Our Journey - A long and Winding Road For Sure!
Bob of Aether Audio/SP Technology here - FINALLY... back again, older, MUCH wiser and only just a bit worse for wear. Licking my wounds and coming out of the shadows has taken a good decade, and a fairly tough one at that... but by the Grace of God we survived. For those that might be wondering why I am writing this now, the following is being offered to help answer the questions of those along the way that have been concerned and/or curios. For the rest, take it all as a good example of just what a nightmare something seemingly as simple as a dream of starting your own business can become, IF you don't do your homework and develop the right plan and/or make CERTAIN that you have the RIGHT people involved.
Be forewarned of nice men that come out of "nowhere" waving large sums of money about and wanting to "help" you grow or get your business started. While they may be fine you should always check them out first. Even though they may be genuinely nice and well-intending people, that doesn't mean they are all that they present themselves or "seem" to be. That's not even implying that such a person would intentionally be trying to hide anything either. It's just that your view of what are reasonable risks may be different than theirs. If you are solely dependent on them to get your business established and self-supporting, if their finances should take a big hit that is severe enough to affect their ability to follow through with their commitments to you, then that could spell the death of everything before you ever manage to get on your feet.
So, if nothing else, DEMAND a personal financial statement before you climb into bed together. Maybe the wedding night is fine for certain "surprises," but when it comes to business you want FULL DISCLOSURE FIRST to see what they are really "packing." In that case "coming up short" can be a lot more than just a "disappointment." Rather, it can be LETHAL.
In addition, while it may seem like a nice, "rosy" idea of having your immediate family members involved and working beside you on a daily basis (or whatever), you MUST remember that you are running a BUSINESS and not a charity or country club. "Snowflakes" & "Spoiled brats" need not apply. That said, if you want to succeed you MUST make certain that no matter WHO you have working with and/or for you, that person or persons MUST be qualified to do the job, have a GOOD work-ethic and be trustworthy. If, as a consequence of extreme pressure you are forced to involve a family member that is not up to the task, WHATEVER YOU DO - DO NOT ALLOW YOURSELF TO BECOME DEPENDENT ON THEM IN ANY WAY OR YOU WILL LIVE TO RUE THE DAY!!!
Remember, assuming it's your dream then you are the BOSS and "familiarity breeds contempt," so you will be highly vulnerable if family members have a mindset of taking advantage of the situation = YOU. On the one hand you will discover that it is next to impossible to find somebody that will be as hard-working and committed as a member of your own family. On the other you'll seldom find anybody that will be quite as effective at destroying your company and your dreams than a family member that does not have a good work ethic, is not fit for the task and /or is not mature enough to handle all of the responsibilities. You've been warned.
First we lost pretty much all of our shop equipment and ton of other personal stuff when the landlord evicted us from our facility where we had been building the SP Tech speakers. The guy locked me out of the building and then sent his "goons" in to clear everything out, which they did by either throwing it all in one big dumpster to be hauled to the junkyard, or burning it (whatever would burn) in another - and all in less than 2 days. I lost audio gear, test gear, books & other reference materials, the first prototype speakers I ever built... you name it - all gone except for the heavy woodworking equipment.
Then a year after that the IRS came after me for back employment (withholding) taxes (Form 941) to the tune of over $11K. Hey, being president I signed the forms so "tag" I'm it. The only "good" thing about that was the fact that the withholding taxes that were due were mostly for my and my wife's payroll. At least I had the foresight of making us employees of SP Tech, which then saved our butts by making it possible to draw Unemployment Insurance after SP Tech went down.
So, had I not been an employee, then the $11K was money we would have had to pay in anyway from being self-employed, and then after it all went to hell I wouldn't have been able to collect Unemployment. Still, we no had no more than started getting back on our feet working for NuForce when the lady from the IRS came a knocking on the door. Actually, she was quite nice about it all - at least as nice as anybody can be when they're about to take a big bite out of your butt.
Anyway, speaking of the shop, after being evicted I just managed to avoid being sued by the landlord for back rent by agreeing to transfer all of that equipment to him. Now I wasn't the guy with the big investment money pushing for new little SP Tech to rent the HUGE 10,000 sq. ft. place at $1.6K per month, but seeing I was the president and located in the USA, I WAS the guy that had to sign the lease in the name of the company. So, then as part of the "deal" (with the landlord's legal gun to my head) I had to take pictures of the CNC and everything that was left that hadn't been thrown out, Photoshop them and then help him sell it all on an Internet woodworking equipment action site. Talk about eating humble pie...
