any. I’m in this space all by myself.
S-R: What’s the outlook for your business?
Marburger: I want to make all sorts of tools, not just welder squares. I try to roll out a new one every few months.
S-R: Are you planning to hire employees?
S-R: What qualities will you look for in job applicants?
Marburger: They’ll have to be flexible, because this is not a typical job. And they need to believe they can contribute to designing better tools.
S-R: Do you have a bucket list?
Marburger: I feel like I’m living my bucket list.
Writer Michael Guilfoil can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.