The Arc Of The Project, A Real World Tale

Entrepreneurs/inventors go through many stages of enterprise and end to end can mean from product conception through to some resolution. The normal resolutions are sale of the technology, startup of an operating company with its sale to another firm, operating the company to build a brand or abandonment of the project due to market or financial forces. In general, end-to-end means concept through market insertion. Here is a tale of one project from market identification, product concept, prototype, testing, production interface, business plan, investor sales, operations, marketing, key account sales as well as negotiation of both licenses and acquisition of the company.

The 2ners were a direct outgrowth of my involvement in the bicycle industry and addressed the issue of people riding with ear buds or headphones. There were numerous consumer requests for something that would allow the rider to experience their music that was safe and comfortable. In the case of cycling, this was a serious drawback in that you were isolated from the environment and could not hear approaching autos or safety vehicles. The other problem was that all of the existing units used wires to a remote player/radio making for a problem when removing a helmet or during spirited activity. The few existing headphone type radios were far too bulky for use in active sports even though many did in running and jogging, but their size and mass made them uncomfortable for use as well as isolating.  The reason was that music is compelling and even with a bad form factor its better than nothing.

The 2ners development as an intergraded headphone type radio does hinge on the question of power requirements and therefore the battery size. Providing enough power to give good volume and sound quality over a reasonable amount of time between battery charges, or replacements, is the key issue. Other systems use AA or AAA batteries and full coverage head phones to achieve the goal but that was obviously not acceptable for this application.  They were far larger than desired. The state of microelectronics and speakers however did show that it might be possible. In addition, the solution turned out by utilizing all the available energy, both mechanical as well as electronic, I could keep the size down.

The 2ner used a couple of innovative methods to provide excellent sound quality with minimal energy requirements.  These ultimately lead to the ability to package the system small enough for active sports. The product and was a total ground up design entailing electronics, acoustics, packaging, biomechanics and aesthetics.

The primary method was utilizing the body of the unit and its circuit board to make a tuned cavity to enhance bass response with bone conductance to enhance bass. The additional bass response was achieved by turning the speaker around so the voice coil enclosure rested on the persons cheek allowed for a much smaller speaker size being used, lowering the amplifier size and limiting the systems power consumption.

The other key element was the use of directed speaker ports that aimed the high frequency parts of the sound into a zone of the ear.  This naturally funneled those frequencies into the inner ear. The shape of the unit provided a windshield effect reducing the effect of wind noise.  It also fitted well with bicycle helmets. The elimination of extraneous features, such as a display for station and time, was integral to keeping the unit’s size compact.

After 8 months of development, what resulted was a very sleek unit that utilized magazine re-chargeable type battery packs, digital scan tuning and digital volume. The form was fully ½ the size of the other headphone radios and was smaller than many headphones.

The full feature FM 88-108 MHz with PLL tuning allowed for its use with available small FM transmitters providing a wireless link from a Discman or MP3 player so the user could listen to their own music not just broadcast radio.

I had planned on an evolution of the product with a built in MP3 flash memory chip contained in the right hand side battery box. This would have given us a lead on many of the majors for ultra small MP3 players and eliminated the need for the transmitter. This follow on product was to be in place after 9 months of sales of the first unit and followed normal product evolutionary product pathways.

The original business model was to sell or license the technology to an operating firm and after doing show and tell to the likes of Nike, Schwinn, and Vetta. In general, selling new products to existing companies revolved around the ability to show consumer acceptance and was the core of the sales resistance from the large firms. We did not expose the product to the large consumer products companies as we were disruptive technology and access to the C level management had always been a challenge.

I have had some experience with consumer direct response sales via TV (infomercial companies) and knew that they sometimes were willing to do joint ventures on products where they would assist in the startup production of a new item. They would also handle the marketing of the product and fulfillment of the product.  We decided to pursue this matter and over the course of five meetings, a very lucrative contract was entered into with the infomercial giant Guthy-Renker for joint venture and exclusive distribution.

The contact negotiations took months and were a minefield of details concerning minimum annual royalty payments, territories, internet sales, price, cost, and delivery.

