In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed CEO of Thomas and Darden, Nathan George. Nathan is the creator of Kube4, a premium portable, wireless, and waterproof entertainment system. Kube4 has recently crossed over $100,000 raised on Kickstarter, putting it in the top 4% of all Kickstarter campaigns.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • Nathan’s entrepreneurial start from selling Airheads at the bus stop to real estate to founding KubeSound
  • How Nathan went from wanting to sell Kube4 out of the back of a trailer at football games to being featured as a top product by WIRED magazine
  • What prep work the KubeSound team did in advance of their launch
  • How Nathan and his team decided which features to include and optimize with the Kube4
  • Advice for entrepreneurs looking to make partnerships

Links

Sponsors

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Transcript

View this episode's transcript
Roy Morejon:
Welcome, entrepreneurs and startups to Art of the Kickstart, the podcast that every entrepreneur needs to listen to before you launch. I’m your host, Roy Morejon, President and Founder of Enventys Partners, the world’s only turnkey product launch company that has helped over 2,000 innovations successfully raise over $400 million in capital since 2010. Each week, I interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur, or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level. This show would not be possible without our main sponsor, Product Hype, a 300,000 member crowdfunding media site and newsletter that’s generated millions of dollars in sales for over a thousand top-tier projects since 2017. Check out producthype.co to subscribe to the weekly newsletter. Now, let’s get on with the show.
Roy Morejon:
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today, I am talking with the CEO of Thomas and Darden, Nathan George, the creator of Kube4, a premium portable entertainment system. Nathan, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
Nathan George:
Sure, thanks for having me, Roy.
Roy Morejon:
Really excited about today’s conversation. I think it would be prudent for me to jump in and say let’s talk a little bit first about your background because you’ve seen and done a lot of things, and been very successful with many things. What’s led you to this point and what led you to start as an entrepreneur?
Nathan George:
I don’t know. I think it goes back to even early days where I was always trying to figure how to make money. I didn’t have a lot growing up, whether it was trying to sell Airheads and Blow Pops at the bus stop, to making a self-sustaining hamster and durable business. I was running ad pack routes at 10 years old to get my first job as soon as I created 14 or 15 running inventory and stock boy for Finish Line. I started early just looking for ways to make money so I can buy a bicycle or anything else like that to get around.
Roy Morejon:
Talk a little bit about your current businesses or adventures in the entrepreneurial world.
Nathan George:
I think that that mindset is kind of always been around for me. I thought I was always destined to be an academic and be a professor, so my background’s in math and physics. I worked at Los Alamos National Labs and NSA. When I was at Berkeley after my first year, I got an email for a summer job to work with a startup hedge fund. I came in and ended up being brought on to build out the whole research team. I was hiring graduated PhDs from I’ve League to come work for me and I was a first-year student. I figured I’d start looking into transitioning out of that and ended up doing a PhD in finance instead, but that kind of gave me the first dabble in more of the VC and startup world on the hedge fund side.
Nathan George:
Then a few years after that, I started doing some real estate development on the side and people started giving me money. I started investing it and grew that to probably about a $200 million real estate portfolio in Berkeley that I manage with a little over a hundred investors that should hit about a billion dollars in about five years if we have enough pipeline. That’s been one thing going on the side and I’ve put that on a cruise control with some of my partners that I brought in and then ran into this product idea.
Nathan George:
I was in this startup mode coming through a few years of things taken off on the real estate, and ran into my good old friend who was also a groomsman in my wedding. Hadn’t seen each other a few years and he had this prototype device he had made that was basically the life of the party. They just called it the Kube. I said, “Hey, dude, we should sell these things.” He said, “I don’t know, you’re the business guy let’s figure it out.” That was the start of the idea of Kube Sound, more it’s just two good friends that were having a good time and thought this was a great product and a great way to just bring people together over music.
Roy Morejon:
I absolutely love this product because it’s solving multiple problems in terms of just the audio space itself. Huge. I was watching the founder of Sonos this morning talking about his new, low-price product that he’s bringing to market to accommodate a different type of consumer. For this product itself producing over 101 decibels on this product, how did you go about tackling in terms of the particular issues that you guys were trying to solve and then coming up with a product that had different versions of it that could solve different consumer problems out there?
