The Crowdfunding Journey of Muro Box

My name is Chen-Hsiang Feng. I’m the inventor of Muro Box.

The following story tells you the dilemma that the Muro Box team was facing between 2018, when Muro Box had the first ZecZec crowdfunding campaign in Taiwan, till 2021 the last batch of music box shipped to our Indiegogo backers.

The beginning of our Muro Box campaign journey is the startup dream of my wife and I. This dream motivated us to move from Silicon Valley in the US to our home country, Taiwan, in 2016.

If you just started to read about us from this story, we hope that you will go back to read previous stories to learn more about what happened before we have a prototype to prepare for a crowdfunding campaign video. You will be surprised to see that so many people were involved in this project in order to make it become a real product.

We visited the sales office of the famous Japanese music box brand,Sankyo, in Taiwan; we had a picture with the premium 80-note music box, ORPHEUS, a disc-style mechanical music box.

The Success of Crowdfunding Campaign is Vital for the Birth of Muro Box

At first, the idea of Muro Box was just a concept. I did not have sufficient funding to complete its product development nor production. In other words, all I had at hand was my dream. Can a dream bring you money? Yes, a crowdfunding campaign platform is where you can use your dream to collect the initial funding.

In 2018, we told everyone on the Zec-Zec crowdfunding campaign in Taiwan that our dream for changing the music box industry, and we asked those backers who trusted us to pre-order the Muro Box so that we could gather initial funding to invest in the product development of Muro Box.

Our ZecZec Campaign Result was Successful, but the Product Almost Failed

It is hard to describe the journey of our ZecZec campaign journey in a few words, because there are more downs than ups in this process.

The good thing is that we got to know those early backers who really cared about the music box from this campaign in Taiwan. Although receiving the initial funding is important, knowing that I am not the only person who has this dream is more important at that stage.

Other than this good thing, we faced endless challenges in product development. Although I already had my PhD in engineering and working experiences in a big Technology company in the US, those experiences did not help me at all. Even though that stage was very challenging, it also forced me to realize how this world works, and I am no longer a frog living in a well.

Unfortunately or inevitably, the initial funding we gathered from the ZecZec campaign cannot support our product development to the end. It was because we underestimated the real production cost when we decided the sale prices for this campaign, and this fact also made our company’s operation become difficult. In 2020, our capital was almost run out, and if there was no new income coming in time, we could not pay for our employees’ salaries.

There Was No Alternative Solution

The cruel fact forced me to find the survival funding for my company first. It is not the time to think about how to improve the protype to make a better music box at that stage.

I chose to do another crowdfunding campaign to gather more funding in order to pass this production challenge. In fact, I can also choose to find investors or to get a loan from the bank. However, I decided to go for a crowdfunding campaign, simply because I need to verify the demand of Muro Box again. If nobody would like to buy it, there is no need for me to strive for this music box dream.

If I cannot show real sales records of Muro Box to verify its market needs, borrowing more money just delays the timing to give up this project. If Muro Box does not have enough demand in the market, wishing an investor to give me more funding will be a joke.

During this stage, we had made the following short video to preheat for the Indiegogo campaign. When viewing this video, it recalled our sad memory because we have tried our best to lower the cost in making a video, such us using our staff to become the actors and narrating the English-speaking video on my own, we still could not escape from our ZecZec backers’ questioning about our delayed shipping.

The Second Crowdfunding Campaign on Indiegogo Platform

We decided to launch our campaign on Indiegogo, but we also faced the public relationship crisis. It was because we could not complete the shipping for our ZecZec backers in Taiwan before we advertised for the coming of our Indiegogo campaign. Hence, we postponed the launch date of our Indiegogo campaign again and again and we almost run out of capital. When recalling this period of life, it was my first time thinking about giving up the whole Muro Box project.

When bearing a huge financial pressure, I had to make a quick decision to reduce the expenses in this project. I realized that the good music box quality cannot be reached in a short time to meet everyone’s expectation, but I still had to do something to survive. Hence, I decided to reduce my employee’s working hours and salary, and ship the product as it was to those ZecZec backers in order to start my Indiegogo campaign sooner.

This decision made me lose most of the employees at that time. When I asked out visual art designer to reduce work hours, she asked for leave on the next day. When I asked our app engineer to cover the duty for both Android and iOS development so that we did not need to hire a freelancer in order to save some expense. He rejected my proposal, so I had to let him go. At that time, our company’s situation was getting worse day by day and various kinds of challenges came to me one by one. I know that it was not their fault, and I was the person to be blamed for not being able to keep my promise for them.

Rebirth from the Desert

I had never encountered such a dilemma in my life. In order to not leave a regret in our life, we still decided to invest all we had at that time into the preparation of the Indiegogo campaign. We hired a professional team to make a better campaign video in order to make the final fight.

