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How Do You Compete With the 400-Pound Gorillas In Your Industry? 'Be In Love With Your Products' Says This Startup CEO. Martin Seidl explains the formation and growth of high-end headphones and mic maker Austrian Audio.

By Dan Bova

In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Martin Seidl is the CEO of Austrian Audio, the maker of high-end headphones and mics for musicians, content creators, and everyday people who want whatever track they're bumping on Spotify to sound as awesome as possible. Here, he explains the growth of the company and how being a musician himself has helped steer innovation to deliver exactly what customers want.

Image Credit: Austrian Audio

Tell us the Austrian Audio origin story.

I could start with Adam and Eve, but I'll keep it short. Austrian Audio was founded in 2017 by a team of excellent audio engineers who each had decades in the industry — that's why I always refer to Austrian Audio as the first startup company with more than 400 years of experience in what we do. I have 35 years plus of experience, and started out on a quest to win "fortune and fame." I was trying to become a very famous, singer, songwriter and musician. I did that for 20 years, and after that, I decided, okay, it's time to do something serious now!

So you were your own customer for about 20 years. What did that teach you?

It taught me what customers are looking for. And that's where we get to what is different about Austrian Audio from the large 400-kilogram gorillas in the industry. There is a very long tradition in pro audio. Analog is the big word. Digital, for a long period of time, was equated with being a toy thing — not the real stuff. We bridge that gap between. Our equipment works for traditional producers and the young up-and-comers who are doing their music in the living room or in the bedroom, which is where 80 percent of music is recorded these days. We bring this modern workflow into this very traditional technology.

Related: Three Buddies Wanted to Have a Better Time At an Outdoor Festival. Their Invention Turned Into a $43 Million Business.

How has reaction been?

Reaction is usually a two-step process with new customers. First, they say, "I have never heard of you." Then they try the product and go into post-production and that's when they understand the difference. We have implemented a plug-in for your recording system where after you're done recording, you can change the direction that the microphone was listening. You can make it an Omni (listening in all directions), you can make it a cardioid (targeted) — you can change the sound of the room long after the event is over. "Wow!" is the very, very frequent feedback we get when people stumble into that. They never knew it was possible and wonder why didn't anybody think of that earlier?

What has been your most effective means of marketing?

Word of mouth. Having products out there that created this wow effect, and these famous sound engineers are passing them along to their colleagues and saying, 'You need to try that.' I was in Austria's largest venue not long ago, an open-air stadium that seats more than 50,000 people. AC/DC was onstage and I spotted our mics on the guitar amps. And I know that the sound engineer of the Rolling Stones recommended it to the sound engineer of Muse, and now Muse is using Austrian audio all over the place. When you look at bands of this caliber, price is not a factor. They just want what is the best. They can pick and choose whatever they want. So if they choose my product, they choose it because it does exactly what they want. I'm really honored and totally admit that with this musician's soul that will always live in my chest, I look at the stage and see our stuff and think, 'Oh, I should get up there, too!'

Related: He Left a Steady Corporate Job and Turned His Music Passion Into a Thriving Audio Tech Company

Is there is any difference between "Artist Martin" and "Business Martin" in terms of decision-making and leading a company?

Sure, it's quite simple. There is the Artist Martin who facilitates brainstorming sessions across all departments and disciplines within Austrian Audio. He pushes pretty hard to get the product range extended and pretty cool features rolled out in every single product, no matter what target customer it is created for. Then – sometimes luckily – there is Business Martin entering the stage. He brings some boring rational and a little systematic decision-making into the process. Business Martin (together with the management team) is the reality check and looking at target groups, product mix and internal resources.

Do you think a CEO needs to be passionate about the products to succeed?

They always say a good salesperson needs to be able to sell anything. I wouldn't agree. I think especially in the pro audio industry, if you are not in love with these products, then you don't know you're not striving to improve every day. If you love music, you want to listen to music and you want to make better recordings. About 50 percent of our employees do something outside of the company with creating music. So yes, that's important.

Related: The Formula for Success This Entrepreneur Used to Build a 50-Year-Old Brand

Dan Bova

Entrepreneur Staff

VP of Special Projects

Dan Bova is the VP of Special Projects at Entrepreneur.com. He previously worked at Jimmy Kimmel Live, Maxim, and Spy magazine. His latest books for kids include This Day in History, Car and Driver's Trivia ZoneRoad & Track Crew's Big & Fast Cars, The Big Little Book of Awesome Stuff, and Wendell the Werewolf

Read his humor column This Should Be Fun if you want to feel better about yourself.

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