SaaS Founder Interview with Wei-Shin Lai & Jason Wolfe, Founders of AcousticSheep

Tony Zayas 0:06
Hello, everybody and welcome to the tech founders show. We talk to fascinating founders of technology companies who are really out there doing interesting things, changing the way we work, where we live, the way we learn the way we play. Super excited to dive into another conversation this week. But before we do that, Andy, how’s it going? What anything exciting happening today?

Andy Halko 0:31
Oh, you know, today’s a great day. Here in Cleveland, of course. I’m a little tired. But that’s okay. Because I think that’s a perfect, perfect segway into who we’re talking to you today.

Tony Zayas 0:45
Yep. And the reason I asked is because I have heard, I know you’re not a big Facebook guy, and you’re not on there. But I recently saw something saying that it’s your birthday. So I just wanted to say Happy birthday.

Andy Halko 0:58
Thank you very much. Yes, I’m I’m one year older today. That’s just exactly what I want to talk about.

Tony Zayas 1:06
All right. So with that embarrassing moment, put you on the spot here out of the way, we’ll go ahead and bring on so today’s today’s guests really excited about about these guests. But I will tell you, we’re talking about the founders from ACOUSTICSHEEP LLC. So it’s Dr. Wei-Shin Lai and Jason Wolfe and acoustic sheep was founded in 2007. By Dr. Lai, a family physician and her husband, Jason is a video game developer, Dr. Lai`s struggled with getting back to sleep after patient phone calls in the middle of the night. She needed to listen to something, some relaxing music to help her sleep. But her headphones, they were bulky, the earbuds are uncomfortable. And since there are new headphones specifically designed for sleeping on the market. Guess what? They went ahead and invented their own. So hey, guys, welcome. Hi, hello. Awesome. So nice to have you guys on. So hopefully I told a little bit of a story there. But I think to get started. Tell us more. How did this come about? And tell us about the product? And we’ll go from there?

Wei-Shin Lai 2:20
Absolutely. So as you get older, you really need a lot more sleep. Or you feel it when you don’t get enough sleep. Right. So um, so yeah, we, we started this because I had just gotten out of residency, I was in family practice. every fourth night, I would be on call and then the in the middle of the night 3am I get a call about something I’d be wide awake, thinking about it, and then you know, checking the computer and whatnot, and then I wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. So I was complaining to Jason about it. And he’s like, Well, why don’t you listen to some relaxing music? And I was like, Okay, yeah, but like you’re asleep. So yeah, we didn’t, we didn’t want to involve bugging me this. So we looked around for headphones, that I could wear in bed. And there really wasn’t anything at all on the market in 2007. And so so yeah, headphones are, you know, can’t turn can’t sleep on your side. And then the earbuds just hurt my ears. So we came up with the idea of putting really, really thin speakers inside of a headband. So these are our thin speakers, and they’re actually flexible. And then here’s the headband. And so then you just put this on and then you know you can listen to relaxing music all night long. And you barely know they’re there. Yeah, and you know, so so we we sat down one night at our kitchen table. Jason had bought some speakers and like wires and things like that we were just fiddling around with fabric trying to come up with some soft solution and create an entire market category. Right? Yeah, we 2007 you would have thought that somebody would have invented this already, you know, but it’s a niche. You know, everybody sleeps 100% of people sleep and 30% of us don’t sleep well. So it was a huge market niche that that just really needed a product. We were quite surprised that there wasn’t something already yeah

Andy Halko 4:23
i love it I you know i do that i get up in the middle of the night have an idea and then you know, typically write it down next to my phone but then going back to sleep so hard so I mean I love the the idea of getting back in that you know mindset with some music. I’m kind of curious, you just mentioned sitting at your table dabbling with wires and things. Can you tell me more about the invention process how you brought made this happen and and brought this to life?

Wei-Shin Lai 4:54
Sure. So initially, we kind of had the idea of just saw fabric like regular headphones over the top. Yeah. But really, really thin. That that’s kind of the point and it had to stay on. So that you can turn on your side. And so we were, you know, we had some, I guess, memory wire. And so we are bending this stuff in

Jason Wolfe 5:20
a frame that would hold its shape. But But ultimately, it just wasn’t satisfying. It wasn’t gonna

Wei-Shin Lai 5:25
say, yeah, it didn’t stay on. But it was thin, so you can sleep on your side comfortably. And so that’s kind of when we realized, okay, we needed to be thin. And we needed to be flexible. But it needed to stay on somehow. And so finally, you know, after a few different tries of the regular headphone idea, we came up with the headband idea, because that stays on pretty well, you have to actually have the just the right fabric, we have to experiment with all kinds of fabric and already get the one that would actually stay on your head and be cool, moisture wicking, and, you know, be stretchy enough, like all of the criteria to be comfortable.

