Most inventors can recount the “aha” moment when their idea clicked. However, for Florida-born Erik Young, the inventor of Audios, the first wireless DJ speaker system, the path was much more winding.
Co-founder and CEO of Audios and multiple patent holder, Young started his path in the streets — a detailed story he hopes to tell later in his career ascension — but eventually course-corrected and landed at Hewlett-Packard.
“I created this thing called the fault table that ships in every HP server even today, but they weren’t paying me the equivalent to how valuable it is to their business,” said Young as the reason for his departure from his six-year tenure at the company.
In 2015, with no set plan, he headed to Silicon Valley where his hustler spirit reignited to cross off his laundry list of ideas, one of which was a Bluetooth speaker. From there, a series of false-starts costly prototypes, and testing almost forced Young to reconsider his speaker invention altogether until helping a DJ friend set up for a San Francisco gig finally sparked what would become Audios.
Audios, which is currently in an equity crowdfunding campaign, offers fully wireless, battery-powered speakers that can connect up to 100 feet and takes no more than 10 minutes to set up. The product completely disrupts the current speakers systems that require countless cords, heavy lifting, and a tiresome setup.
“We were running cables to the speakers all around the spot, and it was just too much work,” he recalls of that gig. “The next week I built him four wireless prototypes and it worked.”
AfroTech caught up with Young to chat about Audios, revolutionizing the $27 million DJ speakers industry, and the advice he learned from mentors like Charles Huang (creator of Guitar Hero) and Andy Rachleff (Benchmark Capital).
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Editorial Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
AfroTech: In 2018, bam — it hit you! You’ve finally nailed your idea. How did you connect with your mentors to help guide you through the process of bringing your invention to market? Because filing a patent came naturally to you, but I’m sure pitching and fundraising was a new exercise.
Erik Young: Andy and I met organically. While I was making one hundred thousand dollars a year with Airbnb, I met his CFO Ashley Johnson, who is also one of my advisors. She introduced me to Andy, and that’s when I demonstrated for him. From there, he gave me “The Lean Startup” book and he’d tell me to do something, I’d do it 100% and come back with the results. I’m a simple serial mentee; I’m always Danielsson.
With Charles, I demoed for him in China, he was impressed, and he knew immediately that I was having trouble raising money because I was Black. And he was right because I have proof there was racial bias.
AfroTech: It’s well known that navigating Silicon Valley as a person of color can pose certain obstacles. What other hurdles have you faced?
Erik Young: I have billionaire mentors who [raised funds] repeatedly, and in their experience if you have a good deck and pitch correctly, you should be able to raise two million dollars in one week. But I wasn’t able to raise money or get meetings. Because of my mentors, I knew that the content and what I was pitching was good, so the only difference was that I was Black. Andy and Charles didn’t understand that because they were going based on what was right and what was wrong, and they started getting pissed off. But they discounted the statistics that show that [minority founders having difficulty raising money] is by design. Eventually, a meeting with a VC firm was set up for me to receive honest feedback, and they explained that firms invest based on recognizable patterns, and since they didn’t have experience with Black-founded companies that became unicorns, they had no point of reference and wouldn’t take the chance.
AfroTech: You pivoted to crowdfunding, though. Tell me about the campaign and what investors receive for their contributions.
Erik Young: The campaign kicked off to help raise money for Audios which solves a direct problem: DJ cables are time-consuming, expensive, and need to be replaced every year. We’re also crowdfunding so that consumers can receive different perks for each tier. For example, if you invest $500, you will receive a discount on Audios upon release, Audios apparel, and more. The campaign ends on April 30.
AfroTech: The official DJ of the NBA Golden State Warriors raved about Audios.
Erik Young: Yeah, several DJs have all tested the speakers out themselves, but I didn’t have enough units to leave with those guys. Audios is currently in pre-release/manufacturing.
AfroTech: You own several patents, which is rare for Black individuals. You also mentioned that Lonnie Johnson is an inspiration to you for his number of patents granted. How many patents do you currently hold, and how many more do you want to have granted?
Erik Young: I have six patents currently, and I’ve received notice a seventh will be granted. One is still pending, and I have four more to submit. So, at least five more will be granted.
AfroTech: What advice do you have for young Black inventors?
Erik Young: To treat tech like you treat sports. Work on your skills the same way an athlete works on theirs. Eventually, you’ll have the ability to create anything you imagine.