Fast Company Article About RZA Joining Boombotix

RZA Joins Boombotix

The following article is a repost of an article from June 2nd from Fast Company. Here’s the link to the original article

WHY DID WU-TANG’S RZA JUST JOIN THIS BLUETOOTH SPEAKER COMPANY?

MORE THAN A CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENT, RZA’S NEW PARTNERSHIP WITH BOOMBOTIX GIVES HIM A HANDS-ON ROLE IN PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT.

It’s 10:30 p.m. when Mustafa Shaikh‘s phone rings. It’s RZA. It’s not every night that the founding leader of the Wu Tang Clan calls his cell, so he picks up. Shaikh, the VP of marketing at portable speaker company Boombotix, is in for an earful. “I got some ideas,” RZA says.

The timing isn’t always so odd, but these types of calls are routine now that RZA has joined Boombotix. Earlier this month, RZA officially signed on with the San Francisco-based startup, giving him an equity stake in the company and a hand in developing its line of rugged wireless speakers. As “chief abbott”—a corporate title that borrows from one of his many Wu-Tang nicknames and mashes it up with the cavalier semantics of Silicon Valley org charts—RZA is involved in product development and content strategy, among other things.


the Rza (Robert Fitzgerald Diggs)

 “I discovered their speaker through some mutual friends,” says RZA. “It was a loud box. It had a great sound to it. Having an innovative mind myself, I thought it could be more pragmatic not just as a speaker to play other music, but maybe there’s a way to put your music inside the speaker.”

After originally reaching out to RZA to license the group’s iconic “W” logo for a speaker, Shaikh and Boombotix CEO Lief Storer were surprised to learn that RZA had much bigger ideas. “I put the phone on mute and said, ‘Holy shit. Can we do that?'” Shaikh says. “After a couple of weeks, we figured out that we could do it and still release the product in Q4.”

The result was the Wu Tang Boombot REX, a Wu-branded Bluetooth speaker released by Boombotix last November. In addition to serving as a wireless, wearable speaker that connects with smart devices, this limited-edition speaker would come preloaded with tracks from the Wu-Tang Clan’s newest album, A Better Tomorrow, a few weeks before its official release date.

With physical album sales tanking and the uncertain economics of the all-you-can-stream music services, some artists feel compelled to experiment with new distribution models. Last year, Wu-Tang famously announced that its final album,Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, would only be available in one copy, which would be auctioned off for millions of dollars. With the old channels obliterated, why not experiment? Why not release an album embedded directly into a speaker? “I think that’s a great way to release music nowadays,” says RZA.

 The team at Boombotix agreed. After their Wu-Tang speaker started flying off the shelves of skate shops, T-shirt stores, and other retailers not traditionally associated with selling music, the one-off partnership with RZA started to morph into something more formal.

“We had this synergy,” RZA says. “After a few meetings and hangings and a few drinkings, it was like, yo, let’s get involved. Let me join your team so that I could join my ideas with it. We agreed and found that balance.”

With that, the Boombotix team worked out a deal with RZA, giving him a title and equity in the company. After months of negotiations, the deal was officially signed in early 2015 and sent to the company’s board for eventual approval. By then, the late-night brainstorming phone calls from RZA were already underway.

“I’m glad we got that communication,” says RZA. “It’s like, shit, I gotta get this to you right now. He always takes my call.”

Celebrity partnerships with consumer audio electronics companies have been all the rage since Beats teamed up with Dr. Dre almost 10 years ago. And since Beats cashed out with Apple for $3 billion in 2014, the phone calls from artist reps to companies like Boombotix have only increased. But most of these offers come in the form of deals that slap an artist’s name onto a product, perhaps going as far as to hire them them as “brand ambassadors” whose chief responsibility is simply using the product publicly.

As chief abbott of Boombotix, RZA’s role is a bit more hands-on than partnerships like Bang & Olufsen’s headphones cobranding deal with DJ Khaled or Ludacris’s now-defunct branding partnership with Soul Electronics (Ludacris’s reps reportedly reached out to Boombotix about striking a similar deal).

As the creative mastermind and producer behind one of the most successful groups in hip-hop history, RZA is no stranger to gadgets, which he says have a way of piling up in his house. “When it comes down to it, he’s a pretty big tech geek,” says Shaikh.


Mustafa Shaikh

 “Being a guy that’s into electronics, I felt like I found a group of people that I could feel free to express my ideas,” says RZA. “Electronic innovations. Making one thing do other things. Adding functionality. I’m happy to be with a company that lets me spitball ideas. Sometimes they go, ‘Well that’s kinda crazy, but we could try it.'”

The success of the Wu Tang speaker has led RZA and the Boombotix team to explore other exclusive, speaker-embedded music releases. A Grateful Dead-branded speaker loaded with unreleased music will go on sale in mid-June. In the fall, Boombotix will release a speaker bearing the likeness and sounds of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, the late Wu Tang Clan member who was also RZA’s cousin. Another upcoming product, about which the Boombotix team is tight-lipped, involves a long-rumored musical collaboration between RZA and another artist.

