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]

Denon Cocoon gives Sonos a run for their money

Is it just me or is this CG product render to dubstep music become the standard way to introduce some “groundbreaking” product?  I suppose that is one way you can attempt to give all of these amorphous blobs hitting the market a little more personality.  Sometimes I worry that we’ve hit this age where industrial design has become scared to make a line or curve and we’re going to have to have a shape renaissance.  Groundbreaking or not, the Cocoon likely thumps the floor to the tune of 100 watts.  Sonos might wanna keep an eye out as the Denon Cocoon incorporates Wifi connectivity in the at-home version.

There’s nothing ultraportable about this thing, and the thought of having some mud and beer splash on there makes me cringe.  We’ll stick to our speakers.

Source: DesignBOOM

 

How to keep your Boombot secured to your bike handlebars

bike speaker

The concept of using the Boombot speaker on bike handlebars has always been one of the more fun applications of Boombotix speakers.  The speaker faces directly at you.  You enjoy the safety and legality of biking without headphones.   At the same time, we have faced a number of challenges in having a solid bike mount. Some of our riders that use the handlebar mount on bumpier roads found that the speaker vibrated off the bars.  This was especially evident in guys that were using the product for trail riding or just rougher urban streets.

While this isn’t the most elegant of fixes, this simple rubber band solution keeps your speaker securely on the bars and keeps the music blasting right at you.

Installing the bike speaker

Installation is easy.  You need one big rubber band.  For a really secure fit, use one of these silicone wristbands that are frequently offered as swag.  A regular rubber band will work, but these wristband are even tighter.  You will need your Boombot and a bike handlebar mount.

1.  Feed the rubber band through the center of the bike handlebar mount along with the clip.

2.  Wrap one end of the rubber band around the top of the clip.

3. Wrap the other end of the rubber band around the feet of the Boombot and behind the teeth.

If you are completely silly and need to watch a video on how to do this, you can!

The reason hardware companies are failing

Walkman

The consumer electronics market has quickly deteriorated into a case where it is Apple and everyone else.  Everyone else includes Sony, LG, Panasonic, Toshiba, Motorola, RIM, Logitech and Samsung.  Of these major companies, all except Samsung have seen decreased sales and loss of market share.  Why are these companies failing to get me lusting for their products?

Mostly because my gadget arsenal consists of an essential list including a Macbook Air, and iPhone, and Boombot speaker.  If you tap into my audio, I have some Sennheiser headphones and a Yamaha component system.  I could live without the Yamaha system, but I couldn’t even pull $200 on Craigslist for it… so it stays.  Having said that, the essentials include a smartphone, laptop, headphones, and portable speaker.  If you are hardware company not successfully manufacturing and marketing one of these four hardware items, your company is dying.

Continue reading

Taking a Journey to the Boombotix Birthplace

Shen Zhen

In case you didn’t know, Boombotix speakers are made in China.  Shen Zhen to be exact. Shen Zhen is considered to be a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) known for being one of the major manufacturing powerhouses of the world.  Some of the top consumer electronics companies source their products from Shen Zhen including Apple, Monster Cable, and Skullcandy.  On our trip, we are going to be visiting the factories in Shen Zhen and GuangZhou.  Some of the areas outside of the cities are industrial villages where you can get everything done from injection molding, PCBA fabrication, screen printing, packaging, and just about anything you can imagine.

On our trip, we really want to document the entire experience as best possible so that we can bring forth the realities of globalization and outsourcing.  Our trip to China will begin on March 27th.  We purchased one way tickets to ensure that we can capture as much as needed to get the truth out there.   Continue reading