The Future Is Now: “We are building custom fit earphones” With Jonah Staw, Intrapreneur & Head of Ultimate Ears Custom Earphones and Fotis Georgiadis

We are building custom fit earphones. This is a big technical challenge because every ear is unique. As we rely on voice controls more and more, custom fit earphones will become as necessary as prescription glasses–not only is your ear shape unique, but so is what you hear. Jonah Staw is a globally recognized executive, innovator […]

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We are building custom fit earphones. This is a big technical challenge because every ear is unique. As we rely on voice controls more and more, custom fit earphones will become as necessary as prescription glasses–not only is your ear shape unique, but so is what you hear.

Jonah Staw is a globally recognized executive, innovator and entrepreneur. He is currently the President of a disruptive new business group at Logitech. Additionally, Jonah serves on the Board of Directors of Lands’ End (Nasdaq, LE) and is the Chairman of S.E.E., an advisory group focused on disruptive strategies, product innovation, brand development, marketing, business launch, and multi-channel retailing. 

Prior to joining Logitech, Jonah was acting as a Business Unit President at Sears Holdings, where he led and started a variety of businesses inside the company. He launched brands with notable talent including Adam Levine and Nicki Minaj, as well as ran the footwear business for the corporation. In 2003, Jonah co-founded LittleMissMatched and directed the company as Chairman and CEO for seven years of extraordinary growth. Prior to that, Jonah was a Director & Strategist at frog design, developing disruptive strategies for Fortune 500 companies including Disney, Yahoo, Nextel, Target and Chrysler. Jonah received a Bachelor of Arts in History of Art and Architecture from Brown University.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I believe if you take calculated risks and are truly passionate about what you do daily, you will be afforded amazing opportunities. But those opportunities only come if you make a concerted effort to engage and open yourself up to the world.

That’s how I landed my current position as Intrapreneur and Head of Ultimate Ears Custom Earphones, which is a small group inside of Logitech. Two years ago, I was in line for coffee and I introduced myself to the guy waiting in front of me. Turns out he was Bracken Darrell, Logitech’s CEO. We hit it off immediately, and a few weeks later he offered me the position. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t taken the risk to proactively talk to a man waiting for a cappuccino and to be open and willing to explore something new and certainly unplanned.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I was 27 years old, working for a product design firm, and found my way to the Chief Marketing Officer of Target — a big get for me at the time. As I entered his office, he turned to me and said, “Stop. Do you have an MBA?” My heart skipped a beat. I didn’t have an MBA — instead I had a degree in the History of Art and Architecture, a fact that I reluctantly admitted. He replied with a huge grin, “Great, I don’t let people in my office with MBAs.” I passed his first test, and in return he gave me a chance to participate in his building one of America’s great brands.

Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

We are building custom fit earphones. This is a big technical challenge because every ear is unique. As we rely on voice controls more and more, custom fit earphones will become as necessary as prescription glasses–not only is your ear shape unique, but so is what you hear.

How do you think this might change the world?

My hope is that we can live much more naturally and intuitively than we do today constantly staring at our smartphones. Earphones paired with voice commands will deliver much of the content that we read on screens today. This should result in all of us being more present.

Can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

If this technology can ultimately reduce screen time, then I don’t see drawbacks.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

We have spent more than a year developing technologies so that you can, with a smartphone, get measured for custom earphones in your living room in only 10 minutes. Before, you had to visit a doctor’s office to have foam injected into your ear — certainly not a scalable or consumer friendly experience. Our new at-home fitting is a huge breakthrough and was the result of acquiring a company and integrating a variety of advanced technologies.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

We know consumers want earphones with premium sound and comfort, noise isolation, and, above all, ones that don’t fall out. Our product delivers this, but most people aren’t yet aware that custom earphones even exist. We now need to tell the world.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

Traditional earphones are easily available at any consumer electronics store. There are many, many choices, and deciding which to buy can be daunting. But none of those earphones are built specifically for a person’s individual ear shape. Because ours offers custom fit, we have decided to market them on our own website ( and in exclusive high-end apparel retailers. These retailers have experience selling bespoke suits, so fitting a customer for earphones is intuitive in this venue.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

In college, I was fascinated with architecture. I was writing a college paper about a particular building designed by an iconic architect named Philip Johnson, who designed many recognizable New York skyscrapers. I reached out to his office to see if I could interview him. His assistant declined my request. I kept at it, calling multiple times a day until one day, she said, “Yes, Jonah, I have Mr. Johnson on the line ready to speak to you.” The call lead to a meeting at his offices, and he ended up finding me an amazing internship at a cutting-edge architecture magazine. I am eternally grateful to Mr. Johnson and have never forgotten his generosity in landing me my first real job.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I try to bring passion to each of my entrepreneurial efforts and hope that I inspire passion in the consumers that engage with my products. For me at Ultimate Ears, it is still early days. We have just launched our consumer product, we are finding our footing and defining who we are iteratively. I can assure you though, for us to be successful we will need to spark an emotion and deliver true goodness, or our customers won’t be satisfied — and neither will I.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1) People do what they want to do, not what I want them to do.

It’s next to impossible to get people to do things well on a sustained basis, if they don’t want to do them. So, I’ve seen success in aligning my existing teams’ interests with things that need to be done, and I’ve tried to hire people that are truly passionate about the jobs they are doing.

2) Busy doesn’t mean effective

A few years ago, I was asked at the beginning of a meeting, “Are you busy, or are you effective?” I pride myself on being highly effective today, but I wish I had been asked this question early in my career.

3) Only learn what you want to do

In my first job out of college, my boss took me to lunch and gave me one piece of advice. “Don’t learn anything you don’t want to do.” Why? Because if you know how to do it, you will end up doing it — possibly for your entire career.

4) Make room for the fun stuff

Early in my career, my college friends invited me to Tunisia. I didn’t go because of work. I have always regretted missing this event, but I can’t remember why I had to stay Boston. Because of this, I now embrace the fun whenever I can.

5) Define your own success

Too often success is defined by materiality — how much you have and how much more (or less) you have than those around you. I have learned that ultimately this doesn’t drive my happiness. I wish I had defined my own view of success sooner.

You are a person of great influence. 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. 🙂

Music is primal — if there is one thing that brings people together, it is music. I know that our earphones deliver a truly sensory experience and people using them love discovering elements of their favorite music they never have heard before. If I can play a part in helping people have moments of joy, that will be wonderful.

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