Jason Wolfe 6:08
We went through a lot of iterations, just different, different approaches, right. Initially, we had the wire coming out the forehead, which I still think was pretty cool, because it didn’t. But nobody, nobody got it people

Wei-Shin Lai 6:18
when we get pictures all the time of people wearing backwards if you like, No! But so so yeah, eventually we’re like, okay, okay, that was the right decision. Yeah, we have to put the tag in the back, as well as the wired because that’s just kind of what people are thinking. So yeah, we’re up to version seven now. Oh, wow. Yeah. official version seven, with many experiments, right? Yeah. Yeah. version two failed miserably. That was really quick. So it was version three, for

Andy Halko 6:47
I`m always curious for folks that are creating a physical product. You know, how did you have to go out to another firm and get them to help you invent? Or did you do it all at your kitchen table?

Wei-Shin Lai 7:01
So headphones are not that difficult. They’re there speak, Yeah, it’s a speaker. And so we can’t make the speakers ourselves. We have to buy those. Right. So we get the speaker and then we got some wire. And he actually like the two of us, he soldered the first 500 pieces. Wow. And I sold the first 500 pieces. So it took over an hour each. And so we just you know, we had day jobs. But those were good times. Yeah. Yeah, it was, it was big kitchen table, we had a roommate, and you know, we’d watch TV. And, and he solder and I’d sew and kitchen table and you know, every night and that was kind of our thing,

Jason Wolfe 7:43
what we what we did have to do was we would go to or at least have samples back and forth with various factories. And it was a bit of an iterative process in its own getting exactly the speakers we wanted and exactly the sound we wanted out of them. Even the the plugs the jacks,

Wei-Shin Lai 8:01
yeah. Right. Do you do a straight plug or angled plug and like, yeah, different, different I guess the plastic, rubbery plastic that the plugs use? And then the wire itself, you know, used to be just the normal rubbery kind of material. And now we figured that the fabric wrapped around that is that much stronger and nicer.

Andy Halko 8:28
It feels far less often. Now after a while a different experiment. Yeah, that is such a cool story that you guys. We’re sewing and soldering together knights and shipping.

Wei-Shin Lai 8:42
Yeah, yeah. So we did all of that. We did like the first the first year that’s that’s what we did. It were bootstrapped. You know, started on the kitchen table, really very, very little investment. We go to Joanne fabrics when the fabric was on sale, and buy out their entire stock of fleece fabric. And we’d got we got anyway. Right. And then yeah, and then we outgrew that, we started hiring some some people through Craigslist of all places, we posted, hey, you know, can you do some contracting work on this side? We just need you to do this portion of the process for us. And they would say okay, yes. And then so they would, you know, get the materials and then they’d sew and or solder whatever it is that they needed to do. Bring it back and then we, you know, kind of move it down the assembly line from person to person. There was a great relief for a while there. Yeah. And they were working out of their home and everything and doing just contract piece work. And then after that, we outgrew that eventually and worked with a firm in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. That did a lot of sewing. Stuff like that. So we worked with them. And then eventually, we got so big that we really had to look overseas to be competitive from a pricing perspective, and just just from a quality control and, and long term sustainability, we kept straight as long as we could. Yeah.

Tony Zayas 10:21
Curious, just a backup, just a touch. When you guys had this idea, you started tinkering around, when did you make the decision that like, Hey, we have something, there’s nothing really in the market like it. And people need this and say, we’re going to go with this take this product to market like, what was the timing like? And when did you make that decision?

Jason Wolfe 10:43
And we saw just the popularity of the thing and the demand that was out there pretty quickly. But it just wasn’t our style to to move to a full time. So we kept our full time jobs for a long time. Yeah. What was the catalyst for that?

Wei-Shin Lai 10:58
Well, I think, you know, first, it was where we had, yeah, I was seeing patients and the patients were telling me that they were having trouble sleeping. And, you know, I would be prescribing sleeping pills that I knew were not, you know, healthy, and were potentially addictive, and all that kind of stuff. And so I didn’t actually pitch any of my patients, because that I feel like that would be a conflict of interest. But we did just put this out on the internet, and see what happened. And what did happen was that people were, like searching for sleep phones. So we did not advertise in the very beginning, because we were just, you know, we have just set up the website, and we’re still populating it. We didn’t even really have a product. We had a picture, some some verbiage and a contact email address. And then all of a sudden, I got an email from somebody He’s like, you know, hey, how can I buy this? I’m like, how did you even find this? And he said, I literally just typed in sleep phones, because it made sense that this would be you know, the name of the product that I wanted and needed that name. Well, apparently, and so so yeah, he was a lawyer out of New Jersey. So I was like, Okay, well, how big is your head, so we sold one custom for him to set it off. And then and then the orders, you know, we set it up the edge, like a checkout process, and then the order started coming in. And we just, you know, had to keep shipping and sewing, soldering, shipping and all that. And then we get the testimonials coming back. So one nurse in Canada said that she was able to come off as sleeping pills after taking them for 10 years. And then another lady said that it saved her marriage, because her husband’s snored so bad. And this was a way to kind of block that out. So that’s when we realized that, you know, this is bigger than I would have ever thought because I initially thought it was B ob something just for insomnia, really. But then the testimonials came in and like there was this problem and that problem and tinnitus and restless legs and, you know, like, the list goes on, you know, and then people just want to listen to audio books or podcasts and bed. And so, so So yeah, that’s kind of what kept us going over the years. I think another turning point in our development and growth was when we hit a million dollars in sales. This was about five years in. And you know, when we drew up our initial business plan, we’re like, oh, yeah, the million dollars in five years. You were right, you’re right. That it was it was a total, like moonshot kind of a thing that, you know, you have to write something down in your business plan. So that’s what we wrote. And it’s quite a projection for that. Yeah. But we actually made it. Yeah. And so that’s when we decided to transition out of our day jobs and work on this full time. Here. We have a doctor who’s gone to a lot of trouble not to prescribe pills as often.

