Tech startup: Decibullz
Decibullz, decibullz.com, Loveland
Founded: February 2012
Elite-level gymnastics coach Kyle Kirkpatrick always liked to listen to music while working out, but there was an inherent challenge.
"I'd never been able to use earphones when doing gymnastics — or rollerblading, or snowboarding," he explains. "The movements are too aggressive. No earphone has a chance of staying in."
Kirkpatrick spent close to $300 on a pair of high-end earphones to wear while running, and when they didn't work, he set out to solve the problem himself. He educated himself on ergonomics and chemistry and started prototyping. "Hundreds of combinations" later, Kirkpatrick devised a microwaveable mold that could be shaped to fit the form of a specific user's ears.
"The system was so simple I figured someone had already patented it," Kirkpatrick says. But nobody had. "I sold my car, an Infiniti G35 Coupe, the next day and used the money to start the company."
In a Nutshell
When microwaved in a cup of water, Decibullz thermoplastic molds become soft and pliable for five or so minutes — plenty of time to make a replica of each user’s one-of-a-kind ears.
This makes for an earphone that actually stays in while working out. "We use the entire surface area of the conch — the bowl shaped part of the outer ear," says Kirkpatrick.
If need be, you can start over and plop them back in the microwave, he adds. "What makes us really unique is we're the only earmolds in the world that are remoldable."
Websites like Gizmodo and Lifehacker have effusively praised Decibullz for their comfort in product reviews. The molds alone are about $15, and Decibullz earphones (now available for pre-order) are about $50. The former are made in Colorado, and the latter have been outsourced to a manufacturing partner in Asia.
Decibullz has four employees today and was recently named a finalist in the Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge, which awards a $250,000 grand prize in late May.
Earphones are about a $3 billion market worldwide. Decibullz is aimed at the athletic niche, but Kirkpatrick says the "everyday Joe" buys them as well. His next target is the "exploding" Bluetooth earphone market. "Nobody's found a way to keep these heavier earphones in your ear," he says. "We're the only solution out there." He's also looking at expanding into the hearing-aid space.
After a year selling molds compatible with other earphones, Kirkpatrick launched a crowdfunding campaign via Kickstarter in 2013 with a target of $40,000 to make earphones, dubbed Decibullz Contour. He nearly tripled that target, bringing in a total of $113,000 from 2,000 different investors.
"The Kickstarter community is awesome," says Kirkpatrick, adding that he's sold on the concept. "For every new product, we'll do a crowdfunding launch."