Local innovators part of electronics trade show
A First World family feud and a lights-out epiphany in Central America resulted in two of this year’s most talked-about launches at the 2014 International CES, the world’s largest consumer electronics trade show, held each January in Las Vegas.
For many of the show’s big-name exhibitors, their new product lines were the result of years of market research, industry analysis and research and development. Their booths at the 2-million-square-foot annual geekstravaganza occupied vast swathes of the city’s convention center last week, and the firms rented entire ballrooms in area hotels to convert to meeting space for wheeling and dealing.
But two local small businesses that set up booths for the first time this year took a different approach to product creation: personal necessity.
Newport Beach-based Stellé Audio Couture showed off its line of fashion-forward speakers created to marry form and function, while Fountain Valley’s ZeroHour Innovations launched an innovative, tactical-grade flashlight with integrated dual USB battery backup.
Stellé housed itself in the show’s lifestyle-focused iLounge Pavilion, while ZeroHour set up in the Eureka Park area, dedicated to displaying the hottest new concepts by up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
Beauty in the details
Stellé Chief Executive Anna Perelman’s idea was simple: Figure out a way to get husband Wayne Ludlum’s large, clunky black speakers out of the living room.
Rather than launch an all-out offensive against Ludlum, an audiophile and established speaker designer, she chose to work with him to develop a speaker that joins on-trend aesthetics with high-end acoustics — one that looks as good as it sounds. .
“As beautiful as the design is, if they take it home, and it doesn’t sound great, then it’s going to end up gathering dust,” Ludlum said.
The company showcased its two wireless speaker designs: the minimalist Audio Pillar and the Audio Clutch, which resembles a handbag. Both won acclaim at the prestigious CES Innovations 2014 Design and Engineering Awards.
“It was really exciting as a new company to win for both our products,” Perelman said. “The show’s been really, really great. We made a point of really differentiating ourselves from a design perspective, and also in the design of our booth, and people have been really positive and really complimentary. The feedback’s been amazing.”
Her husband added, “We had one of the top home designers and interior designers in the country come by and say, ‘We have been looking for this.’”
Stellé focuses on designing female-oriented luxury speakers that blend into the environment, or become art objects in their own right, while still boasting the premium sound quality coveted by men and women. It is housed in Newport’s Cannery area, which the pair said influences their day-to-day work.
“My husband and I started the company together, and we both wanted to be somewhere that inspired us,” Perelman said. “We’re in a section that has a lot of artists, so from a creative perspective, that is great.”
The company has partnered with top lifestyle designer Dwell Studio, and future design and retail partnerships are due to be announced. Dwell founder and creative director Christiane Lemieux even designed Stellé's sleek CES booth.
Perelman noted that although women outspend men on consumer electronics and make the majority of a home’s purchasing decisions, few such products cater to their aesthetic.
“Our focus is always going to be on the female consumer,” she said.
Designed to fit into a room without being obtrusive, Stellé's pillar speaker is friendly to technophobes, requiring just 10 seconds to connect, with no manual required. It also doubles as a speakerphone. The battery lasts 15 hours before needing to be plugged back in. The pillar is available in five colors for $349 and two Dwell patterns for $399.
The pillar design is so subtle that booth visitors scoured the space for the source of the music they heard, even lifting a decorative sea urchin off a table to see if a speaker was hidden underneath.
The $349 clutch version, a statement piece available in several colors and finishes, is the younger sister to the sedate pillar. It demands attention, and often turned the heads of zombified, CES-trudging women, even inducing squeals and selfies.
“It sort of combines the fantasy of fashion and the functionality of technology,” Perelman said.
Stellé products can be found locally at Adrift, 1400 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, or at stelleaudio.com.
Born from a need
For ZeroHour co-founders Amy Truong and Aaron Son, a trip to Central America in the fall of 2012 saw many instances in which they were literally left in the dark, and without the ability to charge their mobile devices.
“We said that when we got back to the United States, we should find a charging flashlight for our next trip,” said Truong, a Costa Mesa resident.
They found that such an item didn’t exist. Luckily for Truong and Son, they already operated an LED company, so they told their manufacturer about their idea.
ZeroHour Innovations launched in January 2013, with the goal of reinventing outdoor and safety gear with modern technology. The next few months were spent developing a working prototype, which naturally was run over by a car to test its strength, before launching a Kickstarter campaign seeking $100,000. The Kickstarter deal closed Dec. 23, well over its goal, with more than 400 backers. .
ZeroHour saw its public debut at CES, where passersby quickly were drawn to the hybrid flashlight and charger — as well as Truong and Son’s obvious excitement and pride in their product.
“We took the best features of a flashlight,” Truong began, before Son jumped in.
“It needed to be made out of aircraft aluminum,” he said.
“The lumens were very important too,” Truong continued.
“So we made a few sketches and settled on a sleek design,” Son added.
Features like a USB battery backup, the ability to replace the rechargeable battery, a waterproof cap, overcharge protection, a rugged bezel and a carabiner cap option were all added with the goal of offering modularity. The battery can even be removed to insert keys or other small valuables into a small waterproof tube, perfect for going to the beach.
The flashlight alone is $129.99, and the modular packages with battery backup range from $174.99 to $199.99.
Marketing representative John Mullins joined Son and Truong at CES, where they spent a packed week courting would-be distributors and other interested parties.
“To be here with it, and to see people pick it up, play with it, has been amazing,” Mullins said. “Kickstarter backers have even come by to see what they have pledged for, and they get all excited about it. We just love talking to people, and we’re so complimented by how enthusiastic they all are. For me, on the personal side, the backers’ enthusiasm has been one of the better experiences of CES.”
Son agreed that attending the show had been beneficial.
“It’s tiring,” he said. “It’s been hard work, but we have met people in the industry that we can’t meet anywhere else.”
Truong added, “It really gave us confirmation that this is a product that everybody wants.”
The trio said their biggest regret was not bringing extra staff to give them time to explore other vendors. They also learned not to trust the provided wireless connection; the first night of the show saw them making a run to Radio Shack.
But all the unexpected surprises were well worth it, they said. Distributors already have asked them whether they can provide 1,000 units immediately, and the group arrived back at their hotel each night with a stack of new business cards.
Since the show, ZeroHour already has seen orders on its website, which Son attributed to CES traffic.
“Our main goal is to get ZeroHour nationwide,” Truong said. “We’re just about covered on every continent right now, thanks to this week. Amazon approached us and even retail stores. Competitors were scoping us too.”
“We’ve had multiple Filipino distributors want to buy for very clear reasons now,” Mullins said, referring to the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in November.
They’ve also heard from distributors in Denmark, Sweden and Dubai, among many others like airplane pilots, the military and public safety departments. Representatives from Texas even tried to lure their company there.
“They gave us a decently hard sell,” Mullins said with a laugh, also mentioning hunters from Texas who saw other applications for the flashlight. “Things you don’t do in California,” he said he was told.
For more information on ZeroHour, visit zerohourxd.com.