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Nothing founder Carl Pei on Ear 1 and building a hardware startup from scratch – TechCrunch


The mobile industry vet discusses pricing, features, and venture backing

On July 27, hardware maker Nothing will debut its first product, wireless earbuds dubbed Ear 1. Despite releasing almost no tangible information about the product, the company has generated substantial buzz around the launch — especially for an entry into the already-crowded wireless earbud market.

The hype, however, is real — and somewhat understandable. The company has done a canny job capitalizing on heightened expectations, meting out information about the product like pieces in a puzzle. Nothing founder Carl Pei has a good track record in the industry — he was just 24 when he co-founded OnePlus in 2013. We spoke to Pei before the upcoming launch to get insight into Ear 1 and the story behind Nothing.

TC: I know there was a timing delay with the launch. Was that related to COVID-19 and supply chain issues?

CP: Actually, it was due to our design. Maybe you’ve seen the concept image of this transparent design. There’s a reason why there aren’t many fine consumer tech products out there. It’s hard to make it high-quality. You must ensure that everything inside looks as good as the outside. So that’s where the team has been iterating, [but] you probably wouldn’t notice the differences between iterations.

I think the main issue has been getting the design ready. It could be getting the suitable magnets — as magnets are usually designed to go inside o product and not be seen by the consumer — to figure out the best type of gluinglue never have to solve that problem if you have a non-transparent product, but what kind of glue will keep the industrial design intact? And we’re super, super close. Hopefully, it will be a product people are excited about when we launch.

Carl Pei

So, there were no major supply chain issues?

Not for this product category. With true wireless earbuds, I think we’re pretty fine. Okay, major issues. We had the issue point. We started from zero — so no team and no partners. But step by step, we finally got here.

That seems to imply that you’re at least considering the other products. Have you already started developing them?

We have a lot of products in the pipeline. Earlier this year, we did a community crowdfunding round where we allocated $1.5 million to our community. That got bought up quickly. But as part of that funding round, we had a deck with some of the products in development. Our products are code-named as Pokemon, so there are a lot of Pokemon on that slide [Editor’s note: The Ear 1 was “Aipom.”]. We have multiple categories that we’re looking at, but we haven’t announced what those are

Why were earbuds the right first step?

I think this market is screaming for differentiation. If you look at true wireless today, I believe Apple came out with the AirPods, and the entire market followed. Why wouldn’t people want different designs? Everybody wears other clothes. This is something we wear for a large part of the day.

We’re working with Teenage Engineering — they’re super, super strong designers. True wireless is a place where we can leverage that strength. Also, from a more rational business perspective, wireless earbuds are a super-fast-growing product category. We will reach 300 million units shipped worldwide this year for this category. And your first product category should be one with good business potential.

“Screaming for differentiation” is an exciting way to put it. When you look at AirPods and the rest of the industry, are aesthetics what the market primarily lacks? Is it features, or is it purely stylistic?

If we take a take back and think about it from a consumer perspective, we feel that consumer tech is exceptionally quite borindulls used to want to become engineers and astronauts and all that. But if you look at what kids want to become today, they want to be TikTokers or YouTubers. Maybe it’s because technology isn’t as inspiring as before. We talked to consumers who don’t care as much as they did a few years ago. Looking at what s are doing in their communication, it’s all about features and specs.


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