Tech start-up of the week: RORGuitars

17 Nov 2014

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Our tech start-up of the week is Kerry-based start-up RORGuitars (Rob O’Reilly Guitars), which last week exceeded its €15,000 goal on Kickstarter Ireland for its Expressiv MIDI Guitar System.

The company, which was one of the first to launch on Kickstarter Ireland in recent weeks, attracted €16,649 with at least 12 days to go on its campaign.

Since it began in 2006, Kickstarter’s crowdfunding platform has received pledges totalling US$1.3bn. The service is now available in 10 countries, including Ireland.

Expressiv is a plug and play system that brings electronic sounds to real guitars in a whole new way.

“Expressiv is a plug and play system that brings electronic sounds to guitar. It gives the same level of control over synthesizers that before now was only available to keyboard instruments,” O’Reilly told Siliconrepublic.com.

The market

“We are targeting any guitar players that have an interest in electronic music or synthesizers,” O’Reilly said.

He said that modern music is using more and more synthesizer sounds and as a guitarist, you are alienated from these sounds.

“Expressiv will bring these sounds to a standard guitar. The technology can be applied to any guitar at manufacture stage and adds a huge functionality to the instrument. It is aimed at a global market, and particularly aimed at countries such as the USA and Germany.”

The founder of RORGuitars

Expressiv with RORGuitars is O’Reilly’s fourth business launch.

“My last successful venture was the Pay As You Please restaurant in Killarney which allowed customers to pay what they believed their experience was worth.

“I studied electronic engineering in the University of Limerick and that is now where we are doing the R&D for Expressiv.”

The technology

Expressiv uses a smart fretboard scanner to know which notes you are pressing.

Pressing a string against a fret creates a switch, much the same as a key in a keyboard.

The smart fret scanner decodes which strings are being pressed accurately. The result is similar to how a keyboard is played, except on a guitar fretboard.

“The ultimate goal is to popularise the use of synthesizer sounds from guitar in music,” O’Reilly said.

Tuning into growth opportunities

“For our initial customer acquisition and investment, we have turned to crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. Right now our campaign is set to fund the first production run of the Expressiv printed circuit boards.

“We reached 50pc of our funding within the first week and we are hoping to deliver the first products to real customers in January.

“I love the concept of 'fund from revenue' which allows a concept to be market tested by actual sales. If you can't make the sales, then you can’t make the revenue, therefore you need to change your product. Now it's not always that simple, but that's the approach we are taking.”

In the loop

O’Reilly appeared on Dragons’ Den in 2013 and attracted backing from the then-Dragon Sean O’Sullivan, who in the past successfully invested in companies such as Netflix and the maker of Guitar Hero, Harmonix.

“Previous to this, I had started three businesses and read every book I could get my hands on, but being from Kerry, there was not a huge start-up network.

“After I was introduced to Sean's team, I learned about his accelerator programmes. Now that I am in that loop, there really is a fantastic start-up scene and world-class networks available.”

O’Reilly’s advice for other tech self-starters based in Ireland right now? “Get into an accelerator programme and your first step is to start selling!”

Lessons on Kickstarter

O’Reilly said for start-ups on a shoestring, crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter are great for raising funds for new products and ideas, and for testing the viability of those ideas in the market – for very little cost.

“We're using Kickstarter to raise funds for our Expressive MIDI Guitar System, but also find it great for getting customer feedback with our new product development. Customers are able to tell us where we can improve, and what features they want to see developed — and now we’re using their feedback to help shape the final product.

“We launched our Expressive MIDI Guitar System on Kickstarter on 21 October — the same day Kickstarter opened up to Irish project creators. Our 35-day campaign ends on 25 November after reaching our goal on day 20.

“As well as learning that crowdfunding is hard work and definitely not easy money, here are a few other things we learned along the way.”

O’Reilly’s Law: tips for a successful Kickstarter campaign

SET THE TARGET RIGHT: Set the target at the minimum required to get the project off the ground. Don’t pitch too high, or you will struggle throughout the campaign – aim to get 100pc funded earlier, and use the remaining time to push the funding total with “stretch goals”.

Kickstarter is all-or nothing, so if the project doesn’t reach the goal amount the project won't get funded.

PREPARE IN ADVANCE: Build up a good social media presence well before the project launch. Also identify the target customer, and list all of the blogs, magazines, press, and social media platforms they frequent. The aim is to get as many of the right people viewing the Kickstarter page as possible in a short space of time from many different sources. We found that the Kickstarter website will attract visitors for the first few days, but after that, external referral sources from social media and press is crucial to keep the project from disappearing out of sight.

LAUNCH HARD: Much of the momentum (and funding) happens at the start an end of a Kickstarter campaign, usually with a “dip” in the middle. Use the initial buzz at the launch to drive the funding levels to at least 25pc of the goal in the first few days – by offering “early bird” incentives to get backers on board from the start.

Most Kickstarter projects – even successful ones – experience a slump midway through the campaign, so it’s good to have a plan to keep excitement up and increase visitors to the project page for the duration of the campaign.

Kickstarter is well known in the US, and less so in Europe and the rest of the world.

"We found that launching a project from Ireland may have disadvantages for those hoping to sell into the US. For example, Irish-based Kickstarter projects are in euro (not USD), have higher shipping costs, and cannot use Amazon Payments – all of which we found may put off US-based Kickstarter backers. Our focus was largely on Europe, so this didn’t affect us too much, but in hindsight we would have benefitted from having translated versions of our Kickstarter page, linked from our website."

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com