BEIRUT: To improve is to change, to perfect is to change often, Winston Churchill once said.
This was the case for Bassel Idriss, who decided to bow out from the glitzy corporate world of Procter & Gamble after a lengthy tenure and join the high-tempo world of entrepreneurship.
What pushed him to take such a decision was simple: 3D printing.
“Back in 2010, a friend of mine introduced me to 3D printing and how it works, and I was blown away by the very existence of this tech,” Idriss told Annahar, adding that “I knew that if I’m ever going to leave the corporate world to endeavor on something on my own, I want it to be in this field.”
Fast forward to 2013, after being in Lebanon for almost two years, Idriss faced a crossroad; he had to either leave Lebanon to continue his corporate job abroad or quit and start his own startup.
“Okay, now is the time, it’s either now or never,” he said to himself and made the decision that affected his entire life.
Idriss went on to co-found Generics, together with an ex-P&G colleague Basile Choueri, a company that manufactures customized earphones based on individual ear shapes and measures, working with materials used in the hearing aid industry to maximize comfort.
According to Idriss, 47 percent of people who use earphones worldwide complain from either discomfort or that they keep popping out of their ear; needless to say that 350 million earphone units are sold annually, apart from the 1.3 billion that is given away with mobile phones.
“So you’re looking at 1.65 billion earphone units being pumped into the market annually, with almost half of them (800 million) complaining of these problems, thus we are addressing a large segment of people who use them,” he said.
To scale the idea, the company decided not to have a brick-and-mortar store since the goal wasn’t to make people come to us but vice versa. Generics developed a ‘smart’ mobile application that allows people to take a video of their ears at different angles and place orders in under five minutes.
The app contains an algorithm that enables the receivers of the information to take specific measures within the ear to produce a mold of the ear based on the video taken and sent.
“We really wanted to reach out to people, and the obvious answer was the Smartphone, with its ridiculous penetration across the globe,” Idriss told Annahar.
The company adopted to go for bio-compatible silicone, which is the part that is in contact with the ear and is used in the hearing aid industry.
“This helped us in achieving the highest level of comfort while preventing allergies since it’s already been tested and tried; because the videos sent aren’t always 100 percent precise, the silicone is very flexible and will allow us some minor measuring errors,” he said.
Usually, the traditional way to acquire customized earphones is to visit an audiologist to have an ear impression made for measurements, wait ten days before pick up, setting people back $500, according to Idriss.
“We are not the first people that have come up with customized earphones, they’ve been around for over a decade, now all professional singers, performers, and anchor people use customized earphones, other than the ordinary person,” he added.
The company co-founder highlighted that the global average of pricing earphones is 43$, while Generics earphones sell at $125, triple the global average, but with a big benefit: customization. The company is currently ongoing a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter; despite meeting the set target, they still urge people to visit their page and buy a pair of Generics, to get the earphones ahead of anyone else and pay up to 45 percent less.
Currently, Idriss has a number of benchmarks he wants to achieve within the next year, the first being wireless earphones.
“Heading to wireless earphones is actually a no-brainer; it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but more like a matter of ‘when,’ since today we are noticing from our crowdfunding campaign that a lot of people ask about the wireless feature,” he said.
However, according to Idriss, it would have been a bigger challenge to do wireless earphones from the get-go, since the wired ones still have an array of advantages going for it. “The first being is that you don’t have to worry about charging them, while the second being connectivity between the two earpieces which is less of a worry when working with the wired ones,” he noted.
There is no doubt that Idriss is looking toward wireless earphones, especially following Apple Inc.’s release of their AirPods which accelerated their growth in the market; but it will be the more expensive option.
On a personal note, however, it is a much different ball game.
Like many people in the corporate world, Idriss was itching to try something on his own, and to him, he will fight ‘tooth & nail’ to make sure the company succeeds, however, he accepts the odds are stacked against him and should Generics fail, he’ll learn from the experience and move on by either get employed once more or jump into another venture.
“I really enjoyed the community that’s being developed around startups and their rhythm, I love the corporate world as well, but I guess there are pros and cons to everything, just like there is in life,” Idriss told Annahar.
When the co-founder decided to leave his job, he was met with a supportive atmosphere from his friend and family circle, especially from his wife. Finding a co-founder in Choueri also made the decision easier.
But when moving into this risky endeavor, he was at the age of 39 and had accumulated an array of experience, knowledge, and know-how in the corporate world; one question floated around him “are you willing to throw most of that knowledge out of the window for an environment that demands a completely different skill set, while starting with zero?”
His answer was clear, “I was completely fine with that.”
Given that he was a marketer, Idriss decided to get grounded with the tech of 3D printing to fully understand it, thus “I spent a year studying, attending courses, conferences and meeting stakeholders and manufacturers, while putting together a business plan.”
One of the things that ticked him toward earphones was the hearing aid industry, which was one of the very first industries that totally shifted into 3D printing.
“When you look at hearing aids or earphones, they are small; not in need of a huge printer with lower cost, and it lends itself that two ears are not the same, which paves the way for a customized line of individual production,” Idriss highlighted.
The company’s current maximum manufacturing capacity is almost 1,000 earphones a month with hopes of increasing it to 5,000 within the next year, and wireless earphones on the market, “but we need to learn how to walk before we can run.”
Generics have their eyes set on exploring products to endeavor into, such as augmented hearing, which are earbuds that filter and alter the thrum of real-world sounds.
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