We recently interviewed Dr. Wei-Shin Lai for our monthly podcast – ‘Marketer of the Month’! We had some amazing insightful conversations with Wei-Shin and here’s what we discussed about –
1. What are SleepPhones?
2. Her journey from being a doctor to an entrepreneur?
3. Her go-to advertising or marketing strategy for SleepPhones
4. ASMR growth in the past 10 years
5. How affiliate marketing has helped her business
6. Finding the right medium
About our host:
Dr. Saksham Sharda is the Chief Information Officer at Outgrow.co He specializes in data collection, analysis, filtering, and transfer by the means of widgets and applets. Interactive, cultural, and trending widgets designed by him have been featured on TrendHunter, Alibaba, ProductHunt, New York Marketing Association, FactoryBerlin, Digimarcon Silicon Valley, and at The European Affiliate Summit.
About our guest:
Dr. Wei-Shin is the inventor, co-founder, and CEO of AcousticSheep LLC, makers of SleepPhones, the first headphones for sleep, and RunPhones, fitness headphones.
The Podcast – How to Grow a Health and Wellness Brand From Scratch with Dr. Wei-Shin Lai
Saksham Sharda: Hi everyone. Welcome to another episode of Outgrow’s Marketer Of the Month. I’m your host, Dr. Saksham Sharda. I’m the creative director at outgrow.co. And for this month, we are going to interview Wei Shin Lai, who is the CEO of AcousticSheep LLC. Thanks for joining us.
Wei Shin: Thanks for having me.
Saksham Sharda: So Wei Shin, we are going to start with a rapid-fire round just to break the ice. You get three passes in case you don’t want to answer the question, you can just say pass, uh, but try to keep your answers to one word or one sentence only.
The Rapid Fire!
Saksham Sharda: So the first one, How long does it take you to get ready in the morning?
Wei Shin: About five minutes.
Saksham Sharda: Okay. Most embarrassing moment of your life.
Wei Shin: Ummm…
Saksham Sharda: Yeah. Okay. We’ll have to pass that, too much time.
Saksham Sharda: How many hours of sleep can you survive on?
Wei Shin: Nine
Saksham Sharda: Okay. Fill in the blank. An upcoming marketing trend is__________.
Wei Shin: An upcoming marketing thing, cybersecurity.
Saksham Sharda: The city in which the best kiss of your life happened.
Wei Shin: Paris.
Saksham Sharda: Pick one, Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey.
Wei Shin: Jack Dorsey.
Saksham Sharda: The first movie that comes to your mind. When I say the word ambitious.
Wei Shin: Wolf of Wall Street
Saksham Sharda: When did you last cry and Why?
Wei Shin: When I had a nightmare about my kids.
Saksham Sharda: Okay. The biggest mistake of your career.
Wei Shin: Hard to say. I don’t know…I did not join the CDC.
Saksham Sharda: All right. So how do you relax?
Wei Shin: Listen to music and a car without the kid.
Saksham Sharda: How many cups of coffee do you drink per day?
Wei Shin: One
Saksham Sharda: A habit of yours that you hate?
Wei Shin: I still chew on my fingernails.
Saksham Sharda: The most valuable skill you’ve learned in life.
Wei Shin: To be reflective of a conversation as it’s going on. So I’m talking about the maritime realizations sometimes while you’re in conversation with somebody.
Saksham Sharda: And the last question is your favorite Netflix show.
Wei Shin: Netflix…. So we actually watched a lot of Octonauts. I have young kids!
Saksham Sharda: Okay. A lot of her questions were centered around kids. Your answers were centered on kids. So interesting. Except for the biggest mistake of your career too, which you didn’t say kids, which is good.
Saksham Sharda: Oh, wait so well, that’s the end of the rapid-fire round. Scored 9 on 10 because you passed one. Well, I had to make your pass on cause you thought a lot about the most embarrassing moment of your life. So, that’s at 9 on 10.
So let’s go on to the bigger questions. The first one is actually quite simple.
The Big Questions!
Saksham Sharda: What are sleep phones and how did the idea of building these earphones first come to place?
Wei Shin: So I actually, you know, in my life I don’t have a lot of regrets. I try not to think back on what I should have done differently and I just kind of keep moving forward. So that’s why it’s hard to think of things that I am embarrassed about or something.
Cause it’s all built me to where I am today. So anyway, so, okay. So. sleep phones, these are actually headphones. I started off my ambition in life, from high school to, and for 10 years after high school was to become an epidemic intelligence service, through the CDC, and go around the world, investigating epidemics and stuff like that.