Andy Halko 14:15
How was that transition for you from going, you know, to this being the full time, you know, endeavor for you? Well, I don’t know what what was that like for you? both emotionally, mentally, and exciting?

Wei-Shin Lai 14:30
Exciting. Exciting. Yeah, I think it was since we both had decent jobs that, you know, we enjoyed and did well at and made good money at. We didn’t want to, you know, quit our day jobs. Before we knew that this could kind of support our lifestyle. And so that’s why I guess it took so long for us to be like oh, okay, alright, this is gonna be bigger than you know us working our day. jobs for the next however many years. So, and this is really, you know, when we help people sleep, or when we sell like 100 of these a day, or more than that now, you know, each one of those people are going to have a better life, you know, they’re going to be sleeping better. And then the next day, they’re going to be functioning so much better have more patients for their kids and be more awake for their jobs and just do a better job productivity wise and like, etc, etc. So it’s improving so many people’s lives. And as a doctor, that’s really important for me, because I don’t want to like, you know, change my profession and not continue to help people. And so with this, it felt like a natural thing. It was almost like it was an imperative.

Jason Wolfe 15:48
I felt like an obligation. Yeah, it, you know, not in a negative way. It just felt like something that if we didn’t take it seriously, we’d be letting folks down.

Andy Halko 15:59
Now, is there anything that you did in the early, you know, years of the business that really changed the trajectory of growth that like, you know, really increased sales? Anything you did from like, either a marketing perspective, or just the way that you you went out with the product?

Jason Wolfe 16:20
You know, clearly creating the webs, the website was essential, but also quite an inflection point, right. That’s probably the first one. Go to shows.

Wei-Shin Lai 16:31
Yeah. Yeah. See, yes, that was a big inflection point. So yeah, about five years, when we had made that million dollars in sales. We were like, okay, we need to take this seriously. Let’s go to our first like, big major international trade show. So we went to the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. And we had won one of the awards for the show. Yeah. And like we we had what, six people at the booth, we could not leave, we were swarming. That tells you something? Yeah. Yeah, like it. We were the busiest people in our section in our area, like, we can look down the aisle, but we can actually leave our booth. Because we’re so busy. But yeah, we were super, super excited. And you know, all these people are coming to us. We have three distributors from the UAE trying to get us to sign on the dotted line. We’re like, we don’t even have international distribution yet. Like, we don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t have paperwork to just how to pick which one you know how to do diligence on that. But, but yeah, CES was a big inflection point. And it was it was pretty much right after that show that we’re like, okay, let’s get a warehouse. Because our houses like our garage, basement, and every single room in our house has products ready to like, move out, it looked like the last scene in an Indiana Jones movie? crates, right.

Andy Halko 17:56
And now, it sounds like you completely bootstrapped it and didn’t take any funding. Is that right? That’s right. Now, would you go back and do it any differently? Or is bootstrapping what you always wanted to do? And kind of build it yourselves?

Jason Wolfe 18:10
Yeah, it was kind of a slow burn, right? I mean, if we had to come out with more resources, we could have grown a lot quicker, probably. But we wanted to, you know, retain the control. And, you know, we kind of looked at it, we looked at it, like, we’re gonna do something for entertainment Anyway, you know, we’re, like, a hobby or something. The lights are on in the basement for they’re gonna be present. It’s like a business cost. But But why not? Why not use it to get something done? Right. And in right, it was?

Tony Zayas 18:41
I’ve been curious, just because there’s, you know, such a need for this. What is the competitive landscape look like today? I would imagine there’s copycats out there and and how do you guys, how do you guys stay ahead of that curve?

Wei-Shin Lai 18:57
We definitely have some copycats. And and actually see yes, kind of induce a lot of copycats. I think so that’s kind of one drawback of getting yourself out there and having the world see you is that they’re like, Oh, that’s a good idea. I’m gonna do that. But aren’t we have a really good relationship with our factories. And so we don’t have like any compatible or competitive really, truly competitive knockoffs out there. Because the, you know, all the copycats they use far inferior fabric. inferior speakers, they have, they don’t spend the time to like, sew the speakers because that’s like, that’s cost, right. It’s either that or we’ve been very obsessive about the level of quality. Right, right, I guess. Yeah. So So we’ve maintained the highest quality, and we’ve also continued to innovate. And so we came out with the wireless and then effortless, effortless. is not only as a wireless like Bluetooth, but it also has induction charging. So it charges wirelessly, which, of course you all know, but but just to make that clear. So yeah, it’s double, double wireless. It was still kind of novel thing when we when we came out with that, yeah, yeah, yeah. And I feel like, you know, induction charging is so convenient. And you don’t have to like plug anything in, you just put the headphones on a surface and it charges and that’s kind of so effortless. Yeah. And then and then we have a TV version. And we also have one that has built in music. We call that the one the version for your grandma, because like, you know, for the tech phobic who don’t have who has a smart device. Yeah. Right. But somebody who does not want that smart device and doesn’t know how to hook it up to a playlist or whatever, you know, they just push a button and it plays exactly at the same volume, the exact same song every night. They can’t change it. But like, if they want to just keep it really simple, it can be really, really simple. It’s all on your head.