During this time, I contacted two manufacturing companies in Hong Kong for the production of the product and worked with their engineers to bring it into a mass producible state. This requited the creation of all packaging, instruction manuals, graphics and logo for the product.

During the normal startup process time of eight months, some key decisions at Guthy-Renker were made and they had decided to stick exclusively with consumable products. This change presented me with two options– I could force them into court to “cure” us as per the contract or proceed to market myself and leave the relationship intact.

I then decided that sales via online web site and viral marketing would work. I generated a website for the marketing and sales of the product, and it was selling quite well until the majority partner in the project decided that he would prefer to transfer the technology to a major company.

In 2004 (three years after the 2ner introduction), Oakley introduced a sunglass system with a built in MP3 player approximating the size of the 2ner but at a much higher price point.

Koss audio and Panasonic both produced a line of headphones using aimed tuned ports to enhance audio experience as was pioneered in the 2ner. Patents were filed and granted on the core technologies and were granted but infringers have not been dealt with do to issues of cost versus reward.

Contributor: Zippy Flounder

71 Comments

  • Todd Dunning says:

    Zippy why did you not go direct to market as a new brand? I understand this is probably a big challenge in consumer electronics. However, just doing direct sales yourself over the Web for example, would provide a track record that would attract the bigger licensees you were hoping for.

    I know this is a story on end to end results, but what is the value proposition of the 2ner? At first I assumed it would allow bicyclers to hear outside sounds and improve safety. But otherwise I can’t quite tell what the differentiation is. Not that there isn’t any. You have plausible assumptions in there, but I am not sure from the writeup exactly what consumer problem the product is solving. Again, just from the writeup.

    After establishing a very clear value proposition you can go direct to market and watch the blogs go nuts over it. It has worked like a charm for me every time, because it’s the value proposition that excites people; and the product is just the tool to provide that value.

    • zippyflounder says:

      Tod: You need to remember the time 1998/9 and the products that were out there then as far as value prop go’s. The advantages were size, comfort, wireless, sound quality and the one I wanted but couldn’t get past the investors mp3. The market avenues were much different then, blogging/viral was talked about but not used much at that time.

      The idea was to launch as a new brand, however that in consumer electronics can be hugely expensive and so we were cash poor. In 98/99 ALL the risk and angel money was going to the dot bombs, if you had a physical product you had to scavenge what you could and that was damn little. After the launch the dot com bust was in full fury, so there was no bridge capital available. Very often you end up doing what you can, not what you plan and even then timing and events can sabotage you (just like now days).

      • Todd Dunning says:

        Oh wow – 98-99! I feel for you. I was one of those dot-bombs, raising $7M in 2000 right at the beginning of the crash. Then I got to lay off 45 people over a two year period.

        I agree; back then it would have been just about insurmountable to get 2ner to market. Kudos to you for trying and emerging stronger.

        Look at the amazing avenues we have today to bring products to market. YD doesn’t even have many “real” products yet; this speaks to the appeal that ideas have.

  • zippyflounder says:

    will do, be next month

  • uli says:

    As many of us here wish to learn, by what method are you approaching your next launch? You putting up the money yourself, finding investors, finding licensors to obtain royalties, or selling your invention outright for some cash?

    Also, where are you getting in manufactured? Overseas or in the USA (I assume you’re from the US)?

    and any hints on what your product is? i must confess that at the end of the 90s, your invention must have been sweet, but as a young designer now, it’s kind of old-school – no offense (-;

    Any chance to get your email address? I have a bunch of ideas I want to turn into real products but don’t know how to 🙁

    • zippyflounder says:

      Its going to be combo launch both at a trade show and online. Its manufactured both in the US and off shore. The funding is out of pocket and we have a co venture that provides a existing distributor system so quick cash flow.

      Yes the 2ners look dated, its the realities of time and technology. I now could make them 1/2 the size with more features. Remember that most products that make it to the market don’t look like the renderings, its the realities of production, pricing etc seem to have that effect.

      If you want to learn how to make your product ideas real, it will take a lot of time, get some business books, talk to entrepreneurs, engineers and realize that design of a product is only about 10% or less of its budgetary cost.

