I’ve got my own way of classifying start-ups. In the first group there are start-ups like Pooper – an app to pick somebody else dog’s poop. I’ll never understand why anyone would ever be keen on them. The second group are start-ups that might sound like trash to me, but I understand they might be a revelation for others. All marketing innovations automatically fall into this batch. And then there is a third group: start-ups I like or even love. Zylia is one of them.
It has everything I look for in an innovative company to write about: it meets real needs (not marketing people’s delusions); it has paying clients (not only investors); there’s a very strong scientific background, and there is a bit of passion and commitment in the founders’ story. Zylia is the world’s first portable recording studio. Briefly speaking, it records music and automatically does sound processing. If musicians want to record themselves, they place a device that looks like a ball between them and click one button to start and one button to stop. After few minutes a complete stereo track is ready (If you’d like to know more about Zylia’s story, check out my article for Innovation Origins)
The device has been on the market for a few months and it has already received several awards for innovative products in the music industry. Recently I spoke with Tomasz Żernicki, Zylia’s co-founder. I asked him what was the biggest challenge when they were developing the device. I expected to hear something about the technical aspects. Instead I heard: “people didn’t believe in us”.
“It is really demotivating when everyone around you says ’you can’t do it’. Our vision was to invent a simple tool to record and create music. Many people were very sceptical about our approach” – Tomasz told me.
The words that the team heard all over for many months were “no, you can’t”.
When founders showed the very first prototype (made of paper) to a department of physics, experts in sound engineering said it would be a brilliant device, but… they couldn’t do it. It’s impossible, because it’s like technology from a Star Trek movie. Later when the start-up presented working prototypes, people in the music industry said it would be a great recording device but… it couldn’t work with every music genre. It would be suitable only for country or folk music. Not to mention the fact that their first project, which became the origins of Zylia, ended in failure. Although they had invented the technology, it was too complicated to commercialise it.
Why didn’t they give up? Fortunately, there were people who said “yes, you can”. The start-up took part in two acceleration programmes (Pioneer Europe in Germany and Nupark Dennmark). There the mentors believed in them and in their technology. But, what is even more important, they gave the founders, mainly researchers without business experience, the knowledge necessary to transform scientific project into real business.
Then, of course, there was hard work of the entire team. Work on the final product took almost 3 years. The company prepared 10 functional prototypes and tested them with over one hundred music professionals all over the world. (if you have your own start-up, I recommend the story of how Zylia used clients to go from a prototype to an award-winning product.)
Today it’s easier to see Zylia founders at music fairs and conferences than in their office.
“It is amazing to see people who in the past were looking at as if we were a bunch of nuts, who were saying we couldn’t do it, now they treat our approach as the future,” says Tomasz.
And you? How many times had your heard “no, you can’t” before you wanted to give up? Who must believe in you to make you believe in yourself?
* Fortunately, Pooper turned out to be an art project invented to satire the craziness of Silicon Valley. But before the “founders” revealed this, the idea raised the interest of several potential investors, dog owners, and people willing to pick up dog poop. The start-up world is crazy sometimes.