Balance in life matters. I can get absorbed with work. 18 hour days are not unusual. This is not an effective approach to work, family, or life. I would find that toward the end of those long days I was becoming less and less effective. I would forget what I was doing from one minute to the next. Often, I would have to re-do things I had done at the end of an 18 hour day the next morning. Taking more time for my family and having fun has proven to be a very effective way to get more done at the office. It also makes the work I am doing more rewarding. I can see the benefits when I am able to spend time with those I love.
KJ Robinson is a musician and knows that music can create powerful and memorable experiences (he often turns on music and breaks into silly dances with his son Eli and daughter Kylie.) KJ thought there has to be a fun way to take music with you wherever you go, to help enable those impromptu moments. He wanted something fun, endearing, portable, and it had to have great sound quality. He wanted something fun, endearing, portable, and it had to have great sound quality. While searching for a creative idea to make this happen — inspiration struck. It came in the form of a four-legged friend — Shadow, the family dog. Shadow strolled into KJ’s office while he was listening to music and a eureka moment struck — why not combine a love for pets with musical fun through Bluetooth speakers. My Audio Pets were born and the musical adventure began. My Audio Pets resonated with people immediately and have continued to amass ardent fans ever since.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I have always been involved with the Arts and Music: I played in bands in High School and College; I have written multiple plays and musicals; I have played in church bands and creative teams for most of my adult life. I believe in the power of music. Music can motivate, inspire, encourage, calm, and bring real joy in life. I love making and sharing music.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah-ha” moment with us?
I wanted a way to make music more accessible. I actually thought about doing a line of instruments at first, but couldn’t find the right niche for that. I thought it would be cool to have a small portable speaker that actually sounded good, but there are so many speakers, how do you do something fun and different with that? As I was thinking about this, my dog Shadow (Black Labradoodle) came into my office. I was thinking about how much I love music and how much I love my dog and the eureka moment struck . . . My Audio Pet was born.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I believe any success I have had in life is because my wife believed I could. I shared my idea with her and she immediately said: “let’s go for it.” We went all in. We put every penny we had into creating My Audio Pets. If it failed we still had each other, and we both agreed that was enough. Sometimes in life, you just have to go for it and in this case, we did. It has been an awesome ride.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
First, do you believe in the idea, really believe in it? Second, do you have the support of those around you? If the answer to these two is yes, then what are you waiting for? Find a way to make it a reality. Life is short. I spent 17 years in the banking industry. It paid the bills but didn’t bring any real fulfillment. I am now sharing the joy of music through tiny animal shaped speakers and I couldn’t be happier. I work a lot more now but enjoy it so much more.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I refuse to be stagnant or rest on what may have worked yesterday. I am always asking how can we make this better? What can we do to enhance the experience to share more joy? When the focus is on being better and exercising creativity there is not time enough for dread or boredom. I am energized by the creative process and we are ALWAYS in that mode. I guess my advice would be — don’t stop dreaming, don’t stop creating. On a more practical side, delegate and outsource. There are things that have to get done that are tedious and not very fulfilling for me. There are others, however, who find what I think of as tedious as motivational. Find people who are strong where you are weak and hand those tasks to them.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I like that I’m the boss. The direction and ultimately the success of the company is up to me. This is also what I don’t like. If it all comes tumbling down tomorrow that is on me too. That is motivation to approach every day, and every decision, with the best that I can. I spend a lot of time in prayer and meditation about the directions we as a company should take. I also encourage and value feedback from those I trust.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
The many different hats I have to wear as a small business owner: Product designer, PR, Marketing, Sales, Accounting, Buyer, Purchasing Officer, Customs Broker, Auditor, Human Resources, etc. I really didn’t understand all the roles I would have to take on when I first started this.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
Sure, I am concerned about revenue coming in sometimes and making sure there is enough for me and the rest of the team to take care of our families. When those feelings creep in, I just ask myself, do you still believe in what you are doing? The answer is yes.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I used to put my cellphone number on the packing slips that went in the boxes of My Audio Pets shipped to customers. A 3 AM drunk call filled with profanity about not being able to get their Penguin to dance made me rethink that. We want to be accessible as a company, but that was being too accessible . . .
