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Schiit Happened: The Story of the World's Most Improbable Start-Up - Page 68

post #1006 of 14477

Yeah, please don't ruin this thread by posting stuff from Steve-O or anyone with a "Jackass" mentality behind it. Barely funny and has absolutely nothing to do with Schiit Audio.

post #1007 of 14477
Quote:
Originally Posted by AManAnd88Keys View Post

Yeah, please don't ruin this thread by posting stuff from Steve-O or anyone with a "Jackass" mentality behind it. Barely funny and has absolutely nothing to do with Schiit Audio.
+1
post #1008 of 14477
Quote:
Originally Posted by chlyhne View Post
 

Objectivity vs. subjectivity:

 

 

After all these years of reading/experiencing I think I have figured out how to boil down the "secret sauce" recipe for making a nice sounding amp (my personal opinion only of course):  design for absolute neutrality using comprehensive measurements, and when finished make any capacitors that are in the audio signal path paper-in-oil type.  Tada, you have the transparency and also the tone color that makes most people happy.

post #1009 of 14477
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ableza View Post
 

My best job interview went like this.  I arrived at the company location wearing suit and tie, fully prepared for any and all technical grilling.  I was seated in a conference room, and a few minutes later the owner and CEO came in, shook my hand, and asked if I was hungry.  Sure, I said.  He told me to leave my coat and tie behind unless I was cold and let's go eat.  We got into his 911 Turbo and went to a local Fish Market, sat down, ordered and proceeded to talk over lunch about cars, movies, wine, scotch, my family, sports, and other non-work related topics.  After lunch we got back into his car and on the way back to the office he asked me how much money I needed.  I told him and he didn't comment.  When we got back he shook my hand and asked, "When can you start?"  I still have that job today 18 years later.

I have a similar story for my best job interview. I had a friend who was a 1st camera assistant on a major Hollywood motion picture. He calls me up one night and tells me that the previous Preview Technician to the Cinematographer had been fired and that they urgently need a new one. He told he knew someone that would be interested in the job before even asking me. I come in for a "trial" day, having had no experience doing this specific role (although I did do both photography AND photoshop work). I work my butt off running back and forth, trying to do the best job I can. At the end of the day the Cinematographer says "Well this is the hardest it's going to get, so if you are OK with that you have the job" and low and behold I got the job on the spot and was extremely dedicated and hardworking for the next 4-6 months until the end of the shoot. The cinematographer became one of my good friends and we are still best friends after a decade.

 

My main take away is if someone is passionate about something and has a good personality that won't clash with others, then he will be a better employee than anyone else. I have my own startup now and have been hiring friends/acquaintances that I know I can trust. The FIRST thing I ask them is if they are passionate about what it is I am doing with this startup, if they truly believe in the cause and the company, they will not only do a great job and be dedicated, they will also even be willing to work on commission, not knowing whether the company will be successful or not. I think this approach should be used for big companies too. It has never failed me, personality and passion is far more important than skills someone can learn on the job anyways.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by JW Santhem View Post
 



Could not just be HR's fault, but the fault of Universities having such ****ty program's that even a PhD does not guarantee a skilled person.

As a university student I feel like I lack every kind of actual skill the program is supposed to teach me. You simply study a couple weeks before each exam and forget it the day after.

 

I'm glad I don't want to work in the field I'm studying, I'd probably suck at it despite the education.

 

It REALLY depends on the subject. For example in both my BA (in Film) and MA (in International Studies and Diplomacy) we learned a lot of practical things. Granted, I specifically picked courses where I would have immersion based on practical workshops and not just theory. For example in our Film course we had industry professional cinematographers come in to teach us lighting techniques, operating and loading 35MM Arri/Panavision/Aaton camera's and even shooting a couple of shorts on an Arri 16SR2/3. If I were to shoot something as a cinematographer now, I would have MORE skillset than if I had worked through the ranks and got hired as a camera assistant learning how to load a camera or set up a camera for the first 5 years, then learning how to use a clapperboard for about 5 more years, then maybe getting a job as a first AC and pulling focus for another 10-15 years, and if I'm lucky in my 50s or 60s I would have become a camera operator, learning how to do what I had learned in College. However, even after 40 years of working as an assistant, I still wouldn't learn much about Lighting, the rule of thirds, and all the other stuff they teach you through trial and error in a good film school.

