I'm just thinking about how VERY difficult the high end speaker business is. It is the electronic equivalent of opening up your own restaurant. Very hard, laborious, risky, and full of nefarious types. Kind of like the concrete business. :)
Best way - get an engineering degree and take 2 years (classical wave theory) of physics major physics; then take some acoustics courses. Be sure to add classes in biology and psychoacoustics while reading everything Floyd Toole ever wrote in your 'spare" time. Follow up with some time at the Oxford sensory perception lab, visit the top Brit-Fi manfs., for an internship, then intern at Magneplanar, Vandersteen and Revel.
Worst way - get a liberal arts degree, wave your hands and focus on woo-woo
Hi Erik, Just about 18 Months ago, my old friend that started the old Marcof Electronics and myself came very close to starting a line... We were going to injection mold a cabinet and have powered speakers with Dac’s built in... I didn’t see any problem starting. Get a couple of reviews, , go to something like an Axpona and a RMAF and we’d be off and running.... Just a decision to grab dealers in this economy or sell online or distribute through online retailers. How you sell your product is the biggest challenge these days.
Celebrating my 25th anniversary on April 1st of founding PBN Audio.
Marketing, Marketing, Marketing the equivalent of Location, Location, Location for real estate :-), you can have the best engineered product in the world but if no one knows about it no one will buy it.
As with anything it can be done but requires Focus, Determination and Hard work, be prepared to work 7 days a week.
Last year I read 'Schiit Happened,' the memoir by Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat that describes the startup years of Schiit Audio. It's an easy read and it can fool the reader into thinking that starting up an audio manufacturing business isn't too hard.
What I gathered from reading it was how it stressed the importance of 21st century marketing and customer engagement through use of social media, user forums, and regional shows/meets.
The founders efforts were laser-like. Focussing on on the product they wanted to develop; they didn't get sidetracked spending time on the next product until the current product was exactly what was wanted and they could fulfill the demand for it. The writers are most helpful in describing the mistakes made along the way.
They don't go into much detail in terms of how they spent their startup capital other than describing how scary it was doing it while not using other people's money.
They found a niche and exploited it. I imagine doing that as a speaker designer/manufacturer is possible. As long as one guesses correctly.
Erik, If you ever want to get started at something feed me a pm... I've never shared my daytime job on a forum. Looking at the comments above are things that I take for granted... when I truly left the audio world, I followed my degree (broadcast journalism).... today I am Vice President of a full service advertising agency.... The above folks speak the truth, but I don't think that 99% of anyone has an idea of where digital marketing is going and/or what its going to take to use it in our ever changing online world... Just a peak.... If you want to start a web business today, right now, If your website does not have Artificial Intelligence, very soon, you won't be able to properly gather data. We drive thousands of leads to websites through social media. SEM on its on is tough, So, just some food for thought... Overall, our audiophile community is fairly small. I still believe that you get your product in a decent publication, show it as a couple of well attended shows. Make the product accessible and affordable, then get any type of decent distribution and you'll take off. (of course, you need a great product that can make it on its own merit) Good luck, I hope this helps, Tim
randy-11 (sorry can't "at" you) - Well, there's things I love doing, which is designing 2 way speakers, and there's something I'd like to be: happy and rich. :-) I'm trying to connect the two. I think of myself as a cook, trying to think of how to start a restaurant, knowing my utter and complete lack of expertise in opening or running a restaurant, but being passionate about the food I make.
1. Know the basics of economics 2. Have a thought-out business plan 3. Know how much you need to maintain your lifestyle 4. Know who you are trying to sell to 5. Know how your design is better than the competition. This should keep you busy for a while...
I have no doubt that Erik can design a top notch speaker that will compete... I think the issue lies is that as an unknown, you have to clearly build something that is extra ordinary or a huge value that isn't normally done... To build a GREAT 2 way at a decent price will be very hard to compete with, You'll certainly sell a few, but I wouldn't plan on making it rich that way. Just too many out there already doing it.
