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

Discussion in 'Jason Stoddard' started by jason stoddard, Jan 23, 2014.
  1. winders
    Well, that's not happening. Mike does not like DACs with knobs on them so Yggdrasil will never have a preamp built in.
  2. deserat
    Here is to hoping Schiit and their families are fairing well through the fires burning in their back yards.
  3. RCBinTN
    I think this may be what you're looking for, Pietro.

    Dino2000 and FLTWS like this.
  4. Jason Stoddard
    2017, Chapter 15:
    What We Did Right

    Okay, for those of you who missed my note yesterday, I’m breaking up our traditional end-of-the-year wrap-up into three parts:
    1. What we did right
    2. What we did wrong
    3. Where we’re going
    And yeah, we’re starting with the “what we did right” stuff up front. So if you want to snicker into your handkerchiefs about the silly antics of a badly-named audio company, I suggest you skip this chapter. The next one will be much more to your liking.

    Why start with the good stuff? It’s simple: because even in stuff that looks disastrous, there’s always something good.

    Also, recognizing the good stuff salves the wounds that your, ahem, constructive criticism will make later.

    And, you know what, let me pause with that.

    Because in this day and age, it seems to be more and more proper to lead with rage. To start with the thermonuclear option. To rip someone up one side and down the other, from start to finish, and end it there.

    And, in my opinion, that’s a profoundly sad place to be. Whether it’s a harsh bark at the barista who got your order wrong or screaming at co-workers in a contentious meeting at work, leading with the negative isn’t a recipe for success. Because you’re not working with cold, unfeeling crocubots. You’re working with people just like you.

    So, before you attack, sit back. Say something positive. Because there’s always something you can say. Even if it’s, “I’m glad you spoke up, we haven’t heard from you.” Acknowledge the good. Then, if it’s the place for it, the constructive criticism can begin.

    “But that’s really hard,” you say. “Some ideas are just completely idiotic!”

    Yes. Or juvenile. Or unworkable. Or delivered in a tone of pompous belligerence that make the ideas hard to treat fairly.

    But keep an open mind. You never know.

    As an example, I was once part of a very active writer’s group. This is a bunch of people who get together and share stories, or parts of novels, and get feedback from the rest of the group as to what’s good and what’s bad about it. We met in person, weekly, and were very serious about distributing work and getting criticism. The group I was part of included professionals (published and paid), semi-professionals (published but not paid professional rates), and promising amateurs.

    And, ah, sometimes not-so-promising amateurs.

    Yeah. They say it takes a million words before you’ve polished your stuff enough to be professional quality, but this dood could probably do a million words a week. He was prolific. But he was bad. Not bad-but-good-enough-to-be-a-bestseller-bad, but like, laugh-out-loud bad. And he never took anyone’s criticism. Not as in being actively opposed to it, but in a passive-aggressive, well-if-you-don’t-like-that-I’ll-bring-another-70-pages-of-dreck-next-week kind of way.

    So yeah, it was one of those weeks. And I really, really wanted to say, “Look, guy, maybe taking up accountancy or windsurfing is more your thing, because this writing sucks massive ass.” But instead, I made myself read his piece (a horrible high-fantasy pastiche with cardboard-cutout witches, elves, and demons) to find something positive to say about it, before going on to the criticism.

    And, holy crap, I did. Buried as a throwaway line in the story was a bit about how deals with the demons were paid in lifespan, not in the typical binary your-soul-goes-to-hell kind of deal. And his stilted writing style made it seem like a boring business transaction, something that was just done all the time.

    And boom, right there I had a full-fledged idea for a story: one where the world ran on demon-backed credit cards, and your bill was paid with increments of your life.

    So I (completely honestly) told him it was a great idea, and said that he could even explore it more. I talked about the credit card idea, and how he could move his work to urban fantasy. He, of course, didn’t listen at all, and in the next weeks and months simply brought in more unrelated work.

    Me? I wrote the demon-backed credit cards story…and sold it at professional rates.

    The lesson: be open to find the good in the bad. And recognize it. It might pay off.

    So does that mean Schiit had a schiitty year and screwed up a lot? Nope. Not at all. We did a lot of things right. It’s just, we did stuff wrong, too. Some fairly painful stuff. So it’s best to talk about what’s well and good, before moving on to the screw-ups.

