On a Mission to Protect Your Ears: the Story of Loop

Start it @kbc

Tuesday 29 January 2019

On a Mission to Protect Your Ears: the Story of Loop

At Start it @KBC, we’re passionate about the companies that dedicate themselves to improving people’s lives around the world. Some of these do it through better experiences, or improving work life, but some of them are dedicated to protecting us in one way or another. And for Loop, the groundbreaking earplug maker from Antwerp, they’re out to protect us while we’re having a great time! The only thing better than a great party is a great party with no worries! We sat down with the two founders recently, and talked about their origins, their plans, and how Start it @KBC helped - and still helps - them along their way.
 

The Origins of a Great Idea

Loop co-founders Dimitri and Maarten have known each other since they were both 15. Often times, with their friends, they’d enjoy a good party or two, but then come home with a lot of pain in their ears from the loud music. Looking into the problem, they decided to do something about it.

Dimitri explains, “After some research, we realized what was happening to us was called Tinnitus. It’s an irreversible condition that happens when little hairs in the ear get broken and send false signals to the brain. It’s not good.”

Maarten jumps in, “and we checked out other ear protection equipment on the market already, and most of it was either ugly, uncomfortable, or screwed up the sound of the music. And people won’t wear those things. We knew we could do better.”

A lot of startups might have stayed away from a market like ear protection, which might not sound as sexy as other fields, but Dimitri made an important point about it. “A similar thing used to be the case with ski and snowboard safety gear. It was ugly and clunky. But then some entrepreneurs realized they could make it cool and desirable. And now people are safer because of it.”

Rather than just block sound, Loop earplugs carefully reduce the decibel level by putting it through a unique circular and ear tip-style plug, designed in partnership with The Dynamic Ear Company and the University of Delft in the Netherlands. This way, sound waves can travel through a hollow channel of the ring. It preserves the quality of the sound with a more elegant design.
 

An Innovative Business model

Loop didn’t just create a better earplug; they also created a better way to sell them! Maarten explains what they do, “For a product like an earplug, you’d obviously think that B2C would be the dominant mode of sales. And we do do some of that. But actually, more than two-thirds of our sales are B2B. Retailers in electronics, audio, and pharmacy are all big clients. Next we’re looking at fashion and of course at music festivals.”

And it’s not like any of this was necessarily planned, as Dimitri says, “When we started, of course we planned to focus on B2C. But we noticed that B2B was growing at a quick clip, so we listened to the market and oriented towards that.”

Loop is still interested in and planning on getting back to the original B2C idea. “We’ve had an experienced American staffer on our payroll for a while now, helping us manage our presence at CES in Vegas, and soon at NAMM in LA. We’re still excited about direct-to-customer,” Says Maarten “And our feedback at CES showed us that we’re currently at a great price point, because a lot of people estimated that our earplugs could easily cost more than they do. So we’re pretty pleased about that.”

But it’s not all been so simple, says Dimitri, “So far, our biggest business model challenge has been production. Bottlenecks, mistakes, timing, expensive packaging. It’s all there. Sometimes we would have to sit around for months waiting on product. But we managed to address a lot of this by simply creating a mailing list for pre-orders. This helped us get a sense of where our volumes were, and gave our customers the confidence we were on the ball.”
 

The successes and failures of a young startup

Like any new company, Loop has been able to bask in its share of successes and had to deal with its portion of setbacks. Dimitri and Maarten share some of the most significant for them.

“Probably the best thing for us so far is just how excited our clients have been about the product. From 170 reviews, we have an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars. For our first iteration! And they like the look, the comfort, the function, the convenience. We’re really proud of that.” Dimitri says.

And Maarten walks us through what their setbacks have been and what they’ve done about them, “As we touched on before, production has been the hardest. Have you ever heard of ‘Murphy’s Law?” - If it can go wrong, it will… and at the worst possible moment. Yeah, there’s been a lot of that. A lot of frustrations, time and money. But the successes make up for it.”
 

The value of an accelerator

Dimitri emphasizes the significance of joining Start it to getting Loop going. “Being selected by Start it @KBC to join was the official launch of our work. I was working independently, and Maarten had a full-time job. Start it made it possible for him to quit and for us to work on this all the time. It was crucial.”

“And once we got here, the community of other entrepreneurs and mentors was really amazing - how it helped us get a better handle on what we were doing and gain access to so much knowledge and expertise from other companies and experienced individuals,” adds Maarten.

Dimitri is effusively optimistic about the future. “We’re out to conquer the world! You know how it is with startups. We’re looking to get 150,000 units out into the market. It’s gonna be a great year!”

At Start it @KBC, we’re always excited to see our startups make so many great strides and overcome so much so quickly. We’re dedicated to helping young companies become big companies, and growing a community of like-minded and experienced entrepreneurs along the way. There are great things in store for Loop, and we know we’ll be checking in with them again soon. In the meantime, if you’re looking for more news about entrepreneurship and startups, please be sure to sign up for the Start it Newsletter!

Written by Magali De Reu