Andy Halko 21:07
Yeah. Now, did you patent anything?

Wei-Shin Lai 21:11
We did. Yeah, a few different things. So just the concept of the wireless sleep phones, and then how the the wireless comes together and all that kind of stuff. It’s really hard to pay the lawyers to force all of that. So we really try to protect our trademark. And we do protect our patent. But it is expensive.

Andy Halko 21:37
Yeah, I was gonna ask kind of more detail around that. Because I think that’s a daunting, you know, aspect of this for any, you know, inventor, someone that’s got an idea and they’re trying to create a product is, what do I do from a legal side? And obviously, you guys didn’t necessarily have the legal background. So I’m curious your perspective of how you looked at it when you first started and how it’s kind of evolved for you the legal side of invention.

Wei-Shin Lai 22:05
We talked to a lot of advisors on that. A lot. And we were always told, just view it as flattery. Not not cutting it. It’s not flattery. We don’t like it.

Andy Halko 22:20
Yeah, I bet. What, How early on, did you look into to that type of you know, aspect of it is the the patents and the trademarks?

Jason Wolfe 22:30
Oh, immediately we were working with we were working with some great IP lawyers on another project. So So yeah, very, very soon. Yeah.

Wei-Shin Lai 22:39
So it’s basically patented. And, you know, patents, the provisional patent is not as expensive, and it gets you in the books. And then like, if you actually do have a viable product, then you have a year to apply for the full patent, which is slightly pricier. But it’s that entire patent process. So so you know, they say it’s $20,000 for a patent, you don’t have to pay that upfront. Right? Right. Right out over time. So you don’t have to pay it. So, so yeah, get the provisional if you think you might have something, do it through a lawyer don’t just write it yourself or something. It’s not because

Jason Wolfe 23:19
it’s hard. Yeah, it’s hard to differentiate from stuff that’s out there already. It’s hard to see what

Wei-Shin Lai 23:23
but you can write a lot of it and give it to the lawyer. And then it will be cheaper.

Andy Halko 23:28
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, along those lines, you’d mentioned about other advisors. And we always talk on this show with founders, about their mentors and who helps them. So what kind of people have you had over the years that have, I guess, you know, advised you helped you through bringing this to life?

Jason Wolfe 23:48
Yeah, we resolved ourselves from the start to, you know, always approach us as students, and to find just as many features as we could talk to as many different folks who are available as we could, you probably have a comprehensive list.

Wei-Shin Lai 24:01
So we started with the local Small Business Development Center. And I think that’s a good place for anybody to start, just to, you know, have a sounding board to bounce ideas and make sure that it is something that is viable. Yeah. And it’s free, right. That’s the whole, that’s the best part of it is that it’s sponsored by the government, and they’re going to connect you to all of the government resources that help small businesses start up because that’s part of the role of government in some ways is to, you know, drive innovation and to drive business and commerce. And so this is, you know, something that the Small Business Development Center did.

Jason Wolfe 24:42
And then even free is key when you’re starting out when you when you don’t know if there’s going to be much return on this thing, right. So

Wei-Shin Lai 24:50
yeah, we also worked with score for a little bit. And, you know, you have to figure out what you’re adviser is good at what they can advise you on. And you know, where they might be lacking. And they don’t always know either. Right, exactly. And so, you know, I guess my advice on working with advisors, as an advisor is to take everything with a grain of salt. Because there there are, you know, we’ve had multiple advisors over the years, some from the government, some from state government, and then some from, you know, in the tech industry, or from sales or marketing and finance and all, you know, different advisors. And, and they, some of them are pretty narrow, and they might know that area pretty well. But if you try to ask them questions about other areas, they may not, they may give you a really confident sounding answer, but you may actually know better. Yeah, you can’t you can’t abdicate that responsibility. Yeah, yeah, it’s your company.

Andy Halko 26:04
Yeah, I think that’s great. Because I do think, you know, a lot of founders get so much advice. Even the I’m sure you probably had the family and friends advice where, you know, we’ve got this great idea. And they go, Well, you should do this. And so I mean, you get so much. And it really is you are the owner, and you have to make the decisions, right?

Wei-Shin Lai 26:25
Yeah, you have to say no, to a lot of things. I think for us, it wasn’t as big of a problem saying no, because I’ve always said no. I’m so I’m kind of a rebel in some ways. Um,

Jason Wolfe 26:39
so which voices that are kind of discouraging to do you have to tune out right to get anything accomplished? Yeah, yeah.

Andy Halko 26:46
Did you get any real crazy ideas, like someone said, make them for kids and put bunny ears on them or anything crazy over the years.