 

The same goes with my MA in which we did a Geneva study trip to the UN. Full immersion conflict resolution workshops with actual former UK Ambassadors and diplomats that did this for a living, etc... This is no pressure on the job training in an academic environment. However, I agree that perhaps it's different with some degrees such as in the tech industry, although you do get to practice, etc... Either way, I know how hard it is to get into the diplomatic sphere. In the UN for example they don't hire relatives of people, and they weed out nepotism. A recommendation from a friend can have the opposite effect of what it would have in the corporate world. The reason I got my degree wasn't just for a job, it was to get "intellectually buggered" as one of my friends calls me and expand my outlook and view on the world, etc... It was perhaps one of the most significant experiences of my life as far as life changing experiences go.

 

Also most people get a PHD so that they can become a professor, not an engineer or software programmer, etc... They have Bsc and Msc's for that. PHD's are really way more academic and theory based, etc... Not that I wouldn't want one in the future, but if I did get a PHD it would be to publish some piece of work and eventually teach as a kind of retirement job. There are some jobs you have to have a degree for, even if you have the best connections in the world. For example Doctors, Psychologists, certain Engineers (who need to know the basic principles of Physics, Advanced Maths, etc...)


Edited by baronkatz - 5/5/14 at 1:09pm
post #1010 of 14477
Quote:
Originally Posted by baronkatz View Post
 

I have a similar story for my best job interview. I had a friend who was a 1st camera assistant on a major Hollywood motion picture. He calls me up one night and tells me that the previous Preview Technician to the Cinematographer had been fired and that they urgently need a new one. He told he knew someone that would be interested in the job before even asking me. ...

So, what happened to your friend who was a 1st camera assistant? You just told us how your boss became your best friend...

post #1011 of 14477

Overall it seems like a very honest write up.

Very Interesting to read indeed.

post #1012 of 14477
This is one of the best things I've read on Head-Fi. Thanks for sharing this with the community, Jason. I'm eagerly awaiting the next chapters. biggrin.gif
post #1013 of 14477
Tomorrow!
post #1014 of 14477
Quote:
Originally Posted by Transformatron View Post

Tomorrow!

No, today :)

post #1015 of 14477
Thread Starter 

Chapter 15:

DAC in a Toilet Paper Roll

 

Shortly after we started shipping Bifrosts, Mike brought me something that would change the company.

 

“Take a look at this,” Mike said, handing me a Bifrost USB card.

 

I didn’t think anything of it. We were making Bifrosts, we had tons of Bifrost USB cards, they worked, and that was that. And I knew we weren’t going to be suddenly introducing a new USB card, only a few weeks after we announced the Bifrost itself.

 

“It’s a USB card. So?” I asked, not taking it.

 

Mike waggled the card at me. “Just look at it.”

 

I took the card and sighed. And that’s when it sunk in: this USB card had RCA jacks on it.

 

I looked closer. The USB card also had a few more parts added onto it. I recognized one: an AKM4396 D/A converter.

 

“Is this a USB DAC?” I asked, incredulous.

 

Mike nodded his head vigorously and cackled. “Yeah, it is!”

 

“USB powered?”

 

“Yep! And it sounds really good!”
 

“Wait a sec,” I said. “I thought you were Mr. Anti-USB?”

 

“Yeah, but sometimes you just gotta say, ‘what the heck!’” (Except without the h and e, replace with f and u.)

 

An aside: this was really the beginning of Schiit’s ongoing “WTF” phase, where we’ll try a lot of different things—and, if we like them, make them into products. This is what got us Mjolnir, Vali, the upcoming Yggdrasil analog stage…as well as a shelf full of experiments that may never get turned into products.

 

Anyway, back to the frankensteined USB card. As I held it, three thoughts immediately came to mind:

 

  1. How inexpensive could this thing be?
  2. How do we keep the cost of the chassis from dominating the cost of the product?
  3. This is a whole lot smaller than anything we currently make, what would the chassis look like?

 

“What’s the BOM look like, cost-wise?” I asked Mike, using corp-speak for the Bill of Materials, or, in English, All that stuffs ya gotta put together to makes it.

 

Mike cackled again and told me.

 

My head exploded. If we could get a chassis cheap—I mean, really cheap—we could sell that little DAC for $99.

 

Ninety-nine bones. That’s a whole different part of the market. I didn’t know how many we could sell, but I knew, even then, it would be a hell of a lot more than Bifrost.

 

“And we could put it in a toilet paper roll,” Mike said.

 

“What?” I asked, coming back to reality.