    But screw-ups are next week. On to the good…

    Good Thing the First: Consolidating the Magnis

    Hol. E. Fawk. We should have done this a long time ago.

    Well, except that we didn’t have the volume or production techniques to do it. At the time of this writing, we’re in deep, deep backorder on the Magni 3. We’re going to do everything we can to get Magnis to everyone by Christmas, but it may take shipping Cthulus with them in order to do it (we’re constrained by transformer supply, among other things.)

    But, please allow me to give a hearty bite my ass to all those who try to price their products at “what the market will bear.”

    Because making the best product we could, and reducing the price to a point where everyone had to pay attention to it, is paying off much, much bigger than any conventional “optimization of price/profit ratio” or whatever the corp-speak phraseology is.

    Magni 3 is big. Magni 3 is right. More performance. Lower cost. One simple choice.

    Read that again. It’s a good glimpse of our future.

    But Magni 3 really encapsulates a lot of things that we’ve been doing right. We wouldn’t have been able to do Magni 3 without:

    1. R&D into current-feedback discrete analog stages
    2. New production methods (stamping)
    3. Higher volume production
    4. Simplifying the line (no more 2 different Magnis)

    Don’t worry. We’ll get to those in more detail. For the moment, let’s keep rolling on products.

    Good Thing the Second: Solving USB

    Gawd, USB had become stupid by the middle of 2017. It needed solving. Gen 5 and Eitr are pretty much universally lauded as top-of-the-heap USB performance for bottom-of-the-barrel pricing.

    You notice we hear a whole lot less about the insane $1000+ chains of isolators/reclockers/perfectors/etc? They seem kind of silly in a world with Gen 5 at $150 and Eitr at $179. And that’s the way it should be. USB should be a simple plug-and-done connection. And Gen 5 takes it about as close as it can to being that.

    Best of all, Gen 5 hasn’t been out of stock, and Eitr is coming back into stock (Eitr could have been in-stock a lot sooner…more on that next week.) And Gen 5 is standard on all of our upgradable DACs, with no price increase. So solving USB is a relatively available, affordable proposition.

    Good Thing the Third: Completed 2-Channel Lineup

    While it may seem like a small thing now, the shipping of Vidar completed our 2-channel lineup (2 preamps, 1 power amp, plus, of course, the DACs.)

    Vidar’s development process was long and torturous enough to require 2 chapters and several other intermediary posts, but in the end, it’s turning out to be a very reliable performer. In fact, it’s overperformed in all reviews, including in situations where I was afraid we’d get complaints (like using mono Vidars with 4-ohm speakers—ComputerAudiophile ran theirs hard and had no problems.) This isn't to say they'll work for everyone in every system, but they're overperforming our expectations.

    And that’s fine. I’d rather underpromise and overdeliver. As far as the future of 2-channel, I’ll cover that in a couple of weeks, but I think it’s a safe bet to say that you won’t be seeing the huge proliferation of products we have on the desktop side. Two preamps, a power amp that can be run in two different configurations, and a wide array of DACs (and a phono preamp) are a pretty solid lineup, when you get right down to it.

    Good Thing the Fourth: Skewering Sacred Cows

    Sacred cows? Got lots of them. Let’s get to running them through.

    Let’s start with “Single-Brand Retail Stores Are a Bad Idea (Unless You’re Apple.)” Yeah, well, the Schiitr would like to have a word with you. Even though it was practically set up to fail (stuck out in the middle of nowhere, selling only Schiit and no other brands, limited hours), the Schiitr has already been profitable. Not only that, it’s provided a focal point for our new video SchiitShows, interviews, reviews, and informal meets. It’s been one of our best moves. In fact, next year, you may see one or two more Schiitrs. No firm location, no firm schedule, nothing set in stone. But stay tuned…

    Or how about “Equalizers Are Just For Crazy Uncle Joe (and His 1980s Fake-Bark Stereo System.” Yeah. Loki Mini kinda blows up that idea. An insanely transparent, insanely affordable little 4-band equalizer, Loki Mini is doing very well. So well, we may eventually do a Loki Uber (or something like that.) We’ll see. Balanced EQs aren’t really gonna happen, because it doubles the components you need…and if you’re talking about 1.5H chokes, that’s not a good thing. Or 120 relays versus 60. So you’re really looking at balanced-in, balanced-out, but SE-in-the-middle kinda thing. Which we’ve never done. So don’t get too excited. I’m getting ahead of myself.