Then 5 years after that (due to Optoma NuForce employment fiasco below) we had to sell our country home and move back into the old "barn" of a rental house we had in town. Before that though we had over $10K in belongings stolen by a family member that was hooked on heroin. Then while we were in the process of moving back into the rental home in town we had another $10K+ of stuff like my Husqvarna 48" lawn tractor, a 5.5KW Generac backup power generator and other tools stolen one night when we were staying in the house in town. We had left the heavy stuff for last, but somebody had the nerve to drive down the 500 foot driveway with a trailer and haul off all the stuff right under the noses of the neighbors. It wouldn't have been so bad if the stuff had all been paid for, but we put it on credit cards and now we're still paying for it to this day. Oh yeah, and the SCAM outfit FARMERS INSURANCE Company refused to cover the claim because we weren't specifically "living" in the country home when the theft occurred. So that made what? At least Time #3 where we lost our asses due to no fault of our own?
Some of our old friends/customers are aware of the above, but obviously most wouldn't be. So yeah... the end of old SP Technology Loudspeakers, Inc. and my failed subsequent attempt at restarting (alone) under the banner of Aether Audio was a period of much upheaval and chaos for us, and a big disappointment for a handful of our customers at the time too.
Moving On (but getting almost nowhere):
What most don't know though is that former SP Tech was a corporation with several (4) stakeholders, two others of which being equal to myself in percentage of ownership. The hardest part of the whole mess was that after the walls came crashing down and the dust settled, I was the only guy left standing at the scene of the tragedy. Everybody else had either scattered or were already far away across the Atlantic (Denmark) and in near-ruins themselves. So... "Tag" I was "it" and left to do what I could to try and clean up the mess by myself. Unfortunately, the fall of SP Tech brought everybody involved down along with it, none the least of which was myself. For the longest time it was all I could manage just to keep the mortgage paid and dodge the bankruptcy bullet.
Anyway, after struggling for 6 months collecting unemployment after SP Tech/Aether Audio went down, as fate (or Divine providence) would have it, the "Black Box," which was my second Aether Audio product (after the Spirit-1 loudspeakers) became my saving grace. While I was (ahem) receiving my hard-earned and paid for "benefits" from the State of Indiana, I came up with and then started building (myself) and selling the little "gizmo" to the guys on the AudioCircle forum. The thing turned out to be a pretty big hit so I got to thinking "At this rate it won't be long before I won't be able to keep up with the orders." I needed help building them, so not knowing where else to turn I contacted my friends Jason Lim & Casey Ng of NuForce to see if they could help by having their vendor in Taiwan build them for me. I had gotten to know them both pretty well after working under SP Tech with them. A couple of years prior we had designed and built the NuForce S-9 Loudspeakers for them, so I crossed my fingers that they could find a way to help.
OK, so I called Jason and he told me to send him a pair of the Black Boxes and that they would evaluate them. Not long after he called me back and said that NuForce would like to market them and that they could compensate me with royalties and such. Alternatively, knowing that I was out of a job Jason suggested that since NuForce needed a Technical Support Manager, that maybe instead of paying me royalties that I might just want to come and work for them full time. In the mean time the "Black Box" became (offering a more "modest" level of performance) the NuForce Magic Cube.
Starting in the fall of 2009 I continued on with them until they closed their doors in the fall of 2014. Along the way I ended up being appointed as NuForce's Technical Marketing Manager and was always one of their Technical Consultants along the way. Early on in the fall of 2009 I guess I proved my technical knowledge and "mettle," as at that time they had just come out with their upgrade from Version 2 (v2) of the Ref-9s to that of the "Version 3" (v3) and there was a problem. The new v3s were starting to fail out in the field in large numbers and were even damaging customers' speakers. So, Casey had me take a look at them and by the time I was done I had managed to develop a new Output Zobel Filter that remedied the problem. So, if you've ever seen a NuForce "Ref-9v3.01," now you know where the ".01" designation came from and the guy behind it :-)
A couple of other small examples of my work was were I coined the terms "Sequential Linear Array" (SLA) and "Cross Matrix Array" (CMA) that were used to designate the Capacitor Boards inside the Reference Series amps. Not a big deal. I just mention the above for the entertainment of the NuForce amplifier owners out there, because those amps have had a great run and there are a lot of "still happy" owners out there that might be interested in the trivia.
Then for numerous reasons I won't go into, old NuForce went "belly-up" and I moved on along with Casey to work for Optoma. While the original OEM factory in Taiwan had assumed the IP rights to NuForce's high-end line and became what is now NuPrime, Optoma purchased the lower cost consumer products line (headphones, desktop DACs, etc.). Along with me came my wife and two adult sons, as by then they had been working for NuForce under my supervision as Customer Service, Technical and IT Support personnel.
Bad Situations Get Worse with Bad People In Control:
At that point we "thought" we had dodged the unemployment bullet, but for my wife and sons that turned out to be a short-lived opportunity. In the "deal" NuForce had made with Optoma regarding the purchase, Optoma agreed to hire the NuForce employees on a full time, permanent basis. In fact, that was the one main thing that the NuForce Board of Directors had requested, because if nothing else they wanted to do what they could to help us.