I interviewed at the CDC and I ended up, it was a really hard decision to not take that position, and decided to instead go into private practice as a family doctor. So, anyway we’ll get to all of that. I think it’s relevant somehow because of your rapid fire questions, but in any way, so I was in private practice and I would be on call every fourth night.
And whenever you’re on call, you get calls at 3:00 AM and 5:00 AM, whatever, you know, you get called every few hours. It would be really hard for me to get back to sleep after getting one of those phone calls. So then, I decided, you know, I was complaining to my husband and he brought home some speakers one day.
So we decided to like, just kind of try and making our own, to see if maybe I could listen to some relaxing music that can help calm my mind and get me back to sleep and stuff like that and not disturb anybody else. Because we were in a small apartment at the time. You know, at 3:00 AM, I can’t be blasting the radio or anything.
So it was, so we came up with the idea of putting very, very thin speakers inside of a headband. So I’ll show you what the speaker looks like. And then, you know, once we did that and I was able to really sleep well, and just, you know, listen to my guided meditation and things like that.
So this is one of the speakers who’s just, they’re flexible. So it worked for me. And so then I was thinking, well, you know, I’ve got a ton of patients taking sleeping pills. I should probably just make a few more and see what’s out there and see if anybody’s interested in something like this, because we looked everywhere and there wasn’t anything.
There were no headphones designed for sleeping. And so that’s, that’s kind of how we started all of this.
Saksham Sharda: Yeah. And what has this journey been like? You know, your transition from being a doctor to being an entrepreneur. What major changes did you see in your day-to-day life?
Wei Shin: Yeah. So in the beginning, we actually bootstrapped everything.
At night, my husband and I would just sit down after work, yeah, put on the TV and just start sewing and soldering, when we started this company. So we actually made the first 500 pieces ourselves by hand on our kitchen table. And then, you know, we were still working on our day jobs and we continued to work our day jobs for five years after starting the company.
We did transition to where, you know, we would say, well, I’ll work four days a week and then three days a week. And then my kids came along. So then, you know, two days a week and, you know, stuff like that. So we did make a lot of transitions along the way, as necessary. And then about five years in, you know, just kind of sewing ourselves and working with some of our neighbors and people we knew, people we found off Craigslist and back to, we transitioned to where we actually made a million dollars in sales that year.
And so then we decided, okay, we’ve got to make a decision like this. Actually we get in a whole bunch of people telling us how good these are, how good sleep phones have helped their life, and like, it’s changed my life. I have been able to, you know, sleep better after taking sleeping pills for 10 years, I’ve been able to come off and people wrote in and said it saved my marriage, because I’m finally able to sleep next to my snoring husband and things like that and so we were seeing just how positive of an impact we were having.
And so with my, like public health background, and just the fact that more preventative medicine than treatment medicine and, the, the gold that kind of overarching my life, which is to really just benefit the world in the best way that I can. It made sense for us at that point, my husband and I, to transition out of our day jobs and focus more on just growing the company, because honestly, we were helping more people sleep, which was improving the rest of their lives.
Then I could ever have done, you know, as a physician, you know, seeing about 20, 30 patients a day and just basically prescribing pills and stuff like that. So I decided that was a better use of our time. So, we went to see, yes, the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas for the first time.
And at that point, we didn’t really know what we were doing. That was our first major, big trade show. And we have one-on-one at the awards and everybody flocked to our little 10 by 10 booth. It was incredible. Like we were the busiest booth in the entire area. We could barely leave the tip to see the rest of the show cause we were so busy.
So we recognized then that, okay, we’ve got something really spectacular here and we really need to focus on it. And so that’s when we finally moved our operations out of our house and into a warehouse and set up a proper business and, you know, fill out all the forms and things like that.
Saksham Sharda: Wow. So that’s been quite a journey. And is there something about being a doctor that you miss now?
Wei Shin: I do. You know, I, I enjoy every job that I’ve done. because I, you know, I only go into things that I find fulfilling and so sometimes, you know, especially with the current pandemic, I wonder, you know, how I could have contributed if I had been at the CDC and, I was able to, you know, somehow guide the conversations and just kind of try to make sure that we’re all having a better experience through all of this.
So yeah, sometimes I do regret that. Although I’m kind of doing my own thing now, where I’m helping the business community really understand the pandemic and how to row and transition and pivot and whatever it is that you need to do during this pandemic. And so that’s been really rewarding too.
Saksham Sharda: What are some of the ways in which you’re doing this?
Wei Shin: Yeah. This actually harkens back to one of the questions that you had asked that your viewers have asked, which is when, you know, what is the one thing that you did, right? So, at the beginning of the pandemic, I started blogging about what you should have in stock, what you need to make sure that you are doing right now.
