Being a family doctor, I needed a way to get back to sleep after taking patient calls in the middle of the night. My husband, computer programmer Jason Wolfe, suggested listening to soothing music to fall back asleep, but headphones were bulky and earbuds were extremely uncomfortable. Since there were no headphones specifically designed for sleeping on the market, we invented our own.
We came up with the idea of putting soft speakers inside of a headband. I wore it that night, was able to fall asleep faster, and was amazed to find that it had stayed on all night. The idea actually worked! As a doctor, I saw so many patients taking sleeping pills, so I thought that maybe we should make some more to see if it could work for other people too.
We set up a website, and even before we were done putting it together, someone stumbled upon it and emailed me. I asked him how he even found the page – there was no shopping cart, and we didn’t even advertise it. He said that it was because the name just seemed to fit. He typed in SleepPhones.com on a whim! That was all the validation we needed for our product name. When we made him one, he loved it. Then the orders started coming in from all corners of the world. Since we were hand-making each one individually, we were busy just fulfilling orders along with working in our day jobs.
I sewed and my husband soldered the first 500 sets at our kitchen table. Now, we are winning multiple regional and national awards, and my husband and I are committed to ensuring people all over the world live and sleep better. Because of this, AcousticSheep has been at the forefront of the sleep industry for the past 12 years.
Who is your target demographic?
Our biggest customer groups include people who have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, have a snoring bed mate (even snoring dogs!), and travellers. We have multiple models too, some geared towards people who fall asleep watching TV, people who don’t have a smartphone, and people who like listening to ASMR .
One guy in Kentucky told us that he was skeptical when his wife ordered SleepPhones because he was snoring. Well, after a week, she started to sleep so well that she started snoring. So then he had to order SleepPhones® for himself!
How did you fund the idea initially?
We started the business very organically. We went to Jo-Ann Fabrics to buy their on-sale fleece. We ordered speakers from Mouser.com. My husband bought a sewing machine for me for my birthday, and I bought him a soldering iron for his birthday. Getting off the ground was really inexpensive. The first major investment was filing for a patent. We used our savings to pay for that. We’ve been profitable since the beginning because we just bought what we needed.
What motivated you to start your own business?
We had no previous business background. I was a doctor, and my husband was a game developer. We were motivated to start the business because there were no similar products on the market. As a family doctor, I was able to assist ~20 patients a day. With SleepPhones®, that reach has grown exponentially. We are motivated by helping people all over the world achieve quality, restorative sleep.
Our family and friends thought it was a cute idea in the beginning. We didn’t say much about it for a few years while we were growing it at the beginning. When it was obvious that it could be a commercial success, everyone was very supportive. We didn’t quit our day jobs until we were sure we could live on the business earnings.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?
One of the things we’ve learned is to follow our gut rather than fully trusting “experts.” There are many people who speak very confidently and want to sell you their services. If they didn’t really listen to you when you were telling them your needs, they probably can’t really help you.
Over time, our success has attracted people who want to either ride our coat tails or push us down. Our knockoffs are a problem, but we can also choose to view it as flattery. Ultimately what motivates us is simply that we are really helping many people throughout the world get better sleep.
How do you protect yourself from competition?
The best defense is a strong offense in our case. The more SleepPhones® we sell, the more we are able to insulate ourselves from knockoffs. As the originals and the best, we need to continue to innovate, releasing new and more advanced products over time. While patents and other IP are helpful, and we have several, it doesn’t benefit the world to spend an inordinate amount of time and money paying lawyers. It’s more important to win on the business side of things and sell products to the people who want and need them. So having the best products and the best business strategy is our offensive strategy.
What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without?
As a mother of two, I cannot always be in the office. With our internal messaging system, all internal communications are archived and I can review conversations between employees and contribute when need be. Shopify lets us sell securely to people all over the world. G Suite allows us to collaborate and share files seamlessly in real time.
Are there any releases you can tell us about?
We are transitioning from being a purely hardware company to incorporating software. My husband, a former video game developer, has created an artificial intelligence system that will help the world figure out what types of music helps people sleep the best. The project is in Beta testing now, and it is available for download in the Apple and Android App stores.
If you enjoyed this interview, the original is here. Sourced from a Reddit post authored by Wei-Shin and Jason Wolfe.