In spite of only recently breaking into the Australian market, audio brand Jaybird is rife with Aussie DNA. That begins with the company founder, Judd Armstrong, a native Queenslander who speaks in surfing metaphors and is essentially the walking embodiment of his own target demographic. In fact the original Jaybird concept was born out of Armstrong’s personal impatience with the endless wires and cords disrupting his sporty Australian lifestyle.
What started as a passion project, however, has grown into a $50 million dollar empire (after being acquired by Logitech) that’s championed choice global markets while trailing only the biggest names like Beats, LG and Bose in the USA. Not in Armstrong’s wildest dreams did he anticipate such a profound level of success, but now that he’s achieved it like all great entrepreneurs he’s committed to nurturing its growth.
Keeping that momentum strong is Jaybird’s latest endeavour: the Freedom Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds. The Freedoms make the right kind of improvements on previous models in terms of size and design while remaining true to the brand’s core standards of performance. Jaybird was kind enough to send us a pair of the Freedoms to test out for a few days and needless to say they delivered on their promise of unfettered audio in the face of our most sweat-inducing workouts, with the added benefits of an extended battery life and next-level customisation.
In addition to trying out the Freedoms we also had the chance to talk to Armstrong about his business, the Australian market and everything in between. Read on for highlights from our chat as well as a brief product review.
Jaybird is huge now but its beginnings couldn’t be simpler. It started in 2006 when Judd Armstrong began cleaning house on all the clutter in his life, and by “clutter” that basically meant wires and cords. Meanwhile Armstrong, an avid runner, began to notice an excess of clutter in the one arena that could stand to go wireless more than any other.
In Armstrong’s own words: “I always really liked a clean desk with wireless keyboard and wireless mouse and flat screen monitor. This was ten years ago when all that was the new thing. But when I would go out running I had wires hanging everywhere. I remember thinking, ‘Man, this is the place to be wireless, when you are out doing sport’. At the time, ten years ago, there was really no one doing anything in that area. I just thought this is an opportunity begging to be done, though I never really thought of turning it into such a big brand. I was just really going to just sell a few on Amazon and make my money back and I would have the headphones that I wanted really. But it turned out a whole bunch of people wanted the product and it just took off.”
Off and Running
Athletes know all about advantages and Jaybird had two of them: one was a solid head start on a nascent wireless earbuds market. The other was a move to cater exclusively to an audience of sporty types who loved great music to accompany their workouts. Needless to say, Jaybird had its fingers on the pulse of a healthy demand. In the meantime, Armstrong–the consummate athlete–kept at least one eye on the competition.
When asked about those initial advantages as well as some of the reasons behind Jaybird’s meteoric popularity, he replied, “In the first several years when we were starting the big names in headphones were Skull Candy and Beats and Bose. None of them were getting into wireless because they were really farming their success on wired headphones. There was just like a printing press for them and they weren’t really pushing the envelope on innovation. I think we kind of surprised everyone with the success that we were finding, because with active people they are a great audience for really well done, well-engineered wireless headphones. They’re passionate about their lifestyle so anything that can elevate their experience with sport and getting outdoors they just get so stoked on. And active people are typically the pacemakers in their circles and so people really listen to them.”
Success had arrived but as everyone knows it could be fleeting. Therefore Jaybird quickly learned to adapt, not just by outpacing the competition but by meeting the dynamic needs of their customer base as well. This joint path of in-house innovation and a focus on consumer demand led them to the new Freedom Wireless Bluetooth Buds.
Armstrong reflected, “It’s been interesting to see people move onto other features like audio transparency where you can mix outdoor sounds with the music, or true wireless where there is no cord between the buds. The trick to all of this of course is to nail it. You’ve got to get it perfect before you really launch a product and that’s what our first focus has always been. Not first to market necessarily but best to market and so even though you may see Jaybird do some of those things in the near future, this Freedom headphone product that you’ve got, there is nothing that comes anywhere close to the small size of this thing. To be truly wireless and have headphones smaller than even the Apple earbuds is pretty remarkable and these are going to be my favourite for quite a long time.”
Being that Armstrong is from Australia, it begged us to ask why Jaybird is only just now launching the Freedom Earbuds here on native soil.
He explained, “When we set up Jaybird I was actually living in the States and so it just happens to be the root of the legal entity and the staffing and everything. Plus it’s quite a large market so that just happened to be our first focus. Then we had a distributor here that never did anything with Jaybird unfortunately. We’re finally at a place now where we are ready to focus wholeheartedly on the Australian market and do it right. We’ve got JB Hifi ready to back us and they’ll be taking the product here shortly. You’ve got to have a good strong retailer behind you and so all the stars are aligned now. Australia is such a good market because it’s so similar to the American culture. Aussies are even more outdoors I think than Americans are. Especially, gyms are becoming very popular, running and biking; mountain biking is popular here, road biking is popular here. So those are all the hot areas we’ve found around the world that have worked out really well for the brand, so it makes sense. Aussies really dig music and getting out.”
Riding the Wave
After being acquired by Logitech Jaybird became a $50 Million company with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
It was when we asked Armstrong about the key to his continuing success that he let his true inner-Aussie shine: “I just got a bit of a surfing analogy for that one. You know when there’s a really good point and everyone is trying to get the hot point where it’s just breaking the best, and you’ve got like fifty guys out on that one point all fighting for the same wave? Then if you look around you can definitely find another place where the waves are breaking, a little less frequently but they are actually not too bad either–they are pretty good. You can either sit on the inside or just out from it a bit. I like to surf that way. I like to find a spot that not as many people are surfing and I get so many waves that way, whereas the guys out at the point don’t get as many because they’re battling for the same thing. I think with business if you can find a place where you can compete with a unique position where there’s not a lot of competition then you can normally do pretty well. If you can spend less than you earn and keep your overheads really low and match that with a unique position that allows you to compete with not too much competition you can stay in business forever. I think that is a pretty good formula for success. It has worked out pretty well.”
Yes. Yes it has, Judd Armstrong.
The Revolutionary Jaybird Freedom
In what is perfect timing for Jaybird, the recent release of the headphone jack-less iPhone 7 has seen demand for wireless earbuds at an all time high. What the Freedom Wireless Bluetooth Buds are touting is a stellar combination of style, functionality and customisation, and in our opinion the product definitely lived up to its namesake. While there was perhaps a brief adjustment period in terms of getting used to the unparalleled reduction in size, once these babies were secured in our eardrums we were ready to take on the world without anything getting in our way.
We’ll let Armstrong himself close us out by relaying what he personally thinks makes the Freedom shine: “Obviously size is our number one point because if you’ve got something bulky on your head it’s going to bump around and not really ever be secure. Also, the comply memory foam chips that you get in the box with these things, you can squeeze them down, put them in the ear and then they expand–they actually kind of mould to the shape of your ear. Overall the buds hold in beautifully, especially if you do the over ear style fit. There are also some fins on board that use the C shape bowl of the ear to secure them in as well–those are pretty good too. And the sound is remarkable. What comes out of these headphones given the size is unreal.”
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