After successfully crowdfunding in our first attempt in Taiwan, we (Dr. Feng and Dr. Tsai, the founders of Muro Box) spent almost 2 years in the pilot run production of Muro Box. The main challenge lies in how to increase its sound quality and durability when producing this mechanical music box. Although we faced endless obstacles, we did not give up our dream to produce Muro Box. We were encouraged by many international customers who expressed their eagerness to own the Muro Box as soon as possible.
The Pilot Run Production of Muro Box
During this period, Dr. Feng concentrated on things related to production; Dr. Tsai managed the rest of the work, including HR, customer services and marketing. We prioritized our time for production, so we only attended events invited by our previous backers to thank them. However, we encountered many unexpected challenges that delayed our production schedule significantly. We conquered those challenges with our persistence and patience eventually so that Muro Box can come to life in 2020. The following paragraphs present the challenges we have faced during the pilot run production.
The First Challenge after Our Crowdfunding Success
Losing employees was our first unexpected challenge. We lost our graphic designer, industrial designer, and music composer. They decided to leave us right after our first crowdfunding success. We kept thinking why they were not convinced that Muro Box will have a promising future after the first crowdfunding success. Later, we realized that fact that only we (the founders) have devoted our lives into Muro Box. Other employees did not share the obligation to maintain a company’s operation. Maybe they already knew that they could not help us solve the production problem with their skills and knowledge. It is understandable that they decided to leave us. What made it worse is that they left when we were exhausted due to taking care of our one-month old baby.
In order to interview new employees in person, Dr. Tsai sneaked out the postnatal care center without letting her parents know. During the interviews, she still felt the bleeding from her vagina. Many friends were shocked to see Dr. Tsai going back to work within one week after giving birth to a baby. They described that we were like first-time parents with twins: One is our son and the other is Muro Box.
We have learned a lot of lessons during our hardest moments, including how to become a role model to lead a startup company. Every frustration made us stronger. The only solution to save our company at that time was finding a reliable method to produce Muro Box as soon as possible.
However, turning the prototype of Muro Box into a real product was not as easy as we thought. The original patent has not changed since 2017, but it took us almost 3 years to begin producing it with consistent sound quality. Dr. Feng often joked that the time he spent on Muro Box could allow him to get another doctoral degree.
Questions from Our Previous Backers
Every day, Dr. Tsai answered questions from previous backers and new customers. The previous backers asked about our shipping schedule, and new customers asked how to buy Muro Box. Readers of our Facebook fan page may find that we did not update posts as frequently as we did during the campaign. The lower frequency was because we could hardly make significant progress in a short time. However, we wrote a detailed report for our previous backers every month. In those reports, we presented the progress we have achieved and the difficulty we were facing. We are very thankful that most backers were very supportive when waiting for Muro Box to be shipped. However, we occasionally received harsh comments. The following quote is one of the examples that has been translated from Chinese into English.
The above message arrived when Dr. Tsai had to take care of her sick baby alone at home. At that time, Dr. Feng was discussing with Mr. Wang, the owner of a factory who produces the metal parts of Muro Box. Both Dr. Feng and Mr. Wang were sad when seeing such a harsh comment that questioned our working attitude. Mr. Wang also told Dr. Feng that he already had sleeping issues since we told him the pressure from our backers.
Identifying the Causes of Delayed Production
If we only look at the surface of the problem, the direct cause can be attributed to our collaborative manufacturers. Muro Box includes more than 200 parts, which were produced by more than 50 different manufacturers. Most of the parts were customized for Muro Box because the precision of the parts and how they were assembled can significantly impact the sound quality.
Therefore, these customized parts have significantly increased our production cost and waiting time. We had to work with the manufacturers who are willing to spend a lot of time “co-developing” Muro Box. However, those manufacturers also had their own products to take care of, while we only have Muro Box. It is understandable that they could not devote all of their time on us. For them, Muro Box is just one of the opportunities, but for us, Muro Box is our everything. In fact, our production schedule had been delayed by the manufacturers many times. Dr. Feng already worked seven days a week in order to shorten the waiting time when collaborating with many factories.
We already did everything we could to shorten the waiting time, even though it meant an increase to our production cost. For example, we once estimated the shipping time of the wooden boxes for Muro Box wrong. We thought that it would only take one month to arrive at our office after we placed the order. To our surprise, the manufacturer said that it usually takes at least six months. In order to compensate for this mistake, we ordered extra wooden boxes from another manufacturer. We spent about 200,000 NTDs (about $6,667 USDs) on the extra order of wooden boxes.
