From making his own MP3 player to going after BOSE and other premium music earbuds- The Tekfusion story
You are probably an audiophile, one who is enthusiastic about high-fidelity sound reproduction, if you admire audio quality over the actual music, prefer FLAC over MP3 and have ‘burnt in’ your earphones, of which you are overly possessive. Here is the story of one audiophile, Jayesh Mehta, who turned his passion into a business.
Born in JamKhambhalia, a small town in Gujarat, Jayesh (30) was intrigued by music at a young age. His most memorable moment from his early teens was when he got his music collection recorded from CDs to TDK SA Type II cassettes for his Walkman, to experience the best audio performance at the time.
Jayesh’s family had moved to Kenya from India when he was two, and he spent his childhood there, eventually going on to earn degree in Computer Science at Kabarak University, which was founded by Kenya's former President Daniel Moi. During college, he would often skip classes to embark on ‘Do it Yourself’(DIY) projects in embedded systems at home.
During his internship at a local computer centre in Nakuru, Jayesh imported a PIC32 multimedia development kit and other electronic components from Serbia and the United States to make his own MP3 player, to which he integrated an audio amplifier for better sound. Recalling that experiment, he said,
I was not happy with the output of the Philips earbuds I had bought, so I decided to invest time to learn about how to perfect the performance of earphones.
After completing his degree, Jayesh decided to return to India in 2011. As a self-confessed audiophile, he noted that due to the rise in the usage of smartphones and portable music players as the two primary sources of music playback, there was a big market for premium earbuds at moderate prices.
So, while his four siblings were pursuing careers in accounting, Jayesh decided to start up, and co-founded Tekfusion in Bengaluru with his father Maheskumar J Mehta, who contributed to the company's seed funding till its first production run.
Jayesh currently serves as the CEO and Managing Director of Tekfusion and is supported by a lean team of three people. While there are different avenues to appreciate music in the form of home entertainment systems and stereo speakers, Jayesh said,
Smartphones are on the rise, and the world is becoming more mobile device-oriented than ever. So there is an unmistakable need for high quality personal audio, because we spend less time at home and more time on the run for our daily activities.
But Jayesh notes that the default earphones or earbuds supplied by smartphone manufacturers are generally not good enough for the enjoyment of music. As audio reproduction is not necessarily the main area of expertise of mobile phone manufacturers, they are generally not able to provide quality earphones with their products.
Talking about the need and importance of quality earphones, Jayesh said, “When we use any ordinary pair of headphones to listen to music, we are not exactly listening to the original composition of the music, as the artist or the composer intended.”
R&D and manufacturing
Since its inception in 2011, Jayesh said, Tekfusion’s main focus has been on reproducing sound in its pure form, using combined research of how diverse materials work with sound reproduction and how transducers can perform better.
Jayesh added that Tekfusion invested a lot of time and effort to create a plethora of prototypes before it could come up with what the company calls Tekfusion's ‘Signature Recipe of Sound’- a Dynamic Speakers System with fine materials that is present in all of its audio products.
The lifecycle of a Tekfusion product involves design, engineering and prototyping in Bengaluru, which is followed by manufacturing in China through partners. The last stage before shipping to consumers involves three stages of quality control- a material and assembly check, a sound signature test and a packaging check.
The company launched its first product- Twinwoofers In-Ear Headphones - in 2012, and made it available to the Indian market through different e-commerce channels. Then in 2013, Tekfusion launched the Twinwoofers M - Mobile Phone Headset (compatible with Android, Apple and Blackberry devices), which featured multiple accessories and an echo-cancelling, one- click microphone for answering phone calls.
In 2014, the company launched its entry-level product - the Ecoofers In-Ear Headphones, whose enclosure is made of two components - real wood and aluminium. The wooden portion of the earphones comes in two variants - Bamboo and Ebony - to give the earphones a natural accent.
In 2015, the company made several revisions to its original product, Twinwoofers, by improving its audio performance and ergonomics, releasing an upgraded version of the product. Currently Twinwoofers are available for Rs 1390, while Ecoofers are priced at Rs 899 on Tekfusion's website.
The Indian market is known to be a tough market to crack, with consumers considering value for money to be a top priority when making a purchase. While premium players like BOSE, JBL and Audio Technica have made in-roads into India, their price points are generally higher than what most average consumers are willing to pay for their music consumption purposes.
There are other players in the market like Xiaomi and Skullkandy, which have been reasonably successful in providing premium quality earphones and earbuds at reasonable prices. Tekfusion aims to go after this market, competing with both small and big players. While the profit margins may not be high, it is possible to make the unit economics work by selling a large volume of products.
While TDK SA Type II cassettes were the gold standard to experience music at one point, Jayesh agreed that FLAC is currently the preferred format for serious audiophiles to enjoy music in all its glory. Based on his experience in the Indian market, Jayesh has found that the Indian audience loves bass, and integrating deep bass into earphones is not easy.
Related read: Does listening to music make you more productive?
Marketing strategy and future plans
Jayesh estimates that Tekfusion had sold around 40,000 earphones till December 2015 with minimal investment on marketing, mainly relying on social media, its own music blog and word-of-mouth instead.
During the 2014-15 financial year, Tekfusion was a sponsor of head-fi.org, an audio gadgets community where audiophiles could directly post their opinions on new audio gear. During this time, Tekfusion announced the launch of its products for the United States market through Amazon US. Currently, Tekfusion ships globally and sees a majority of its orders coming from India, the USA and Japan.
When Apple announced the iPhone 7 earlier in September, one notable change that caught everyone's attention was the absence of the 3.5mm audio jack that has been an industry standard for a long time. Citing ‘courage’, Apple noted that it would instead be placing its bets on its new bluetooth-enabled Earpods. Talking about this, Jayesh believed that wired earphones currently provide a better listening experience, and it will take some time for bluetooth earphones to gain widespread appeal.
Recently, in 2016, Tekfusion re-launched its website and now lets consumers directly purchase from them, easing the product warranty claim procedure online, and also provides step-by-step instructions for burning-in headphones - a practice of ‘breaking in’ a new pair of headphones to improve long term performance.
Going forward, Tekfusion aims to invest more on R&D of small and large transducers and product engineering to be ahead of the game of technological advancements in the emerging audio products market.
Website- Tekfusion Technologies
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