Founder Story: Dr. Feng (CTO)

Muro Box, the world’s first app-controlled music box, was funded with 2.05 million NTDs (about $68,333 USDs). Thanks to the 332 backers from zeczec.com, a crowdfunding platform based in Taiwan. I guess that many people would wonder why my wife and I chose to innovate a music box as the first product of our startup company. Here, I present our startup journey to record how we made the decision to innovate a music box.

(My Indian colleague in Intel, Amit, always asked me when I would buy an owl because he knew that I love birds.)

Our Startup Journey Started in the US

I was fortunate enough to have my first job in the headquarter of Intel in Silicon Valley. At that time, I did not know the meaning of a startup, and I was thrilled to work in a famous company like many people who were selected to work in the big companies. I used to work very closely with a senior colleague (Mr. Cheng) in Intel. He was my mentor and he often invited my wife and me to have a meal with his family on the weekend. Mr. Cheng shared a lot of working experiences with me, including his adventures in other startup companies. Compared to my stable (9am to 5pm) daily life, Mr. Cheng’s startup experiences were like the dramatic plots of a novel had piqued my curiosity.

(My life was carefree when working in a big company. I even had time to learn how to play guitar with my dove.)

My First Working Experience in a Startup Company

When I decided to leave Intel, I started to find a startup company from some Silicon Valley headhunters. I thought due to my previous working experiences in Intel I should have given some advantages on finding the next job. In fact, I didn’t have enough working experience at that time, and it still took me two months in interviewing until one startup company finally decided to hire me. This startup company (let’s call it Company M for now) was founded by a serial entrepreneur. He graduated from MIT and has founded three companies that all have gone IPO. He was a perfect example of a startup superstar in Silicon Valley.

Since the founder of Company M has mastered the methods of running startups, he was cruel to his employees. He would ask them to leave right away once he felt they could not contribute to his company. I had a deep impression that I saw colleagues leave every week before I could even remember their names.

(Although my working attitude was problematic, at least I had the skill the founder of Company M wanted.)

Although I worked in a startup at that time, my attitude was like a spoiled engineer guy in a big company. I often said that when I was in Intel, we did things in different ways. Of course, this inappropriate attitude has caught my boss’ attention and I was put into the list of employees to be fired later.

Thanks to my working abilities in firmware design, my boss did not fire me immediately, so I could survive until I found the new job. This new job was recommended by my friend. It was a medium size company with about 200 employees. Let’s call it Company S for now.

Expect a Stable Income While Doing My Own Startup

My perfect plan at that time was to earn a stable income from Company S by working from 9am to 5pm, and then spend the whole night in my garage for my own startup project: a smart toy game set with the use of NFC technology.

(Before leaving Company S, my wife even drew the characters of our smart toy game set on the whiteboard to invite my colleagues to vote for their favorite characters.)

The real life in Company S did not follow my perfect plan. In fact, I was assigned to join the R&D team that are recognizes as the last hope of the Company S, so I had to work overtime every day to fight for our company with our manager until late evening. When I arrived home around midnight, I only had very limited hours to do my own startup project. At that time, I could only sleep for less than three hours every night. I felt that I was going to die soon.

(My startup work was conducted in this corner of my garage in San Jose, CA.)

I did not know that the solution to save me from breaking down was the news that Company S was sold to another company. I said good bye to many colleagues who were laid off. I thought this may be God’s plan to urge me to quit the day job. Then, I decided to quit the day job to concentrate on my startup project.

Moving Back to Taiwan to Run My Startup Company

Since I have decided to design a hardware with the use of IoT technology as my startup topic, I thought that moving back to Taiwan would be the right decision because it has rich resources in hardware manufacturing. Until now, I still think this is the correct decision.

Moving back to Taiwan was a big decision and we have sold our home in San Jose. Each sad moment of saying good-bye made us rethink about this big decision. Anyway, we finally found the buyer of our home and started our final road trip in the US. (In total, we had four coast-to- coast road trips in the US.)