To our relief, our Indiegogo campaign went well and received about 265,000USD (=7,905,162NTD). Finally, we used this funding to survive and got the opportunity to overcome the financial crisis. In the end, we still had to make sure that the quality of our product could meet every backer’s expectation.

The Challenges in Shipping for Indiegogo Campaign

If you are our Indiegogo backer, you must remember that there are two major challenges we faced at that time. One was how to extend its lifetime when our customers would enjoy playing it daily, and the other was how to significantly reduce the mechanical noise when playing melodies on the Muro Box.

We have posted monthly email updates in our Indiegogo campaign’s update tab, and you can read our detailed updates to see the challenges we have faced and how we conquered them eventually.

Instead of trying to use a lot of terms in describing how hard it was, I came up with a simpler way to let you verify it. You can google search “programmable music box” to explore how many music boxes are programmable in the market. If a programmable music box can be easily produced and if it is a good business, there would be hundreds of companies doing the same thing. Can you find an alternative music box product to replace the Muro Box?

The last batch of Muro Box to be shipped via DHL to our Indiegogo backers from our office in 2021.
This image shows the last batch of goods to be shipped via DHL to our Indiegogo backers from our office in 2021.

The Shipping Schedule was Delayed Again

Because we had learned the hard lessons from our previous production experience for our ZecZec backers, we sincerely suggested to our Indiegogo backers that we should delay shipping in order to improve the product’s quality. We arranged many small batches of goods to be produced and then carefully checked each unit in every batch before shipping. Whenever we shipped out a small batch, we waited for the backers’ response for 1-2 weeks to make sure that there was no complaint and then we continued using the same method to produce more units. If we noticed any feedback that indicated a flaw in our production, we asked the production team to stop until we found the cause and knew its solution before we could continue producing more units.

Thanks to the Support from Kyooh Precision Industry Co., Ltd.

I would like to thank the long-term support from our product assembling factory (Kyooh Precision Industry Co., Ltd., read their story here.). Our time-consuming production method cannot be tolerated at all for normal factories. Only the people who care and love the music box as much as we do are willing to spend time finding a better solution with us.

The service fee of typical assembling factories is charged by seconds. They will not tolerate any pause in the assembling process to waste their time and space, which can be used for other product’s assembling.

In my case, I got to call the whole production line to cease their work countless times for me to debug and do more tests. I don’t think any other assembling factories would like to accept my order.

The staff and employees in Kyooh Precision Industry Co., Ltd. really have a passion for making great music box movements. Even though you may not want to buy the Muro Box, I still hope that all of you can find a time to visit their music box museum one day to show your support for the music box industry.

Until the end of 2021, we finally got the Muro Box N20 design project to an end. We are really thankful for all of our backers’ support and encouragement when facing endless challenges in this long product development journey. Whenever we read their encouraging replies to our Indiegogo updates, we felt much better and regained energy to keep fighting for a better Muro Box N20.

Crews of the assembling line of Kyooh Precision Industry Co., Ltd. gathered to discuss a issue we just found.
Crews of the assembling line of Kyooh Precision Industry Co., Ltd. gathered to discuss a issue we just found.
I wanted to say thank you to everyone involved for making such a wonderful product. I personally learned a lot about how a product goes from idea to an actual physical item. The craftsmanship is clearly visible and that makes it even more special to me. Again Thank You all and have a safe and happy new year!

About Crowdfunding: What We Might Have Done Correctly

Compared to some of our friends’ campaign results, their delayed shipping schedules made a lot of backers ask for refunds, or bakers sued the project owner for not being able to fulfill shipment. We must have made the correct decision in the critical moment so that we could eventually make our backers happy with the products we shipped.

I think the most important decision we made was not to be greedy. We did not outsource a marketing company to help us execute the crowdfunding campaign. Hence, we could control the budget for marketing ads and close the campaign period earlier. We decided to invest a reasonable amount of money, not a huge amount, into marketing ads so that we can save some money for production and shipping.

Behind the sceen: Muro Box was playing melodies for the 2020 Indiegogo campaign video.
Behind the scene of Indiegogo campaign video: This living room is full of the director's crew.
group picture with the director's crew
This group image shows that our 1 year old son was tired and sleepy when we finally completed the campaign video shooting at the end of the day. We had this group picture with the director's crew to thank for their patience in making a great video for us.

The Decision of Not Working with a PR Company

Usually, if you hire a PR company to help you execute the whole crowdfunding campaign, at least 20% of your funding should be spent on ads budget, 10% should become the commission fee for the campaign platform (including bank transaction service fee), another 20% is reserved for the PR company, the other 20% will cover the cost for making main video and other visual aids for marketing. Only 30 % of the funding can go to the project owner. That was the reason so many project owners cannot make the product meeting the backers’ expectation nor ship any product at all.

