How Jaybird founder Judd Armstrong spun a gap in the market into a $60 million headphone business

Queenslander Judd Armstrong is founder of Jaybird, one of the leading wireless headphone providers in the US. The company launched in Salt Lake City Utah in 2007, at a time when main players like Apple had not even considered bluetooth functionality for headphone devices. Since then the company has grown both revenue and personnel. In 2013 the company’s revenue was $31 million, increasing to $58.8 million in 2015. One hundred staff members now work on the product in Australia and America. 

The dream was always to bring the brand into Armstrong’s own backyard, and after being purchased by Logitech this year, the company’s Freedom wireless headphones will be sold through JB Hi-Fi and the Apple store from this week.

SmartCompany spoke to Armstrong about developing a successful sports product in a time before “activewear”, and how to transition an idea into a wearable piece of tech. 

My wife is at fault for my relocation to Utah. I met her in Australia, she was from the US, and so I chased her back over there and married her.

I had another business before this [medical data retrieval operation ZEROP, also in Utah] and we never imagined that Jaybird would get as big as it got. We thought of it as a fun little business, something that we wanted to play with.

I was always a big fan of the nice, clean desk. I would get excited about wireless keyboards, a wireless mouse, and the logical question I had when I looked at headphones was, “why is there a wire there?”

I came up with the idea of taking away the wire from headphones. Everyone, including my dad, said: “Are you insane? You will be competing against everyone, Apple and all those brands”.

I said, “no, that actually makes me excited”. Back then people were making so much money from wired headphones, they were just farming their success off that and not doing anything else.

Those companies were so big, and big companies aren’t nimble. I realised you needed someone who really understands sport to understand this market.

As every entrepreneur knows, once you start something and you get more and more into it, it takes twice as long and twice as much money.

We probably spent $200,000 developing the product. Then you have to surround yourself with people who actually know what they’re doing – for example, a really good designer.

When we started there was nobody else in the space and the company grew. We became one of the top three brands in wireless headphones in the US. In 2007 we decided we wanted to move back to Australia, so now the business is based here and there.

Working across two offices is fine if you have a group of really good core people you can trust. We do a lot of Skype calls, but now everything is video. It’s easy, if not kind of funny to see people get distracted by their own reflection when talking to you.

Now we’ve got more than 100 people working at the company, I am keen to just work with a few key people. I’ll come into the office, be friendly with people, high five, but I let everyone basically be CEO of their own areas.

You have to keep your mind free of clutter and keep emails out of your inbox. The business works better when everyone’s in control and has ownership of what they do.

But you’ve got to be friends with people. You might have some friction with someone, and you go to lunch, or have some time with someone, and all those issues kind of go away.

We’ve been very, very patient on entering Australia; it’s our own backyard. Even though we’re headquartered in the States, our product team is based here – and they’ve been watching this market for a long time.

I think the secret to business is really spending less than you earn. Having another job on the side helps but you also have to ask how you differentiate yourself and how to pick a spot to work in.

I grew up surfing and there’s this one particular spot in Noosa where literally everyone goes to surf. It’s right on the point and there are 50 people out there, you have to be very competitive just to get a wave.

I like to find the spot where there are great waves coming through – not so often – but there’s nobody there and you get great waves every time. That’s how I approach business.

My goal for Jaybird is to disrupt at the next level, to revolutionise how we view headphones. Right now, they are very personal.

There are speakers that provide the social aspect to music but our products provide the personal aspect. I’m really interested in how to blend these two ideas in the future.

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