This kind of mistake has happened so many times. No matter how hard we tried, we still could not gather all of the parts for Muro Box to assemble in time. There was a high cost in learning the lessons of hardware production in the case of Muro Box. The actual expense in developing Muro Box is about $1 million USD, and we had already run out of the company’s capital (about 99,757 USD) in addition to the funding from our first crowdfunding campaign in Taiwan (about 68,167 USD).
Reading up to here, you may suggest we only work with the manufacturers who can ship the parts on time. However, we soon realized that our current manufacturer is really the best choice for a startup company like ours. The reasons are as follows.
Why Producing Muro Box is a Great Challenge?
At the beginning of product development, we already realized that Muro Box was too complex for a startup company to develop. The innovation of Muro Box lies in transforming a mechanical music box to an Internet-based and app-controlled product. It meant that we must master various computer technologies in addition to achieving the craftsmanship of the 200-year old music box industry in a short time.
Such complex integration in technology and mechanics needed the capital and R&D team of a big corporate to achieve. How can a small company with limited human resources develop Muro Box? The truth is that Dr. Feng had to handle all of the production-related work, including firmware, hardware, mechanics, and purchasing parts. Dr. Feng has burned his personal life to conquer various challenges for producing Muro Box in the past three years. Dr. Tsai also handled personnel, public relations, customer services, and web-content design even though she had to take care of her baby daily. Che-Ting Kuo and Shu-Hung Huang have shared the workload related to our system server and the user-interface design of our app. As a small company, we had to use minimal human resources in developing Muro Box.
Our team structure is more like a product “design” company, and we still need other companies to “produce” our product. Companies like ours have two options in seeking production help. The first option is to collaborate with a large EMS (Electronics Manufacturing Services) company like Foxconn Technology Group to cover all of the production work. The second one is to work with several medium or small companies to handle different parts of the production work. In fact, the level of complexity of Muro Box needs a large EMS company to accomplish its production. However, large EMS companies are not interested in producing our product without seeing a large market size. In the early stage, we spent about four months searching for the right EMS factories. Sadly, no one was interested in producing Muro Box for us. Hence, we had to work with medium and small companies in Taiwan instead.
Reading up to here, you may suggest we only work with companies who can ensure to ship the parts on time. In fact, the key difficulty lies in how much time the design team of the companies can spend on our product. In Taiwan, a typical small company only has one R&D staff member, who is usually the owner of this factory. His wife often plays the role of an accountant. The rest of the company are assembly line workers. Therefore, only the owner of the company has the key product development skills to help us co-develop the parts of Muro Box. Our main collaborative manufacturer, Airwise Ltd., is an example of a small EMS company in Taiwan.
We Are in the Same Boat
Most of the metal parts in Muro Box were co-developed and produced by Airwise Ltd. Its owner, Mr. Wang has more than 30 years of experience in metal mold design and stamping. Thanks to Mr. Wang’s contribution in our endless experiments, we have full control of the production process of this product: from hardware design to app-controlled functions. Every part of Muro Box has experienced so many revisions during this pilot run production.
Mr. Wang worked on every revision of each part in person because Muro Box requires very high precision (within 0.01 mm). This requirement in precision is smaller than the width of human hair: 0.07 mm. With Mr. Wang’s help, we could make as many revisions as needed. Making minor revisions for precision and sound quality required a huge amount of time. Both Mr. Wang and Dr. Feng worked on holidays in order to catch up on the production schedule. When everyone was celebrating the Chinese New Year holidays with their families, Dr. Feng even had lunch at the factory with Mr. Wang.
On average, we have made at least two major revisions for each part and countless minor revisions. There were many parts being abandoned during the experiments, and each metal mold for producing each part costed several thousand US dollars. How could our small company sustain this high experiment cost in developing Muro Box you ask? This is because Airwise Ltd. had absorbed the actual cost for our metal molds. Thanks to Mr. Wang’s contribution and his company’s long-time support, Muro Box finally become a mature product that can go to market. In the following Indiegogo prelaunch video, we included a scene of Mr. Wang to thank for his support for Muro Box since 2017.
In the last mile before shipping to backers, we spent many months in the durability tests of the comb in Muro Box. The next story will record how we find new materials and designed new tools to improve the comb in order to extend its durability. We recorded the stories about our product development journey to tell our users how they finally can play their favorite songs on the world’s first app-controlled music box: Muro Box.