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Start it up: 3 pro-audio start-up success stories

As anyone who has been in the position of starting their own business can attest, it isn’t easy. Erica Basnicki caught up with a few new kids on the block who had the right stuff to succeed…

Tech start-ups are the talk of the interwebs and the media darlings du jour. Pro-audio start-ups might not fit neatly in the definition of the term, or be as plentiful, or get shared as widely through Instagram photos, but their success is – if anything – to be admired even further.

Why? Compared to the app/mobile technology world, ours is a mature industry and ‘innovation’ is frequently – but not always – a subtler affair. Incremental, rather than leaps and bounds. Increments aren’t as shiny as leaps and bounds – and those happen less often. So what does it take to catch the eyes of pro-audio’s magpies, asks Erica Basnicki? Over to three start-up success stories…

The brainchild of founder and chief marketing officer Pascal Dietrich, Klang’s 3D in-ear monitoring system addresses what the company refers to as “unnatural feeling, missing transparency, ear fatigue and disorientation” of traditional stereo monitoring. The company’s audio-mixing technology allows musicians to be placed exactly where you see them in the room, an idea Dietrich (pictured) started to develop nine years ago as a musician-cum-engineer.

PSNEurope: Describe the challenges and achievements of your first year of business.
Pascal Dietrich: Since we were starting up from a university research background, we successfully applied for a one-year start-up scholarship. Crowdfunding is definitely a very interesting platform [see box], but as the pro-audio market is not necessarily of interest to a wider range of people we found that this is not the best opportunity for us.

The main challenges were in the development of our hardware and software, and the marketing and distribution of our products. The Pareto principle – the 80–20 rule – [which states that roughly 80 per cent of sales come from 20 per cent of clients] is applicable in many areas, but this is not true for the high-level live sound market. We had to make sure our equipment was running day and night without any problems. All these challenges have been met, but our main achievement is something we were not expecting: seeing the joy on everyone’s face when listening to our 3D technology. This is the best motivation you can get to push the company and its products to the next level.

PSN: What three things made it possible for you to achieve your current level of success?
PD: The novelty of our entire product. It does not substitute another brand’s product, but just integrates in between mixing consoles and in-ears.

Being as close as possible to our customers and integrating them into the product development process, which leads to fast improvements and convenient workflows for hectic live-sound applications.

The smile on people’s faces when switching from standard stereo to Klang 3D. Everyone is curious how it works and they keep telling all their friends about what they just experienced.

PSN: What advice would you offer to someone considering a new pro-audio business in 2016?
PD: Get in contact with true pro-audio users from day one to get valuable beta testers and ambassadors, and of course talk to the right sales and marketing people to settle on a good strategy before you even start building the product.

Create loops for other producers to use and sell them online? Not really an original idea any more, pal. All the more reason, then, to admire founder Mike Frade’s success with Raw Loops. With years of music production under his belt, Frade (pictured) grew weary of a lack of focus on quality control and customer service from some of the bigger web stores which, for the most part, emphasised mainstream sounds. There was also the opportunity “to give the younger or less wealthy producers who don’t have the finances to go out and buy thousands of dollars worth of hardware gear a fair playing field”. Now Frade has hit the ground running with Raw Loops’ underground sound…

PSNEurope: Describe the early days of Raw Loops.
Mike Frade: They were definitely stressful, especially since I don’t know anything about coding a website. It was completely new territory for me, so the learning curve, as you’d imagine, was a massive undertaking. One piece of advice I can offer is to always get a contract from the web developers on a final price with the exact product that they are to deliver. It’s a really sensitive subject with web developers these days, but I stood firm and eventually got it the way I needed it to minimise my risk.

PSN: What three things made it possible for you to achieve your current level of success?
MF: Delivering a high quality product that people can get a lot of use out of.

The second most important element is definitely the fact that we have a great marketing person behind us who is really doing a great job to spread the word and create awareness about Raw Loops and give us the much-needed exposure for today’s market.

The third is a bit of an oxymoron, but it’s providing both consistency and diversity simultaneously while staying true to our core values for underground music. One, to make sure we are providing something for everyone; and two, because it can be extremely beneficial to pull elements from different genres to create either a whole new genre or just something truly different and special within your own genre of choice. It can all be a bit subtle to untrained ears, but as the old saying goes, “the art is in the detail”.

PSN: What advice would you offer to someone considering a new pro-audio business in 2016?
MF: It truly depends on what you’re selling, but one constant thing common to any industry is high-quality product with great marketing. Without these two things working together, it just won’t work.

Also, know your customer: gather data, know what they do and don’t like; invest in growth hacking, conversion optimisation and A/B testing for your business for 2016.

By now Eve Audio’s genesis is familiar to most: former Adam Audio CEO Roland Stenz set up shop to bring to life his own vision and studio monitor product ideas. Kerstin Mischke, responsible for sales and marketing at the company, shares Eve’s creation story…

PSNEurope: Describe your first year of business.
Kerstin Mischke: Prior to the official launch of Eve Audio everything happened behind closed doors and everyone involved kept quiet. That still astonishes me, as my experience is that word in our industry travels fast, and everything you want to keep secret or hide travels especially fast. Consequently the company’s launch in our industry in March 2012 came for most as a big surprise.

We also launched a complete product range, and that drew a lot of attention to us.

From the attention we created at our first Musikmesse in 2012 we received interest from 86 distribution companies from over 35 countries worldwide. Very quickly we brought our first products into the market, and the distributors we choose to work with did a massive job to introduce Eve to their markets. This all happened more or less worldwide and at the same time. The company grew fast. We had to speed up production, increased production quantities, hire more people and expand warehouse and production capacities much sooner then we thought that would need to do so.

PSN: What three things made it possible for you to achieve your current level of success?
KM: The main reason for the results we’ve achieved is the people involved: Roland Stenz has worked in pro-audio R&D for 30+ years now. He started his career in the mid ’80s in the former East Berlin. To do R&D work in pro audio behind the Iron Curtain was very different to how that’s done today – today you can call people to build or deliver parts, but back in the ’80s in East Berlin you had to make everything yourself – you couldn’t go and buy what you needed. I have more than 20 years of experiences in sales, most of them in proaudio. When we launched Eve I knew what distributors I should talk to in order to establish a strong network of business partners.

The second thing in our opinion is that we launched a complete product range. To offer a complete range makes a brand attractive for distributors and dealers. Their nature is to sell products and the more complete a range is the more attractive is your product for distributors and dealers to invest or offer that to your clients.

And the third reason is constant PR work in several channels and setting up a clever roadmap for marketing – which sounds easy, but it’s not!

PSN: What advice would you offer to someone considering a new pro-audio business in 2016?
KM: There is no general advice to give which works for everyone and every product. Start-ups should be aware that markets get narrower. Many countries are in political or economical situations where it’s difficult to forecast business, so you should have the power to adapt quickly and the resources to survive droughts. If you are ready for that, our advice is to go for it! It’s fun to be in the pro-audio business.
If you are not ready for that, take your money, buy a sunny island and a case of whisky or Jägermeister and call it a day.