Well, I guess in the minds of the SOBs that run Optoma, "permanent" is defined as "no more than 6 months" because that's how long they retained my wife and two sons. They kept me on as Electro-acoustic Design Engineer designing headphones (their present HEM Series) & speakers until June 2017, but they "dumped" the rest of my family the moment the acquisition was in the rear-view mirror - and they were ALL doing a good job as I was still their BOSS, so I know for a fact. Optoma just wanted to "save money," so they brought the Customer & Tech Support work that my family was doing "back in house" and gave it to a bunch of people in their California office that already had their hands full dealing with video projector customers and that didn't know a DAC from a DUCK... "Daffy, "Donald" or otherwise.
"Vengeance is Mine" Sayeth Bob (to little practical effect):
Speaking of SOBs... you might find it enlightening to know how the "Dung Dynasty" at Optoma operates:-)) Also, after reading this you'll have just one more tiny example as to WHY Donald Trump has his foot up the ASSES of certain countries on the other side of the Pacific!!! MAGA... Baby!
Needless to say, I don't have much good to say about them, so adjust your expectations accordingly. After I wrote them my little "severance email" I have already burned my bridges, so I have nothing to loose and it's ALL THE TRUTH and I can PROVE it - so nobody can accuse me of slander.
The fact is, by 2017 I was getting back on my feet pretty good again and had completed and shipped several of the old speaker orders "received but not delivered" under SP Tech that I (alone) in an honest effort to "do the right thing" had committed myself to following through with. The year before Casey (who had been the VP of Optoma's Audio Division) had moved on to another job, but I was still working for them. Before he left though Casey said he had my contract set up for what was ostensibly "auto-renewal" on the 1st of June every year - NOT!!!
Backing up a bit before they "dropped the bomb," Optoma (headquartered in Taiwan) had always shown their "commitment" (NOT) and "appreciation" (NOT) to their their beloved (NOT) "Anglo-American" employees by making sure that they ALWAYS (NEVER) made timely payroll. No... only but ONCE (that I can remember) did I ever receive my MONTHLY pay within a week AFTER the 15th of the month when it was (by contract) DUE. All the rest of the payments over the total of about 33 months were usually at least 7 and often 10 to 14 days LATE.
Anyway, come about May 21st of 2017 I'm emailing my English-speaking contact guy "Jyri" in Taiwan (that had previously worked for NuForce in Germany) asking once again to please investigate as to when they were going to send my monthly pay. While I was at it, I also mentioned my contract that was (ostensibly) set to auto-renew on June 1st (now little more than a week away) and asked to make sure there were no problems with that or if I needed to sign anything, etc. He then wrote back saying he'd check into everything for me and get back to me ASAP.
Next, somewhere around the 25th of May Jyri writes back. He says that the funds should show up in my bank account by the next day, but "unfortunately" that will be the last pay I will be receiving because Optoma won't be renewing my contract after all. Turned out they had let most of their Engineering team in Taiwan go too, and instead of designing their own products they were just going to purchase the designs of other companies and put their name on them (called "re-badge-ing).
"Thank you very much for your services and commitment Bob! Have a nice life and... see ya!
Well Fv#% ME!!! First you jerks are almost TWO WEEKS LATE sending me my MONTHLY PAY (try stretching your paycheck that far and see how much fun it is, will ya?), and then when I finally find out when I will be receiving it, I also find out it will be the LAST paycheck I receive from you!!!
Golly, maybe I'm being too hard on them because after all... they did give me close to a whole 3-day notice before my contract officially expired on June 1st? Even then, giving them credit for that is a joke and only a technicality because I was just then receiving what was to be my last paycheck anyway. Their ONLY redeeming act is the fact that they actually DID tell me before June 1st and that it was my last paycheck. "Theoretically" they could have said nothing at all, and I wouldn't have found out until I had inquired about June's pay. That then would have made for a "negative" notice of at least 3 weeks. Gosh... in light of that maybe they should be nominated for sainthood after all, eh?
So somebody tell me: Do you suppose they made the decision to shut down the majority of their Engineering Dept. just a week before I was notified, or is it possible (probable) that with a company that big they made the decision somewhere around the 4th quarter of the year before while they were doing their planning and figuring out their budgets for the following year?
Yeah... they new and had plenty of time to give me notice long before my contract expired in June. The fact is that I was just a pimple on their asses and they didn't give a damn. Worse yet, most likely they avoided telling me on purposes so they could squeeze as much work out of me as possible before my contract expired, thinking if they did tell me ahead of time that I might not be so willing to continue PUTTING THEM FIRST in my life and working as hard for them as I had been all along.