Wei-Shin Lai 26:57
But But actually, the with the kids, we, you know, safety really does come first for us. And so, you know, the volume level has to be decent for kids, we can’t have be blasting into the ears. And then young kids, we really have to be careful with any kind of head where that may result in, I don’t know, some something bad happening to them. Right? Right. We’ve never ruled out that demographic, but we always do it. We wanted to approach it very cautiously. For sure. I mean, we’ve got two kids, so they’re young, and we’re very cautious with them.

Tony Zayas 27:40
So just to shift gears a little bit, I would love to hear a bit about how your roles like how do you split responsibilities as you know, co founders in the business? And then also, you know, after that, just like to hear more about what the team looks like today? Yeah, wow.

Jason Wolfe 28:01
Have a pretty natural split, right, you do a lot of the executive stuff, and I keep a lot of the systems running and build new things. It’s all about supporting our people. Right?

Wei-Shin Lai 28:11
Right. Yeah. So we, we are actually, we have the same values. And so that’s why we married each other. Like, oh, that’s okay. And we work well together. But we actually think very differently, like, we approach a problem from very different angles. And I think it is important if you are seeking out a partner to have somebody who, you know, doesn’t just agree with you on everything, but like has a different view. But as long as you have the same values and goals and things like that, then you know, you should be aligned really, ultimately. But like I am more of the the taskmaster, I, you know, I am focused on what’s going to happen next few minutes, next few days, weeks, things like that, I plan things out. And I have like, I make checklists, and all that kind of stuff, right? And I think, like whenever I talk about something, I’m like, okay, so So this needs to happen tomorrow. And then he’s like, Well, what about like that thing that happened? Like, I don’t know, 10 years ago, and then like two years ago, this happened. And we have to also think about, like, five years from now what that’s gonna look like and I’m just like, why does that matter? But then I’m like, okay, yeah. So, so yeah, it takes some collaboration there.

Andy Halko 29:43
How have you built the culture in the company and like, found the right people and, you know, get everybody excited about the business.

Jason Wolfe 29:53
I was so proud of that, you know, and things of you know, things have changed a lot in the last year so we’ve drifted a bit my vision I think I can’t wait. A little tighter. Right, right.

Wei-Shin Lai 30:03
Yeah. Well, I think over the years, we’ve definitely honed in on on how we do things. In the beginning, it was really family style kind of stuff like, Oh, hey, we need more Packers this weekend, get your softball team to come over and like, put this stuff together for this big shipment that is going out, right. But But nowadays, it’s much more structured. We haven’t had 20 employees, we’d like to hire interns, from the local schools, because then we really get to suss out, like how they work, and what they’re capable of. And if they’re good, we keep them. And that’s kind of one way that we’ve grown our, our group of employees. And I think, you know, being in Erie, Pennsylvania, we’re considered a rust belt, city, and people have kind of a factory assembly work mentality, you know, somebody with a whip telling them, you know, if you don’t get this done, you’re gonna be fired or whatever.

Andy Halko 31:09
I don’t know, we don’t we make a pointed out to him that,

Wei-Shin Lai 31:11
yeah, we do a really a little bit more of a West Coast approach. And, you know, that’s the kind of HR that we read about and follow and try to recruit folks to be a little more independent. Right. Yeah. And, you know, yeah, we want to be a little bit more, more fun about it and more encouraging, rather than a fear based model

Jason Wolfe 31:42
less draconian. And it’s working. It’s still working, I just kind of miss having everybody there. Together.

Andy Halko 31:50
Honey, COVID impact you guys. Just like that.

Wei-Shin Lai 31:53
So So yeah, I mean, we all had to go home, right, most of the most of the people who worked in the offices had to go home. So we do all of the marketing, sales, administration, shipping, packing light assembly, the quality control, all of that kind of stuff. Here in Erie, Pennsylvania, at our headquarters, we oversee the entire process. So like, you know, if you’re calling customer service, if you’re calling Erie, Pennsylvania, right. And I guess, some of it was considered essential services in the beginning, because we were E commerce. So we were able to keep like one person shipping. Like, you know, it’s the beginning of the pandemic. And then and then since I’m a doctor, and I actually have a bit of a background in epidemiology, because I wanted to be an Ebola researcher at one point in my life. And I almost got a job at the CDC. So anyway, I set out a plan to cohort all of the employees that were essential, and keep them working and but separated in two different shifts. So that we always had at least one ship that could ship in case the other shift had to quarantine for, for whatever reason. And then all of the office, people are at home. At this point, we’ve got one person in the office at a time, like so. So we got different rooms, so so we could have one person per room at a time. And that’s nobody’s caught the virus at work, we’ve been able to keep everybody safe at work anyway. And so so yeah, we’re pretty proud of that. And we’re starting to slowly bring people back because the local case count is really low. And so I feel pretty good about that. And a lot of our employees are vaccinated as well. So, yeah, it’s, it’s actually been okay. As far as the pandemic and how it’s affected sales. It’s gonna be my question. Yeah. So see this thing. The beard. It`s been a while. Yeah. Um

Andy Halko 34:14
You grew that just in the last year, I bet over the last 11 months or so.