    Or my favorite, “Retuning Music in Real Time Is Probably Gonna Sound Like Butt.” And the Gadget drops a tactical nuke on that idea. With our own proprietary technology a year in the making, The Gadget dynamically retunes music without affecting tempo (and is completely transparent.) Expect Gadget technology to turn up when we grow it up a little more (and get some more processing power.)

    Good Thing the Fifth: (Fairly) Flawless Launches

    What’s even better (in my opinion, anyway) is that all of our product launches this year were fairly glitch-free.

    Nothing is ever perfect, easy, or fun in a product start-up, and yeah, there were days that I was assembling Vidars before the launch, in order to meet demand. There were days when we were all assembling Magni 3s. And there were days that almost everyone was doing Gen 5 upgrades.

    But that’s to be expected. What’s more important is that there were no production shut-downs, no last-minute engineering changes, no oh-crap moments.

    Just luck? Not entirely. We do a lot more testing before launching products now. With products as critical as Magni and Vidar, that meant many more prototypes than we usually do, and a much broader test group. Magni, in particular, went through many iterations on an analyzer before being deployed in 6 different variants, which we then thermally tracked, logged, and gave feedback on. Vidar got shorted, overdriven, subjected to reactive loads, and run at 1/3 power for days for thermal testing.

    And—even though I’m getting ahead of myself—this is also a hint at the future. Hell, I’m putting together some dedicated quick-swap fixtures to try different gain stage ideas in the same setting. I’ve already laid out 5 different variants for one of the fixtures. Doing things like this allows us to rapidly iterate and optimize…and sometimes find some amazing stuff. More on that later.

    Good Things the Sixth: Invisible Stuff

    Maybe you consider this a follow-on from the testing above, but there have been a ton of invisible changes we’ve made to make things better. In the course of one year, we’ve:
    • Reviewed and streamlined a half-dozen significant production bottlenecks, which kept us from having to hire even more staff. Although we staffed up, we saved the disruption of having to hire and train even more people. It’s better to optimize processes, rather than throw people at a problem.
    • Moved several key products over to stamped chassis, and are moving the rest of the smaller products by early next year. This allows better consistency and precision, and lower price. It also will allow us to have aluminum tops on all the small products—no more painting.
    • Shored up on tech. We now have a full-time board-level and repair tech (in addition to Tony). This frees up more of my time to come up with wacky new ideas and make crazy new prototypes.
    • Consolidated many BOMs. We have a lot of products. Making sure we use the same kind of resistor, for example, on all of them means we have a lot less parts to keep track of. Sounds simple? Try it on a line developed over 7 years…and still developing.
    • Started coordinating to avoid backorders. Yeah, I know, kinda funny now that we’re in backorder on several products, but to be fair, nobody would have believed the demand for the Magni.
    • Went to a more visible/controllable kitting/production system. Until now, our PCB assembly house held most of our stock. Now, our distributor holds most stock and provides kits as needed. This eliminates a ton of confusion, and prevents problems like buying for the same run several times (we have enough of some parts to do several runs of many products.)
    Yeah, I know. You’d rather read about Holy Grail topologies and new digital tech. And yeah, I agree. But getting things in order has its own appeal. Luckily we have some very good guys in ops (Alex, Tyler) who keep us running true.

    Good Things the Seventh: Visible Stuff

    While we were working on the “under the hood” stuff, we also paid attention to some of the things you see. Things like:
    • Improving the website. With the introduction of the Schiitr, our website became a big mess. Where did we put it? We started with a bottom banner, which was clunky and confusing. By the end of summer, though, it was clear the Schiitr was a permanent thing, so it needed a permanent home. This led to a significant site reorganization—one that created a new “Places” tab to integrate the Schiitr, SchiitShows (oh god, another great thing I forgot). At the same time, we enlarged the Guides section and reorganized to make things a lot more logical to use.
    • Starting SchiitKit shows. Although Mike and I would love to be like Dan at MrSpeakers and be at virtually every show—no, wait, actually Mike and I are kinda boring stay-at-home dudes, so strike that, and enter the SchiitKit. Now, virtually anyone can organize a local meet and have a whole kit of Schiit sent to them to enjoy. This improves our exposure, and allows Mike and I to keep our sanity.
    • Revamping support. Support, I thought, was fine. We had great guys handling the email. But with the growth of inquiries, and the growth of staff, things weren’t fine. Handoffs between 4-5 people meant that inquiries could be missed. Or just dropped. In any case, it wasn’t working. We trialed a customer support ticketing system (Zendesk) and our personnel took to it pretty much immediately. Now, even if we have to tell you, “Sorry, we don’t have an opinion on that $160 fuse,” your inquiry won’t be missed.
    Wow. That’s actually quite a bit of good Schiit, isn’t it? And when you get right down to it, it’s been a great year. Our biggest year ever, by any measure.

