What’s the inspiration behind Audios?
The concept of Audios originally started with my desire to connect my Bluetooth speaker to several (i.e. 5+) of my friends’ Bluetooth speakers. We were on a ski trip and we spontaneously decided to put on a house party. We had all packed Bluetooth speakers into our luggage, but we didn’t know whose speaker was the loudest. At the time, it was not possible to connect 2 or more Bluetooth speakers together and synchronize audio. So, we put all of our speakers on a table, turned the volume to maximum, and decided which one we’d use. Needless to say that one small speaker wasn’t loud enough, lol. However, we all agreed that if we could connect all our speakers, the volume would be more than enough. That’s when one of my friends said, “Yo, E, you’re an engineer. You should invent something.” I replied, “You know? You’re right. I think I can make something better!”
In the months that followed, I not only built a new type of speaker that didn’t require Bluetooth or a wireless router, but I managed to invent some new and very interesting ways for speakers to connect. By the time I was finished, I could connect up to 16 portable speakers and synchronize music across all of them.
Audios was born about a year later. I met Andy Rachleff and he introduced me to concepts like product-market-fit, as well as providing the steps required to accomplish product-market-fit. I took his input and built prototypes of every type of speaker I could think of including portable speakers, voice-controlled speakers, and speakers fit for permanent installations in buildings.
However, it wasn’t until I was helping my buddy Chad set up at the Cigar Bar in San Francisco, that I got the idea for wireless DJ speakers. We were setting up speakers and connecting cables throughout the venue and I began to complain by saying, “Bruh, why are you being so cheap? Just invest in some wireless speakers. Dealing with these cables is hard work.” That’s when Chad replied, “I’ve been looking for wireless speakers for years, but I haven’t found anything that’s good enough. Bluetooth won’t work because you can only connect one speaker at a time, and Wi-Fi won’t work because I can’t set up a wireless router every place that I go. To be honest though, I don’t care what type of wireless speaker it is – I just really want to get rid of the need for cables.” After hearing that, I built 4 wireless DJ speaker prototypes, we set up the following week, and it was a success: Audios was born!
Now that I proved that the speaker solves a problem and works, I needed to achieve product-market-fit, so I took the prototypes and hit the road. I traveled to Houston, Atlanta, Vegas and Miami, shadowing DJs. We set up events, and we also talked about the technical and business aspects of their industry. As a result, I was able to verify that the problem is cables. Cables take 80% more time to set up versus wireless, cost $100-$200 per speaker, and have to be replaced annually. We also verified we have product-market-fit.
Before launching Audios, you spent 6+ years as an Embedded Engineer at HP. What challenges did you face when leaving HP to start Audios?
When I left HP, I didn’t have any idea what type of startup I was going to start, nor did I have sufficient savings to sustain myself while living in San Francisco. A one-bedroom apartment cost about $3,500 per month. Needless to say, I couldn’t afford that long term. So, the first thing I did once I arrived in San Francisco was to secure an income stream that would sustain me indefinitely. I literally lived for free the entire time I was in San Francisco.
In detail, my flight arrived on 07/06/15 and by 07/11/15 I started a business that would generate me over $100K annually for the next 4.5 years. How? I attended a picnic at Golden Gate Bridge and there I met Julie, Christine and Ginger – three Taiwanese American businesswomen, who I consider my close friends to this day. At the picnic, they told me about this thing called Airbnb, and explained how I could use it to supplement my rent. I ran the numbers in my head and thought, “Wow, I’m about to run these numbers up.” That's slang for, “I’m about to make a huge profit”.
The next day, I began to look for a house based on two assumptions, (1) a house with 4-5 bedrooms would have less demand and (2) the landlord would prefer to rent to a single individual as opposed to 4-5 people. My assumptions were correct, and by 07/11/15, I signed a lease for a 5-bedroom, 4-bathroom home. Upstairs was a separate 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom; downstairs was a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom.
I listed the rooms on Airbnb and went to Walmart and Target to purchase air mattresses. In the first month, I made about $7,600. I took that money and furnished the house. The second month, I made about $9,600. After that, I began to average about $10,000/month up until March 2020. It was really a blessing to have enough income to pay all my living expenses. This allowed me to focus on Audios 100% of the time.
Did your time at HP impact the creation of Audios?
Yes. HP was a type of training for me. I looked at engineering the same way an athlete looks at sports: I knew I had to train and master my craft. Most nights when I would get off work, I’d train my abilities. I studied, wrote code, analyzed circuits, read schematics, and built prototypes that I used to file patents for HP. The end result was that I earned 4 patents, 2 paper publications and the ability to leave HP, completely self-sufficient in regards to building the first Audios product.
What’s your favorite part of the creative process?
I love, love, love imagining something and then creating it. It is so rewarding to see something come together that only existed in your imagination.
