Q&A With Ken Berger, Co-founder of EAW
For 30 years Ken Berger distinguished himself as one of a handful of entrepreneurs to create and develop a high-end professional audio brand, namely EAW loudspeakers. Now he's co-founder of Bond Music Research, which, among other things, recently developed the Guitar Bud adapter for Apple's iPhone.
Quick Bio: Now for something a little different–iPod little. For 30 years Ken Berger distinguished himself as one of a handful of entrepreneurs to create and develop a high-end professional audio brand, namely EAW loudspeakers. After selling EAW, he became a senior VP at Loud Technologies. Now he's co-founder (along with the late Wayne Freeman) of Bond Music Research, which, among other things, recently developed the Guitar Bud adapter for Apple's iPhone and a related iPhone application.
Credit: Ken Berger
Sam: How does it feel to be working on a startup again?
Berger: It's actually a lot of fun. Running a startup and trying to develop products presents a unique set of challenges. On the one hand, you can do things really, really quickly, which is often impossible in a larger organization. On the other hand, you rarely have the resources to do things easily or the way you would like.
Sam: EAW and Loud are mainly pro audio companies. Your new products are really "prosumer" and MI (musical instrument) focused. How does that work for you?
Berger: We're actually finding that iPhone products cross both market definitions and distribution boundaries. iPhone products can be sold in Best Buys and Guitar Centers and via traditional pro audio dealers. Obviously, the expectation of price points in these spaces are different. Also, the appearance of packaging is critically important for a retail iPhone hardware add-on, whereas at EAW, brown boxes around black boxes were the norm and mostly irrelevant.
Sam: Years ago, you and I worked on software together. When I started out, the tools for writing apps were very rough and costly. How did you find the iPhone as a development platform?
Berger: There has been a lot in the press about how hard it can be to work with Apple. We found just the opposite to be true. We found the iPhone software development kit to be both elegant and easy to use. Our team was able to start working effectively with it very quickly. We did find that the iPhone offers a surprising amount of power, but it also has some limitations for developers in terms of what [programming] calls you can and cannot use. But we found working with Apple to get our product into the iTunes store to be a straightforward and unbelievably easy process.
Sam: Having started a company and built it up to hundreds of employees, do you think you can build a company to that size based on an iPhone application?
Credit: Sam Berkow
Sam: To build Bond Music Research into a larger company, we expect to go far beyond our initial iPhone application. The size of the company, in terms of staff and dollars, will be based on opportunities in the MI, professional, and prosumer spaces. One lesson I've learned with Bond is that this type of company can be much more virtual than ever before. For example, manufacturing does not need to be [located] with engineering. For us, our development team is in the U.K. while sales and marketing are in California. This allows us to be flexible and target the best solution to a given challenge.
Sam: When you started EAW, the name was mostly unknown for years. For this startup you licensed the Paul Reed Smith (PRS) name for your products. Can you talk about this choice?
Berger: It took us 10 years to establish the EAW name in the marketplace. Some of that was the time it takes to establish a brand; some of it was our learning curve. The PRS name gives us instant credibility. There are already more than 300 guitar-related apps in the iTunes store. Having the PRS name gives us a way to differentiate our products.
Sam Berkow is the founding partner of SIA Acoustics, an acoustical design firm with offices in New York and Hollywood, Calif.