Marcos, 22, is the founder of Kustom Kontrollerz, which he operates out of his garage in Orange County, California
Johnny Marcos hasn‘t slept in 48 hours when we speak on the phone, but when you‘re the sole proprietor of your own business, who has the time to sleep? Right now, he‘s hard at work on a new set of bespoke pieces, while simultaneously promoting his burgeoning business.
It all began in 2011 when Marcos decided to take apart his PS3 controller. He replaced all the buttons and changed the shell to golden red, before putting it up for sale on his Facebook page and Kustom Kontrollerz was on its way.
Requests for more designs starting flocking in and Marcos realized he had an idea he could turn into a business. But to really make a splash, he needed to find a niche all of his own and decided to make customisation his selling point. “œThere are other companies doing similar things with games controllers,“ he tells me over the phone, “œbut most of them customize one or two things, and leave it at that. I do everything“ ““ including a golden controller with bullets for analogue sticks!
Marcos laughs. “œThe golden controller is one of my favourites. It was a present for Chevy Woods. The bullets are not as hard as you might think; they‘re actually quite soft to the touch, but I did add the option of rubber to soften them too.”
Chevy Woods is a Pittsburgh rapper who enjoys celebrity status in his home country. A fan of rap music himself, Marcos has watched his list of celebrity clients grow. He’s since worked with Soulja Boy, T.Pain and Chief Keef, but that’s nothing compared to the latest name on his list: Dr Dre.
Johnny can’t help showing me a sneak peak of the Dre design, but he asks me to keep it under wraps until the grand reveal. I would never go against his word, but I can reveal one small detail: Dre’s weapon of choice is the Xbox One controller, not the PS4 Dualshock.
I can’t help but ask him whether these celebrities are true gamers at heart, but he’s quick to set me at ease. “Make no mistake, guys like Soulja Boy are massive gamers who spend a lot of their time playing when they’ve got spare time.” He’s even created twin controllers for Floyd Money Mayweather, which he dropped off at the boxing champ’s house in Vegas a week before the Pacquiao fight. Marcos was eager for a photo with the man himself, but was told he’d need to cough up a million dollars for the photo-op. He settled for a tour of the mansion and car collection instead.
Outside of his celebrity endorsers, Johnny also creates designs for ordinary men (and women) around the world. He’s shipped to Canada, Australia and the UK and is always open to new requests. For a female customer, he recently turned the PS4 Dualshock rose-gold and added diamonds to the lightbar for good measure. “They light up when the controller turns on,” he tells me.
With celebrity endorsers, diamonds and bling, you’d expect an eye-watering price to match. But that isn’t the case. “Typically, I charge between $150 – $250 dollars, though the gold controller is more in the $300 region.” When you consider that Johnny has to buy these controllers at 60 bucks apiece, you’re getting a good deal. The real beauty, of course, is knowing you own something 100% unique. Marcos agrees. “People like having something no one else has. That’s why I think a lot of celebrities are starting to know my name. When they hear Kustom Kontrollerz now, they perk up.”
Johnny has already mapped out 2016, and he can only see Kustom Kontrollerz going one way. He hopes to work with more well-known artists and tells me that he recently put the finishing touches to a bespoke PS4 controller for Maurice Ager, the NBA star from Detroit, Michigan. Going forward, Johnny is in talks with Nike and Adidas who have both expressed an interest in a collaboration, while he already enjoys a good working relationship with 2K.
It’s all starting to make sense. Johnny is not only a prolific designer and engineer, but a born businessman with a hunger to make a success of himself. There’s a need for this kind of work, too. Limited edition controllers offered by Sony and Microsoft tend to play it safe. As Marcos says: “Some say the Xbox One Elite controller is the best out there, but besides some custom features, it doesn’t have a wow factor.”
I tend to agree. After all, how often can you own something that’s gold and has bullets… bullets instead of sticks?
For Johnny, 48-hour workdays look to be the norm as this serial entrepreneur and engineer steadily charts his ascent to the top.