Wei-Shin Lai 34:22
At the beginning of the pandemic, and when we were all told to sew our own face masks at home, right. There were a lot of people searching online for face mask, ideas. And what we did was what I did was like, Well, I know what’s comfortable in surgery, how you know how to wear face masks for eight hours, and how to keep it on and keep your glasses from fogging up and what to do with facial hair and all that kind of stuff. And so actually wrote out a plan, like the most comfortable face mask, right that you can so what help do you want everybody did. Yeah, but and and so so the keywords were like glasses fogging up and beards, men with beards. And it turned out that we ranked number one on Google for face masks for men with beards. And we quadrupled the traffic to our website from that one.

Andy Halko 35:19
And that one, you know, minor concept that differentiate.

Wei-Shin Lai 35:22
Yeah, yeah. And it increased our sales because people are coming to our website. The power of content marketing.

Andy Halko 35:29
That’s, it really is. Did you? I’m kind of curious, we you touched on this, there’s so many different uses, or use cases and that people have. Did you target anything in the beginning, like people with a certain issue? Like you mentioned, restless leg syndrome, and or, you know, snoring husband syndrome, whatever it might be. But did you target anything in the beginning and say, we really want to get people that have this kind of challenge? Or did you just leave it open?

Jason Wolfe 36:01
For you know, for a long time, just the basic in trying to deal with insomnia was, was plenty to keep us busy. Right. And plenty that to bring a lot of interest involved with bit over time. But But yeah, for a long time, that’s all we need to talk about. Yeah, we call it secondhand snoring. Well, you know, and that’s, that was the process of narrowing a bit right? Where we, yeah, for snoring not the best keyword, honestly, it’s funny, but it doesn’t work as a great poster. Right? Yeah. And it’s funny.

Tony Zayas 36:39
I would be curious guys, to hear how the process of getting user customer feedback has changed. And just how you’ve been taken and incorporated into, you know, provements that you made or new products.

Wei-Shin Lai 36:56
We sell enough of them that really the reviews that people just automatically write, whether it be on Amazon or on our own website, or communicating to us through social media, tools, messages and stuff like that. Yeah, yeah, all of that comes through customer service, and marketing. And then we actually have an internal system, where we keep track of the these types of things. And so the more important ones that should be seen, get sent to like, what a channel, I guess, is what we call it. And then and then the two of us, you know, regularly review all these ideas and help to craft that messaging just a bit about what we’re going to say for each case. Right. Yeah. And really, and to continue to improve our products over time. So yeah, one of the complaints that we had was, you know, it’s kind of a pain to charge every day. And so we’ve increased battery life so that you don’t necessarily have to charge it every day. And we’ve made it easier to charge. We’ve made it effortless, right? All that kind of stuff. Yeah.

Andy Halko 38:05
That’s pretty cool. Um, what’s the, you know, what? How do you plan the future the product? Is it something that you’re thinking about three years into the future? Is it you know, a little bit shorter of a timeframe? You know, how do you think to the future,

Jason Wolfe 38:23
sometimes it takes us longer to bring out the things we want, because of supply chains and stuff.

Wei-Shin Lai 38:30
Lately, yeah. But, you know, we keep up with the latest technology, what’s out there. So we’re always using like the latest battery for the longest battery life, highest quality. And then, like, knitting for the fabric itself. Working with the foremost knitters, like fabric knitters so that we always get the best fabric with with some of the the newest tech that’s built into the kind of stretchiness and stuff like that, it, there’s actually a lot of tech fabric now incorporated in the way that fabric is made and stuff like that. So anyway, there’s that kind of stuff. So we’re always using the latest materials that are out there. And so, you know, we’re waiting for the next Bluetooth, we’ve got Bluetooth 5.0 now, etc. So just kind of keeping up with some of the obvious things charging for the induction wireless charging. But now, you know, there’s the big thing is artificial intelligence. Right. So I’ll let you talk.

Jason Wolfe 39:42
Well, we have we have kind of an ongoing, you know, very ongoing process of just just discussing new features and just back and forth among ourselves, right. And then and then that kind of, we incorporate our suppliers in that at the right time, right. And just quite organic The next thing to do just kind of kind of rises to the top, and we’re tackling one at a time.

Andy Halko 40:05
Yeah, cuz I’m curious. And you know, you have an apple that’s going to full Research and Development Department, you know, versus a small company, you know, how are you doing that? Like, how often do you are you spending time on it and be able to force yourself versus some of these big companies that have people that that’s the dedicated role?

Jason Wolfe 40:27
It’s, it’s funny how big companies just just don’t take the same kind of risks, like go on try something, you know, a little off the wall here and there that, that I think a larger company just might not be incented to do?

Andy Halko 40:49
Yeah

Jason Wolfe 40:50
I think the best products are, is start out is like a labor of love. It’s like somebody who works at it and works out, it works at it, and just devotes far more energy into it than would make any sense in a corporate in or in a larger environment, right. And somehow, it happens to pay off and then then really takes off.

