It takes a brave individual to launch Bluetooth speakers and headphones into a crowded audio market. Take a stroll around your local consumer electronics stores and you’ll find dozens of brands competing for the ears and wallets of consumers across a broad range of price points. Drive to an out of town supermarket and you’ll find even more. It’s a crowded marketplace.
You have to make yourself available: John Talbot Source: Damson Audio
You have to make yourself available: James Talbot
But when James Talbot begins designing his first speaker unit, he was a man on a mission. As head of international sales with UK real estate company, Savills, he spent a lot of time in airports, planes and hotel rooms. “I traveled extensively,” he says. “I passed the time by listening to music and I always had a really good set of noise-cancelling headphones. But I could never find the right speakers.”
In Talbot’s view, the speakers available at the time were either too big, too easily damaged or they simply didn’t sound good.
It was a business trip to Seoul that changed Talbot’s view of what was possible. Sitting in a restaurant he heard near-perfect sound coming from a desktop speaker. Inspired, he set out to design his own, using technology that harnessed the surface that the device was sitting on to improve sound quality.
It was at this point that the audiophile became an entrepreneur. Having secured a production deal with a factory in China, Talbot ordered a batch of 500 speakers to sell to “friends and family” in 2011. All the units sold. A year later, he took the product to the Gadget Show and racked up £35,000 sales. Fast forward to the present day and Talbot’s company, Damson Audio is on target for $5m sales in 2017.
As Talbot explains, one of the key’s to gaining traction in a crowded market has been a focus on creating a credible consumer-facing brand. “I took branding very seriously,” he says. “Creating the brand was the first step. So I set about coming up with a brand name that would work globally.”
But of course, a brand is more than a name and Talbot says that it was also vital to have a differentiated product. “There are a lot of speakers on the market. But ours was small – about the size of an airport coke can –but also very well built. It’s a quality product. So people were saying ‘what’s that?’ It really got people talking.”
Damson has now brought 5 products to the market and each of them has been sold -initially – through a crowdfunding campaign on the Indiegogo platform. “Crowdfunding has given us sales and advocates,” says Talbot.
A Clear Message
But, of course, success on a rewards crowdfunding platform can never be guaranteed. Some projects capture the imagination of those who pledge cash and others don’t. According to Talbot, the first step is to provide the crowdfunding community with a clear idea of what the project is and why they will find it useful or attractive. “You need a clear message,” says Talbot. “You need to tell the people what the product also tells them what problem it solves.”
The Medium And The Message
The second prerequisite is an appealing video. “You are asking people to take a leap of faith,” he says. “So you have to create a video that helps to build trust.” That doesn’t necessarily mean spending a lot of money. As Talbot sees it, the video provides an opportunity for the founder or inventor to speak directly to the target audience. This enables potential pledgers not simply to judge the product itself but also the man, woman or team behind it.”
Making Yourself Available
Those who are interested will want to know more. “I always make myself available to answer questions and it’s important to be completely honest,” says Talbot.
He cites the example of delivery dates. Someone who has pledged money in the expectation of receiving a product will naturally want to know when the units will be shipped. It may be tempting to put the best gloss on this, but Talbot believes the crowdfunding community will see through over-optimistic estimates. It’s much better to be realistic.
In the case of Damson, crowdfunding campaigning only begins once the R&D has been done, with manufacturing capacity available. This makes it easier to answer questions around delivery time.
Promoting the Campaign
The final piece in the crowdfunding jigsaw is a promotion. Damson has built an e-mail list while also using Facebook extensively to raise awareness of current campaigns. And as Talbot points out, a good initial response creates a snowball effect.. “You get further publicity through the Indiegogo newsletter,” he says.
One by-product of crowdfunding is an international audience. As things stand, around 75% of Damson’s orders come from outside the UK. Today the company also sells via Amazon and its own site.
In the meantime, Talbot has just launched another product via Damson’s sister company NNUQ, this time a universal portable charger dubbed the Powerplant – which has thus far raised $25,000 via crowdfunding.
Looking ahead, Talbot says a product out later this year could be a game-changer – one that it will allow Damson to compete with the big names in Audio, such as Bose and Beats. “It could be our $1bn product,” he says.