Microsoft entrepreneurs chatting around music – 创新者 | 宋少鹏: 来自微软的创业者, 想用音乐聊聊天 – English

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Sugr Cube founder, Song Shaopen / Sean, is a shy man with a technological background, but passionate about the field of music. He worked at the Microsoft Asia Hardware Centre, in sound technology development and management. But in 2013, he left his job to pursue his dream: with his team, he developed a wifi activated audio player, and raised US$ 50,000 on Kickstarter to develop a prototype.

Text: Chao Ning

He worked at the Microsoft Asia Hardware Centre, in sound technology development and management.

He left his job in 2013 to pursue his dream: make a change in the music field.

He’s a shy tech-guy, but once you start talking about his passion, music, he won’t stop.

He and his team designed a WIFI audiobox. Half an hour after they started their Kickstarter campaign, it was picked as Editors’ Choice and ‘News and Noteworthy’. It was also awarded the Product Design Label y Design in Shenzhen.

On the day they reached US$50,000 on Kickstarter, I interviewed the founder of Sugr Cube, Song Shaopeng / Sean.


China 30s: Your career path has been very simple; you’ve worked your way for eleven years between two foreign companies, then quit to become an entrepreneur. In your eleven years in these two firms, what valuable virtues and lessons have you gained?

Song Shaopeng: I was first taken into an Israeli firm that specialized in audio algorithm chips. The most important lesson I learned from this company is methodology in the engineering sector. Israel is a particularly interesting country, paying acute attention to projects; engineers are particularly important, paying very close attention to methodology and acumen. Specifically, in their pursuit of machinery engineering, there are things that we Chinese engineers are accustomed to that the Israelis are not, such as how they employ automated programs to resolve even the simplest issues. The Israelis are also keen to try the most modern tools, they’re the fastest to try the most advanced machinery, and in the process discover efficiencies in the said machinery. At last, they have a specific type of pursuit, which is the pursuit of the perfect working place attitude.

I worked at Microsoft for four years, at a hardware center. At the Microsoft hardware department, they placed special emphasis on human-computer interaction and user experience; among the department, we had a special saying called “reliable interactive” – the goal of innovation isn’t innovation itself, but to make the users comfortable and convenient when they use our products. Many startup companies tend to lean towards doing something cool, special and full of awe, but these dreams are often short-lived, attracting some media attention at most; I myself wanted to do something “cool” and “special” when I first started. The most important this is to improve efficiency and solve problems for users, not to create all these gimmicks. When you do it, be sure to do it right. In particular cases it is not enough to make the product more reliable, even if the situation changes the product must be reliable. In every case, we have to make sure the product is most reliable.

China 30s: What are you most proud of?

Song Shaopeng: In the past I used to change focus all the time, but since 2011, I’ve become constant, swimming every week and never skipping once.

China 30s: What are your favorite hobbies to do in your spare time? Wait…have you even have any spare time after you started up your career?

Song Shaopeng: The answer is, I have no time, it is very difficult to have half a day of leisure time in one week to spend with my children, and I’m sincerely sorry about that. I’m thankful for all the support my family has given me. Now I’m slowly learning more about organisation, and as my children grow up, some company activities, including swimming competitions, which allow me to bring my family. I believe I can keep the balance between my family and my career if I make a few compromises.

China30s: Where did the inspiration to start your own career come from?  How much time did you dedicate to it before you started?

Song Shaopeng: The inspiration is from my children. After having children, I want to provide better music for my children. I am always looking for the method of listening to music,such as using mobile phones and iPad. However, it’s easy to be interrupted, when you receive messages and or an App pop up. A very interesting phenomenon is that a four or five months old baby will shake his head once when the music he listens to stops. I searched on the internet and found that this has a negative effect on the children’s attention. This inspired me to make a product which can both provide high quality music and would not be affected by other programs on the mobile phone.

I have prepared for this idea for one year, the thing I did is my specialty. My specialty during college was audio processing. My graduation thesis was on audio compression without loss. I kept studying electronic products related to sound, including DVDs,microphones and mobile phones.

China 30s: There are many audio products, it’s very convenient to share music between friends. If I’m the consumer, please give me the reason why your product is better than others’ and unique.

Song Shaopeng: We focus on “listening to music without being disturbed”, with two special aspects.

Firstly, we want people to interact with music in a more direct and natural way, in particular the way they interact with the product, we want that to be directly connected to the body and the sense of touch. For example, most music devices have buttons that control the level of sound, therefore forcing us to look directly at the product. Our form of interaction is a contact surface, where no buttons are present. We call it “intuitive interactive version”, so that anyone can use the product, by the means of shaking the device to change the song, pressing it once to stop, and twice for device sharing.

