This is the story of a guy who found a niche and stuck with it. The guy is a programmer named Nick who was worried about Apple’s wireless AirPods. He thought they looked stupid.
“I didn’t have particularly high hopes when Apple first announced AirPods. I figured they would sound like their wired EarPods, which are fine but not particularly impressive. I was blown away when I first tried a pair of AirPods. Obviously, they can’t compete with a really nice set of over/on-ear headphones, but they’re astonishing when you take their form factor into consideration,” he said.
Convinced that the product had legs, he looked at them more closely and began reading Apple forums. He confirmed his hunch: people didn’t want to look like Ben Stiller in that one scene in Something About Mary and, sadly, white wireless earbuds hanging out of your ears looked goofy.
He decided to do something about it. He invented Blackpods.
“After the announcement, there was a lot of chatter in the Apple ecosystem about how they looked (which I agree is a bit silly in their natural white color). The opportunity to create a more stylish, less obtrusive version that matches some of the other iPhone colors seemed obvious.”
Nick bought a few pairs of AirPods and began the long, laborious process of figuring out how to paint them. After a bit of testing he figured it out and commercialized the process.
“There are very few flat surfaces, optical sensors, and multiple acoustic openings (all of which are tiny, requiring millimeter precision). Coming up with a masking process that was not prohibitively expensive or time consuming was a huge challenge, but people seem to be very happy with the product overall,” he said. An now he wants to sell you some black AirPods. Each unit is painted by hand. Nick also paints AirPods that people send to him. You can have AirPods in any color as long as they’re black.
It’s a perfect startup story: hunch leads to problem leads to customer assessment leads to solution leads to product.
By carefully masking all of the little apertures – including two prominent light sensors – Nick was able to paint AirPods in glossy or matte black using a three-phase painting system. The glossy BlackPods cost $279 while the “Stealth” matte ones or $299. He can paint your AirPods for $99. And business is good.
“We move approximately 300-500 units per month, and are mainly constrained by AirPod supply, not demand for Blackpods. Supply has been opening up recently, so we are able to fulfill more than we previously were able to,” said Nick.
And thus a programmer named Nick schooled us all in proper startup design. Good job, Nick, and now we don’t need to look like Ben Stiller.