Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Janne Kyllönen. I am the founder of QuietOn. We are making active noise-canceling earbuds for sleeping and are bringing relief for people who are struggling to sleep in a noisy environment surrounded by traffic noise or snoring.
Our mission is for QuietOn to be perceived as a synonym for sleep earbuds. So far we have 80.000 happy customers all around the world and we are having more than $500k monthly in revenue.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I used to work in Nokia as a project and product manager. My main focus was user experience and new innovative technologies.
Once I was at Beijing airport with my colleague after an exhausting week in China. My colleague said that I should try those new active noise-canceling headphones. I put them on and immediately realized how good it felt. Suddenly I found myself inside a pleasant quiet bubble in the middle of the busy airport. I felt that my stress level started to decrease and everything was better. I stood there perhaps for 10 minutes just enjoying that feeling. But I didn’t buy the device. It was too big and clumsy. I knew that I wouldn’t carry that with me anyway.
Then a couple of years later when Nokia (and at the end Microsoft) mobile phone development ended, I started to think about what to do next. At some point, it became clear to me that I wanted to create a company that improves peoples’ lives.
I had a list of ideas but this experience around Active Noise Cancelling was the most interesting one. I started discussing with my old colleague Matti Nisula who has a profound knowledge about audio, electronics, and signal processing. I asked whether it would be possible to miniaturize active noise-canceling technology to a size that would enable sleeping with it? Matti said that he does not know it yet, but that we could try.
Starting mass production is much harder than you would imagine. When the device is designed, the work is far from being done.
And that is what we did. At the start, we were unemployed and did not have that much money but it did not stop us. We were so focused on beating this challenge.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The first round of prototypes was made with a couple of hundred euros. The only major investment was our own time.
We started building simulation models, finding the smallest possible components, and doing the design. After a couple of months, we were able to do the prototypes by manually soldering them under the microscope. The prototypes were rather ugly because the mechanical structure was made with hot glue and nail polish, but they were functional and the noise-canceling performance was right away on par with the best devices on market.
The big difference was that our device was an earplug that fits inside the ear. We started testing it with our friends and everybody said that the device was great.
I ended up introducing these prototypes to the headquarters of Finnair (Finland’s national airline). They said that the device was great, we just needed to make it look better. After that, they would be ready to start a cooperation project with us.
We proceeded by establishing the company and collecting a small amount of seed money. With the help of the product development grant from the Finnish technology development organization, we were able to continue designing and implementing proto series of the product which was almost the mass production version, only the mechanics were made with 3d printing. With those, we were able to start the airline project. The device was tested by airline customers and the feedback was super positive.
At the same time, we applied for the patent for the ANC device which fits the ear. The patent is granted in the USA, EU, and China. Through previous connections, we were able to initiate the patent discussions easily. We knew what was novel and what could be secure and for that, we provided technical details and the draft claims. From there, the patent engineers “translated” the draft into the patent and legal language and after a few iterations were made, we applied for it.
Given the fact that we were able to do a large part ourselves, the whole process to get the patent was relatively low in costs (only a couple of thousand USD). When the patent was granted, it was sent and expanded to other regions. There was no need to make new applications, only registration fees and agency costs were needed. Understanding that the patent covers the use case and being able to take the necessary legal actions if the patent is violated is necessary.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The next big question was, are there customers who are willing to pay?
We realized that crowdfunding is an interesting way to make the market study. Let’s just start to sell these and if we succeed then we set up the mass production and here we go.
We selected Indiegogo because it was the easiest as a non-US company. We made professional-quality video content and crafted the marketing message ourselves which initially was a bit too engineering-focused.
We collected all possible emails, made lists, and sent a campaign via Mailchimp on the launch date. With the help of old colleagues, friends, and other people on the list, we were able to make $10.000 in sales on the first day. That was good enough so that the Indiegogo algorithm set up the campaign on the front page and from there it started to take off: On the next day, the sales were $50.000.
Test your product with customers early enough.
That is the time when we realized that we have a product in our hands. But also it meant that we needed to set up manufacturing fast and find a way to send the products all around the world. We had that campaign up and running until we got the manufacturing up which took around a year. The total sales were $1.3 million.
One of our biggest lessons learned is that the beginning of the campaign already indicates whether it will succeed or not. You need to get it trending within the first few days, that’s why it is essential to prepare all the necessary actions in advance (pre-marketing campaigns through emails, social media, discounts, etc).
Another tip would be to invest in the video, which is the main tool to tell your story on crowdfunding campaigns.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We have always been in contact with our customers, to find out what their needs and concerns are, and also to identify the biggest benefit that our solution can bring. We have been constantly adjusting our segmentation and marketing message accordingly through customer reviews and questionnaires, using the feedback and answers to improve our products.
Additionally, we are actively discussing with our customers through customer care and occasionally face to face in exhibitions. We really value this constant communication.
But the biggest question, in general, is of course how to improve the product itself.
After the first product was out, we realized that the device was still too big for sleeping. We adjusted our business plan to focus on airline travelers and hearing protection use cases. This plan was working well and we were on inflight sales in ~20 major airlines.
The first collaboration started through an inflight usability test project with Finnair and after we got good results, we were able to open the sales. The Lufthansa collaboration also started with a technology study and continued the sales. After that, we joined travel-related exhibitions and built the contact network there, typically giving the devices for testing to the airlines’ product managers. After getting good feedback, we started the business discussions with the retail sections.
Since then, we have been focusing on product development to make the product smaller, more comfortable, and better performing for the sleeping use case. Now our 3rd generation product is out. The customer feedback and product reviews are telling us that now we really can fulfill the customer needs! As an example, Techradar gave 4.5 stars and named QuietOn 3 the best sleep earbud.
Because our device is so unique and solves such an important problem, we have been able to get earned media really well. We work together with a good PR agency to make the connections and we are sending the devices in exchange for a review. This works well and is cost-efficient. Examples are the excellent reviews by Forbes, TechRadar or Women’s Health.
Another way to find a new audience is by influencers and affiliates. People who are actively looking for ways to improve their health and wellbeing and have followers are good partners for us. We can give interesting content to them by giving our device for a test and hopefully after we identify even more customers. Examples of successful influencer campaigns which we ran are the one with Just Me Studying - a blog which focuses on finding ways to perform better, among them sleeping better - or the one with Health Coach Kait, emphasizing ways to improve your life, health and sleep quality.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The mass production is up and running, but still, we can sell more than we can produce only via our webshop quieton.com. The demand is truly huge.
Our mail channel is our webshop, which is totally global. The webshop is integrated into the factory and its delivery center. We are focusing on marketing and want to have customer care in our own hands. This process runs smoothly and the business is profitable and we put our time and effort into the most important aspects: the customers and building the brand.
We are now scaling up the production capability and after that, we will start opening more sales channels. I truly believe that we are on our way to our mission to become the synonym of sleep earbuds.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Starting mass production is much harder than you would imagine. When the device is designed, the work is far from being done. To get the mass production efficiently up and running with all the needed quality controls will easily take as much time and effort as designing the actual product.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Our main sales channel now is our webshop, which uses WordPress and Woocommerce. The most important part is of course Google Advertisement and Analytics, whereas Facebook and Instagram are supporting channels.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Why we sleep? (Book by Matthew Walker). This book is great. It explains what sleep is and highlights the value of good quality sleep. It brought motivation to work even harder to bring our solution to all people who need it. In addition, The hard thing about hard things (book by Ben Horowitz) was also really good.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Test your product with customers early enough. If you are not a little bit ashamed by how the product looks in the first usability tests you are too late.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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