Second, people can communicate through text and images, but sometimes, music is able to express special emotions that text and image cannot capture. Sometimes there’s a song I love, I feel that it really captures my state of mind, and in a second, I can share it with my friends, my friends can listen to it, and understand what’s in my heart then. Without this function, you’d have to open the app, look for the music, send it – it’s not user friendly.

China30s: I guess Sugr Cube has more than these two functionalities, right? What are some other exciting features?

Song Shaopeng: Of course it does! You can control Cube from a mobile APP through Wi-Fi, and it includes an alarm clock, a sleeping-relaxation functions, and other such small practical features. Cube can also directly connect to various streaming music channels like itunes, Pandora, BBC radio, Douban FM, etc, so that you can still use Cube even when the mobile phone is off. Cube has 4GB of storage space, so you can import your music directly through the App, and store it. Cube’s built-in Lithium battery allows for 7 hours of continuous use.

China30s: I’m particularly curious to know how much time you spent on developing such a ‘small but beautiful’ sound system.

Song Shaopeng: We started at the Shenzhen TechSpace (an open manufacturing space), and it took us a month to design the first 3D printed Sugr Cube prototype. Two months later, we made a wooden prototype, and then we spent six months working with the factory on production systems.

China30s: Word on the street is that you received investment from Xu Xiaoping – is that the case? How is the funding process going?

Song Shaopeng: We want to develop an original Chinese brand, and our product found the interest of Xu Xiaoping and Wang Qiang. You must know that at the time, we had no prototype, only a few powerpoint slides. They gave us financial support before our product even came out, and that was a huge inspiration, it made us believe that the project could work. He and Wang Qiang mentored many start ups, and he pointed out our short-comings in terms of marketing and PR. When he came to Shenzhen, he spoke with us till late in the night, deeper exploring the relationship between people and music, and helped us think more about ways to market the produce and reach out to the users.

China30s: How many people do you have in the team today? What are some of their profiles? How did you recruit them?

Song Shaopeng: There’s nine of us. We’re a product design and development team – basically all engineers. The team is all people I used to know. For instance, in electronic sound, there’s an old colleague of mine, we’ve worked together for ten years. Some colleagues also came became they admired what we do. Not long ago, a famous paper ran an article about us. When the article came out, one of the people now working with us had been from Beijing to Tibet for a holiday. He bought a motorbike in Tibet, and drove all the way to us.

Currently, we’re actively looking to recruit a marketing team, and exploring various options, from internships to partnerships, and we’ve set aside a generous amount of shares for that. Feel free to contact me on WeiXin, 261400.

I think the main thing about the team is that we all have one principle in common, we all want to let people interact with music more easily and freely. Of course, in addition to the fact that we’re all like-minded, we all hope that this project will both satisfy our ideals, and make us rich. Entrepreneurship is very hard, the development projects that we’re doing with five or six people, large companies would assign teams of twenty or thirty people to do them.

China30s: What’s the future direction of the company? What are your long-term plans?

Song Shaopeng: We’re positioned within the audio and internet sector. We’ve already planned product development for two years ahead, and plan to develop diverse types of players for online music. We’re also considering a number of vertical expansion scenarios, such as products for yoga practice, elderly people, children, etc.

China30s: What difficulties did you have during the development process? How did you solve them?

Song Shaopeng: One major difficulty at the start was gaining support from vendors. We took our prototype around factories. Many factories were not interested: “You’re not an established company, you’ve got no brand or customer base, should I put so many resources to produce your goods when I don’t know if there’s a future to it?” We had to convince them, when we had nothing to offer but a plan for the future, make them believe that there was hope.

We’ve solved this problem in three different ways. The first one is internal. This type of product is promising within our industry. Music players are still currently having problems, but it is one of the technologies that will lead the industry forward, and bring about change. The second is external, we might even call it fate, I happened to meet a person who liked this idea. He’s the boss of a business in a traditional industry, but wants to innovate, and has the funds and energy to try out new things. And another is to rely on my own efforts, take time to network, and patiently explain the product, layer by layer. From salesman to engineer, then back to chief product designer, then back to CEO. I’m a rather shy person, and when given the choice, I’d rather not go out and drink with people. But sometimes, I just had to go and do it. This process also allowed me to complete my metamorphosis from engineer to ‘salesperson’.

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Source : China 30s

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