Lexington software developer Wayne Yeager has spent a lot of time sitting in front of computers since he got his first one, a primitive Radio Shack TRS-80, at age 11.
“Thirty five years or so,” he said. “That’s a lot of sitting.”
Yeager knew studies have shown that sitting for long periods is unhealthy. It also became painful, so he looked for alternatives.
“I thought, I’ve got to get a standing desk; all the cool kids are getting them,” he said. “It was awful. I lasted about an hour.”
He tried sitting on a balance ball. Then he tried a standing desk with a treadmill, but found it hard to walk and concentrate on writing code at the same time.
“Then I saw where Hollywood actresses used to use these leaning boards between takes so they wouldn’t mess up their costumes,” he said. “I thought, that’s not a bad idea. I wonder if I can get any work done while doing that?”
After two years of tinkering, Yeager, 49, soon hopes to begin production of the LeanChair he designed. A user stands on an angled platform while leaning back and resting against a padded back and seat, which Yeager says takes about 25 percent of weight off the feet.
The pads are supported by two bent steel pipes with some spring. At arm level is a small, swing-out desk for a computer keyboard, mouse or writing pad. Yeager has his computer monitor on an adjacent standing desk at eye level.
The angle of lean is one of many things Yeager keeps experimenting with in prototypes he has made for himself and friends. So far, he hasn’t consulted with ergonomic experts.
“I have read three ergonomics textbooks, but that does not an expert make,” he acknowledged. “I am the world’s first guinea pig on this. I’ve been doing it for hours a day for a couple of years.”
Yeager launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $25,000 to begin manufacturing the chairs, which he plans to sell through his website, LeanChair.com. He reached his 30-day fundraising goal in a week, but is still accepting backers. (More information: Kickstarter.com and search for “LeanChair”.)
Some of Yeager’s backers are friends from Lexington and Salvisa, his hometown in Mercer County. He also has promoted the campaign on social media, which paid off when the technology website Gizmag.com noticed and wrote about it.
Among Yeager’s early backers was Warren Nash, director of the Lexington office of the Kentucky Innovation Network at the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics.
Nash saw the LeanChair campaign on LinkedIn and was intrigued. He said he knows Yeager, but he isn’t a client.
“I always try to back entrepreneurs in the community,” Nash said. “In this case, it hit home because I’ve got a back problem and I’ve been looking for a solution. I liked that he knows the problem he’s trying to solve and has done a lot of customer validation. I think he’s on to something.”
Yeager’s biggest challenges may be how to scale up manufacturing to meet demand and lower costs, and how to make the LeanChair adjustable and customizable to meet a variety of customers’ needs, Nash said.
Yeager, who said he has started and sold several small technology companies, plans to use his Kickstarter funding to buy more tools and supplies. He joined Kre8Now Makerspace, a shared membership workshop that opened recently at 903 Manchester St., and plans to work from there.
He is getting help from his wife, Karen, a Lexmark retiree with a master’s degree in manufacturing engineering. He also plans to outsource some aspects of production.
“I don’t know anything about upholstery or esthetics,” he said, noting that prototypes so far have used backs scavenged from office chairs.
Yeager wants to keep tweaking the design even after he begins manufacturing. In addition to experimenting with angles, he wants to look at padding, lumbar support and knee rests. He also wants to make the chair lighter so it can be more easily moved. He is taking advance orders for LeanChairs online, at $295 each.
“I imagine most of the users are going to be computer desk jockeys,” he said. But anyone who spends hours at a desk could be a customer.
“Robots haven’t replaced us yet,” Yeager said. “We still have to find a comfortable way to get work done.”