 

“Well, you know, for those guys who want something cheaper than a Bifrost. Here you go. DAC in a toilet paper roll. You don’t want to upgrade, you want cheap and disposable, we have cheap and disposable.”

 

I had a brief mental flash of a (thankfully) alternate future in which we’d be selling cardboard tubes with electronics inside of them.

 

“A toilet paper roll wouldn’t pass FCC,” I said.

 

“So wrap it in foil,” Mike suggested.

 

“No.”

 

“Or machine it out of aluminum tube.”

 

“No.”

 

“We can cut the little spiral on the outside so it looks like a toilet paper roll.”

 

“No!”

 

Mike frowned, looking offended. “You don’t like my new DAC,” he whined.

 

“Oh no, I like it just fine,” I told him. “Assuming it sounds good.”

 

Mike laughed and grinned. “Just plug it in.”

 

So I did. And it sounded good. Really good. I knew right there that this would be our next product. I knew we had to make it. It wasn’t a case of ‘why,’ it was a case of ‘why not.’

 

But not in a toilet paper roll.

 

 

The Challenges of a Changed Game

 

That first modified USB card completely changed Schiit as a company. Arguably, it’s the biggest factor in us moving from a “hobby business” to a “real company.”

 

But note when this happened: say, November 2011. Modi (and Magni) didn’t show up on the scene until late in December 2012—over a year later.

 

Huh? Our simplest products took over a year to develop?

 

What’s up with that, you ask. (And some are snickering in the background about how long it took to get a sellable Ragnarok. Hey, bite me. I almost did an April Fools announcement that the Ragnarok and Yggdrasil were cancelled.)

 

Bottom line: yes, developing even simple products can take a good long time—that is, if you want to get them right. Especially if they’re clean-sheet designs that move you into entirely new spaces as a company.

 

Modi itself was a challenge, on several fronts:

 

  1. It required an entirely new, and hella cheap, chassis design. When we started the development, I didn’t know if we could meet the very aggressive price point I set—especially without going to China.

 

  1. It had to be as simple as possible, which meant surface-mount and very easy assembly. We were already doing surface mount with Bifrost, but it was brand new to us at the time. Chassis-wise, even our insanely simple chassis for Bifrost, Asgard, etc were clunky and slow to put together—we needed something simpler and easier.

 

  1. It required huge production runs—in the thousands—much more than we’d ever done before. Huge production runs meant (comparatively) large investment—we had to be ready for it.

 

So what did we do? Well, let’s start with the one thing we didn’t do:  we didn’t sit back on our asses and say, “You know, we have a pretty good thing going here. Why take chances? Iterate the current products, keep milking the products for all they’re worth, and take the money.”

 

Because, like it or not, that’s what most companies do.

 

They’re scared. Risk-averse, they call it, in typical corporate doublespeak. Call it what it is. Scared. You’re scared to jeopardize your accomplishments to date. You’re scared of burning your profits on something that might not work out. You’re scared to step out of the mold you’ve made.

 

Hint: the mold you’ve made is a coffin. Break out, or die.

 

“Okay, fine, I get it,” you tell me. “Go ahead and write what you did, already.”

 

Fine.

 

Chassis: Set A Target, Stick To It. On the chassis side, the first thing we did was to actually set a price target. If we could bring it in at or under the target, we had a product. If it came in more than the target, we’d have to think again. This is the first time we’d set a price target on a chassis, instead of just sitting back and saying, “Well, let’s see where it lands.”

 

To maximize our chance of hitting the target, we put the chassis design up for bid at MFG.com, as well as with our two local chassis vendors at the time. Note we had two for a time. Note we’re now down to one. Corollary: cut your losses quick if things don’t work out.

 

It ended up that several vendors undershot our target price, some significantly. One of the local guys was under the target, and one was over. The local guy who was under the target price wasn’t the least expensive bid, but I knew already not to gamble with quality. We went with the one local guy, even though the chassis could be cheaper. Corollary 2: Don’t be frigging cheap. If you set a target price and your most preferred guy comes in under it, don’t grind them for the couple of bucks you might save if the long-shot new guy across the country works out. Just place the PO.

 

Assembly: Simple At All Costs. I’m doing this out of order, because the chassis design comes before the chassis. But you get the picture here. Assembly time is a function of chassis design. The simpler the chassis, the lower the assembly time.

 

We first experimented with variations on our current chassis—a U-shaped piece of metal wrapped around an inner sled. But, in that case, you were still talking 16 screws or so, between the ones that connected the chassis, the ones that connected the boards, and the ones that, well, connected the connectors. That’s a lot of screws.

