After spending 3 months in China finding the right manufacturer, Michael Joly is now growing his consumer mental wellness hardware product at an impressive pace.
Davis Baer: What’s your background, and what are you working on?
Michael Joly: I’ve been a sound and consciousness researcher since 1990 and was fortunate to have had opportunities to develop professional analog audio products and systems for most of my career.
I also had a stint as a business development research director in the radio sponsorship advertising business so I’m comfortable in both technical and business development realms.
I’m now the founder and CEO of Hear Now Systems, Inc.
Along with Alene Sibley (a gifted intuitive coach and the person who knows our product, and can speak for it better than anyone) I co-developed our first consumer hardware product in the mental wellness space. It’s called N.O.W. Tone Therapy System, a 3-minute mindfulness meditation aid. We like to say “It’s Yoga for Your Mind ®”.
N.O.W. Tone Therapy System launched on Amazon in January 2018 and offers stress and anxiety relief to a broad range of people while helping them remember their essential, joyous self so they can transcend their perceived life situation challenges. N.O.W. is being used, to great effect, by individuals, couples and groups of yoga and meditation practitioners.
As a result of N.O.W.’s efficacy and its quick and easy use we achieved #1 “Most Wished For” status in our Amazon category (sound therapy) in July and have garnered 80% 5 star reviews.
N.O.W. uses our proprietary New Origin Waveform (N.O.W.) technology (non-linguistic, aural neuromodulation signaling) to help users shift their focus from problematic thinking to non-judgmental awareness and acceptance of the “is-ness” of the present moment.
N.O.W. does this without use of dualistic, symbolic language (different than all voice-guided meditation apps) and is not closed-form like guided meditation apps, mp3s or CDs. It is self contained, does not require a phone or computer and it can be used alone, with another person or with a group.
N.O.W. creates content individualized to each listener in a 3 minute session, in real time, and provides a unique moment-to-moment, and session-to-session tone experience to each individual, couple or group who uses it. Always different, every time. Just like every present moment we experience in life.
Since launching in January we have achieved compound monthly revenue growth of 38% to 55%.
We achieved profitability 5 months after launch.
We’re currently running a number of growth hack experiments to test the hypothesis that we can use predictable and affordable (high ROI / low customer acquisition cost) growth levers to sustain 25% CMGR of revenue. Fingers crossed.
What motivated you to get started with your company?
We were motivated to start Hear Now Systems, Inc. and develop N.O.W. because many people are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety and disconnect in their lives.
Whether the causes are internal (their own attitudes about challenges facing them), or external (financial, geo-political …) people are hurting and we wanted to help them alleviate their suffering.
I have been exploring the intersection of sound and consciousness since 1990 (doing art gallery installations, developing ambient programing for radio, conducting laboratory research and delving deeply into the classic literature of Perennial Philosophy).
Only in the past couple of years have technologies matured to the point where I could take my research findings and embed them in an affordable, effective and profitable consumer mental wellness product.
We validated the idea of N.O.W. Tone Therapy System by hacking together a prototype based on portable CD players. We demonstrated this functional mockup of N.O.W. to attendees at a wellness weekend fair in Saratoga Springs, NY in late April 2017. Saratoga Springs has a long history (dating to indigenous people’s time) as a healing center with many miraculous healings attributed to its mineral springs. So it was a very auspicious market research setting for us.
Based on the resounding “Go for it!” signals we received that weekend we made a leap of faith and embarked on the hardware development project that became known as N.O.W. Tone Therapy System.
It was fortunate I had a steady income from another business (I’m now exiting from). This allowed me to start Hear Now Systems, Inc. with my own seed money and not actively seek outside investment (though investors keep dangling carrots in front of me that I continue to decline).
What went into building the initial product?
In order to bring an audio hardware product to market at a price the consumer market would accept I decided to manufacture in China. I’ve been traveling regularly to China to sell (first) and buy (later) since 1988 (I took a gap year in 1989 because of the Tiananmen Square event).
Success with Chinese manufacturing comes down to strong relationships based on trust, mutual respect and shared ROI.
I undertook a 3 month process to find, vet and land the right manufacturer. This took scores of emails, dozens of sample evaluations and two separate trips to China to interview manufacturers.
I settled on an amazing company — female founded and led with verified, excellent working conditions (the owner takes the entire 50-person company on an all expense paid seaside vacation once a year, the factory is clean and modern and her workers are well paid).
I’ve found more than a manufacturer. I’ve found new colleagues, new friends and a true partner in that this company has provided me with very liberal payment terms, in effect, becoming a manufacturing financier of sorts.
My manufacturer worked from my design concepts and over a 3 month period did the software and hardware engineering reduction to practice.
They produced several engineering prototype revisions, then two rounds of pre-production samples.