Nathan George:
Well, I’ll have to back up a little bit. We’ve been around formerly since 2014, so this is our second product, but it’s really growing up into being a real company, if you will. We had our first, what we call the original Kube. The concept came out of that first prototype product that was the life of every party. It was born of this idea ahead of its time of a very long battery life with a lot of output and waterproof. This was before everybody started making everything waterproof.
Nathan George:
For us, it was just two guys, “Hey, we make some money. Let’s sell these out of the back of a trailer in the SEC football games and it’ll be a fun thing to do on the side with a friend.” But then when we launched, we end up having the killer design, got a great design team, put together the design and an engineering team that did the original Jambox. then brought in an engineer from Harman and had a design put together pretty quickly, took a prototype to CES and we got crazy reviews. Shaquille O’Neal came by the booth. We were featured at Polk by their main booth on the thoroughfare and were tweeted out on day one as one of the top products from WIRED magazine.
Nathan George:
That was a really great high. Then the hard work start is actually making the product, and learning a lot in that process and getting that one out into production. It’s been a long process and I think we learned a lot, but that this Kube family that we’ve launched with the first one being the Kube4 is really positioning and defining Kube Sound as a premier portable audio company that offers a suite of products that address a lot of needs in the average consumer’s daily life.
Roy Morejon:
You talk about launching this product, I guess, about six years ago now. When you were creating and designing this product, a ton went into it. How did you go about deciding what features to include? Was there a feedback cycle of what you were hearing from the crowd themselves, or more or less trying to be the life of the party and made a speaker system that you guys wanted for yourselves?
Nathan George:
I’d say that the original Kube was really a good market test to say, what does the market want? What do their consumers want? We put it out there. We started even as high as a $3,000 price point. We launched it… Dubai Boat Show was our official launch in early 2018 when we finally had it ready to ship. We were selling them at $3,000 all the way down to under a thousand when we decided to sell through the product and focus on our new product line, but people love the look. They love a lot of the features. They love the connectivity. That one had wifi and Bluetooth as well. They love the sound. That was their favorite part because it really blasted, even the earlier one, but what they didn’t like was the size and the weight.
Nathan George:
We said, “Well, let’s address the size and weight, make it smaller and lighter,” which is what we’ve done with the new Kube4. It’s less than half the size and less than half of the weight of the previous one, but it’s more than twice as loud. We really brought in a whole new team. We brought a new CEO, who came from an Apple, Dell and HP pedigree background. He helped run the Apple Masters Program. We brought him in May of ’17 to help us sell through the previous product, and help us design and build this new Kube4. He had a background industrial design to really helped us put that together. Brought in a good team with some people from Sennheiser in China.
Nathan George:
Then we were invited to partner with Sound Hub in Denmark, which was cofounded with Band & Olufsen and Harman as an incubator space for more research on acoustics. We happened to be the only powered consumer audio company that was invited to in participate in that. They really helped take us to the final, next step level to be real premium sound. We’re really excited about delivering the Kube4 to the world.
Roy Morejon:
Nathan, speaking on that, I mean, it sounds like these are some premium partnerships. I know our audience would love to know what does that process look like? Because I think there’s a lot of idea people out there that want to potentially, let’s say, license out their ideas. Where did that begin for you guys in terms of finding these right partners to get in bed with and start developing the product through?
Nathan George:
I can’t take credit or say that there’s a method to it. It’s really just people that I’ve come across in my life, but happen to be the right things. You’re always on the lookout and not searching, but just making good connections. I think a lot of it’s the product, and what it does and people hearing it even in the earlier versions, but people are drawn to it. When we put our CEO search, we had over 1,000 applicants. We got through about 350 applications. Couldn’t get through the rest of them. Then we had four or five… We had about eight phone interviews, and then four had fly outs. A lot of people were excited to be part of a company that already had a product, was ready to start going. I did my PhD at Berkeley and so my connections there and to the startup community in San Francisco came naturally from living in that community. One connection to the next, you get in with one person, they introduce you to others, just like how I was introduced to you, Roy.