 

That’s why we decided to have a “sled” design quoted—a new concept that used only a front “L” shape, rather than a U-shape. The main advantage of this is that it eliminated the bottom screws. The end result? 7 screws, not 16. I know, it doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a huge difference in production.

 

At the same time, we asked our vendor their opinion on aluminum versus steel—we were smart enough to know that painted steel was better, but we needed the vendor to say, “Yes, steel will be less expensive—and it can be repainted if it’s damaged.”

 

Refinishing a product was a dramatic new concept for us. As I’ve mentioned before, our other chassis, at least the aluminum parts, are junk when they’re damaged. Being able to refinish the chassis was a big deal.

 

And that’s how Modi ended up in a steel box, rather than in aluminum and steel: simple economy.

 

Production: Bite the Bullet. Yep, big runs are pricey. There’s no way around that. And that took us to another point that could change the company.

 

When you’re talking big production runs, you really have two choices:

 

  1. Save your own money. Funny, this is the way that businesses used to do it all the time. Seems it’s gone out of fashion today.
  2. Borrow the money. Go to the bank, get a line of credit, or get a loan against your inventory or receivables. This is what our accountant advised, citing all the normal reasons for getting in bed with a bank:
    1. You’re growing fast, this allows you to grow faster
    2. Keep your own money for other stuff, like building spaceship-styled campuses, Porsche GT3s, and vacation homes
    3. At current interest rates, it doesn’t cost that much.

 

Guess what we chose?

 

Yep, right in one. As in, #1. We chose to save our own money for this, because either (a) we’re a little stupid/touched in the head/out of touch with thems modern ways of doin things, or (b) we don’t think a bank should pay for our own dice-rolls.

 

Okay, I’m being flippant. But I have seen what happens when a company gets addicted to bank financing. Once you’re on the take, you don’t get off. And then the bank comes in and starts dictating what you should sell, and when.

 

No, thanks.

 

So, that’s my long-winded way of saying that there’s no easy way around the capital outlay necessary for large production runs. We bit the bullet and made the investment—an investment much larger than we ever could have made when the company started.

 

We were growing up.

 

 

Ego Talking

 

But, in my mind, there was something even bigger: Modi needed to make sense…as part of a whole line. Mike’s original idea was a tiny chassis (much smaller than today’s Modi) that could be used with any of our larger amps. But I had noticed—already—that people were stacking Asgard, Valhalla, and Lyr atop Bifrost…and they looked very good together. Which meant only one thing:

 

“We need a matching amp,” I told Mike.

 

“A matching amp for what?”

 

“The little DAC. We need a small, cheap amp to match it. $99 as well. A sub-$200 stack of an amp and DAC.”

 

Mike looked thoughtful. “How are you going to do any good headphone amp that cheap?”

 

I waved a hand. “I have a bunch of ideas.”

 

It turns out I shouldn’t have dismissed the “amp problem,” because that was arguably what set the Modi back a good 4-6 months. It took a long, long time, down many dead-end paths, before we had an amp we could pair with the Modi.

 

But that’s a story for another chapter.

post #1016 of 14477

Excellent chapter as usual, made even more interesting since I kept looking over at the Modi I've got sitting here as I read it.

 

I probably would've bought it even if it was smaller and/or in a toilet paper tube, but I do think the current chassis is very nice and classy looking.

post #1017 of 14477

Will Schiit release a portable USB DAC+amp like Dragonfly? Even smaller and cheaper than the Modi+Magni combo.

Or too much of a crowded market already?

post #1018 of 14477


There was a company, I think Blue Circle Audio or something like that, from Canada, who used to put products in short lengths of black ABS pipe and just fill up the ends with silicone from a tube. For variety, they'd put an amp in a purse, or amps in a pair of womens' pumps. Wonder if they're still around?

 

And thanks, Jason, for another amusing chapter with some excellent lessons thrown in for free.

post #1019 of 14477
Quote:
Originally Posted by 45longcolt View Post
 


There was a company, I think Blue Circle Audio or something like that, from Canada, who used to put products in short lengths of black ABS pipe and just fill up the ends with silicone from a tube. For variety, they'd put an amp in a purse, or amps in a pair of womens' pumps. Wonder if they're still around?

 

 

 

Yup... http://www.bluecircle.com/page81.html

post #1020 of 14477

The headphone amps you can build out of an Altoids tin are still around in kit form I think.

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