However, without the support from a PR company, a project can fail easily at the beginning of its campaign. In my opinion, nowadays, the crowdfunding world is only suitable for mature products with professional marketing services. I could understand the decision making process of other project owners because I also struggled for this critical decision. At that time, my decision was to try to get to know the core team members of a PR company and learn from their company’s experiences in running campaign projects. Next, I tried to manage the whole campaign on my own but referring to their tips.

This money-saving method was not expected to have any results by many people. Who cares. If I were an obedient child, I would not decide to start a business.

Besides, we were aware of the importance of sending out email updates to all backers every month. I would like to thank my co-founder (wife), Dr. Shiao-Chen Tsai, who took great care of each backer’s reply timely so that our customer relationship was well-managed and would not be ignored when I was occupied by hardware/firmware engineering work.

The Next Greatest Challenge

In the above paragraphs, I analyzed the difficult parts of the Muro Box project from an inventor’s point of view. Next, I will share with you, from a business owner’s point of view, why a programmable music box has a difficult business model.

I think the most challenging reason came from the low profit of the music box industry, so no new capital will be invested. No one is willing to do innovation, and demand of music box decreases over time.

For example, if you search on Amazon by typing “music box”, you can see that the average cost of a music box is about $30 USD. However, the manufacturer of its mechanical movement can only receive less than $2 USD. When you consider the production cost, the profit of selling one unit of music box movement is only few cents. The cast cost of making a new song’s cylinder and its comb will be about 1000USD, and this fee does not include the authorization fee to obtain this melody’s copyright. For a famous popular song, you may have to pay thousands in order to get its copyright agreement for mass production. When having such high costs in this industry, no new manufacturers would like to enter this market.

The reality is that you can hardly find a music box worth more than 3000 USD, except for museums. Even though US customers’ spending power was so high, there is no luxury brand of music box in the US. It indicates that the high-end music box users’ market is actually smaller than it seems to be. The music box industry does not have a scalable business model.

This is the most difficult challenge we are facing now when promoting the sales of Muro Box. If we lower the end user price, there is not enough profit for our company to grow. If we set its price at the higher end, the market size is too small. We understand this simple business principle, but in reality, it is hard to find a perfect pricing range to avoid this dilemma. The crucial turning point will be how to attract non-traditional music box customers to become our target audience. Our goal is to not only inherit the existing resource from the traditional music box industry, but also to make Muro Box go into each family.

The prototype of Muro Box N40, a 40 note programmable music box
We used 4 vibration plates (comb) in designing the duel-cylinder Muro Box N40 prototype.

The Next Plan for Muro Box

Since our brand’s goal is to have everyone enjoy the music box again, making sure everyone can experience the fun of playing a music box will be our priority.

We noticed that most of the music box lovers simply enjoy other users’ creations shared in our Muro Box app library. Therefore, we decided to release the Muro Box-N20 Lite to cater to this majority users’ habits.

If you wish to purchase the Muro Box as a unique gift for an important person, we still suggest you buy the standard version of Muro Box N20 because it allows you to add customized laser-engraving content on the front metal nameplate.

In addition, the standard version has a USB-C MIDI input slot for you to play your own melodies directly from the USB flash. It allows your gift receiver to listen to the melodies you prepared when there is no WIFI connection or when he/she does not know how to use our app.

We also know that for music professionals, the limitation of having only 20 notes of a diatonic scale is the deal breaker for them, and our current price is still acceptable for them.

Therefore, we wish to develop 3 new products to cater to different customers’ needs: Muro Box-N20 Lite, Muro Box-N40 Lite, and Muro Box-N40 Premium.

If you wish to follow the advanced version “Muro Box N40”, please sign up here:

We Need Your Help

We would like to thank every backer who showed tolerance and patience for our Muro Box project. Your trust and support help us concentrate on solving questions one by one so that we can refine the Muro Box to inherit its traditional value. The journey of Muro Box is not over yet, and we hope that you will continue to join the next stage’s adventure.

We have now released the Muro Box N20-Lite in our store. We hope that you can consider buying this Lite version for your family if you really love the music box to fill your home with wonderful melodies. If you wish to present a customized design of gift for an important moment in your life, please consider buying Muro Box-N20 Standard so that its customized laser engraving design and customized melodies can preserve your unique memories for a lifetime.

Please help us promote the Muro Box to the world. By sharing your user stories or product review, it will help more people get to know the existence of Muro Box as the world’s first and only app-controlled music box to play any customized melodies you love. With your support, we can continue to make more innovations in this journey and our company can grow smoothly to pass along the wonderful melodies and memories for each household.

Comparison of different generations of Muro Box
On the Right: The Muro Box N20 with a metal plate on its front side is called "Muro Box-N20 Standard version), and it is the latest new model released in 2022. One the Left: The Muro Box-N20 Lite is also released in 2022. In the Middle: The Indiegogo campaign version of Muro Box N20, which was shipped in 2021.