The Come-Up: Our Story

The kind of stuff we had to go through to test out our concept. Random table at the Natick Mall on a Sunday.

The kind of stuff we had to go through to test out our concept. Random table at the Natick Mall on a Sunday.

Every company has a story to tell. And ours... Ours starts with me trying to come up with an easy project to pass a class with.

During Fall 2017, the MS in Entrepreneurial Leadership program at Babson College had a mock project where teams needed to build cardboard prototypes for environmental issues on campus. This project served as an intro to our actual semester project, that is pitch any business idea, build a team, and complete pre-launch work for the product.

Me, as a master of taking shortcuts in life, all of a sudden had this idea: what if my final product concept is just supposed to be built with cardboard? That way I could be the only person with an easy-to-build prototype that closely matches the end product. I also had a DJ background and liked to tinker with DIY electronics. It was almost like all the time I wasted for building meaningless hobbies came to fruition. 

And just like that, after putting off my idea forever, I finally started working on the first ever Beatbox prototype the night before their first project idea presentation, and at 4am, the first crude prototype was done.

 
 

With a live remix of DJ Yung Vamp's Hopped Up as part of the rocket pitch, the first ever Beatbox received decent feedback from students and professors alike, and Beatbox secured the spot as one of the official project teams of the school year. Some problems we've noticed though were that, first, the Beatbox required an external speaker to perform, which defeats the purpose of a cheap instrument (and mainly just too much of a hassle for me to carry for class presentations). Second, the buttons looked totally un-cool and were too slow to respond so my performances weren't perfect, and I just couldn't risk messing up a song in front of my classmates, which would make me look as un-cool as the buttons. With those considerations, the v2 prototype was built.

Slightly better? Hopefully.

Slightly better? Hopefully.

This is when I actually started to see the opportunity for the concept. The cardboard concept actually added a cool flare to the overall maker-esque aesthetic of the product, and I actually enjoyed the DIY experience a lot. The Beatbox to me was more special than my $600 actual professional drum machine. The built-in speaker I got on Amazon for $15 actually had pretty good sound quality, and I was able to power it for a few days of use with just 8 AA batteries. And, of course, I was able to wow the students and professors again with this definitely legit looking prototype. So, naturally, incremental adjustments and more prototypes were made. The next prototype, v3, which we tested most of our theory on, featured equal spaced buttons, an 8 button function control section, and dual channel speakers. Also, the arduino module that controls all the buttons on v2 prototype was on the bottom of the box, so that every time I opened it up to show people the internals, a bunch of cables would come off. I was pretty tired of it, so on v3 we separated the top and bottom assemblies, where bottom was strictly speaker/power and top was strictly arduino button controls.

 
 

After that, I moved the drum button section to the right and reduced the number of effect knobs to make the layout more intuitive, and increased button spacing for a more rigid surface, which is what you see in our home page.

And we've had to really overcome our social anxiety and do some impromptu interviews with random people. Thanks to the product being functional and kind of, umm, really cool, we haven't had too many people running away from us. We also set up a table at the Natick Mall where I just started making beats live, and got over 40 responses within an hour. It was quite a sight. We also tested the prototypes out over at Lowell High School and received very positive feedback.

 
 

My idea was fully tested and positively received. I had people that wanted to buy a unit on the spot. For less than $100 and full performance functionality, the value cannot be beat. And just like my hypothesis, people liked the cardboard body and DIY aspect.

After the mall success, I started seriously considering bringing Beatbox beyond graduation. To do this, I needed a team. Andy Lai was one of my best friends from the program, and although he wasn't on my project team, he possessed skills that I considered essential to the business. Andy worked as a financial adviser prior to the program, and he was pretty much the polar opposite of me: I was spontaneous and creative, while he was more level-headed and cautious. After some heartfelt conversations in Olin 102 one afternoon, we decided to team up on the venture, where I take care of the strategy side and he takes care of the logistics side.

We also decided to bring Tammie Satrawaha, one of my prominent project team members, on board. Tammie showed great ambition and enthusiasm towards the project, particularly on the marketing side. She's had consumer product marketing experiences, and I'll just let pictures tell the story. I mean, just look at what happened when we tried to construct a makeshift photo-op:

 

 
 

So yeah. Now since we have graduated, Andy has relocated to San Francisco until Beatbox gains a more solid footing, and Tammie currently works with me at WeWork in South Station, Boston. Don't worry, we now have better equipment and a photo shoot setup. It looks a lot less sketchy now.

Now with the internal design is being cleaned up for manufacturer standard and exterior industrial design underway, we are confident to launch the product in Spring 2019, and have the initial orders delivered by Summer 2019.

This is my story, our story, and a Babson story. A year ago, I would have never imagined to work in my dream work field, on my own idea, with all these like-minded people. I'm truly thankful for what life has given me, and no matter the result, I'm thankful for everyone that helped me to take the leap to creating something to call my own.

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Ethan Jin