Roy Morejon:
It’s all about the network, indeed, Nathan. Let’s dive in because that’s how we got introduced was this crowd funding campaign. We’ve got hundreds of backers, over a hundred thousand raised now. Let’s talk a little bit about some of that preparation work for the crowdfunding campaign and the relaunch, if you will, of the brand. What was some of that prep work leading up to the campaign launch?
Nathan George:
Well, I think just making sure you’re getting the collateral right, making sure your messaging is what you’re really trying to communicate to the consumer, what they need. Since we are somewhat filling a void or white space in the market, you have to educate the consumer on everything that we do because there’s nothing really out there in the market that does everything the Kube4 does. I think it’s just putting that team together, working closely with you guys at Eventys. Once we had selected our partner here and then going with the collateral, we had some existing collateral fortunately to get the ground running with the ad spend. I think leaning a little bit on your expertise as well, once we were confident in the partner we had selected.
Roy Morejon:
Indeed. Talk a little bit about some of the feedback that you’ve gotten over the years of these products and now launching the Kube4 out on Kickstarter that’s active right now. How have you gone about managing the feedback from folks that hear it, but also the hundreds of backers that have come into the campaign so far in terms of managing that feedback and potentially taking some of those ideas or questions and actionably putting them into potential new product, or addressing a different market for the innovation that you’ve created?
Nathan George:
Well, certainly one of the things that’s probably difficult about this one is we don’t have the finalized product out there for a lot of press reviews. We’d love to have really good audio critics to be able to put their YouTubes up as part of this launch. I’ve had to address some of that to show that, hey, look, we have these partners at Sound Hub, for example, are some of the best in the industry, and so we can lean a little bit into our expertise and the fact that we’ve already created one product that sold out to five-star reviews, and did well on Sound Air. I have to respond to the feedback and questions.
Nathan George:
Some of that has led to some good ideas on making sure that our app has EQ settings, which it will. Just other questions about the battery being switchable, or at least replaceable so we’re not filling up landfills. Two other things like, “Hey, we’d like to have some more colors.” That’s an exciting thing that I guess we can tease a little bit with your audience is going to go out tomorrow that we’re going to launch a white version after a lot of popular request in the Kickstart community and on the social media to have a white version. We are going to start rolling that out tomorrow as an announcement to the campaign.
Roy Morejon:
Man, that’s going to look nice and clean out by folks’ pools or whoever else it may go, right?
Nathan George:
Oh yeah. It looks really slick. We’re excited about that. I think we might even have a two-pack as a his and her version.
Roy Morejon:
There we go. Let’s talk a little bit about the manufacturing side on this because I think that can always be something that’s overlooked along with shipping. I know we’re not out there yet in terms of the shipping side of things, but on the manufacturing side, this is a highly-detailed product. How did you go about finding the right manufacturer for this product?
Nathan George:
Well, we worked with a partner for our original Kube that had the original engineering, design team, and then our manufacturing partner, is a Stanford guy. He partners with companies in the US to identify and source bid manufacturers in China, and then make sure that you’re using credible ones that are going to produce good products. We identified that manufacturer with the first original Kube. they’ve been a good partner and so we’ve decided to keep using them for this one.
Nathan George:
On this new one, we were able to really… Before we probably designed it and then handed it to them, so I’m liking it to in my real estate field of you have an architect that designs a building and then they send it to an engineer. An engineer adds everything and then you try to take it the general contractor. The general contractor says, “This costs too much to build.” That happens a lot, especially these days with the construction costs, but with this last Kube4, we really integrated the whole team throughout the process. There was a lot of feedback along the way with the manufacturing partners that we built the thing together as a team, making sure we had something that was cost-effective, but also accomplished all of our goals from the build to the acoustics, and in the testing and modifications from there.
Roy Morejon:
Impressive. Your campaign just crossed over $100,000, putting you into the rare air of one of the top 4% of all top Kickstarter campaigns. What’s a top tip for an inspiring entrepreneur out there?
