A Denver-based musical-effects pedals maker is an industry leader
WMDEVICES | Product: Electronics + IT | Made in: Denver
William Mathewson – the WM in WMDevices, or WMD – started making musical-effects pedals as a side hustle in 2007. Previously a hobbyist pedal-maker since high school in Longmont, he'd been working at a recording studio in Boulder and doing graphic design for bands.
Mathewson sold 10 units of his first pedal design to a customer in California, then plowed the profits into a run of 80. He next came up with a "bitcrusher" pedal, the Geiger Counter in 2009. "That's pretty much what launched us," Mathewson says. "It hit the stompbox market at the right time. Synth guys really liked it and hip-hop guys really liked it." A decade after the initial release, WMDevices has sold "thousands" of Geiger Counters.
The company expanded into modular synthesizers in 2009 and quickly became a market leader. A more tactile response to all-in-one integrated synthesizers, modular synths consist of different modules, ranging from faders and compressors to mixers and sequencers, arranged in a versatile rack and patched together for a wide range of sounds.
"Modular synths let you create something that is transient, so you can't really ever get it back in the same way," Mathewson says. "That is the magic of it."
The catalog now includes about 50 different modules that can make just about every imaginable sound. The modular synth niche has grown substantially in the last decade: When WMD entered the market, there were fewer than 10 companies; now there are more than 100.
The company has stayed at the front of the pack by doubling down on manufacturing. WMD makes almost everything in-house. In 2012, Mathewson invested in a used pick-and-place machine to automate the assembly of its circuit boards. It upped efficiency substantially, with capacity to spare. "I started to shop out that service to other clients in the effects and pedal industries," he says.
Customers include hobbyists and big names like Nine Inch Nails, The Chemical Brothers and OK Go. Mathewson says the market will bear a premium price: "We're in a niche market, so we haven't had the race to the bottom where everything needs to be as cheap as possible."
That allows Mathewson to build a domestic electronics manufacturer, an industry anomaly these days. WMD has a staff of about 20 and continues to invest in equipment and employees. "I try to hire only musicians," Mathewson says. "They fit our culture well."