Talon Simulations CEO Brandon Naids plucks his Fender, carefully sequencing notes, as he performs original instrumental music.
The 29-year-old entrepreneur sits in the den of his Altamonte Springs home.
On the other side of a webcam: students.
Naids has returned to a decades-old passion, which he uses to pursue alternate income as the coronavirus pandemic continues to stress businesses in Central Florida.
The head of Talon, which builds mechanized chairs that bring virtual reality to life for consumers and other markets, has been strumming guitars since they were bigger than him.
“I picked it up when I realized I wasn’t good at sports,” said Naids, who started playing at 12 years old. “It was my after-school activity.”
Now, it represents a lifeline at a time that has seen many businesses seek alternate revenue streams. The pandemic has affected Orlando companies in many ways.
For Naids and Talon, it meant losing contracts that had been ready to be signed.
Some customers could no longer afford the luxury of what Talon Simulations offers.
Naids reached out to other local businesses, which created something of a local support system for entrepreneurs.
“We went into scramble mode,” Naids said. “We were unsure what we were going to do.”
That meant a pivot, with Naids’ 5-year-old business now more-heavily targeting the defense industry, which needs simulation chairs for training devices, along with luxury homes.
Loans from the federal government helped Talon withstand months without revenue, a result of the pandemic’s devastating effect on the arcade industry.
Naids’ interest in music had once seen him start a band with a few friends.
He often performed at jam sessions hosted by Barley & Vine on Washington Street.
When the bar moved those sessions online and on Facebook, Naids continues to participate.
“I love performing,” said Naids, who was in the musical “The Music Man” while in high school. “Even during a virtual performance, you get a rush.”
The performances allowed him a chance to add virtual tip jars, which led to him starting to offer online guitar lessons.
But, although he earned nominal income from the performances, playing guitar offers him more.
“In life, you need something to get your mind off things,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to disconnect sometimes.”
Entrepreneurship already comes with its ups and downs. Naids isn’t the first to call it a roller coaster.
The pandemic, however, has thrown a unique variable into the lives of those who own businesses.
Naids partially credits the Orlando community with helping him withstand the ride.
“It has been huge to fall back and relate with other entrepreneurs here,” he said. “We can bounce ideas off each other. It’s been amazing to have that support system. At the end of the day, we have all been there.”
The guitar lessons help Naids continue to build.
“When I tell my kids in 15 years what I did during the pandemic, I don’t want to tell them that I was binge watching Netflix,” he said.