Nathan George:
I don’t know. I didn’t realize it was top 4%. I think, for us, and I think the mentality we have is to expect success, but prepare for trouble or prepare for problems. You need to expect that you’re going to succeed, and stay focused and determined that you’re going to see it through to be successful and believing in what you’re doing. I think we talked about last year, it was a little piece that was written up, a interview for me for Inc. Magazine. It was about, tell me some of the struggles you’ve gone through. Certainly, you go through struggles with any startup, but believing in what you’re doing is what’s going to help get you up every morning to focus on finding solutions because you’re going to run into problems on everything and making sure that that vision of what you’re trying to do for the consumer. It’s not,about making money, it’s about solving a problem. If you’re solving a problem for people, then the money’s going to come.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah, absolutely. Entrepreneurship can be an extremely difficult road. Nathan, in those difficult moments, how have you stayed focused on moving forward and making progress?
Nathan George:
I think I said, one point, whenever there’s a hard day, sometimes I just have my original Kube. I go out in the backyard and I just turn it on and the kids go crazy or we have a home dance party. Just a smile comes on my face when you just hear the audio come out and the acoustics of it. It just changes your day. This is why I’m making this. Then now that I’ve seen videos of people enjoying the original Kube, some that we’ve put up on our Instagram at Kube Sound, and just really enjoyed making people happy and helping them have a party, no DJ needed. That’s really what this is about.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Keeping a smile on your face, what do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur?
Nathan George:
I call it more I’m just a problem solver. Whether it’s real estate solutions or these problems, I think you got to be attacking everything as a problem to try to figure out the best way of overcoming it. That’s really what being an entrepreneur is about is, is just overcoming things, obstacles, and figuring out a way to get through it.
Roy Morejon:
Well said.
Nathan George:
I think that’s what drives me is just… Then the satisfaction of once you’ve solved the problem, knowing you’ve made the right decision that says, “Well, let’s do it again.”
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well said, Nathan. Well, this is going to get us into our launch round where I’m going to rapid fire some questions at you. You good to go?
Nathan George:
All right, go ahead.
Roy Morejon:
What inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Nathan George:
I think I see my dad working really hard. We didn’t have a lot, again. As I was a kid, I was the oldest of six with four brothers and I think it was, again, more of this spirit. I had a good example of my father working hard to put food on the table for us, and then turning that into my own drive to make money to be able to buy my bike, or skateboard or whatever it was. I think that was instilled in me at a very young age. I certainly try to do that with my own kids to make them work for whatever they need so they can develop that work ethic.
Roy Morejon:
If you could meet with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would you want to have a dance party with?
Nathan George:
That’s a tough question. You got to give me a heads-up on these. I think in our current time, Elon Musk is like the Tony Stark of our time. I think he’s just a visionary and seems like a quirky physics-type guy that I think I’d enjoy. I did get to have breakfast with Peter Thiel, he’s investing in our hedge fund and he’s a chess grandmaster mind type guy, really incredible. I would like to meet Elon. I know they did the PayPal thing together.
Roy Morejon:
What song would you play for Elon?
Nathan George:
I don’t even know where to go with that. Let me think. There’s… I’m trying to think of the name right now. I got to pull it up. There’s one that I think of a really good memory of when we were originally at CES for the first Kube. I think it’s Blame by David… I have to look it up. Come back to me on that one. Blame by Calvin Harris. That sounds really great on the Kube.
Roy Morejon:
Nice. I was thinking more of the Eye of the Tiger maybe.
Nathan George:
My son’s playlist is full of 80s music. I got him raised right.
Roy Morejon:
There you go. Any book that you’d love to recommend to our listeners?
Nathan George:
I think the Zero to One by Peter Thiel’s a great one. That’s really how it goes is from you have nothing and then you have something. That first one is the hardest piece, but it’s a great approach to the startups and entrepreneurship.
Roy Morejon:
Keeping with that train of thought, what advice would you give to a new inventor or entrepreneur that’s looking to launch their new product?
Nathan George:
One thing we’ve tried to do is just really what look for the right people and it’s okay to wait for the right person, but as you’re growing, I’ve grown through several companies, there’s people that stay with you through it and then some people that help you get to the next level. Then either you or they realize that they’re not the right person to keep going. I think being flexible and not feeling married to everybody in your team, that they’re probably not all going to be there when you make it to the next level, and being okay with that and understanding. I think hire slowly and fire quick is a good dodge as well here.
Roy Morejon:
What do you think are the top three skills that every entrepreneur needs to be successful?