“For true fans, this is exclusive,” RZA says. “It’s something you can hold, feel, touch, and put in your pocket.”

The focus on exclusive music content isn’t unique to Boombotix. This is increasingly how music-focused companies are competing with one another, especially in the streaming space. After Taylor Swift threw down the gauntlet by removing her catalog from Spotify, we’ve seen Jay Z try to lure listeners to his new streaming service, Tidal, using exclusive tracks from popular artists as bait. Apple is reportedly angling for a similar strategy as it prepares to relaunch Beats Music under the venerable iTunes brand.

While Boombotix doesn’t see its model as being as transformative as streaming, the company does want to offer artists supplementary ways to release, market, and profit from their music. These partnerships, which Shaikh tells me are negotiated on a per-artist basis, are just one additional revenue source an artist can tack onto its balance sheet in the era of streaming and its tricky economics.

In addition to helping forge artist partnerships—something RZA’s industry connections leave him well-positioned to do—he is also involved in product development, a role that lets his gadget geek side shine. In their weekly calls, RZA often proposes ideas that would bring new functionality to the company’s products. (Some are better received than others.)

At one point, RZA proposed having a speaker double as a tape measure, giving it a dual utility for construction workers. “It’s like MacGyver,” says RZA. “Now imagine, all of the sudden, the people who work in that industry have something that’s cool, usable, and multifunctional. I don’t think they’re gonna do that, but maybe, yo! Put an 8-footer in there!”

With ideas like this, RZA is aiming to extend the personalization of Boombotix with which it’s already experimenting. On the company’s Build-a-Bot site, users can custom-design their own speakers with unique color schemes, and even print their own imagery on the front grille.

More than slapping a celebrity’s name on a product, the Boombotix partnership with RZA is a long-term, hands-on deal. For RZA, it’s an additional creative outlet, and one that lets him tap into the entrepreneurial instinct he’s had his whole life. As a kid, RZA tells me, he sold newspapers on the Verrazano Bridge and bought socks in bulk to sell them at a profit in Harlem. At the age of 13, RZA teamed up with Ol’ Dirty Bastard to operate a fruit stand in downtown Brooklyn.

“I’m from New York, and in tough times, you gotta go out there and work,” RZA says. “We was in downtown Brooklyn at Jay Street. We would get up at six in the morning and set up the fruit stand. I think I made profit of about $80 a week. That allowed me to get a pair of sneakers that my mom couldn’t afford, or get a pair of Lee jeans.”

Since forming the 10-piece Wu Tang Clan in 1992, RZA and his associates have turned one of the most successful hip-hop groups in history into a small business empire, syndicating its music and members’ likenesses into video games and making millions from the sale of its Wu Wear line of clothing.

“I’m not afraid to try a business,” RZA says. “You want Wu Donuts? How much? All right, let’s try it. But let’s change the glaze on that shit.”

[Photos: Celine Grouard for Fast Company, unless otherwise noted]

Boombotix Teams Up with Benny Gold on Build A Bot

Back in November, we announced the launch of our Build-A-Bot customizer tool which allows users to create a unique Boombot REX by mix-and-matching the speaker’s grills, bezel, clip and body color. Additionally, Build-A-Bot users are able to upload pictures directly from their smartphones and print it on a Boombot REX’s grill.

Now, we are stoked to announce that we have teamed up with San Francisco based designer, Benny Gold, to bring an even more personal, ultraportable music experience. Benny has taken his brand from a simple sticker to now being one of the most celebrated street-wear companies of our generation. Having recent collaborations with JanSport, Zumiez and The Hundreds; we are excited to be partnered with The Gold Family.

You can now choose from three limited edition “Stay Gold” designs by visiting boombotix.com/build-a-bot

We are also running a really cool promotion to win a FREE “Stay Gold” branded Boombot. Along with the speaker, we are giving away 2 Hats, 2 beanies, 2 shirts and 2 pairs of socks. Enter your email here for a chance to win. – Good luck!

Build-a-Bot Customizer Launches

Macbook-Air-Customizer

For the past year we’ve been making custom speakers for our athletes, artists and a number of customers doing private labeling. Mass customization has become something that consumers have come to expect these days. Even Pizza Hut recently launched a new pizza builder as part of their rebrand efforts. Build-a-Bot is a new site we’ve developed to allow anyone to build their own custom speaker with several clicks from anywhere. Build-a-Bot works on desktop or any mobile device. You can snap a photo or upload your own artwork and have your own speaker delivered in hands in under a week.

The screenshot below shows the desktop version. You can click the bubble on each part of the speaker. It’s easy. It’s fast. It’s fun.

Instructional-Build-a-Boombot

This design uses some artwork from LA based graffiti artist, SketONE.