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
Wow, there are a lot of people that inspire me. I guess a go-to for me is John C. Maxwell. He said, “Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” He challenges me to look at myself and ask the tough questions about who I am and what kind of influence am I having on others.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
We give to charity and volunteer our time to help others. We share the joy and power of music through our speakers. We encourage families to interact through our apps and books, and we get to hear some pretty amazing stories from others about the impact our products are having. As an example, we had a mom write to us a while back. She told us her son was autistic and did not interact much with the family. She bought him a Power Pup My Audio Pet Bluetooth speaker because she thought they were cute and she wanted to see what would happen. She said, the first day she placed it on the coffee table and started to play music. Her son glanced at the speaker but that was about it. The second day when she played music from her My Audio Pet, she saw her son looking at it more and more. By the third day, she said her son was starting to pick it up and play with it while it played music. By the 4th day her son was dancing with the My Audio Pet and by the 5th day her son was dancing with her as he held the My Audio Pet. She wrote to thank us for providing a medium that allowed her, for the first time, to dance with her son. We were thrilled. If that is all that we had accomplished as a company, we felt that all of our efforts would have been worth it.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- How many new skills I would have to learn and develop. I am not a graphic designer, or should I say, I wasn’t a graphic designer. I have found that there are a lot of new things I have to dive into. As a small business owner, I am now wearing hats that I didn’t even know existed before I started. Everything from licensing to bookkeeping, from video creation to Facebook pixels. I knew there would be a lot to learn, but really I had no idea how much I would have to learn and stretch.
- Be faster about letting the wrong people go. I am by nature a very loyal person and consider employees a part of the family. Thus, even when I know we have the wrong person in a role, I have found it hard to let them go. We had a guy I hired as our webmaster — I really liked him personally. A really sincere and happy guy. He brought a lot of smiles to the office, but I found that he wasn’t great at his job. I was actually spending 30% of my time cleaning up after him. He was frustrated because the tasks he was assigned were outside of his comfort zone and skillset, and I was frustrated because things weren’t getting done. It was a case of a great person, just not in the right role. By keeping him in that role, I was hurting him and our company. He was in a position that was not fulfilling, and I was wasting time doing things I paid someone else to do. I learned that the kinder and wiser thing to do was to free him up to find a role that better fit him and his goals in life. He is now happier and I am spending less time doing things that I pay someone else to do. I knew the right thing to do was to move on, but it was hard for me to pull that trigger.
- Don’t be afraid to outsource. I tried to control and do too much early on. I wanted all positions and services in-house. I learned that a better model for us was to lean into other companies that specialized in specific services. For instance, we were struggling trying to keep up with all the state tax laws as it related to eCommerce. We finally decided to outsource this and it actually freed up almost 20 hours a week for the team member who had been handling that. It was actually a lot cheaper, more efficient, and less painful to outsource this.
- Not every idea is a winner. My favorite part of the job is to be creative and come up with new ideas or projects. It took me a while to learn to let go of ideas that just weren’t getting traction or positive feedback from others. I am not saying that you don’t have to sometimes keep pushing till others catch the vision, but you have to know when to let go.
- Balance in life matters. I can get absorbed with work. 18 hour days are not unusual. This is not an effective approach to work, family, or life. I would find that toward the end of those long days I was becoming less and less effective. I would forget what I was doing from one minute to the next. Often, I would have to re-do things I had done at the end of an 18 hour day the next morning. Taking more time for my family and having fun has proven to be a very effective way to get more done at the office. It also makes the work I am doing more rewarding. I can see the benefits when I am able to spend time with those I love.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Choose kindness always. Whether it is in traffic, or on a call with an upset customer, an employee that made a mistake, or even a vendor that may have dropped the ball on something. Choose kindness. It makes the whole environment you are in a much better place, and if others pass it on, maybe your whole community, and from there maybe your state, your country . . . your world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is a guiding principle that allows me to know how I should and will respond in every situation. I have a default response in every situation, how would I want to be treated in this scenario, and then do that. It makes interactions so much easier and stops me from responding in ways I may regret later. This isn’t to say you don’t require excellence or don’t need to hold people accountable. I want others to expect that from me and so I do from them, but it allows for grace where it is needed. Because I want that too when I fall short.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Oprah Winfrey picked us twice as one of her favorite things. I would love to sit down with her and just say thank you and let her know what that meant to us, our team, and our families. She has been such a blessing to us and I have thanked her in writing and in tokens of appreciation sent, but would love the chance to meet her face to face, give her a hug and say thank you. Also, if I’m dreaming, Elon Musk. What an incredible opportunity it would be to meet with someone who is dreaming of creating the future.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.