I think I have the inventor’s bug. I’ll likely continue to create until my lights go out :).
How do you handle risk and competition?
We mitigate risk by being honest with ourselves in regards to the likelihood we can differentiate our product sufficiently to survive a competitor’s entry into the market. Usually, if we don’t have an answer to differentiation, we won’t move forward. Similarly, we deal with risk by continuing to innovate. The goal is to remain ahead of the curve. To date, we only have one actual competitor and we’re confident our road map will keep them playing catch up.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
Our number one challenge has been fundraising. In 2019, 98% of all investment went to individuals who weren’t minorities, women or LGBTQ+. For Blacks specifically, they received less than 1% of all investments.
The analogy I always give is, “If before you were about to board a flight they made an announcement saying, ‘there is a 99% chance the plane will crash,’ would you board that flight?” Well, Blacks in tech are facing the same odds. There exists a 99% chance that we won’t receive an investment when we take a meeting with a VC or angel. Even though there is only a 1% chance of successfully landing an investment, I push forward. Why? I believe in myself and I believe in Audios.
The second challenge is related to hardware specifically. If we don’t have cash on hand, then we can’t build prototypes or a product to prove our value proposition and get to product-market-fit. We also can’t get help from chip makers if we don’t have brand recognition or a large enough budget to pay for support. This means I have to literally teach myself everything I need to use or build. My co-founder is in the same boat.
The third challenge I face is getting good help at the time I need help. Sometimes I’ll find amazing individuals in regards to what they do. Most times though, the help is subpar.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
I verified I have true endurance. I have been working on this idea doing whatever it takes for the past five years without even a thought of ever quitting. All this despite only getting a small investment in year three. Aside from my side hustle, I also didn’t have any income.
I also learned that I have amazing self-control. I once fasted without food (only water) for fifteen days straight. I wanted to test my willpower and I really genuinely surprised myself. Prior to that, I couldn’t even imagine not eating for more than a day, haha.
In your free time, you mentor for City of Dreams, a non-profit organization for youth development in San Francisco. How and why did you get involved with them?
I grew up in the Parramore neighborhood of West Orlando, one of America’s Most Dangerous Cities, according to Forbes in 2009. When most people hear Orlando, they call to mind Disney World, the happiest place on earth. The truth is, West Orlando is a crime-ridden, poverty-stricken, dangerous place.
By the time I was 9, I had already seen my first murdered body, been involved in the crossfire of drive-by shootings, and received my first throw-away pistol. Robberies, weapons, murders, and drugs were commonplace for everyone in West Orlando.
A turning point for me came at the age of 17, when my father came back into my life. He was an ex-convict with an extensive criminal record. Understanding that I was already on the same path as him, he decided to show me how to successfully run the streets and we created a bond through this process. Despite this, my father saw potential in me and continually urged me to go to college.
One fateful night, I had a close call with the police, and nearly escaped with my life. It was at that pivotal moment that my father’s words rang true. I decided to go to college, eventually earning a computer engineering degree. Of my group of Parramore friends, I’m the only one with a degree and the only one without a felony, prison time, or arrests for robbery, drugs or murder.
I have a deep appreciation of where I’m from and strive to be a role model for at-risk kids and teens, so I lead by example, showing them that a better life is attainable. A life with a future. I mentor teens 14 years-old and up living in San Francisco’s low-income and public housing communities.
What’s your team culture like?
I believe in a meritocracy. My co-founder as well. We don’t care about your age, race, sex, or sexual preference.
If you perform well, then we won’t place any limits on how far you can go within Audios. We want to create an environment where everyone feels welcome.
What is your superpower?
Willpower. I never give up. My secondary power is creativity. Imagining solutions to problems comes naturally to me.
What’s your kryptonite?
My skin color. I don’t get treated the same as others. I’m often not taken seriously. In tech, I haven’t gotten the same opportunities as others. The result is that it takes me much longer and it’s much harder for me than for many others in the same industry.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
I run 500-1000 stairs every day for exercise. I also do a 10-day water fast at least twice per year. That means no food at all! I have yet to meet anyone who does either of the two!
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
Lately, I’ve taken interest in the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, so I’ve been analyzing them in the original languages to learn the difference from the English translations. Initially, my goal was just to learn the original (non-translated name of God) but it has since turned into a full-fledged investigation. Why? I noticed there were tens, if not hundreds, of differences between the English translation and the original text. My goal is to simply learn/understand what the scriptures originally said, etc.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
My older homeboy – who later became a full-fledged criminal, the worst kind of criminals – once said to me when I was young, “Beirut (my nickname) never forget, struggle before progress.” That saying stuck with me the rest of my life.
I endure hardships because I truly believe that if I struggle long enough on my path, then it will lead to progress.