  • zippyflounder says:

    well thanks for all the great comments, hope your all anxiously waiting for the next installment….its of if your not 🙂

  • bep says:

    Zip,

    so did you ever post any of your work, an online portfolio or any link to some of you “hundreds of products to market”?

    I really wanna finally see what your work looks like. Or is it that you would like to remain anonymous on the web?!

    • zippyflounder says:

      I have been hyper busy getting a new product of mine to launch, pre production prototypes are a PAIN in the arse (ahh the pain of birth, and women say us guys don’t experience it).

  • Bep says:

    ok… well, just seems weird that you won’t even link a bunch of products that you have designed and are floating around the net.
    the way you carry yourself here, you must have a huge rep in the business, with awards thrown at you.
    I believe you are busy but you seem to have enough time to wisecrack here on yanko though…

    Is it you, philippe starck??

    • zippyflounder says:

      Oh I carry myself as I am, a old war horse with lots of experience and lots of projects. Do I have a huge rep, nope, I never belonged to IDSA, the awards won were in specific industries some of them don’t even exist now.

      I took a hiatus for 6 years to develop a very difficult technology, in effect said “this to the exclusion of all others”. I have done as much invention as design, and rather than blast out millions of concepts that were fantasy I did fewer and took them to market. As to portfolio, a lot of it got destroyed (remember I am old school, so it was photographs and physical drawings and mock ups) were gleefully destroyed by my now ex wife during our divorce.

      I have purchased zippyflounder.com and when I get around to it will post my stuff there. The folks here at Yanko must have been OK with my vita or else why give me a editorial. I hope this satisfies your curiosity.

  • Mack says:

    I’m with Bep here. Seems like zippyflounder is all talk and . . . that’s about it.

    I took 10 years off to develop a what was once thought to be impossible technology, but I won’t tell you what it is. I also have been lauded with plenty of awards for my products, of which I won’t say what they were because my dog ate them, gleefully. Oh, I’ll post some stuff on my website when I get some time off of developing new technologies, but truthfully, it might be hard because that time that I get off will be spent belittling others and posting snarky remarks on other people’s inventions and designs. And if you think I’m cocky, I have every right to be because I have a great CV – so great that it would blind you if I were to show it to you. Ah, maybe some day you might see my genius, if only I were to show it to you.

    • Joey says:

      Let’s face it, regardless if zippy chooses provide specifics about his credentials, he possesses a great deal of knowledge. Something we could all benefit from for the greater good. Yes, he can be condescending; however we all have quirks that others overlook in us. In addition, would you really want to share all your personal details and history on the internet?

      I for one appreciate zippy’s insights. If he could do that a little more kindly that would be sugar!

      • Keith says:

        I tend to think that Zippy’s comments are mostly concise and never seem to be degrading to the point of being uncostructive. I have yet to see one of his comments where I thought to myself, “well, gee, maybe he should have been a little nicer there.” Following what someone says blindly, just because they are a professional in anything, can be very dangerous, as even professionals can be wrong. You don’t need to see his past work if you can rationalize through his comments to see that he has some good insights. Not particularly aimed at you Joey, just figured it fit best as a reply to your comment.

      • zippyflounder says:

        thanks joey, knowlage in this field comes hard, and so if i can spare some others the knocks that comes with “school of hard knocks” then I have done a bit of good.

    • zippyflounder says:

      http://www.zippyflounder.com and the whole story should be up with in the week.

  • Eric says:

    If Zippy says something you don’t like I have an idea, ignore it. Be the “better man” and zip your own lip then! Everyone on this site has an opinion, it’s sort of the point to make this open to comments isn’t it? We are ALL fans of design so nobody needs to hate on the lovers! Zippy’s a big lover of design, heaven forbid he brings reality to the forums…

  • TonTon says:

    I´ve been scrounging this website for weeks, reading each and every comment. Zippy is that industrial reality when he writes. I also got really chocked when I noticed that he apparently know about every area on ID.

    I would like to work with you!!! Keeping creativity in a real state is quite nice!

    Keep it coming!!!

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