So gee... "I can't wait to tell the family about this!" First Optoma screws them by reneging on the spirit of the deal (if not the letter thereof) they had made with old NuForce by letting my wife and sons go after only 6-months, but then they dump me without so much as a week's notice AND almost two weeks AFTER my last paycheck was due!!! Yeah... there was a good bit of spiting and cursing going on around our house for a while after that.
Yep... "metaphorically speaking," Optoma NuForce SUCKS BIG RED CHILE PEPPERS!!!:
Not just because of how they treated my family and I either. When we hired in and were visiting the CA office, my son Jason watched them march the Top Dog that ran the place out the front door like a bunch of Gestapos. "Why" Jason didn't know, but the guy didn't get so much as a minute's notice to collect his personal belongings or anything. So... in retrospect I guess I should be honored that I got 3 days - right? NO... "Fv#% YOU guys and your little piece of $#*t Pekingese dogs too!!! After this I wouldn't pee in any of your mouths if your teeth were on fire!!!"
That said, if I were you I'd stay away from Optoma NuForce gear, because you never know what you're gonna get or what kind of "regime" you are actually helping to support with your hard-earned dollars. While they may not be brothers of Chairman Mao, based on their "modus operandi " alone you can bet your sweet ass they're cousins. Then God forbid you ever need to have your product serviced. Getting replacement parts for it could be a real BITCH, seeing that they out-source everything.
Think about it:
What are the odds that they care any more about their "after the sale" customers than what they do about their employees? Most likely their "caring" only extends to the reviews their products get and the sales that results from them - and that's IT! Therefore, the next question is: "How much can you trust that their online reviews are "legitimate" and not covertly "planted" by various "operatives" that actually work for them behind the scenes? Or maybe they are paying off the reviewers of their "professional" reviews"? Who knows - it happens?
I can't "prove" that any such nefarious things are going on or am I implying such to be a matter of any fact, but the above facts regarding my personal experience with them is enough to at least make any thinking person wonder. Ya know, if you're a bad person, you don't just treat certain people badly - you treat everybody badly. Sometimes it just takes longer for the ones you've been "using" all along and feigning that you care about them to catch on to it and/or figure it out. Usually, sooner or later though...
Deep Purple "Child in Time"
You'll see the line
The line that's drawn between
Good and bad
See the blind man
Shooting at the world
Ohh taking toll
If you've been bad
Oh Lord I bet you have
And you've not been hit
Oh by flying lead
Ooohhhh bow your head and...
Wait for the ricochet!!!
Whatever. I could be totally wrong and they're really a good company that's being run by the nicest, most honest and forthright people you could hope for. Yeah... and maybe pigs really can fly too.
BTW - In case you were wondering:
If having disclosed all of the above publicly affects any future opportunities for me or my businesses with other companies - Asian or otherwise - SO BE IT. Somebody has have the courage to stand up and call companies like that out for such behavior. Besides, I'm doing my own thing now so I don't need them or anybody (other than my wonderful customers :-). In addition, I turn 62 next June so I'm going to apply for Social Security (note I didn't say "retire" :-) anyway. Heck, you can make another $13K per year on top of your SS before you have to pay a penalty. Then my wife and son will be the ones that declare any income above the $13K on their tax returns, so we'll all be FINE and get along just DANDY without ANY of them.
TDSS is Born (breach):
To top off the story, back in January of 2014 when old NuForce was in a bad way, Jason Lim had me create TDSS so they could avoid paying some sort of funky tax that the state of CA made them pay based on their out-of-state contract employees (which we all were). So, once they started sending us one big payment each month that I had to break up and disperse to the others, then they no longer had to pay the tax. Obviously that didn't help much because they still went belly-up later that fall, but then after NuPrime started up we were all set with TDSS to help them with their warranty service... and the rest is history.
The upshot is that just this last fall things have really started picking up for TDSS, and that has allowed me to develop new products that we can offer under our Aether Audio brand. TDSS is a service company and doesn't manufacture anything. Conversely, Aether Audio only manufactures new products and only services items of it's own design.
Still Pumping Blood (hopefully for a good while yet anyway):
Now you know. It's good to be back and here's hoping that we can be of good service to everyone from HERE ON OUT!!!. I may screw up once, and when I do it's usually a doozy, but I'm a fast learner and almost ALWAYS get it right the SECOND TIME (just ask my "new" wife of 20 years. Well, on second thought... :-))
So then, go and buy a few of our new MBB-AC power cables to help support our little grandson Parker that lives with us, and in the process see for yourself just what Bob has cooked up here recently. I think I still have a bit of the old "Golden Touch." Hey, the new power cables sounded pretty darn good to me - but then again... what do I know about audio? :-)