An ear for music: Former NFL player turns entrepreneur

Mark Clayton and Livv


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Along with a successful football career that took him to the NFL for seven years, music was never far from Mark Clayton’s ears.

A lifelong athlete, Clayton’s beginnings playing football as a child led to a college football career at the University of Oklahoma that got him drafted into the NFL. Clayton played with the Baltimore Ravens from 2005 to 2010 and the St. Louis Rams from 2011 to 2012.

The former NFL wide receiver now lives in Dallas where he is playing a new position: entrepreneur. Clayton has designed what he describes as the first wireless, over-ear headphones for athletes.

During his time in football, music was a constant for him and his teammates. He says there was nothing that could get him in the zone or more pumped up than the right song during long workouts and training.

“The first pair [of headphones] that I broke that really stuck out was in 2008,” Clayton said. “I was playing with the Baltimore Ravens and I broke it in pre-game warm ups. It was actually a pair of Beats when they were first passing them out to everybody. I love the sound and the bass and all that but they just wouldn’t stay with me.”

In 2012, Clayton thought there should be a headphone on the market that worked into an athlete’s lifestyle. His time as a player gave him an understanding of what athletes need — no cord to get snagged, an on-board MP3 to make music easier to grab-and-go without a smartphone or MP3 player, and a design that would keep the headphones from falling off during sudden movements.

“Initially it was a pet project and I just loved over-ear headphones. I think the sound is better. I like being completely engulfed in that and I felt like the over-ears did that,” Clayton said. “As I was [developing the headphones], I wasn’t really paying attention to the market and what was going on with the market in the active space. [I was just thinking] I would love an over-ear that would stay on my head when I worked out and have these features in addition to it.”

The on-board MP3 is more than just an original design concept, it is a way to contribute to what Clayton describes at the LIVV lifestyle.

“When we started talking about true freedom — being able to move with your music — without any interruption, [on-board MP3] was the thing that came to mind,” Clayton said. “Creating this autonomous experience with you and your headphones free from any third-party device, no phone, was what fit the LIVV lifestyle.”

With these thoughts in mind Clayton sketched out a concept for what would become LIVV headphones. The next year with the help of his partner, Dale Lott, LIVV headphones had its first proof of concept.

Clayton self-funded prototype headphones before starting two kickstarters for LIVV. The first failed, which Clayton blames on a lack of marketing. But the second kickstarter raised $100,000 in 30 days. This funding led to the first round of production and the online sale of LIVV headphones.

Other companies that have made cordless headphones use an in-ear or earbud design, but Clayton wanted to develop a cordless over-ear headphone to allow active people to immerse themselves in the music.

“It’s in that [group of active people] we felt like there were people who wore over-ear headphones when they worked out, there were people who would’ve liked to wear over-ear headphones and work out but they just don’t work,” Clayton said.

Clayton worked closely with athletes who did parkour – a sport that requires runners to move quickly and efficiently around urban obstacles by jumping, flipping, wall running, climbing, rolling and leaping – to ensure that his headphones stood up to the test.

After the headphones survived the parkour tests, Clayton homed in on his target audience — any active person.

“Anybody who went inside a gym is ultimately our target audience — anyone who goes to a gym, who works out on a regular basis and who loves good music,” Clayton said “That’s a bunch of people.”

Clayton wants LIVV to be more than headphones. He wants it to be an entire free and athletic lifestyle. Because of this, the brand will expand to include more fitness items.

“LIVV brand got to the place where it’s not so much about just the headphones but creating an active lifestyle brand,” Clayton said. “Our goal is to expand and create a family of products to the market that reflect this active lifestyle market and are durable and actually hold up under ridiculous circumstances.”

One of the key aspects in finding his footing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area has been what he calls genuine Southern hospitality. He played football at Sam Houston High School in Arlington before moving on in his career.

“I moved back to the Dallas area in 2014. I was in transition coming out of surgeries and transitioning out of football. Not a lot was going on when I moved here initially, but after a while through a friend I got connected into this entrepreneurial community in Dallas. I would spend time over at a co-working space there. Ultimately, I was able to connect with a couple other people who have invested in the company through that community,” Clayton said.

“I found that being here in Dallas versus Miami was a lot different in that having that community, people were more welcoming. I think that rings true to what being in Texas and the South is,” Clayton said. “It’s kind of this, ‘Come on, I don’t know how I’m going to help but I’m going to help — we’ll figure it out. I don’t know how we’re going to work together but we’ll figure out how to do it. If I can’t do it I know somebody else who can help.’ That was huge for me because this is definitely a different realm and industry than football and I learned a lot through the relationships in that community.”

LIVV headphones are available online and Clayton said he has plans to work with retailers in the future.