November 7, 2018

Tips & Tricks with Ari Pinkas, Co-Founder of ORA

Ari is an innovation strategist and marketing specialist that is passionate about the ins-and-outs of successfully launching products to market. He is co-founder of Ora Graphene Audio, a TandemLaunch startup engineering graphene-based nanomaterials that enable new levels of sound quality and loudspeaker efficiency.

Ari applies a tactical and analytical approach to entrepreneurship and has together with Ora presented some impressive fallouts. Ari shares some tips and tricks that led Ora to raise a million dollar on Kickstarter, vast exposure at CES, getting a partnership with one of the biggest conductors in the world and being invited to meet the British royal family. Ari is a strategic mastermind, so we hope you will enjoy learning the tips and tricks that he has had up his sleeve!

1. Never assume you’re too small to achieve big things

As founders, especially in the early stages, we tend to act and feel like our companies aren’t real yet and therefore avoid growth opportunities. No one will ever buy or endorse a product/service if they sense that not even the founder believes in it. At Ora, I forced myself to gain confidence by building highly professional marketing materials (website, business cards, brochures, etc.) that helped me feel like Ora was “real”. Of course, having paying OEM customers validating our product also helped! I associate this self-assurance to the important endorsement Ora received from Gustavo Dudamel, the conductor, and director of the LA Philharmonic.  It all started with having enough guts to send Gustavo’s manager an email. I knew it was a long shot to contact one of the top conductors of our time, but the crazy thing is that it worked! His manager got excited about the tech, I flew to Pittsburgh to demo our GrapheneQ technology to Maestro Dudamel … and it impressed! To the point that he gave Ora one of the most splendid endorsements we’ve received so far: “I am a fan of Ora and believe their technology can allow everyone to hear their favorite music like they are the conductor!”

2. Always be strategic in the way you approach challenges… more importantly, always optimize your strategy!

When Ora was first conceived, I had to apply a strategic approach to customer validation after noticing that tech scouts were not responding well (or at all!) to our tech. I understood that there needed to be a change in approach, so I started contacting a more targeted group: audio engineers.  This simple switch changed everything. We not only started getting a ton of positive feedback, but these engineers also championed our tech inside the most important consumer electronic companies and many of them are now paying us to evaluate GrapheneQ inside TVs, headphones, smart-speakers, and even smartphones.

Another example is when we attended CES a couple years ago. We really wanted some media visibility which is tough when you are basically no one. The first thing I tried was to send an email blast to every journalist attending CES. No response. I then decided to reach out to the few journalists that had already written about other graphene audio initiatives and asked them if they wanted to do a follow-up article on Ora’s GrapheneQ technology. It really paid off, we managed to get several publications to write about Ora before CES.

In both cases, I had a strategy, it didn’t work, I tried something new and it worked.

3. Don’t be shy, if you’ve got something good, the world wants to hear about it

I attended MWC in Barcelona last February. Who was also there, giving a talk? No other than the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work with graphene, Dr. Kostya Novoselov. While I was somewhat intimidated, I managed to convince myself to approach him. I went up to him and explained that Ora uses graphene for loudspeakers… he was really intrigued. We exchanged numbers, got on a follow-up call, and are now exploring collaboration opportunities between Ora and Manchester University- the most important research institution in terms of graphene.

This relationship also led to something amazing: an invitation to showcase our graphene tech at the opening of Manchester Universities’ £50M Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre (GEIC), which members of the Royal family will attend. Ora is the only company not associated with Manchester University to have been invited!

4. De-risk the future by validation

Deciding to embark on a Kickstarter is scary. We knew failure was not an option and needed some sort of customer validation before making the big decision of launching the crowdfunding campaign. We came up with the idea to de-risk the Kickstarter by displaying headphone demos at CES with a poster saying, “Pay us $50 now, save 50% later”. To our surprise, 30% of people that tried the headphones paid us the $50. This was huge and of course, gave us the validation to invest money and time into the Kickstarter. We ended up raising ~$1M for the world’s first pair of graphene headphones.

5. Value your most important network, friends and family

My most valued network are the people that know me best, my friends. They know that if they call me for anything, I will go above and beyond to help them out…. And vice versa. As a startup with tight budgets, you always try to do things as cheap and fast as possible. So I got my network to help me! Our branding material was made by a friend who was unemployed at the time. He created our whole brand identity for a bottle of Cava! Another friend of mine created our flashy Kickstarter video. He didn’t do it for free, but he agreed to put skin in the game by accepting a commission-based model. The video turned out to be breathtaking, Ora had little money to put up-front, and my friend ended up getting paid what he deserved through the commissions!

My advice is to genuinely help your inner circle when they ask for it, you never know when you will need their skills!