“We were really amazed by how fast things can move,” says co-founder of Band Industries Hassane Slaibi. Their first product, Roadie Tuner, a device that tunes guitars automatically by placing it on the guitar pegs, is due for distribution in June. After having gone through an acceleration program in Shenzhen, China, at hardware startup accelerator Haxlr8r, the team decided to launch the company’s manufacturing operations in the country – known for its impressive manufacturing sector.
Going to China for manufacturing “was a no-brainer,” according to Slaibi, who adds that the main reason he and co-founder Bassam Jalgha applied to Haxlr8r was to get a leg into China’s large manufacturing sector. “We went there because all the signs told us we should go there,” he says. He adds that China has the best manufacturing knowledge and the most efficient practices for a fraction of the price that it would cost elsewhere. “All the supply chain is already set, all the shipping is already set, and all the manufacturing. If you are upset with your factory, you just move to the next one. There is a lot of choice, a lot of competition, a lot of experience – it’s amazing.”
While Slaibi is once again based in Beirut, co-founder Bassam Jalgha stayed in China to oversee the manufacturing operations. The pair met though a band during their undergrad years at the American University of Beirut but didn’t start working together until 2012, several years after they had graduated. By that time Jalgha had developed a prototype of the device for which he won the first place prize of $300,000 in the 2009 Stars of Science Competition. When the pair decided that it made sense to collaborate, they spent a year and a half developing the technology, and in August 2013 entered Haxlr8r with nine other startups.
The Haxlr8r program was a fast ride. Slaibi explains that in the first week they learned about prototyping and manufacturing, and the electronic factory market next door. Equipped with funds from the accelerator of $25,000 they started to iterate quickly, first prototyping the printed circuit boards (PCBs) that are in Roadie, then the plastic mold. “Making a plastic cast is really an iterative project. You do one, and then you start refining it,” he says. “You can make as many 3D models and as many computer renderings. But if you don’t hold it and try it out on an actual guitar, you don’t get a feel of it.” According to Slaibi they made at least 50 prototypes that were tested on different guitars to find a design that worked with all pegs.
“It’s mind-blowing how quickly you can iterate [in China],” says Slaibi. “You can order a PCB, and two days later it’s mailed to your office. Same thing for prototypes; they had three different types of 3D printers, which helped iterate quickly.”
The low-cost of production and Chinese manufacturing expertise helped them design a better product. Because it’s cheaper, “instead of making one prototype, you can make five,” Slaibi says. “The end-result is much better.” Likewise, the experience and expertise of their manufacturing partners in China also contributed to the quality achieved in the final product, according to Slaibi. “Those guys are amazing. They would take a design and just add everything that’s related to plastic and make it more sturdy,” he says.
The Haxlr8r program opened their eyes to the business aspect of the product by exposing the team to different mentors. Slaibi explains that one mentor taught them to “gamify” the app – to engage users by creating game-like features – to make tuning more fun. Others taught them about marketing and branding. The mentors also gave them a broader vision. “Really a vision beyond just a guitar tuner, of a company that does music related products … that creates helpful tools for musicians,” says Slaibi.
Raising 60k in four days
On the last day of the three and a half month acceleration process, the team launched a campaign on American crowdfunding platform giant Kickstarter to fund their first phase of manufacturing. In just four days, they raised their goal of $60,000. The full campaign raised $178,613, almost three times their goal.
Planning the campaign and figuring out a strategy to ensure its success took two full months of work, according to Slaibi. One of their strategies was to reach out to media outlets such as TechCrunch that specialize in technology and entrepreneurship.
The other was a small innovation of theirs: they developed a regular chromatic tuner that they launched three months before Kickstarter, which got 6,000 downloads by the time they launched the campaign, according to Slaibi. On the day of the launch, they had a simple splash screen featuring Roadie Tuner with the option to learn more. “Those 6,000 people who knew the app, and knew it works and believed that we can make the product, a lot of them went on and backed us in the first few days,” says Slaibi. Out of the 6,000 downloads, 80 of them became backers of their campaign, according to Slaibi.
When asked about their capacity for production, Slaibi said that they could make as many tuners as they want, but their first batch will consist of 3,500, which they will be selling both online and through orders from distributors. They are hoping to get more distributors for the second batch, which according to Slaibi will come a few months after the first. The retail price for the tuner will be $99.
They currently have a partnership with a German distribution company for music products, Hyperactive Audiotechnik, whom they met through a long series of acquaintances. They have attended various trade shows around the world to introduce their product and make initial contacts with other distributors. “Whenever the time is right, we might do collaborations with big names,” says Slaibi. They are still waiting for bigger margins to make partnerships with big players. As the recent Diwanee acquisition shows, making contacts at an early stage can be a crucial factor later on.