And preparing and kind of what to expect, you know, like, because part of the preparation is okay, is it going to be a two week lockdown or is it going to be like a two year kind of a ordeal where we’re still, we’re still dealing with this because you need to be mentally prepared and to Dole out the right types of computers or what not to your employees.
So I recognized pretty early on that this was a long-term thing. That we’re going to need to wear face masks and all this stuff. So when the fat face mask mandate came about, in the US I, at that point we were, most of us were still in lockdown. It’s not like we could have traveled to a craft store to make our own masks.
And at the time, there were no surgical masks or anything of that sort to be found on the market. We were basically saving them for our first responders. Everybody had to just kind of scrounge around at home and make their own cloth masks. So as a doctor, I’ve had experience with wearing face masks during surgery. I would sit in on surgeries as a medical student and resident and things like that for hours on end hours and hours and so then you learn that the nasal bridge wire is very important. Also the fogging of the glasses is also an issue for a lot of people. Or if they have facial hair, that’s also an issue. Even just different size basis. Cause I was thinking about my kids at the time too, and kind of fitting the mask on their face.
So, as I was looking online for different face mask, you know, tutorials and things like that, I found that there really wasn’t anything, to account for all of the other, scenarios, like the, the extras, and it was all designed for like the standard adult face without a nose wire and stuff like that.
At that point I just said, well, I have got a sewing machine. I’ve got all this fabric laying around, let me just try something. So, I did, kind of like how SleepPhones got started. I just kind of sowed, I used some speaker wire, for the nasal bridge and then, just some, some like flannel fabric, because it’s a little harder to see through and you could see that, you know, things can probably get trapped a little bit easier and all of that.
So I put all of that together and made a face mask that fit better and was more comfortable because it had the nasal bridge and it could fit different sized faces, different ideas about sizing for different sized faces and my husband had a beard. He has a very long beard and so regular face masks just don’t fit.
Like you’re supposed to have it under your chin and all that. Right. But in his case, we just needed the face mask way down to kind of cover his beard. So that there’s a little bit more filtration there. So, I came up with a design and wrote a big blog article about it, put it online and called it the most comfortable Face mask.
And honestly, and just, you know, made sure I talked about bearded men and glasses to kids and things like that. It turned out that there were, there was nothing on the internet for bearded men. And we were ranked number one on Google for face masks for bearded men. So, you know, people are searching for this and, and we ranked number one and.
It brought, it quadrupled the amount of traffic to our website, for some time. And honestly to this day, the traffic has not completely gone back to where it was. So I think, you know, we really gained a lot of Google authority points on this and just search traffic in general and because we did so much more, brought so much more traffic to our website and the fact that, you know, it was centered around something comfortable. I think because for sleep phones I mean, our main goal with sleep phones is to have a comfortable, headphone for sleeping in right. It’s about that when you’re going to bed. And so, you know, kind of pivoting on that word, comfortable into face masks really brought that traffic to our site. And we doubled our sales for half of last year basically.
Saksham Sharda: That’s an amazing marketing story, for sure. For real, that’s really great. And how you manage. Cause even like, even the topic, the most comfortable face mask actually should be like, is something that people would be Googling at that time. And I’m glad you stuck on the beer thing, but even this topic of the most comfortable face mask is just great.
So in addition to this, can you tell us about any other go-to advertising or marketing strategies that you’re using?
Wei Shin: Well, let’s see. So at some point, in our 14 years now of running this company at some point, I’ve been like, well, you know, do we really need to run Google ads? Or what should we do about Amazon and all this stuff? And what we did find was that it is so important. It is worth it. And, you know, just make sure that you’re not overspending, make sure you’re getting ROI, but as long as you’re getting ROI, ads are good.
Saksham Sharda: Okay. So that’s what you’ve been doing. Google ads and Facebook ads, or just mostly Google ads?
Wei Shin: Yeah Facebook ads we do. All the different advertising online, standard advertising, Microsoft and all of that.
Saksham Sharda: So speaking of comfort, how do you think ASMR has evolved in the past 10 years? And how do you use it for growth?
Wei Shin: Yeah, that’s an interesting one too. So there’s a story with that. My husband’s always, you know, he’s a game developer. And so he’s always on like the bleeding edge of all new technologies and like all new thought and things like that. And I am more of the person who’s like down to earth. Like I’m going to, plan out the next two weeks and, you know, what I need to bring for this, whatever, like I get things done. Right. I’m that kind of type of personality, whereas he is the broad thinker. So I, you know, and, and he reads a lot too. So he’s always reading about new stuff. And he, he, thinks about, you know, what happened in the past and what’s going to happen in the future, you know, 10, 20 a hundred years down the line.