Find a nitche, be ready to constantly change with the whims of the market,be prepared for $ ups and downs of said markets. Loudspeakers are something everyone has and no one needs they exist to most as a equivalent of a toaster bought with as much thought. The small small group that cares has many marketing to them at all price levels. Even if you had the worlds best loudspeaker and price on such doesn't mean you will succeed audiophiles are name brand buyers purchases made as much to impress as for sound quality.
It's exactly the same as the restaurant business -- it's something everybody can do but not do well. Speakers are just boxes with drivers with simple electronics that cookbooks can tell you how to put together. But then you have to deal with the hurdle as to why restaurants fail: What are you offering that the hundreds of other restaurants in town don't offer at the same prices? In other words, find a niche and do it better than others.
timlub, thanks for your 9:33am post....not that I'm seriously considering launching an audio 'quest', but more for the comments and insight on current marketing and the honesty of "we don't know what 'n 'ell going to happen next either'. I've been tasked with that endeavour for my 'real job', and it's definitely a Gordian knot to unravel....;)
As for what I do for 'giggles 'n grins' within my 'hobby', one can have dreams and aspirations....but when faced with grim Reality, I'll be satisfied for now with stunning the odd stranger or two...;) And it's cheap thrills...*L*
Last year I read 'Schiit Happened,' the memoir by Jason Stoddard and
Mike Moffat that describes the startup years of Schiit Audio. It's an
easy read and it can fool the reader into thinking that starting up an
audio manufacturing business isn't too hard.
That's not a good example because these guys were very well known from other audio companies since the 90's. If Moffat designs a dac, some people are going to buy it regardless of brand name.
The Schitt book is excellent and something you really should read. all audiophiles should read it IMO. Jason and Mike already had reputations in the Audio world and ears to know good - Mike in particular for 2 channel thru speakers and Jason for headphones. do you have ears and the scientific and physcoacoustic and marketing chops ? dunno. i think the Vandersteen internship comment is hilarious - for the last several years that would be me - learning at the feet of the master - note unpaid ! ( I can do this I am old and retired at 55 ) Richard was a truck driver when he invented the model 2 - probably the best selling Audiophile speaker ever at least 500K sold refined amd honed and worked over and over and over by the frugal Dutchman for what 35 years now- can you do that ? And a serious engineering approach - watch his utube video on pistonic motion....
stick to 8 to ten key design principles largely ignored by the crowd ?
speakers as a path to rich ? Probably not but an interesting goal, I always worked at doing what I loved and taking risk in my career and moving within the firm like a mercenary
marketing is.becoming much more important
what distribution channel / business model is an essential question - can you get your product into an influential dealer with ears who can also move product ( displacing ???? )
Direct ? These are probably not $250 headphone amps right ? Can you beat Andrew Jones at $500 ?
but Fred Smith' professor gave him a C in business school for the concept of Fed Ex, so what do I know
Many designers/manufacturers started as hobbyist, building something for themselves. Friends/aquantinces hear their handiwork and asked for some to be built for them. You could start this way. Build for your friends, build some and pass them on at costs to folks who will review them for you, then expand. Several speaker builders have done it this way. It’s not a fast road to riches and most fail/go under. But it is a way to start without investing (losing) too much money.
If you can answer the question "why" you want to be in the business, then the "how" is easier to answer. The industry is saturated with a plethora of fantastic options, so if you’re getting into the game, what are you bringing to the table that differentiates you? What is your competitive advantage relative to the already established brands?
If you’re going to pursue the low cost leadership route, then you probably want to get on with Best Buy and the major retailers. If you’re going the high end/boutique product route, a tour showcasing your product at the boutique stores makes sense.
I think it just all comes does to what you’re bringing to the table and what your target audience is.
The niche that is really opening up is the small powered stereo speaker with digital inputs. Think audio engine and vanatoo. If I were to try to chase the buck, I would start stuffing hypex modules in fancy aluminum cases.
