This is the first interview in the “Meeting Team Sugr” series, which will introduce Sugr users to the people behind Sugr Cube, the world’s first touch-based WiFi speaker. This interview is with Sean Song, CEO and founder of Sugr Corporations.
Q: So Sean, where did the idea of Sugr Cube come from exactly?
A: In 2013, I was playing some soothing music for my 1 year-old son, when suddenly the wireless speaker I was using was interrupted by a phone call from my smartphone. Texts, phone calls, all these notifications were interrupting the music, so I started to explore new speakers, hoping to find one with a solution for such hassles.
As I was searching, I happened to find some beautifully designed wooden speakers. When I laid eyes on them, I was suddenly brought back to a chance encounter I had over 10 years before.
In the winter of 2003, I was working as a digital audio software engineer and had flown to Israel to meet my colleagues there for the first time. On the return flight, I sat next to an old, silver haired Israeli gentleman. He saw my iPod and started to chat with me. He was an audio engineer too, as well as a speaker craftsman, who handmade wooden speakers in his spare time. Having the same interest, we spoke for over 10 hours.
He shared his thoughts of what made good speakers and good sound. Having done analog work for recording studios in Europe, he had designed many high-end, customized wooden speakers. Under the dim plane lights, as he shared his vast knowledge and opinions, he was like a Da Vinci of sound. One of his thoughts stayed clear in my mind: analog is king.
Q: What do you think he meant by that?
A: Well, it has to do with quality. I explained what I was doing with digital MP3 audio. He thought that people didn’t understand good sound anymore, that MP3 quality is poor, that plastic speakers are a disaster to the audio industry. I said that I believe the digital technology has brought music to more people, more quickly, more easily. He looked at my iPod and said, “That is not music”. I replied, “But my music is with me everywhere.”
We weren’t going to agree. He believed in analog and craftsmanship, and I believe in digital & industrial mass production. Finally he looked to me and said, “Alright, let’s see if you can combine them together.” He was betting that it couldn’t be done.
Ten years later, as I looked at a speaker for my son, that quote suddenly came back to me. My mind was racing. Could I combine them together? Could I create a new music experience? Can it prevent all the digital hassles, but keep premier, traditional craftsmanship?
This inspired me to explore both the latest wireless technology and wooden speaker systems, looking for a way to leverage the latest digital advancements while also presenting the best audio in its most natural and traditional way.
Q: So where did the name Sugr come from?
A: Ah, so when I started Sugr, I named it that in part because of the gentleman I met on the flight. I could not remember his name other than it started with a“Sch”. Combining that with my wanting it to sound sweet, Sugar seemed a fine choice. Wanting to distinguish it, the name changed to “Sugr”, inspired of course by the name Flickr, a great leap innovation for Web2.0 startups.
Q: What about Sugr Cube music speakers distinguishes them from competitors?
A: Sugr was started and continues to operate with a mission to combine the latest digital & wireless technology to present sound with its most natural, pristine, and traditional form. It does not want to compete with anyone really. Sugr is here to serve people with great sound through the use natural material and intuitive interaction.
Q: What’s working with and leading Team Sugr like? Has it been rewarding managing everyone from engineering, to marketing, to finance?
A: The team is like a family. A band of brothers. We have been working together for over 3 years now, and some for longer. Louis, my partner and Sugr’s chief engineer, has been a colleague since 2005.
Leading a startup, creating entirely new products is truly rewarding. The team has worked closely together to reach milestones one after another after another, from the first draft industrial design to the first prototype of our wooden WiFi speaker, all the way to the first trade show in Berlin, and beyond. We launched Sugr Cube on Kickstarter and got the “Staff Pick” award immediately, which was very inspiring to the team.
This is a great learning experience, going from an engineer to a learning CEO, but I have to say it’s an intense process. Everyday is like trying to drink from the fire hose!
Q: What do you see in the future for Sugr? Any new products or upgrades you’re excited about?
A: Sugr is a global brand in consumer electronics, so we see ourselves continuing to spread and reach more customers. Our current focus is to keep improving user experience with Sugr Cube. With our new app on Google Play, users can tell that this is a music speaker with an active team always looking to improve. We are also developing more software features, making the Sugr Cube like an app: upgradable and flexible.
Q: Now for the fun ones. If you could decided one song that all Sugr users had to listen to the first time they used Sugr Cube, what would you have them listen to and why?
A: Hero by Mariah Carrey, because everyone has a strong hero deep in their own mind. Just look inside yourself, and you will find him.
Q: What was the first album you ever bought? Was it a cassette, CD, record, etc.?
A: My first album was a vinyl record of Johann Strauss II’s Blue Danube Waltz, among his other masterpieces. It was a gift my mother gave me, after my father bought a Sony audio system. And I’ve loved music ever since.
Thanks for the interview Sean!