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In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what’s your business?
I am Ilja Krumins, Chief Guitar Officer at Gamechanger Audio. We are an independent company based in Riga, Latvia, and four of us started this thing three and a half years ago. We invent, build and sell innovative musical technologies and instruments. We always try to think way outside of the box to inspire a more imaginative approach in an industry, which I believe suffers from an obsession with the past.
What is your signature product?
We don’t put out a lot of different product. Rather, we invent and develop truly interesting things such as our first product, Plus Pedal. This is a guitar pedal that borrows the principle of a piano sustain pedal and applies it to an electrical guitar, which has never been done before. Our most recent release is called the Motor Synth, which will be available in November. This is the first commercial instrument that gets all of its sounds by collecting energy from spinning electro motors.
What made you think that the music world needed a new kind of synthesizer and pedal?
We don’t think that the music world needs anything — all the Kraftwerk and Beatles albums are already out, so it would be very arrogant for us to say that the music world needs a device that runs on electro motors or something that shoots plasma beams. But the music world does need a regular injection of something new and interesting. It is important that somebody is out there doing this and thinking really hard about how to create groundbreaking new products because it doesn’t happen very often with music instruments. For instance, the guy who invented the distortion pedal? Give that guy a medal — he changed the world. Then give the guy who made the Wah-Wah pedal and the Talk Box a medal also. I think that it’s important that there are people like us out there who are not just making stuff because they want to have a business.
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How has the music industry reacted?
Reactions are usually very polarized. So half of the people say, “What the fuck is this bullshit?” Some say it is a gimmick in a box that shoots lightning, or that it is a toy for kids. Then thankfully there are other people who understand why we went through all the trouble to create these groundbreaking products and support us. If they have the money, they will buy it. One thing that has worked very well for us is that certain music artists have reached out to us proactively. For instance, Rammstein, Jack White, Adam Jones from Tool, Joe Berresi, an accomplished producer who recorded Queens of the Stone Age and Coheed and Cambria. Now Jean Michel Jarre and Richard Devine are two celebrities who are championing our new Motor Synth. But there is always a lot of online hate — that is good for us though and means we are doing something different and daring.
Describe how you created the team to build and sell?
We were very careful about hiring at first. The founding team of Gamechanger Audio worked many hours for free. The founders are myself — I am in charge of the music and the ideas, branding and marketing. Then Didzis is in charge of running business operations, and we have two engineers: one is in charge of inventing and developing new products, and the other one is in charge of hustling the hardware and making sure that manufacturing is set up properly. Obviously, we all wear a lot of hats but these are our basic roles.
How do you reach new customers?
Social media is the most important marketing channel for us because we are located in Latvia and we can’t be out there hitting the streets of New York and raising buzz about ourselves just by word of mouth. We have a full-time social media person, Matiss, and through those platforms, we have constant, direct conversations with the people that end up being our customers and supporters. We also have a full-time sales rep, Tom, who has managed to grow our dealer network from 20 shops to about 140 shops in about six months.
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Can you talk about the fundraising process?
All of our products have been launched in a crowdfunding fashion wherein we work hard to build a prototype that is very close to the finished product; then we launch it at some sort of trade show, do some online hype and then give people standard basic instructions on how to support the project. Crowdfunding has been very exciting to us — the general idea is that if the product is exciting, people are willing to put their money down. So far, I have to say that all three products have been received very, very well in terms of pre-orders. We announce the product, make sure it looks legit, then we launch it online, spend money on Facebook ads, do whatever we can. There is no reason to be shy about hyping it up online and we usually sync that with some sort of appearance at a trade show or at a convention. So the fundraising process means that we do what we can and hope for the best — that’s all you can do. But we’ve been successful three times so far.
What do you think were vital ingredients to making your products stand apart?
Basically, a product or idea has to be remarkable and catch your imagination — that’s number one. Price points are not important. We don’t overprice stuff, and we maintain a standard system. We have the cost of manufacturing and arrive at the end price by a certain multiple of that, which ends up being the street price. It is really very simple: Do you want it, or do you not want it? It is like with everything in life. You see a computer, a car, a house, a pair of shoes. You instantly know and instantly think “Oooh, yes, I want it!” or “Ahh, whatever, next.” And you forget about it.
What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
I think a lot of people in our culture and in our times have the wrong motivation for building a business. They go out and start things — keyword being ‘startups’ — just because they want to be called an entrepreneur. I think some may be after the lifestyle or startup community. But I guess we are a little bit more old fashioned and I don’t think of us as a startup. We simply build things and sell them. In some startup cultures, the product is sometimes the last thing the people are involved will care about, but we are not that kind of company or people. I would say that calling oneself an entrepreneur is not that important. Having a business is not a justification in itself. For example, I want the Motor Synth to be available to people to enjoy and create music. If I want to do that full time, I need to generate income and if I want it to be available to people, it needs to be available in stores around the world. So the way I see it, the business is just a necessary structural element to support the product. That’s it.
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How do you determine when a product is ready to launch?
No matter how much time you allow yourself, you’ll always end up launching at the last possible moment. We’ve learned this lesson in primary schools, in college, and then studying for master’s degrees. You think you are growing up and doing a master’s degree, but you still save your big paper until the last minute at 5:00 a.m. with Red Bull. But that said, we don’t rush our products — we plan everything very carefully. We have regular team meetings every week. We have team meetings, whiteboard ideas, draw timelines and do a lot of planning. At some point when we feel like we are approaching the end, we just set a hard deadline for ourselves. One we do that, that’s it and we don’t step away from that. Motor Synth was launched on May 7th at a big music convention. The first functioning unit was actually assembled on May 5th at 4:00 a.m. But while it is in development, we let it breathe and don’t want to rush it. We encourage a free and creative atmosphere. Once it is time to execute and have proven the concept can work, we go into that student cramming for an exam mode and stay in the office to 3:00 a.m. or 5:00 a.m. until it is done.