Posts Tagged ear buds

Inventors Talk To An Old Guy

Posted by on Saturday, 7 May, 2011


Inside Starbucks. But SO Outside-Of-The-Box

I was summoned to a meeting with a local inventor.

At Starbucks.

I forgot to ask. Eirik, the President of CustomBuds what he looks like. But Starbucks isn’t large. And my face is on LinkedIn. I figured we’d find each other easy enough.

When I arrived, I bought a cup of tea (who drinks coffee at night?) and looked around for a corporate leader. Nothing obvious. No one with a loosened tie or folded suit coat. Just teenagers and young women with kids. Too early? Wrong Starbucks?

One of the teenagers came over. Was I MISTER ScienceAintSoBad? He was Eirik Somerville. The guy with him was Sam, he said, his CFO.

Sam had that youth look down too.

Their Macbooks were open. And, on the table were containers of disassembled parts. Custom ear buds, it turns out.

I asked Eirik if he’s as young as he looks or if it’s a genetic curse that runs in his family.

“I’m seventeen,” he said.


“And you’re running a company?”

All business (and, apparently, having heard this crap often enough to ignore it), Eirik plunged in.

“So. Some time ago, I noticed how Steve Jobs, at Apple, leveraged the look of his products to improve sales. I love Steve, because he understands the power of aesthetics. And I wondered,” (said this child,) “if I couldn’t find a way to launch a company that does nothing but customize common products for other people.”

“The first thing that came to mind were the earphones that’re worn by kids with iPods. So I looked into offering custom colors for ear buds.”

“That’ll never work,” I said.

“We’re selling thousands,” he said. “With just word of mouth.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Here’s the thing,” Eirik said, “I know it may sound crazy, but people want things to reflect their own personality. With something as minimal as earbuds, the color’s the only thing you can really make your own. And we make a really quality product. Take a look.”

He pushed the box at me. Machined anodized aluminum ear pieces that made me want to take one home. Lots higher quality and more durable (it seemed) than the plastic version you usually see.

I let Sam and Eirik wind down. Then I got off some questions. How do you test? Who does the assembly? Marketing? (word-of-mouth will only stretch so far).  Financing?

Jeez! They had thought this thing through. Their answers were believable. They have a solid business plan and they know what they’re doing. Not perfect. But I’ve talked to plenty of entrepreneurs with less savvy. Older isn’t always better.

(Except in my case.)

CustomBud’s stock in trade is efficiency. Eirik says he’s developed a nifty way of spinning out high quality, solid metal ear buds on a per order basis at prices that compete with the mass produced stuff.

How does he do it?

I dunno, exactly. It can’t be slave labor since they employ US vets as workers. Probably, they don’t want to share the ingredients of the secret sauce. I can’t say I blame them.

CustomBud's very pro website in action

Quality control and testing? Very serious about it. Nevertheless, they were intent on learning how to improve. They asked good questions. I hope I gave good answers. New product lines? We booted that around too.

By 6:30, the lady behind the counter was giving us the you-gonna-order-more-or-give-up-the-table look. Since my lungs were already floating, I suggested we wrap it up.

Maybe I helped them. Maybe they were being polite. But, look at it this way, I got an article out of it. And tea.


Eirik Somerville. Remember that name. You may hear it again.