Nathan George:
I think you need to have some sort of internal skeptical optimism that you’re going to overcome it and then you’re going to figure it out because, again, it’s going to be some tough days and you got to know that sometimes you just sleep it off and the next day you take a new approach to it. I think really listening to the consumer, and trying to get out there and experiencing what they need or what’s your problem solving? Really put yourself in their shoes, I think is important. I think the last one is just understanding your role in the company. Are you a visionary or you are the organizer, implementer type? Understanding your role and your best skill set and putting those that use. Don’t try to do things that are outside of your skill set and really making sure that you’re complementing others on your team. Getting two visionaries on a team are going to really get things done. They might have a lot of good ideas that you might not execute.
Roy Morejon:
Solid advice there, Nathan. All right, last question in the launch round. You’re doing great. I know we’re on our first crowdfunding campaign together, but interested to hear your take on what does the future of crowdfunding look like?
Nathan George:
Looking back here at the ones that are successful, I think certainly it’s a great avenue for pre-sales. The really successful campaigns that are successful over and over are typically established companies that are sometimes using this, it’s just a way to get discounted product out there sooner. That does serve a very big purpose. As you look at the financials of manufacturing, you do have to get prototypes and get things out there but once you’ve proved a concept, using that revenue to help you pay for the cost of the product without having to produce it first and then put it in the marketplace, that really helps things a lot from a banking standpoint.
Nathan George:
I really think the future… I think it’s not necessarily what it was, where you had just an idea and you could raise a bunch of money, I think it’s really moving towards using it as this formula for getting product into the marketplace as quick as possible, which has its value. Especially, probably like Kube, you want to have as many people on day one when it’s shipping, have in their house because every neighbor that hears it either is going to call the cops or they’re going to buy one. Hopefully, more people are buying their own.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. That’s the hope here. Well, Nathan, this has been amazing. This is your opportunity to give the audience your pitch, tell them what you’re all about, where people should go and why they should check you out.
Nathan George:
Well, I appreciate that opening. Kube Sound, we’re just really about setting music free. Enjoying the music, bringing people together through that, but also making it really easy to do so. Our product is super easy to use. It sets up over wifi, so you can use multiple Kubes throughout your house, like a Sonos system, but it’s all on batteries so you can have at least up to 40 hours of battery life or longer. Put one in your backyard, leave it out there. It’s all waterproof. Then when you’re ready to go to the tailgate or go camping, you take it for your whole weekend, or take a couple. If you take them together, you can actually pair them and they create their own wifi mesh network. You can have them talk to each other and we say, be ready to have your own music festival, but you could set up two on a football field and have a football practice with that.
Nathan George:
On top of that, it has PA capabilities over a wireless mic. We’re not trying to necessarily solve all the problems in terms of the one-stop solution. There’s other speakers that are made to be indoors to do surround sound, but I think we’re really catching a lot of that white space of having the portable speaker that you can move throughout your house and not have to have it plugged into the wall to work like a typical Sonos, but also being able to take it with you and have the decent output that when you’re more than 10 or 15 people at your barbecue, you can actually still just hear the music as an ambience, not have it blasting out of a Bluetooth tweeter on the coffee table, or you can’t hear it cause there’s too many people.
Nathan George:
Really, we’re about providing that solution. We’d really like you to check us out, come do Instagram at @KubeSound or on Facebook. Please come check out our Kickstarter, check out the videos and all the work that Roy and his team have put together here. We really believe in this product and looking forward to having it in everybody’s homes in America and around the world.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well, audience, thanks for tuning in. Make sure to visit ArtoftheKickstart.com for the show notes, the transcript, links to the active campaign and everything else we talked about today. Of course, I got to thank our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, the Gadget Flow and Product Hype. Nathan, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
Nathan George:
Thanks so much, Roy.
Roy Morejon:
Thanks for tuning into another amazing episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a better business, world, and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, show us some love by giving us a great rating on your favorite listening station. Of course, make sure to visit ArtoftheKickstart.com for all the previous episodes. If you need some help, that’s what we’re here for. Make sure to send me an email to info@artofthekickstart.com. Thanks for tuning in and I’ll see you on the next episode.