Hello, world. Meet Normal, the customized, high-end earphone manufacturer that’s looking to bring 3D printing to the mass market. From its offices and manufacturing facility in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, Normal is looking to sell $199 customized ear buds made to the shape of an individual’s ear.
The brainchild of Nikki Kaufman, a former Quirky executive (and spouse of Quirky founder Ben Kaufman), Normal represents a new step in the evolution of manufacturing through 3D printing.
“People have been talking about 3D printing and mass customization as the new future of manufacturing, but there hasn’t been a really good consumer application for that technology,” says Kaufman.
The evolution of Normal actually came from Kaufman’s experience at Quirky, where she was exposed to 3D printing, hardware sourcing and manufacturing. But she didn’t pursue developing the product through the Quirky platform, because as an executive, she said it would have been an abuse of community engagement — and Normal was its own, standalone business.
Kaufman began developing her business plan in earnest in August, just a month after the idea first came to her. By October she had secured financing from a slew of investors — both institutional firms and angels — and at just around a year since its inception, Normal will open the doors on its manufacturing facility and storefront.
Typically, if someone wanted a custom-built earphone for the exact shape of their ear, the process would cost thousands of dollars and take weeks to manufacture, according to Kaufman.
In fact, it would involve a trip to the doctor just to get a custom-built mold of your ear. Using the Normal app, that process is reduced to two days at the most (including shipping).
Once both ears have been documented for Normal, customers can further customize their headphones with different selections for cord length and color, and accent colors on the earphones’ hardware.
From the photographs, Normal will make a customized earphone for each ear, match it with the choices for cord length and hardware coloring, and make and ship those personalized earphones to a customer within 48 hours.
“When we set out to make Normal we wanted not just an amazing brand, and an amazing fit and a product that you design, but one that sounds incredible,” says Kaufman. “Anyone would really appreciate that sound. We went out to find the best components we could find and it’s about the engineering, too — how it’s engineered and manufactured. Because of the 3D-printed custom fit, it’s creating a seal for you which makes it sound that much better.”
Shoppers can order now through the app or head to the company’s storefront when it opens in August.
The company uses Stratasys Fortus 250mc printers to manufacture the earforms and is using undisclosed top-of-the-line suppliers for the audio components, according to Kaufman.
There’s certainly a market for high-end audio equipment (no matter the quality), and Kaufman says that the earphones are just the beginning.
“We are working on additional products,” she says. “The idea could be much bigger than headphones and earphones. [But] the economics and the timing makes sense for ear phones right now.”
With $5 million in the bank from a gaggle of prominent venture capital firms and angel investors, Kaufman isn’t alone in thinking that Normal could be that application.
The firms behind the new startup include RRE Ventures, Maveron, NEA, Social + Capital Partnership, Vegas Tech Fund (all heavy hitters).
And Normal’s list of angel investors includes a broad swath of the backers behind some of the most successful recent startups of the app era like Josh Spear and Jason Port (an investor in Quirky); media and sports moguls like Michael Ovitz and The Kraft Group (owners of the New England Patriots); and entrepreneurs like Donald Katz (founder of Audible.com).