We went into production about 6 months after I got the “Go!” signals from potential customers at the wellness fair in Saratoga.
Hardware is hard, and slower than software development. But we did a lot of customer inquiry and made several design iterations based on customer feedback before finalizing the design of N.O.W. We felt confident it would achieve traction with customers. Besides, we believed we were the right team, at the right time, to do this project and could not turn our backs on shepherding N.O.W. into the world. We simply had to do this. We’re getting ready to start our third production run in several weeks.
While all this was going on I was also working full time at the boutique studio microphone design / modification company I started 12 years ago (OktavaMod). I’ve been working two full time jobs for the past year and half and am looking forward to having just one — Hear Now Systems, Inc. shortly.
The funding came from my own seed investment of $120K. This allowed us to do the prototyping, versioning, first production run, shipment to US, limited marketing AND, importantly … to hire our first and only employee to date — Ruane Sibley, a woman with incredible love of people, who is doing one really important thing that does not scale — she talks to as many prospects as possible and follows up all sales to make sure we have built, and continue to build, something that A LOT of people really want.
We brought out a successful consumer audio product in part because I’m standing on the shoulders of legends from the pro audio world whom I worked for earlier in my career.
It would not be possible to do what we’ve done in a relatively short period of time had there not been decades of connections and experience in place.
How have you attracted users and grown your company?
We launched N.O.W. Tone Therapy System by leveraging my microphone business email database and by doing a few wellness event shows. Accessing an email database of 16K people who know and respect me — because they’ve purchased from me in the past, was central to our launch success.
The key to getting more users is to delight each user to such an extent that they tell their friends and family about N.O.W. Tone Therapy System. We’ve seen strong word of mouth referrals — often one purchaser being directly responsible for 5 or 6 more sales.
And as I alluded above, we have some high ROI, affordable customer acquisition cost growth hacks underway. Can’t say more about these right now (gotta hold a few cards close, right?) other than to say from June — September the ROI on these growth hacks has been over 800%.
What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
Our business model is direct-to-consumer sales via our site, and sales to consumers via the online retailers Amazon and UncommonGoods. Other channels (brick and mortar retail, corporate wellness programs) are being explored. I’m relentlessly focused on affordable and sustainable customer acquisition with those costs kept well in line relative to our COGS and operating expenses.
We’ve achieved early product market fit. Customers have accepted N.O.W. Tone Therapy System at its offered price. They go on to tell their family and friends of its benefits and have left 80% 5 star reviews.
Based on early performance data and identified growth levers that appear to be sustainable, we expect revenue to be approximately $2.7M at the end of our second full year of operation with a healthy profit margin.
What are your goals for the future?
Hear Now Systems, Inc. exists to make the world a happier, more joyous and more productive place. We’re starting with N.O.W. Tone Therapy System. But I have in mind a line of brand extensions across mobile, wearable and architectural segments that would be capable of driving growth to $50M ARR within 5 years.
In order to make this happen I’m working with a personal development coach. I also was accepted into the newly-launched Transformational Tech Academy as part of their inaugural class. TTA includes personal development training as well as more traditional startup advice.
We’re currently successfully bootstrapping. I’m not actively seeking investment, though I’m always happy to talk to investors who are truly aligned with our values and mission and who see that our unique team and unique way of making business decisions based on core values is the right way to bring N.O.W. to the world.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
Biggest challenge — overcoming self-limiting ideas about what is possible, and accepting and transcending my “shadow identity” with its egoic expression. Biggest opportunity — to remain present, centered and non-reactive as the “10,000 things” come at me and taunt me to be reactive. If I had to start over … I would have had personal development coaching from age 18 on.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I’ve found it’s important not to limit my reading to business and startup ideas. I would not be here, in the happy and healthy state I find myself, had it not been for the knowledge and teachings brought to the world by Eckhart Tolle (“The Power of NOW”), Lau Tzu’s “The Tao Te Ching” (Stephen Mitchell translation), the “Meditations” of Marcus Aurelius, “The Over Soul” by R.W. Emerson and the channeled teaching known as “A Course In Miracles”.
What’s your advice for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
There are no truer words than Joseph Campbells’s “follow your bliss”. Remember, you build what you are. Who are you? Who do you want to be? What will you build that will remain true to who you are becoming?
Where can we go to learn more?
N.O.W. is a ground-breaking product destined to change the world. Trust me on this — it did not come into the world to be bound by the laws of the world it came to change.
You can check out N.O.W. Tone Therapy System at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/W-Tone-Therapy-System-Meditation/dp/B072KHM8JS
We have lots of info, a blog, a video, and a full online demo at our site: https://www.nowbysolu.com/
And I love to answer questions about N.O.W., solu (our consumer brand), Hear Now Systems, Inc. and sound and consciousness. Ask away, thanks for reading and please do consider joining the journey.