In this interview with the CEO of Libratone — one of the most innovative audio companies from Denmark — Gregg Stein explains how Libratone intends to leverage modern wireless technology to reinvent speakers for the 21st century. Libratone designs wireless speakers with organic wool skins and a different approach with sound dispersed in all directions, like an acoustic instrument.
SHANNON BECKER: Tell us a little about your background.
GREGG STEIN: First and foremost I am a musician. I started playing the drums at a very young age, ended up graduating from Berklee College of Music (Boston, MA), and ultimately began performing as a professional musician. While still in college, I was fortunate enough to work in a variety of sales and marketing roles at Universal Music Group and Sony Music. After Berklee, I joined the oldest continuously owned family-run business in the United States, the Avedis Zildjian Company. While I continued to work (and still do) as a drummer, I began to develop my craft as a marketer.
After several years, I went back to school to study entrepreneurship and global management at Harvard University. Upon graduation, I decided to apply my newly found marketing management skills to the burgeoning and fast-paced world of technology. At that time, I joined Numark Industries (now called InMusic Brands) where I played a key role in driving the business development and overall growth with brands such as Numark, Alesis, Akai Professional, MixMeister, and ION Audio. After many years of contributing to year-over-year (YOY) revenue growth, I joined Behringer and The MUSIC Group, a leader in value driven professional audio products, to start a consumer electronics division from scratch. Following a successful launch of the brand in the consumer electronics market, I took on the Chief Strategist role at The Loop Loft, a leader in “real musician” based musical loop collections for drums, percussion, guitar, bass, saxophone, and more. After much success at The Loop Loft, I realized I was ready for my next challenge: to help kick start and position the Libratone brand in the Americas. Now, I am Libratone’s CEO for the Americas.
GREGG: A good friend and former colleague of mine mentioned the brand to me. At the time, I had never heard of Libratone. But then I saw the website, and I fell in love. The Scandinavian design, the hi-fi audio quality, and the overall experience absolutely blew my mind. There are so many audio companies out there but very few that focus on the detail and the overall audio experience. I’ve now been with the company for a little more than two years. I originally joined the company as a consultant before taking on the CEO role. Since then, we have relocated our US company headquarters to Framingham, MA, with distribution at some of the most elite retailers ranging from Nordstrom to Design Within Reach to Crutchfield to Best Buy.
SHANNON: Tell us about the company. Founded in 2009, in the age of streaming, what is the goal when it comes to designing speakers for the 21st century?
GREGG: In 2009, Libratone’s founders began a journey to become one of the first wireless audio companies to consider the aesthetics of loudspeakers—to move speakers out of the corner of the room and into the center of the room (and even outside the room for those consumers on the move).
Designed with Scandinavian tradition, Libratone develops high-performing sound refined through organic wool for a warmer, brighter listening experience. We have dared to stand out in a market, which to a large extent has been commoditized. Using unconventional approaches to design, materials, and colors, as well as through sales channels, we provide a strong alternative to existing brands in the market.
We are excited to see the adoption of wireless audio streaming. We support streaming music in AirPlay/DLNA environments, and we support direct streaming from the cloud through Spotify Connect, Qplay, HTC Connect, and several other streaming services that are under development. We have also just announced the addition of Bluetooth 4.0 with AptX and NFC hardware to our latest speaker line, available in the US starting December 1, 2014.
In recent times, we are seeing the proliferation of many new wireless standards. We are excited for AirPlay, DLNA, and Bluetooth to become ubiquitous in all Libratone products, but we also have a keen eye on the evolution of cloud-streaming protocols and multi-room capabilities.
The best part is we are just getting warmed up. We aim to reinvent speakers for the 21st century by delivering on our promise of wireless freedom and innovation. Our speakers are meant to seamlessly integrate into your home decor while providing a listening experience unlike any other.
SHANNON: You have been an accomplished professional musician for more than 30 years. Do you think your knowledge of drums and percussion have an impact on the decisions you make at Libratone?
GREGG: The way that I think when I am drumming is analogous to the way I run a business. Being a musician for more than 30 years continues to teach me how to find the right rhythm, tempo, and counterpoint of a business—people, passion, and creativity.
Good music and great companies come from people. My role as a drummer and also as a business leader is to lay down that “foot-thumping groove” for those around me to dance. From behind the drum kit, I want to make everyone dance. In the boardroom, dancing could be translated to generating an emotional brand connection and genuine excitement for the company.
I’d like to think that my leadership style is largely linked back to my passion for the tribal nature of drumming. I am very customer and employee centric. I listen to those around me (especially our customers) and always look for ways to help those around me achieve greatness.
I bring a genuine passion to my work whether on stage or in the boardroom. I like to approach business decisions with creative, almost musical, solutions—as if I am on stage promoting the Libratone brand.
SHANNON: What are some of the challenges that you face in this highly competitive audio market?
GREGG: While the wireless audio category continues to become more competitive, there are few manufacturers that are truly innovating in this market space. Our opportunity is to push the boundaries of design, technology and user experience innovation. We see so much commoditization in this category, and it is our responsibility to “lead” by creating a differentiated and quality user experience for our customers. We are constantly looking for new ways to free our customer’s music and sound; this is what we focus on every day.
SHANNON: Tell us what makes Libratone different.
GREGG: Design. Technology. Sound.
At Libratone, we create all-embracing, high-performing sound refined through organic wool for a warmer, brighter listening experience. Not only is our design unique, but so is our technology. We have developed FullRoom technology, which disperses sound in all directions, like an acoustic instrument. Moreover, our Danish lead sound engineering provides listeners with the confidence that their speakers are presenting the best and most honest musical experience. Our products are designed in Denmark to provide a sleek and simplistic look and feel. We look at our speakers not only as high quality sound systems, but also as design elements for your home. To me, Danish design is the simple, clean, and pure intersection between form and function.
SHANNON: Describe Libratone’s first speaker?
GREGG: The Libratone LIVE, a flexible, simple and stylish wireless sound system designed to soundtrack your life, was the first speaker. To this day, it remains an iconic and award-winning speaker design. In fact, it can be found on permanent display at the Art Institute of Chicago and even in a recent issue of WIRED Design Life.
SHANNON: What have you learned about design?
GREGG: Design is everything. You want your product to not only look unique and appealing but to also provide a functional benefit. Our primary focus is to first make sure our speakers deliver an unparalleled audio experience with its design, inside and out, supporting those functions. The interior audio design is as crucial as the exterior, customizable experience. The stylish look to our speakers allows customers to integrate the sound systems seamlessly into their homes, leaving behind the days of black box speakers and tangled wires so all that remains is the purity and freedom of your sound.
SHANNON: What do you feel is Libratone’s most successful product to date?
GREGG: We have seen tremendous success from the Libratone ZIPP. I can talk about the ZIPP all day but every time people hear it, they simply cannot believe it. It’s 360° rich, warm hi-fi sound coupled with its battery life, interchangeable Italian wool covers, and Italian leather strap makes even the most skeptical person a believer.
SHANNON: What’s next for Libratone?
GREGG: We are in the process of launching a new soundbar and all-in-one music sound system called the Libratone DIVA. We are also adding Bluetooth to our Zipp and Loop.