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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 23, 2018 8 months ago

Tech startup blows past deadline, leaving miffed investors

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Despite obstacles, Sarasota entrepreneur says he's '100% committed to delivering' the product.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Many tech entrepreneurs would jump at this opportunity: raise nearly $200,000 for a new product, with the money coming in furiously in small batches from a devoted fan base.

But Sarasota entrepreneur Sean Murray has been there and, while that flurry of funds sounds nice, his experience, so far, is more cautionary tale than success story.

The product behind the saga is called Hub by ekko. It’s a high fidelity, Wi-Fi audio hub for headphones and speakers that allows uses to instantly share wireless audio with others. The system, said Murray when he first pitched the product on online crowdfunding sources, is powerful enough for a discerning audiophile and simple enough for a novice to enjoy.

Some 1,000 people agreed.  That’s how many flooded Hub by ekko’s Kickstarter campaign in March 2016. Murray and his team banked $100,000 in less than a week, $180,000 within two months. The campaign was so successful, it was in the top 2% of tech product launches ever on Kickstarter, and Hub by ekko generated plenty of positive press on tech blogs. “The most intriguing multi-room audio we’ve seen since Sonos,” boasted one review on TechHive. 

The celebratory mood was short-lived.

Turns out, says Murray in a recent interview, the technology to make the switchboard for the system was much harder than he anticipated. One roadblock led to another obstacle. At one point they switched directions and partners. “This was tougher than we thought,” Murray tells Coffee Talk.

Hub by ekko is designed to be a high fidelity, Wi-Fi audio hub for headphones and speakers that allows uses to instantly share wireless audio with others.

That’s not unusual when bringing new tech to market. But with hungry investors, many who spent $219 or more in pre-product payments, the pressure was on.

Then Murray compounded a tough situation with what he now admits was a big mistake: he basically went dark on in Hub by ekko’s investor-pledge community. “My communication with them has been poor,” says Murray. “I’ll admit that.”

“My communication with (investors) has been poor. I’ll admit that.” Sean Murray, Hub by ekko

Poor enough that four investors, in the summer of 2017, filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau against the entity behind the invention, North Port-based Ekko Audio LLC.

The timeline worked against Murray: The company’s Kickstarter campaign promised the product in the spring of 2017. When the deadline came, Ekko Audio posted an extension — per Kickstarter rules. Then they missed that deadline. Then they stopped communicating with investors.

In the meantime, investors who believed they were jilted utilized social media to fight back. One investor formed a Facebook page titled “Ekko Audio Customer Group: A discussion group for customers united in their desire for a refund from Ekko Audio LLC.”

Murray, in a March 15 interview, after the Business Observer received four complaints about Hub by ekko, says he feels bad about both the delay and lack of communication. “This is other people’s money,” he says, “and I respect that.”He adds that he’s hopeful he can salvage the situation. He and his partners plan to send out an investor update on Kickstarter by the end of March. That note, he says, will include information about the company’s new, revised speaker system — plus a free gift for now super-patient investors.

“We are 100% committed to delivering this product," says Murray "This will be a success story.”

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