Wei-Shin Lai 41:10
Sometimes consensus isn’t necessarily best, right? You need a person who knows what they need, ah, and to, like, you know, if you ask any larger company, they’re not going to come up with sleep headphones. It’s such a small niche, right? And, you know, half the most, most two thirds of people don’t have trouble sleeping. And so we took these to a trade shows, after trade shows, and we talked to people and like, people will give us weird looks. And they’d be like, this is stupid. Why Why would anybody need this? You know, I wouldn’t pay this much for this. But then, but then, you know, you get the other third of people that are like, Oh, my God, I’ve been looking for this, like, this is so wonderful. This is the best thing ever. I’m so glad you invented it and all this stuff, right? And so in a big company, when you got when you have to come to a consensus, you know, the 75% of people who don’t need this product are not going to vote for it.

Jason Wolfe 42:12
We probably, yeah, we’ve clearly sank a lot of thought into it before we ever saw the return on investment for that thought, right? We were willing to do that, because it was a labor flow.

Wei-Shin Lai 42:21
Yeah. And you know it because it was something that we needed ourselves. We’re like, okay, it needs to have this feature, this feature and this feature. And then, you know, we listened to feedback from our customers saying that, okay, you don’t want it to say turn off, when it turns off, right? Because that would be stupid, you’re already asleep, you don’t want you know, some voice in your head telling you to, you know, oh, out of power shut off, or something like that. Right. So different things like that.

Jason Wolfe 42:49
It’s a different approach.

Wei-Shin Lai 42:50
Yeah. And so, you know, at a big company, it may not be obvious, unless you’re doing like, really expensive testing with with focus groups and whatnot, but we don’t need to focus on you know, what you’re doing, you know, and as far as r&d goes, that’s mostly him at this point, because our latest product is based on artificial intelligence. So that’s something that he and his team of, I guess, tech people or it’s a bit of a departure and yet don’t do well, which is why we were doing it. Yeah. So yeah, so we decided to, you know, enhance our hardware with some software.

Tony Zayas 43:36
I’d love to hear a little bit about the ASMR addition. My daughter’s she’s 11. And she watches the YouTube videos and stuff with, you know, ASMR. And I just think that’s fascinating. You guys came up with that, and, and how is that performing?

Wei-Shin Lai 43:52
Yeah, actually, it’s, it sells pretty well. Um, I think it was really fun to have worked with all of these up and coming artists, and hopefully we’ve helped to propel them, and, you know, help help each other basically, all our platforms. And, and yeah, I mean, that’s another example of what a big company would not do. Right? Yeah. Like we initially, when we learned about a while, he learned about ASMR and was like, hey, there’s this new phenomenon, you know, you got to know you got to know about it. And I was like, It’s weird. Okay. It’s something that a lot of our customers are gonna care about. Yeah, we were pretty proactive about that. Right. Yeah. And then I was like, hey, there’s this phenomenon, and then my cousin’s like, yeah, I listened to ASMR every night. I like dentists. Were just like, really? Okay. So, so we you know, we rolled with with it Really interesting to have grown this with this community over the years. So yeah.

Andy Halko 45:10
And then I noticed that on your site, you’ve got the sleep phones, sheep. So tell me about the kind of accessories and how you’ve expanded the product base and, and all these things that fit together.

Jason Wolfe 45:23
She just drew that little guy one day. And then we just had to, we had to create a physical product around it,

Wei-Shin Lai 45:29
it was really cute. A lot of people were like, Hey, can I use your logo for something and like, I don’t know. Let me talk to learn about that. And then eventually, it just kind of made sense that he was so cute, we had to make them come to life. And one of the earlier visions that we had was that the sheep would deliver those sleep phones to you. So he actually has a back pocket that opens up. And so then you can put your all your little treasures and trinkets and stuff, like we had a child, too. who appreciates this type of thing. And so, um, so we figured, you know, we could put our sleep phones inside, that’s where you could sleep store your sleep phones during the day when you’re not using them so that the the cats and the dogs don’t tear up the wires, because that’s another issue. That was a huge thing. And cats especially. Right, they chew on the wires. So So yeah, that was kind of our idea there was to have the sheep that would help you with your sleep phone. And

Jason Wolfe 46:27
you know, the drawing was perfect, but was also is a testament to the to the manufacturers we worked with. Who just just brought that thing to life. I mean, that was, that’s perfect. Yeah. Yeah, they were really good.

Tony Zayas 46:46
I would like to hear a little bit wasted about your TED talk, I saw that you did a TED talk. And I’d love to hear a little bit about what it was what you talked about?

Wei-Shin Lai 46:56
Um, I don’t know. Yeah. Just just mostly about, you know, going for what you want to do. And it was well received? Yeah. I guess.

Andy Halko 47:15
Yeah. Speaking of, you know, going for what you want to do, one thing I do, like always ask about is, is looking backwards. Like, if you could go back in time and give yourself advice, about, you know, and I always ask the topic question, can you, if you went back to when you very first started, the company had coffee with yourself? What advice would you give? And so you know, what, what would you say?

Jason Wolfe 47:42
Well, you’re going to have to learn so much about so many different disciplines. Just overwhelming, just the amount of stuff that we’ve, we’ve picked up over time. So it’s just amazing. It’s a whirlwind.

