Singapore's tech companies: XMI

Some members of Xmi, the homegrown company behind the X-mini capsule speakers which are now sold in more than 85 countries. They comprise (from left) Mr Edwin Lin, General Manager; Mr Frederick Yao, Marketing Manager; MrJustin Lee, Director of Sales; Mr Rueben Lee, co-founder and CEO; Mr Rowell Lee, Logistics Manager; Mr Desmond Soo, Director of Product Development; and Ms Iris Lin, Finance Manager.

SINGAPORE - Sound beyond size is the mantra of the eight-year-old homegrown company Xmi.

Brothers Ryan and Reuben Lee founded it in 2006 with S$30,000 and the belief that there was a gigantic opportunity in making mini speakers for portable devices.

At the time, laptops, MP3 players and mobile phones came with wimpy speakers that lacked power and often had poor audio quality. The brothers saw the chance to make rich-sounding external speakers, but they also knew their products had to be pocket-sized so that users would not mind carrying them around.

Their X-mini speakers made a huge impact at launch and soon won over the ears - and wallets - of consumers. The powerful and rich sound from the tiny external speakers were truly "sound beyond size". At that time, they were the only game in town.

Within two months of launching the first X-mini speaker in 2007, the company was already profitable. It was so successful that established audio brands started to make similar speakers. Its trademark pop-up design won numerous design awards globally, including the much-coveted Red Dot design awards.

Within six months, imitations of its trademark capsule speakers hit the market. Though the fakes do not sound as good as they look, piracy is a continuing problem. Fake X-minis are even available from Amazon.

Today, X-mini speakers are sold in more than 85 countries and Xmi has shipped more than seven million units of its capsule speakers since launch. From a single product, it now has five.

In its early years, sales totalled about S$500,000 a year. Growth has been exponential. Over the last three years, annual sales have averaged about S$30 million. Xmi now has more than 40 staff - about 25 of them here and 15 in China.

Reuben, 39, is sanguine about the pirates. He said: "We used to be really angry with them, but instead of losing sleep and tearing our hair out, we focused more on product innovation and protecting our future designs."

So Xmi is committed to having its own research and development team and coming up with new designs and products.

Reuben sees this as the company's differentiator against an army of cheap portable speaker makers who simply slap their brand on products made by contract manufacturers in China.

"Having our own design team lets us create new products and limit the number of people who have access to our design blueprints. This is the best defence against the pirates," he said.

Reuben, a lawyer turned director in a private equity investment firm, now spends more time to help Ryan, 37, to run the business.

With an established business in place, the brothers are looking to broaden their offerings and come up with products tailor-made for specific demographics, instead of their traditional one-size-fits-all approach.

They are considering making larger-sized speakers to reach out to new users, said Reuben.

"But our motto will never change. No matter the size of our speakers, we will always focus on producing rich quality sound that punches way above the weight of the devices."

This article was first published on August 6, 2014.
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