Entrepreneur thinks he has a new angle for office furniture

June 21, 2015

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.

Wayne Yeager demonstrates the LeanChair in his garage workshop. Photo by Tom Eblen

Wayne Yeager demonstrates the LeanChair in his garage workshop. Photo by Tom Eblen

“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.”


Standing desks: office trend for people who can’t stand to sit

July 16, 2012

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray confers with executive assistant Maureen Watson, left, and press secretary Susan Straub around his standup desk. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

The hardest part of writing for me is sitting for long periods. After a recent bout with leg pain, despite sitting in a brand-name ergonomic chair, I decided to try something I had considered for years: write standing up.

I fetched an old coffee table from the basement and set it on a cabinet behind my desk. It now holds a keyboard and a computer monitor, raised to eye level by four thick books. It’s not fancy, but when I get tired of sitting, I can stand and work.

Standing desks are the latest office fad, thanks in part to a series of medical studies showing that sitting too much is bad for your back, can make you sick and might even shorten your life.

Business Week reported last month that Steelcase, the office-furniture manufacturer, said sales of its standing desks are growing at four times the rate of its regular desks.

Standing desks are showing up in the offices of staid law firms and trendy companies including Facebook and Google.

Men’s Health, the magazine that last year infamously proclaimed Lexington as America’s most sedentary city, reports that at least half of its editors now use them. Stand-up work was even lampooned in an episode of the NBC comedy The Office.

Standing desks have been around for centuries; they were especially popular in the Victorian era with statesmen and clerks alike. Thomas Jefferson designed his own six-legged model. Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway and Saul Bellow all liked to write standing up.

Jim Gray used a standing desk for years at Gray Construction Co. But when he became Lexington’s mayor two years ago, he decided not to bring it with him to city hall. “I wanted to conform,” he said.

In an effort to improve his leadership team’s communications and efficiency, Gray created a shared office in an old first-floor ballroom at city hall, the former Lafayette Hotel. It looks like a newspaper newsroom, with everyone working side by side in pods of old metal desks — IBM relics borrowed from a Lexmark warehouse.

Gray said he didn’t want to be the only one standing. It might make others uncomfortable, he thought, or make him look lordly. But a few weeks ago, the mayor couldn’t stand to sit any longer. He sent for his stand-up desk.

“I didn’t realize how much I had missed it,” he said. “I feel like I’m more productive standing up, whether I’m writing or typing. My metabolism is better. If I sit down after lunch, I get sleepy.”

Communications director Susan Straub said she likes it better now that Gray stands at his desk, because it is easier for her to see and talk to him without leaving her desk.

“But when we have school tours through here, kids want to know where the mayor sits,” Straub said.

Sitting increases pressure on your lower back, and there’s a lot of recent evidence that sitting too much is bad for you in other ways, too:

■ University of Missouri scientists found that it seems to shut off circulation of lipase, a fat-absorbing enzyme.

■ The British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that people who sit for prolonged periods have a higher risk of disease.

■ American Cancer Society researchers found that the benefits of frequent exercise can be negated if you spend too much of the rest of your time sitting.

■ The American Journal of Epidemiology published a study saying that sitting for more than six hours a day can make people at least 18 percent more likely to die from heart disease, obesity and diabetes than those sitting less than half that amount.

But standing too much can be bad for you, too. Alan Hedge, who researches ergonomics at Cornell University, told Time magazine this spring that prolonged standing can be tiring and hard on your circulatory system, increasing the risk of carotid atherosclerosis and varicose veins.

What all of these studies really show — aside from the fact that living will kill you one way or another — is that variety and motion are healthy. Sit some, in a good ergonomic chair. Stand some, wearing comfortable shoes. Get up and move around frequently. Variety will help you feel better, think clearer and get more done.