 

about the project

The Boombot REX was customizable by design, but without this technology, we had to manually set up each graphic file. What used to take us over an hour is now fully automated for 90% of the process. There is of course some manual product assembly we still do to build each unit, but we think the system we’ve invested in here will allow us to scale our custom product operation. We’re not the only ones doing custom speakers. Jawbone has had the Jambox customizer for some time now, but their site doesn’t have full color printing and promises a 1-2 week lead time. With our technology, we’ve managed to slim lead times down to less than 5 days with full color printing and much more customization. It’s a culmination of hardware design and intelligent back end logistics that makes this all possible.

We’ve developed some proprietary technology for printing and coating as well. We’ve tried a number of print methods before landing on one that uses an evaporative heat transfer process that produces a product with rich color, great detail, and outstanding durability. Anyhow, we’re pretty excited about the new site and we’re definitely curious to see what you guys come up with. Get your design on.

Boombotix Releases Brand New Wu-Tang Music

we are putting music back in your hands

Three months ago we had a phone call with RZA, legendary producer and founder of Wu-Tang Clan, to talk about licensing the iconic Wu-Tang logo. Halfway through the phone call RZA flipped the script on us. He asked us if it was possible to embed songs from their 20th anniversary album, “A Better Tomorrow,” onto a Boombot.

In stock form, a Boombot REX does not have built in flash memory or a file management system of any kind. Chris and I went to the drawing board. The time was tight and the task was tricky. We had to rethink our firmware and hardware to accommodate the new features. Chris spent two weeks in China with our engineers crafting prototypes. Meanwhile, Zumiez jumped on board the opportunity with a full roll out. The pressure was on to delivery for the Q4 holiday. I headed out to China right after Chris got back to ensure that production was moving. We managed to basically turn around a fresh product variation in 60 days. Many hours of sleep were lost to help make A Better Tomorrow happen.

This was our first time working directly with the RZA. I wanted to show him that we were a company that could execute. At the same time, he came along the ride to pitch the idea to Zumiez. RZA is a seasoned entrepreneur that knows the game and I get to learn a lot from his experience. He also has some stories he shares over dinner that just make me chuckle inside. There are some questions you can ask a hip-hop legend that just don’t pertain to the average person. RZA says that his regular morning sessions on the elliptical machine help to offset most of his vices. I started to picture him busting a sweat on an elliptical…

On Sunday we went to Swell sound studio to record some VOs. RZAs a natural on the mic. Just hearing RZA say “Boom-bot-ix” through the studio monitors sent a chill down my spine. He has an iconic voice and I definitely felt honored to have him dropping the truth on how he wanted to work with us on changing the music industry. This felt like it was going to be big.

Today, we are proud to announce the Boombot REX – 20th Anniversary Wu-Tang Edition. The eight tracks, collectively called “A Better Tomorrow” Special Play (SP), will be released on November 15th on a Boombot REX, which is prior to the general release date of the album. If you want to be one of the first people to hear the new Wu-Tang songs, the only way to do that is through a Boombot REX.

Today 1,000 units are available for pre-sale on Boombotix.com. On October 20th, Zumiez.com will release another batch of units online reservations, followed by an in store release on November 15th. In total only 3,000 units of this unit will be sold.

Wutang Speaker

A better tomorrow album overviewed

The guiding principle behind RZA’s production of this album is to inspire the world to “A Better Tomorrow” through Wu-Tang’s music.

“A Better Tomorrow” has a multifaceted meaning depending on the individual. To some it means a day where basic needs of food, clothing and shelter are fulfilled. For others it translates into a place where they will be able to find love and happiness with the people around them.

With this project, we hope that in our own small way, we’re able to help RZA achieve his goals of improving the world that we all share.

Boombotix Applications Test Engineering Reports

boombotix-rex-portable-action-sports-speaker2 This summer we brought in an engineering student from France (Francois Morenne) to partake in putting together formalized applications testing. I used to to similar types of testing for the LED lighting company I worked for. I showed him how to design an experiment and formulate a report as part of his internship program.

In my previous gig, it was often helpful for our sales team to demonstrate how thoroughly we tested our products. We have one customer using our product in the medical treatment field so the demands of our testing standards had to go beyond standard certifications.

Some things that customers like to see include accelerated aging, runtime, vibration, and impact testing. This is what really sets some products apart; We believe a true test demonstrates real life performance versus a make-believe marketing spec. Most brands are throwing out outrageous figures that are not substantiated in test. They sucker consumers with big promises on runtime and falsified claims. Since we are running these reports, we thought it’d be a good idea to publish them here.

Drop testing

On this test, we drop the product from a fixed height numerous times and do a qualitative analysis on how well the unit holds up. We found that the tuffSKIN protective wrap significantly improves the units resilience to repeated impact.

View the Drop Test Applications Report

future tests

We are currently doing some runtime tests, water resistance and accelerated aging tests. I’ll continue to post our findings on this article as the data becomes available. I hope that this is a great step into offering the most pure transparency with our fans and customers.