There are tons of different headphone companies making innovative strides in the music industry, but family-run startup Axel Audio—which combines customizable design with audio technology—is the cool new kid on the block.
“My dad came up with this idea a couple years ago to combine high-quality sound with beautiful aesthetics,” says Samantha Oh, a co-founder at age 23, of the company’s roots. Axel launched a Kickstarter project in May 2015 to get their vision off the ground, with a team that includes dad Sam Oh, daughter Samantha, brother Kevin Oh, and cousin Caitlin Seo. Within four months, they raised enough funds to manufacture and push out the products into market.
The goal was to break limitations and create individual sound experiences. “Everyone listens to music differently,” says Oh. “Everyone is unique, and we want to create models that cater to how people listen.”
The company does this with a web app; users import Spotify playlists, and the app analyzes listening behavior and matches listening preferences to one of Axel’s Soundscapes—Core, Deep, and Pure. These soundscapes are best described as engineered systems, each with their own story, shape, and sound, which changes based on the listener’s preferences. The sound engineering was perfected by Samantha’s brother, Kevin Oh, who K-pop fans may know as the recent winner of the popular Korean audition program Super Star K.
Hard work and dedication is at the core of the company. “Going through Kickstarter, we didn’t sleep for the entire month,” says Oh. “We worked, we ate dinner, and we continued working at night.” Every family member has his or her own point of view on how to make the business successful, but at the end of the day, family is the most important thing. “We focus on different roles and how to work with each other,” she says. “We’re all passionate about it because it’s personal. We get rid of our pride, past perceptions, and become better versions of ourselves.”
Working with family isn’t always easy: “We have one another’s best interest at heart, and know that we’re never going to say anything to intentionally hurt one another,” says Caitlin, Samantha’s cousin who manages Axel’s event planning and customer relations. “The way we work together is so much more than little moments of annoyance.”
Both Oh and Seo take on a very hands-on approach when it comes to operating the business. They network with other entrepreneurs and meet local musicians and up-and-coming artists. “We like sitting at coffee shops, talking to them, and getting to know them. We vibe off of their energy,” says Oh. And like any startup, there’s never a typical day. “You can imagine anything from going to Home Depot to buy spray paint to a corporate meeting at Tumblr,” says Seo .
Oh believes mastering the startup business is about marrying the creative with the right business acumen. “Coming from immigrant parents, we saw our parents put in the hours and hard work, says Oh, who believes that the keys to making a company sustainable and profitable are being malleable and resourceful—and not getting caught up in the vision. “Young people might have a grand vision, but you have to be willing to go door to door and sell your product.”
Photos Courtesy of Axel Audio