(Our home was sold eventually in January, 2016)

Almost Giving Up Our Startup Dream

We carried lots of memorable stuff and our lovely pet doves to start our road trip from California to Ohio (which was about 10 days of drive). Moving to Ohio State was to help my wife complete her doctoral degree sooner because she needed to meet her adviser regularly to shorten the review-and-revision process.

However, on Day 3 of our road trip, after saying good bye to our friend, Mark, who lived in Los Angeles, our pet dove, JoJo died of car sickness. At that saddest moment, we started to blame ourselves for the death of JoJo.

(We pack our lovely pet doves, JoJo, MoMo and DuDu, in our orange car.)

Then, we drove 6 hours to come back to our empty home in San Jose, CA. We even called our agent to stop the selling procedure of our home. When lying in our empty bedroom, I stared at the ceiling and reflected our days in this home. It was like I had come back to 9 years ago when I just arrived the US for the first night as an international student.

I flipped back and forth on the hard floor till the next morning, and my back pain woke me up from the sadness. I finally realized the fact that the death of JoJo is a sad news, but it is not caused by our startup decision. We should continue with our sadness for the loss of JoJo. Then, we returned the key to our realtor and continued our crazy journey.

(We drove for 6 hours to bury JoJo in the backyard of his familiar home.)

Back to Taiwan to Continue Our Startup Journey

When we arrived Taiwan, I started to search for factories who may be interested to help us make our ideal smart toy game sets, our original startup topic. Why we gave up this smart toy project? The primary reason for giving up the smart toy project was that we recognize a fundamental problem of this direction. No matter how we design the smart toys, they eventually lead the kids to play iPad or smart phones. We both know that letting kids use electronic devices brings negative effects on their mental and physical development. No matter how the toy company finds a better marketing pitch to avoid this concern, in fact, letting young kids use smart devices is not the correct thing to do.

The secondary reason was that we were shocked by the high cost of manufacturing for toys. Until we went out of office to visit the factories for the first time, we did not realize that designing a toy for mass production was not as easy as we expected. Therefore, we decided to give up this smart toy project and then started to search for the next topic.

Finally Focus on the Smart Music Box

At the beginning, I narrowed my search to find something with technology and cultural meanings embedded. I visited a lot of art work exhibits, including the place where the most creative handmade works were displayed, Taipei New Horizon.

(We have visited many music box stores when searching for the inspiration to design Muro Box.)

At that time, I noticed that there were three music box stores in Taipei New Horizon, the hub of creative handmade works in Taipei. When I looked at the music boxes, I found that they were all mechanical music boxes without using any electricity. Since my expertise is electrical engineering, my intuition told me that there is opportunity. The density of music box stores in this building also showed that music box had its own market, then I decided that my startup topic should be a smart music box.

What’s more, my wife (Dr. Tsai) had bought a tiny music box when we visited Austria. This music box could only repeat a segment of Mozart’s Eline Kleine Nachtmusik. It’s a pity that this memorable music box could not play longer melody.

(This is the music box my wife bought 10 years ago when we visited the Residence of Mozart in Saltzberg, Austria.)

Therefore, the reason for choosing music box as our startup topic is not a long story. It is mainly based on my intuition to find a topic that I can do with the use of available resources in Taiwan. After making this decision, we started to do market research by visiting music box stores immediately.

The Early Stage Market Research

Starting from the most famous music box store in Taiwan, Wooderful Life, I saw all kinds of beautiful music boxes in their stores. However, I only saw part-time employees in the store, I guess I could not learn too much from them so I just left.

(My wife was listening to the music listed in the menu of Wooderful Life.)

The next music box store I visited was Wind Music. There is always a hand-cranked music box playing a Taiwanese song in the entrance of the store. I have tried to describe my concept of Muro Box to a senior manager in this store, however, she did not have interest in it.

