Surfpreneurs podcast E4: Christian Dittrich from SurfEars

One of the biggest issues in surfing is the water that always finds a way into your ears, causing hearing problems, infections and other inconveniences. Today we talk with the man who came up with a product to solve this problem. 

In this episode of Surfpreneurs Podcast, the host Peter Fabor talks with Christian Dittrich, the founder of SurfEars. This company from Sweden creates earplugs that not only block water from coming into your ears but also let you hear the outside world. With over 120,000 SurfEars sold to this date, it’s proven to be an excellent product.

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Besides SurfEars, we talk about Christian’s other project, dBud, how he came up with the ideas for his products, about quitting.

How do you really sell surf earplugs en masse?

Seeing how this is a product that most surfers need only once, selling this many SurfEars is quite an achievement. As Christian says, people who surf several times a week tend to go through different pairs regularly so they keep buying them – every 6 months to a year or so. Even though there are people who just want a newer pair, the most common case is people buying them because they’ve lost their old ones.

 
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The beginnings of SurfEars

The company started, as Christian says, with his own ears, as he’s been surfing for 25 years in different forms. A lot of it was in cold water since he lives in Sweden. His own ears have gone bad from all the exposure to the cold water and wind in those years and he’s developed surfer’s ear almost fully on both ears. Traveling in warmer areas, bacteria would get stuck in his ears and he’d get an infection soon after.

Since he’s a mechanical engineer by trade, he wanted to figure out a solution on his own. He created a couple of prototypes of a model that later turned into SurfEars. It took almost three years from the first time he came upon the idea until the moment the first prototype was created.

 

Leaving work at Nokia

Before going into entrepreneurship, Christian first worked at Nokia. The company went down in 2011 and he started elaborating the idea and doing some sketches. He first started a mechanical design agency called Frankly with a couple of colleagues. He then convinced his partners that SurfEars would be a good idea and it got started as a side project for them. The prototype was rough but it worked very well.

 

To validate their idea, they first put it on Kickstarter to see if there were enough people willing to buy the product. Then they decided to split the company in two – one for SurfEars and one for the consulting agency.

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Other products in the offer

The agency is still working and doing very well. It had around 20-25 people and then merged with a design agency, so it became very high-tech in product design. It grew to almost 100 people now and it offers different types of design as it grew way beyond its initial skill sets.

 

As they worked with surfers, they found the materials interesting for noise reduction. They did some experimenting to select which frequencies they can reduce with a small switch in the plug. This led to a product called dBud, and it’s an earplug noise reducer that lets you set the volume of your surroundings. It’s convenient for people in the music industry or anyone who flies a lot or works in a noisy environment. The cool thing is that you can also let more human speech frequencies in while reducing background noise. Christian believes the product will be able to surpass SurfEars’ success, but not as quickly as the original product.

 

Scaling the distribution of SurfEars

The exposure from Kickstarter enabled SurfEars to get in touch with their global distributor. They initiated the dialogue and got started. They also reached out to several distributors and had discussions with all of them but selected Creatures. As Christian says, there’s a drawback to relying on only one distributor because you’re essentially betting it all on one shot. For dBud, they couldn’t find a global set up like that so they tried doing distribution in a different way.

 

Online channels for promotion

To be in direct contact with the consumers, Christian says it’s good to be on Facebook. It worked quite well for them in the beginning, but it slowly started degrading – there are not as many conversions as before. The one channel they focus on nowadays is search and being present on Google.

 

The company works a lot with ear doctors to get their message out there and connect with people to help them before it’s too late. They work with organic and paid traffic. Amazon is another channel that they use, but it’s run by their distributors instead of directly by the company. On the other hand, for dBud, they are working directly with Amazon.

 
 

Working with ambassadors

A lot of the promotion that SurfEars get is because of the work of ambassadors. As Christian says, they didn’t have to personally reach out to them – they came to SurfEars as they all had ear issues themselves. The ambassadors don’t get any money. The deal is simple – they get free products, and SurfEars gets nice images and experiences they can use.

 

Funding a business

Besides Kickstarter, SurfEars got investment from VCs as well. The main reason for bringing in investors is the need for growth, as well as the difficulty in getting cash. For dBud, it was a huge benefit having some investors already on board. The second round was secured in 2018, to grow the team and get dBud on the market, as well as fund some products which are coming in the future. As Christian says, there’s less freedom in making decisions with investors around, but there are fewer worries about cash flow.

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The future

Christian and his team will be working on SurfEars 3.0 in the future. The improvements will make it much better than the last version launched in 2016. They are also working on the future development of dBud.

 

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Surfpreneurs podcast is hosted by Peter Fabor, the founder of Surf Office.

Surf Office helps surf houses, hotels and villas boost their group bookings by hosting retreats with tech companies searching for productive team building experiences.

Learn more about how to become a property partner of Surf Office.