And we talk about it and then I’m like, oh, Hey, you know, that’s actually relevant to this, this and this. So let let’s implement whatever, you know. And so he brings in a lot of new information and ASMR was one of those things that he had stumbled upon. It was, you know, kind of a new phenomenon at the time.
And I want to say, this is about like, seven eight years ago when it was just kind of starting to take off. and, we found some YouTubers and they seem really nice and this was kind of, to me, it was kind of weird, honestly. didn’t really get it. But I mean, I can tell, that some people, yes.
You know, when you do get that tingly feeling. I, you know, I can relate to the Tingley feeling. And then, I don’t know if it relaxes me or if it makes me anxious, but I think for me, I’m just more of a type A personality, but for some people that can perhaps relax them. Right. And so, to me, it seemed like a really interesting new phenomenon that we should know a little bit more about.
And medical science is always way behind. We’re always playing catch up. Right. And learning about these new phenomenon that people experience, and we have to learn to really listen to our patients more honestly. Anyway, so ASMR was, this new thing and we found a YouTuber that was willing to work with us.
We’re like, Hey we understand that some of your listeners relaxed to this and may fall asleep. And so here’s a set of sleep. Phones can look at it, review it, maybe talk, talk about it because, it could be beneficial to you too. So that your listeners have something comfortable to wear while they’re listening.
And so we were surprised because she did an entire podcast centered around it. So, and I’m boxing, right. You know, tapping on things and then like, you know, brushing on things. And, it really, that podcast hot a lot, a lot of very, very quickly, brought a lot of traffic to our site, we sold a lot. We recognized that, Hey, this is really an area that we need to, to grow with because, like, a couple months after starting to work with her, she ended up on major news stations talking about the work that she does and so oh, wow. Yeah. Yeah. And. She didn’t, she no longer responds to our emails now because she was too big.
But anyway, yeah, you know, so we kind of caught this just before it blew up. So we’ve grown with it for sure. If you search for, comfortable headphones for ASMR, we definitely come up high, if not first. So we decided at one point to, to make, an ASMR edition because we have a version where we have built a music.
So rather than being Bluetooth where it pairs with your phone and you have to, you know, set up your phone. It’s whatever playlist and things like that. We had a version that we designed for, for your grandmother sickly, for grandparents who don’t have an iPhone, don’t know how to do a playlist who don’t want to sync anything, you know, they just want to press a button and listen to whatever favorite thing they have.
Right. And so we designed a version that was super simple with built-in music. We worked with a wide variety of ASMR artists, to make a custom sleep track, for the ASMR edition for us. And we built it all in. And then we work with them directly on commissions and things like that.
It’s been really, really rewarding.
Saksham Sharda: And what do you think the future of ASMR is? How big do you think it’s going to get?
Wei Shin: I think there’s going to be more medical research done on it. As soon as this COVID thing is over, because it is very interesting and I think we’re going to figure out that it is a phenomenon that has certain physiologic effects.
You know, and everybody’s different, right? And so for some people it’s going to have this set of foods, physiologic effects, and for other people, it’s going to have another. And how CBD oil and things like that have become more mainstream, and, and it’s being used for seizures and things like that for certain types of seizures.
We’re going to find medical uses for ASMR, I think. And I think that’s great because these are all natural modalities that have real physiologic effects that can impact our physical and mental health.
Saksham Sharda: And you mentioned using these influencers who are actually talking about your product, while doing the videos. So how do you go about picking these influencers? How do you know, you know, do you use a particular tool or a website that is able to read them? How do you go about knowing that, you know, this is the right influencer to partner with?
Wei Shin: Oh, no, honestly, we just look at. We just searched on ASMR, worked for the number of subscribers and listened to a whole bunch. And if they sounded like they were, you know, that things weren’t too strange, and they weren’t so big that they were ignoring our emails, you know, then yeah, we just work with them. But we wanted, you know, as big as we could get, but will still be willing to work with us basically.
Saksham Sharda: Mm. Hmm. And usually, are you doing it on a commission-based model, as you said, or sometimes you have to give an upfront fee or. Uh, you know, in advance of some sorts or how does that work out?
Wei Shin: Yeah, So it’s definitely, so if they sell the ASMR edition, they definitely do get commissions on that. And as far as upfront fees go, we did provide, you know, samples and, the offer to help with any photography costs and things like that, because we wanted a really beautiful picture to represent them.