The third music box store I visited was Merry Melodies. When I chatted with the clerk in their store, I did not expect he would put aside his work to answer my question. Thanks to his introduction, I could meet Ms. Li, who is the store owner of Merry Melodies. To my surprise, Ms. Li, she told me that a programmable music box is an interesting product idea, but she was concerned about its niche market size. She shared her previous work experiences in publishing industry with me. Even though she thought that it would be hard to find my target audience, she still spent her time discussing my inquiry about music box. I could feel that people working in Merry Melodies are real music box lovers.

(After seeing so many kinds of fancy music box designs, I found that I like this kind of simple music box designed by Merry Melodies. Photo sources: https://www.facebook.com/musikaffee/)

Later, I realized that there was only one music box factory left in Taiwan, and I decided to visit it, Kyooh Precision Industry Co., Ltd. I still remembered the day when I visited this music box factory, my father insisted to go with me because he worried that I could not handle such an important meeting. I’m glad that the vice manager, Mr. Huang, who saw me for the first time did not feel strange to meet me and my father at the same time. After that meeting in 2016, the serendipity between Muro Box and Kyooh Precision Industry Co., Ltd. has started quietly.

(The photo was taken when I visited Kyooh Precision Industry Co., Ltd. for the first time.)

Mr. Huang gave me a plate of 18-note music box movement as the gift, and then we used those music box movement to run a DIY plane music box class for kids. The following image shows this very first class presented in our Facebook fan page in April, 2017.


At First, Nobody Thought I Could Make It

In fact, nobody thought my idea of Muro Box would be a hit at the beginning, and they also doubted about whether I could conquer all the difficulties. Even though I knew it is a good direction for a startup, I did not know how to make it become a successful product.

In my 3-year product development journey, to ensure that we can deliver a great product, we have gone through endless experiments. I have encountered endless problems in both hardware and software design and manufacturing. Many people questioned me about the market size, challenged me with frivolous attitude that it is just a toy, and I did not feel it was the hardest moment. I could ignore their comments after realizing that they were not my target audience. However, the worst moment was when some people pretended to understand me when giving me feedback, but their tone already suggested that they did not think Muro Box could succeed. When facing those people, I had to pretend that I was thankful for their advice and naïve enough to not being able to understand the hidden meaning in their words.

In fact, I have broken down several times in this journey. I also doubted about whether Muro Box could be successfully funded on the first day of its first crowdfunding in Taiwan. I was deeply concerned that if Muro Box could not win enough backers’ support in its first crowdfunding campaign, I would lose the current team. The worst scenario might be that my wife and I had to come back to the life of a startup company with no others.

(This photo shows our first office in a co-working space in Taipei. We are thankful to meet some startup founders in this stage. They have given us some warm support even though we only had a simple illustration of Muro Box.)

The Turning Point: First Crowdfunding Success

Before the first crowdfunding success, I always had a hard time in answering one key question from various factories who produced different parts of Muro Box. What they cared is how much I could sell. Before having the real orders from backers, I did not know how many pieces I should order. Now, since those factories see that I have real orders from so many backers, their attitude has changed a lot.

When I told the general manager of Kyooh Precision Industry Co. Ltd. (Mr. Huang) the successful news of our first campaign, he was thrilled as well and he even said that thanks to the support from our fans, they also received more orders for their traditional music box dealers. We are glad that we have a positive impact on the music box industry.

In order to ensure that we have enough manufacturing capacity to produce the first generation of Muro Box, we decided to close our first ZecZec crowdfunding campaign earlier so that our team could focus on product development for mass production.

Our Next step: Indiegogo Campaign

We are sorry that our Indiegogo campaign is postponed several times in 2018-2019 when our team was working hard to prepare the first shipping to our zeczec backers. Our everyday life is overwhelmed with various challenges. Muro Box is getting better every day, and your waiting will worth it.

Please join our journey, have all your memories in one music box come true. Muro Box, the world’s first app-controlled music box, will launch its US crowdfunding on Indiegogo in the summer of 2019. Check out the prelaunch page of our Indiegogo campaign.




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