As many of you know I worked for digital music startup Sonos for nine years. I am now a proud shareholder and also use the product all day, every day, and yes, we bring it with us on vacation. I watched Sonos grow from an idea and a prototype to something people could use, and over time to something everyone wanted. Of course creating a new category isn’t an overnight thing and I can tell you my first 7 years at Sonos I constantly had to explain to people what we did because nobody had ever heard of it.
While Sonos was busy focusing on customers who were going digital and moving to streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, traditional manufacturers like Bose and Sony were still not able to make the connection. They looked at the trend and thought, just add a dock. Which worked at first at the iPod was gaining popularity. Then something happened, suddenly your music player became your phone. A dock didn’t make sense any more.
Here’s the problem for these guys. Big companies like Bose are used to doing things a certain way. They are a machine that has been highly refined and tuned over the years to do exactly what they do. Moving forward – no problems, changing course…not quite as easy. The same turned-out to be true for Sony, Harmon Kardon, and many more. The consumer was changing but all they could think of is, how can we allow the consumer to connect their new device to our old hardware.
You know that big black box sitting in your living room connected to your speakers? Yes, the one with all the wires hanging in the back of it? Sonos saw the death of that long before anyone else did. The problem was back then it was still early and we all sounded like crazy people, now it’s actually happening.
I can still remember our first year at CES, I think it was back in 2005. We were scouring the show-floor looking for a competitor, thinking that someone else had to be launching something incredibly similar that year. Nobody. I can still remember one of our founders saying, “It’s not bad if someone else is here doing something incredibly similar, you need more than one company to build a category.” This turned-out to be incredibly true as the early days were hard since nobody really believed in this idea of people streaming music and not physically owning their content.
Now I think just about every company has seen the writing on the wall, it’s not just that the CD is dead, it’s owning the content that is dead. We live in an on-demand, cloud loving world. We don’t download our movies or TV shows we stream them, and the same is true for music. Last year is the first time we’ve actually seen a decline in digital downloads, and this is just the beginning.
So, a decade after Sonos created the category, it is filling-out, and quickly as the “Sonos-killers” are making big news this year at CES. Who are the challengers that are now entering the category? I think you’ve probably heard of all of them – Samsung, LG, and Pure to name a few. Will any of these guys unseat Sonos as the champ? Well like I said and probably do legally have to say, I am a shareholder so of course I am very bullish but I do think it’s going to be a tough task for the competitors.
Here’s why and it’s a pretty simple reason. All of these other companies do something else or started by doing something else. This isn’t their core focus, instead it’s a division, a team, a department, something that runs alongside all the other things they are doing, you know, their core business. Sonos’ core business since day one has been building an amazing wireless multi-room music system, built for how people listen to music now, in 2014. The only difference is, the realized people would be doing this back in 2001.
All this being said I am of course for healthy competition and look forward to trying out all of these products myself. From competition comes great innovation and I’m all for that, I just know that Sonos has made something very special and it’s going to be hard for a company that doesn’t put all of their focus on this one product to compete. That’s my two cents, what do you think?