The years of blood, sweat and sound to get here (Part 2)
The blog is written by a guest writer; our founder and CEO James Bell-Booth and covers the journey to date of getting Earshots off the ground.
I left the last post in this series with the line 'we cracked it'. In hindsight...we were far from it...the year was 2018
I figured out MagFit, but how the hell do I make a headphone?
After figuring out that we could actually get MagFit to work, the challenge I underestimated was turning that challenge into a working headphone. Where do I even start? I knew no one in the industry. No one!! What I did know was that there would be a manufacturer somewhere in the world that could help me do this. By total luck, I spoke to someone who had recently been to China on a tour of manufacturing facilities and they said they had visited a headphone maker. I said can you intro me! After a few emails back and forward with a representative of the factory I decided to travel up there.
Our first visit to Shenzhen...turns into meetings on the floor at Hong Kong airport departures
After being introduced to a really good headphone manufacturer in Shenzhen, I decided the most important thing to do was to visit, meet the team and learn about what goes into making a headphone. I had never visited China before so it was all pretty new. We got all sorted and caught the plane to Hong Kong and planned to cross at the Shenzhen border. We got all the way to the border crossing and then I realised 'oh shit', my passport was due to expire in 6 months and because of that we couldn't cross into China. I couldn't believe it, I had only 2 days to get done what I needed to and now couldn't make the meeting. After a whole lot of too-ing and fro-ing over the next 24 hours the team at the manufacturer decided they would cross into Hong Kong the following day to meet us. This would have been great had it not been for the traffic chaos of getting into Hong Kong. We were due to fly out that day and the team were stuck in traffic. I wasn't sure what to do, I needed to get back to New Zealand, but needed to keep the process going. Eventually they showed up, just in time to meet as at Hong Kong airport, on the floor in the departures lounge. And so begun a really great relationship.
Our first working prototype was monstrous
After a great meeting on the floor of Hong Kong airport the factory got to work putting together the first working prototype of Earshots...and it was a monster. The Earshot itself was huge, the case was huge...it was so far from being usable it wasn't funny. The image below shows the first working prototype version...look at the size of that thing.
There was clearly more work to be done. By this time though, I was really starting to stress out on whether we could actually turn Earshots into a product.
Ready to rock with Gen1 Earshots
From where we started with the monstrous Gen1 Earshots we continued to develop as best we could. The core team was me, our product designer and our manufacturer. One of the things I learnt early was that your decision on manufacturer plays a huge role in what kind of product you can produce. Different manufacturers specialise in different types of techniques to make products. We worked with what we had and we got to our Gen1 Earshots. My budget contraints meant that I had to accept a range of imperfect product design attributes, those were:
- Very average sound quality
- A plastic assembly that used screws to hold the rear of the Earshot together
- An untested bluetooth antenna...which directly relates to the connectivity or the Earshot's potentially dropping signal
- A one size fits all earbud size
I knew though, that we had enough to start selling Earshots and testing the idea with customers. If we provided great customer support, and 30 day return policy, then if people didn't like it, we would refund their money.
We had a product that had been developed enough to sell, we had some inventory to start selling. It was time to make a decision about leaving my day job and going full time...but it was a bloody scary thought and I wasn't sure I had the stomach for it. There is safety in working on something as a side hustle. How would I ever have the courage to quit my job; I had a family to support and a mortgage. I'm not sure if I should take the leap...TBC