I agree with Sean, the mass market is definitely heading that way. And I believe a fair number of those will convert to higher end audio as they age, get the means. Kind of like start with a Honda, move up to an Acura.
@erik_squires There's a lot of good insight to be had here.
I often say: "Experience is what you get, when you don't get what you want... wisdom is what you get when you've got a lot of experience."
As a marketing professional (albeit hailing from the IT industry with some background with CAD and CAM in the sporting goods trade), I have seen clients make many mistakes in their startup stage, particularly with regard to running before they walk. In the unbridled enthusiasm to get going, the basics are overlooked, in a rush to "do something" they wind up in a place that they didn't want to be and had to spend money and time to back out of the corner they painted themselves into.
I'd urge you to take a month or two (longer, if necessary) and develop a thorough business plan - you know - "plan the work, then work the plan". Use it as a roadmap for where you want to do and how you want to get there, tracking milestones along the way. It will help you stay on course. It will also serve you should you need Angel, VC or traditional bank financing at any point.
If you need help, let me know. Sounds like a fun project.
I think we've reached a time when speaker boxes should consist of tapered tubes that are the theoretical ideal for absorbing the back wave. B&W and Vivid have made very expensive speakers with this feature but I think it's high time more companies that aspire to make high-performing speakers get on board. If I was considering starting a speaker company I'd definitely be looking for ways to create the ideal shaped box for a reasonable price.
I doubt that there's any massive improvement coming in drivers since so many kinds of materials and techniques have been tried and refined already. DSP is pretty refined at this point as well and I think a no brainer for any new speaker company. Speakers should be active, crossover should be DSP, box should be tapered tube, drivers should be a bigger part of the overall cost of the speaker than they typically are.
I'm just a hobbyist but that's my fairly valueless opinion.
Based on my experience of building an own company from scratch, the most important thing is to do it. No endless discussions and plans, but doing it. If the product is relevant for consumers the rest will come step by step. Many questions can be ansered when situations must be solved. No sense in too much planning in the beginning - this is wasting precious time of building the company. So just do it, start now and keep us updated on your progress. Good luck!
The two way bookshelf stand mount or floor standing design is probably the most saturated format in the speaker market. If the goal is to make a living in making speakers, one has to stand out from the rest by offering something that is so different that it at least piques the curiosity of some of the audiophiles to give it a listen. At the minimum, you should be willing to allow for in-home trials with expectation that the customer will be so blown away that they not only keep the speakers but also solicit friends to give it a try. I’m a firm believer that if the product is a good value, it’ll catch on. But it has to be really really a cut above everything else out there and to me that is probably the biggest challenge. You can start with the audience here and ask how many are willing to participate in (and support) your venture. Just as one data point, I've been smitten with the sound of single driver full-range speakers and have studied at least a dozen of designs all spread across my desk. Yesterday while looking in the used market, I saw an add from a guy who had built a custom full-range speaker with excellent cabinet - used 3 sheets of 3/4" MDF pressed and glued, veneered professionally, and used Fostex F200A drivers @ $700 each, custom stands, custom crossover, asking $1500. I could not even come close to building something like that and expect to make profit.