I don’t know if your listeners have any idea about CDs, like back in the day. So, you get a CD and you get this beautiful booklet, right. This booklet gives you the lyrics and it’s got pictures, you know, stylized pictures of all your favorite artists in different poses and things like that.
And so I wanted to harken back a little bit to that. Just kind of bring the ASMR artists to life, because you know, everything is digital nowadays, but like to have that physical, printed, you know, version of a person, in their best, you know, in a still, but, but looking their best and things like that.
I think, you know, bring something to the experience of, of listening to ASMR. It is, you know, ASMR is really the physical being in the present and being there. Right. Rather than living in an utterly digital world , I feel like having that physical experience of holding this booklet with nice pictures and things like that, and a little bit of background about ASMR artists. It’s helpful because it’s part of the experience. So that’s what we did. We paid them, you know, to find the photographer and all of that kind of stuff too, to help bring this experience to life.
Saksham Sharda: So I also wanted to know, like when you do, if I were to divide your sales, the sales that you have made, do a lot of them come from advertising or do a lot of them come from influencers or affiliates? Like, what is the breakdown? Like? What do you think is a good strategy for businesses like yours? Should they focus more on advertising? What is a good breakdown?
Wei Shin: It’s going to be different for every single business, obviously. So how I would categorize our business, we have a very niche, electronics product, and it’s unlike anything out there.
So when you say headphones, people think automatically, you know, this thing that goes over your head with a band and then like little, two cans over your ears or ear buds. And so I feel like for our product, there’s a lot of education involved because it’s not intuitive. It’s a completely new concept, right?
People are always asking, well, does it come with music? Or like, what do you listen to? It’s like, well, you can listen to whatever it is that you want. You can listen to white noise or audio books or whatever it is that helps you sleep. So then it starts to click. But, that takes time.
And it’s the people who don’t need sleep phones. About two thirds of people, don’t need sleep phones. Well, I’m okay with that. You know, I don’t need to sell, I ask him if I was or anything, but a third of people who have trouble sleeping really could benefit from sleep phones. It’s to these people that we want to make sure they know we’re available and that this is something for them, but it takes a lot of education because it’s not something that has been trailblazed already.
So then people like just make the connections 1, 2, 3, oh, I just know, sync it and then listen to this and I can fall asleep. We really have to spell it out for them. Take some education and so if we, we tried going into big box retailers, where basically people are just scanning around for brands that they know, it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work for us.
Because they don’t know about us already. It takes the education component. And so I think that’s kind of where we need to focus and where. You know, it depends on your business. If it’s really intuitive, like everybody knows exactly what you do as soon as you talk about it, then you don’t need to educate.
You can tell it is a competition about price in many ways, probably, but for us, it is, you know, we have have some knockoffs out there, some copycats and there, the quality is, is very very different. We sew everything together. We don’t glue anything or, you know, we don’t have really hard thick components.
Everything is really custom designed for comfort. Right. And so, yeah, to differentiate, you know, we saw online because online is the best way to educate somebody about something new. And we, and we have to make sure that they understand that we have the highest quality product out there.
Saksham Sharda : So what would it be in your case? What is the breakdown? Just in your company’s case, just as an example.
Wei Shin: So advertising is part of it, but a lot of it is, getting out there for sending samples to different people write about us or honing in on, the reporters who are writing about, sleep and, targeting the, different online message boards and things like that, about sleep, or, different issues around sleep, like snoring and things like that. So, yeah, those are some of the things that we do.
Saksham Sharda: The last question is what would you be doing if not this. So what other career paths would you have? If not the one that you have right now?
Wei Shin: I would be working in this pandemic helping people make the right choices. And actually right now, I’m volunteering as a vaccine giver. So it kind of gets back into a little bit of the medicine, and helping people directly tied to things.
But I still am more passionate about preventative medicine and public health and, you know, doing things that help a lot of people at once, from a very basic level. And I think that in many ways, what SleepPhones does is it improves people’s lives. Day to day by helping them sleep better. So, you know, it all kind of comes together in the end and we’re very happy about what we do.
Saksham Sharda: Well, that was the last question. Thanks everyone for joining us for this month’s episode of Outgrows Marketer of The Month, that was Wei Shin Lai, who is the CEO of AcousticSheep LLC. Thanks for joining us.
Wei Shin: Thank you
Saksham Sharda: Check out the website for more details. And we’ll see you once again next month for another Marketer of The Month. Thank you.
Roy is a full-time content marketer at Outgrow. He often travels to the Himalayas in search of his muse to breathe. Being a professional marketer & a passionate traveler, he struggles to keep the balance.