Canada has a new crowdfunding champion after Revols, the maker of Bluetooth earphones that mold to the contours of a person's ears, raised $2.5-million U.S. on Kickstarter in two months.
"To know that it was validated is amazing, but you don't really have time to get excited and celebrate. You have to deliver, so there are other fears. It never ends," says Daniel Blumer from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where he and Revols co-founder Navi Cohen spent a week holed up in a booth.
There, Mr. Blumer and Navi Mr. Cohen, both 29, showed off their product and pitched to the likes of Adidas, Intel and tech aficionado Stevie Wonder.
Being made a Kickstarter staff pick and travelling around to Canadian and American media outlets to demonstrate the product paid off: Revols received an astronomical amount of attention during its crowdfunding campaign and had impressive startup brand recognition at CES.
The early hype around Revols has been heartening for these co-founders, but they now have a monumental task ahead of them: manufacturing and shipping the product. A lot of startups falter at this stage, which has fostered a general weariness when small companies promise big ideas.
"I know we're going to be successful when I can give you a pair of earphones and you give me a good review," Blumer says. "Until we're at that point, I probably won't sleep that well."
The earphones in question have gel-like tips that, once inserted, harden to the shape of an individual's ears. Mr. Blumer and Mr. Cohen developed this technology at Concordia University's District 3 innovation centre and refined it at the Hax accelerator, a prestigious hardware startup bootcamp in Shenzhen, China.
It's through Hax that the entrepreneurs met Onkyo, the makers of Pioneer and other audio systems, which worked with the startup to ensure high-quality sound. The young pair also met their manufacturer there, and observed the Chinese production facility's working conditions.
Katherine Hague, a Toronto-based hardware entrepreneur and angel investor who is currently working on a startup-launching guide, says an attachment to the Hax accelerator generally lends startups the early credibility they need in order to run a successful crowdfunding campaign and gain traction with investors.
"I think that's a really positive signal to their ability to ship and manufacture this product," Ms. Hague says. She also points out that the partnership with Onkyo is also a promise to consumers that the earphones will come equipped with excellent sound.
However, Ms. Hague says the initial $300 price point for an earphone kit – the earbuds themselves, plus silicone skins, a battery pack and a carrying case – is a bit steep for the average consumer.
"That will probably get better as the company grows and they can place larger orders," she says.
Revols is entering into a crowded space. The most-funded campaign on Indiegogo, another crowdfunding platform, is for a one-size-fits-all earphones product made by Phazon. It recently raised just over $1-million U.S.
Aside from Revols and Phazon, there are dozens of startups vying to enter the personal audio space at any given moment.
"There's a lot of snake oil in audio, and these guys have solved kind of a sticky problem," says John Biggs, the East Coast editor of tech news site Techcrunch.
Mr. Biggs, who is usually critical of pie-in-the-sky startup ideas, wrote an article for Techcrunch in November that discussed what happens when hardware startups don't deliver on their crowdfunding goals.
However, having had the opportunity to meet Mr. Blumer and Mr. Cohen and check out the Revols earphones, Mr. Biggs says he was pleasantly surprised. Neither he nor Ms. Hague had seen a product like Revols before.
"These guys have done their homework. They've built a product that will work," he says.
In the past, obtaining custom-fit earphones has been an expensive, lengthy process that generally involves seeing an audiologist and then waiting a month to get the resulting product in the mail.
This has kept custom-fit earphones out of the hands for average consumers for a long time, Mr. Biggs says. He says Revols' $300 price point is easily justified by the cost of the alternative.
Mr. Blumer himself acknowledges that price is a concern, and says there may be future opportunity to lower the price – if and when their production volume allows for cheaper costs per part.
He says he and Mr. Cohen are exploring distribution channels, including big-box outlets, as well as future follow-up products such as waterproof earbuds, hearing aids and hearing protection.
In the coming months, Mr. Blumer will stay in Montreal to access the North American market and media, while Mr. Cohen, who is a mechanical engineer, will move with his wife to Hong Kong for the next nine months to oversee production. They anticipate shipping the 11,000-plus Kickstarter orders in the summer.
They have not yet received any formal investment, though Mr. Blumer says they're currently talking to some interested parties.
Hardware angel investor Ms. Hague expects Revols will have no trouble finding seed and Series A-level investment for future expansion.
"The money is there – they just need to find ways to continue to rise above the noise," she says.