Interesting topic. I am just about there. So far about 3 years of research and development to make a DAC, Phono stage and preamp that I felt would be game changers. It was a hobby that began to take shape after everyone heard my products in their systems and asked how much for me. I am talking about 30 seconds into the demonstration. Two non brick dealers wanted my products for the shows last year but I could not commit then. Originally I had build everything for myself as I was having difficulty finding something that was better than what I had that was significantly better. Everyone wanted one but since everyone knew me that wanted me to make something for them. I have a day job and know that I do not have the capital to really make products that I can mass produce. My products are all hand wired with expensive parts so nothing inexpensive. The hardest part was getting small quantities of a chassis made. The design is in the third re-design and I am not even really ready to go all out yet. Now design the shipping box, foam inserts, etc. Reviews, well if you don't know how to get your product reviewed you cannot just call up a reviewer and they jump for you. The only difference I can say is that my products are Direct Heated Triode designs so they really have never heard these before. But I am not there yet. Parts, parts, parts, yeah plenty of parts until you need to order quantities around the holidays, then out of stock. I learned that lesson along the way. So my goal was to begin with local audiophiles that I know in the NYC area. Find a few people in other parts of the country who had a following or carried off brand lines (not the local brick audio stores) who could get my product out there and offer a trial period. (anyone interested with a following, let me know). Then a few of the audio clubs to get some traction and start some buzz on some forums. Still not there yet. There are plenty of set backs in design and production (again my products are hand made).
The only reason I started this was because when someone wanted to hear my product in their system versus another manufacturers product in the same price range, it was an easy decision for them. I took my DAC to a few dealers who also agreed that the sound was something very different then what they had. The change was very big in the majority of the cases. Speakers are difficult because they are hard to ship out for a trial period. And you would have to make something that someone else says hey, these are better than what I currently own and they are compelled to make the purchase.
I also agree that this is a shrinking world. But there is a market for something that makes a difference in a system that most people have not heard before. I know I am competitive within my price range.
My goal was to build the best sound that no one had heard before. I did accomplish that in my opinion but the cost is high for a start-up. I also thought that I should have designed a cheaper product line first and have something that could be massed produced. It just was not the path my partner and I thought about until recently.
I am currently working towards the audio shows later in the year. I am keeping fingers crossed at this time. I probably have $40K invested and another $10K coming this month. Don't tell my wife!
My main objective is building what someone has never heard before and has been chasing like most of us for a long time. I know my DAC and phono stage do that and also my preamp. BUT IMO the source makes the biggest difference (I know it is my opinion please) so we will see if I can get there later this year.
I just took a trip to a few audiophiles homes last week. One person had my first DAC design and he sold it to another guy who was floored by it. The person who bought the first one could not believe that the second generation could be better. He kept asking me how, where, what is the difference. I told him everything. He did not believe me. I told him that I would bring one to him to hear. We plugged the DAC in cold and he looked at me within 30 seconds and said, OK yeah its way better. The more we let it play (tubes take about 20-30 minutes to begin to warm up) he was floored. So that was another DAC that never made it home with me. If I never got that look, I would have never taken the next step. To me without that, I would be just another audio company.
I encourage everyone to make something for yourself. Learn what makes the sound different and how to improve your systems sound. My partner was very experienced and I learned so much about design, what parts do, how to change or modify a design to improve the sound and also very important, how to listen. Now I can hear a system and pretty much tell what the sonic signature is of each component and what makes the system sound the way it does. It does get in the way of sitting back and enjoying music sometimes though.
Check out those Cessaro Lizst's for sale at the bottom of this thread.$160,000!!!! Can you build something like that! Because that is what the people with real money want! The future is in building and selling bespoke products for the 1%! Ferrari's rather than Ford's! And that takes plenty of moolah!
I'd do it like Nelson Pass. You don't have to design $100,000 amps or speakers to make a living. Focal got it's start building small 2 way speakers. If you build a quality product at almost any price point people will buy it. The First Watt J2 was called amp of the year by Stereophile and that's an amp that cost less than $1000 to build. They go for $4000 though.
Note that the first J2 was built after an amazingly successful career that earned Pass a legendary status in the audio community…so I suppose having a legendary status in the audio community is highly recommended before starting a new thing. On that note, I attended a Yale seminar years ago (my wife's reunion…I aint no Ivy Leaguer) presumably about "mid life career changing," and the panelists all had ridiculously successful banking careers before making a change (true)…thus the answer to How to Start a Successful Business is clearly start out not having to. I just bought an amp from Dennis Had's retirement (from Cary Audio) hobby…great amp.