    But that doesn’t mean we didn’t screw up. More on that next week.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2017
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    snk8699, Cdog, h2rulz and 36 others like this.
  5. Zadok
    I am so glad you brought this up because I was really curious about them since reading about them. For example, we're going to have a meet here in North Carolina in mid Feb, and I was going to ask what the process was about borrowing a kit for a meet like that? That is if the process is in place already.

    Otherwise, a great read. As a consumer, I feel like there was a general sense of these positive factors to me without knowing the specifics. No real complaints on the forums, no disappointed reviewers, or any other noise that might have upset the flow in years past. Good to hear it!

    P.S. I'd love to read that demon card story. I laughed audibly about how you had a eureka moment from that guy's middle school writing.
    Ableza likes this.
  6. terminatetrails
    Have you seen the products by Hifimediy?
  7. Ableza
    re: writer's club. When I lived up in the Napa Valley I was for a short time the Secretary for "The Burgundy Forest Writers Guild," a club formed by a bunch of college professors and high school teachers. I got fired after I subtitled our monthly newsletter: "A club for pretentious wannabe poets and novelists who will never be published." Writers sometimes have issues with truths, I guess. :)
    Schwibbles, rollinbr, jeffro and 11 others like this.
  8. Jason Stoddard
    Yep, if you're interested in doing a SchiitKit show, contact denise@schiit.com. She handles most of the marketing stuff, and all the shows, these days. If it was up to Mike and I, we'd never get any products to any shows, ever...

    As far as the story goes, it's still in the Strange Horizons archives: http://strangehorizons.com/fiction/making-payments/
    Schiit Audio Stay updated on Schiit Audio at their sponsor page on Head-Fi.
    https://www.facebook.com/Schiit/ http://www.schiit.com/
    Left Channel, Khalaris, wink and 3 others like this.
  9. Ableza
    @Jason Stoddard thank you for posting your story. The first line had me hooked. Well done!
  10. Oveja Negra
    After you survived to tell us that capacitor shock story, I wasn't expecting anything less savage from you.

    Ableza likes this.
  11. US Blues
    Jason- great chapter, thank you. And, I'll pay for the extra parts it takes to make a fully balanced EQ (with balance control). Count that as a vote in favor.
    wink likes this.
  12. decodm
    My favorite part of this chapter was the bit about Eitr coming back into stock :)
  13. AudioBear
    The credit card story looks like a must read. Thanks for installment #1. From the viewpoint of a user who bought Eitr, Loki 2 and Magni 3 it's been a great year. Magni 3 allowed me to retired an amp that cost a whole lot more and get better sound at the same time. Not enough can be said about it. No wonder you're back-ordered.
  14. Ableza
    I have a much more shocking story (pun intended) about witnessing a shipmate on a Navy nuclear submarine accidentally shorting out a 480VAC mains power panel, generating a HUGE fireball and deafening explosion, blowing him a dozen feet down the passageway, giving him severe burns on his hands and arms and removing most of his hair as well as his shirt sleeves. He survived as well, although it did seem that he lost a few IQ points afterwards....
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2017
    Khalaris, wink, Odin412 and 4 others like this.
  15. Jason Stoddard
    It's less a problem of cost, and more a problem of fit. Doing it balanced all the way through would mean a product the size of an Yggdrasil, and about the cost of an Yggdrasil. Balanced I/O with SE internals is Freya sized, and half the cost.
    Schiit Audio Stay updated on Schiit Audio at their sponsor page on Head-Fi.
    https://www.facebook.com/Schiit/ http://www.schiit.com/
    kehorton, Dino2000 and US Blues like this.

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