Andy Halko 48:02
Anything you would look at that you would do you know, mistakes and challenges are what shaped us the most? You know, I look back and

Wei-Shin Lai 48:10
I would tell myself to just trust, trust your instincts, and that advisors aren’t always right. And they don’t know when they’re not right, I think is the kind of the key. Yeah, we went down a road for several years in growth, to try to achieve a growth pattern that our advisors thought would be beneficial to us. And it was less profitable. And really frustrating in many ways. And difficult. Yeah. And the tools we had weren’t the right tools to accomplish it. Right. And so yeah, I mean, I don’t know how much of it was them trying to flatter us and telling us that, hey, you know, you should be in a big box retailer. And we’re just like, Oh, okay. All right. We should? Yeah, I guess we should, let’s try a big box. And that was, that was an expensive mistake, you know. So, and I don’t know if somebody else could have done it better than we did. But we guess maybe for us, it just wasn’t the ideal market place. Its risky for everybody. Everybody who does it is a challenge. Yeah. It’s very, very expensive. Anything that goes wrong gets very, very expensive very, very quickly. So it’s easy to lose a lot of money that way.

Andy Halko 49:36
Can you talk about sales channels, because I also think for inventors out there and founders, that’s always an interesting one. Like, obviously, you’ve got e commerce, you looked into the big box, you know, have you looked at Have you done Amazon, affiliates? You know, do you use resellers? What what kind of channels have you developed over the years? All of that

Wei-Shin Lai 49:59
Yeah, all of the above. And distributors overseas, we’ve worked with overseas agents, as well. And, and yeah, yeah, we work with a lot of resellers domestically, internationally and work with affiliates, from all over the world as well. All of these channels are good, I think most of them, yeah, if you structure it properly, all of these can be very profitable and relatively inexpensive to set up whereas the, the big box, can they did they nickel and dime, every last thing sometimes

Jason Wolfe 50:41
it was it was this huge process of trying different things, finding the ones which work and then devoting more resources to the ones that work and do it, you know, this works, do more of it.

Tony Zayas 50:59
I would just like to ask, I do have a few minutes left here, but I would like to find out what is on the horizon for the business for let’s say, the next, you know, 12 months to three years,

Jason Wolfe 51:12
we’re always developing new products. And you know, the latest one that we’re, you know, wrapped up in is this, it grew from the idea, our customers would always ask us, what’s the best thing to listen to? And we would always, you know, we would we would recommend things but not too strongly, right? Because everybody wants to listen to something different. And and, you know, some some things are better than others, right? And we kind of developed this curiosity about what actually works best for what purpose, you know, what sound track what kind of sounds what, what music or nature sounds work best for what. So we’ve developed a machine learning system to, to help us to really identify what works best for for each purpose. We’ve call it sleep sounds by acoustic sheep, and it’s something downloaded for your phone. Yeah, it was something we’re having a lot of fun with. And that’s the best things are like something, if you develop a curiosity about something, that’s probably what you’re going to be best at creating, you’re good at creating.

Wei-Shin Lai 52:12
Yeah, um, so we have a lot of different types of music that goes into the background of this artificial intelligence system, the machine learning system, that he’s, got a lot of different kinds of sounds. Yeah. And it’s, and it learns over time, what works and what doesn’t work. So we’re really, really excited about it. Because like, imagine, like, you know, if you can, there’s actually, finally a scientific process, right, to figure out what actually helps people sleep better.

Jason Wolfe 52:50
And it’s not just somebody marketing or somebody just assertion, right? We’re trying to put real data behind it.

Wei-Shin Lai 52:57
And it’s not just, you know, some scientist with five people in their sleep lab, testing a particular sound.

Jason Wolfe 53:03
Yeah, which has its drawbacks, right. Because Yeah, as soon as you’re in a sleep lab, you’re in a very artificial environment.

Wei-Shin Lai 53:09
Yeah, this is a real world, like, you can apply this to your life today kind of scenario.

Andy Halko 53:22
As we’re kind of closing up, I’m always interested. You know, we’re talking to tech founders, people that are really innovative, lots of new ideas, what do you see in the next five to 10 years being the most impactful technology, or the thing that’s going to be changing people’s lives the most?

Jason Wolfe 53:41
More machine machine learning and AI. And, you know, finding new ways to relate those to physical products? I think, maybe

Wei-Shin Lai 53:51
if you’re in tech, though, I one thing I do have to give a plug for cybersecurity, just really, really keep that always, you know, as you’re planning your development that needs to be important. Spent a lot of time on that. Yeah.

Andy Halko 54:06
Yeah,

Tony Zayas 54:07
that’s great. Really cool. Well, this has been fantastic. I was really appreciate you taking the time. Before we go. Obviously, to the website is sleepphones.com? Is that correct? Yes. Where else can our viewers you know, check you guys out, see what you’re up to on social or otherwise?

Wei-Shin Lai 54:27
Yeah, just search for sleep phones. We’re on pretty much all of the major platforms on social. And yeah, you can keep up with our stuff there. Sign up for a newsletter, that type of thing. And sales will be delivered to your mailbox if you sign up.

Tony Zayas 54:46
That’s awesome. Pretty cool. So much. We really appreciate it. Fascinating conversation. To our audience, we’ll see you guys next time. But thanks again. Wei-Shin and Jason, you guys have a great day

Andy Halko 55:01
Thank you. You too. Yeah. Thanks for joining. Thanks, everybody.

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