Startup stories: may the Force be with them…

Here on The Life Hub, it’s not all tax and freelance advice. Occasionally we like to chat with some of our clients and find out a bit about how they’ve made a success of their businesses. So this week we travelled to a galaxy far, far away (West London) to find out about AC Worldwide, a company that specialises in the coolest speakers you’re likely to see this side of the Kessel Run.

AC Worldwide launched its Star Wars bluetooth speaker series back in January 2016, and things have been going from strength to strength ever since. They’re currently involved in fundraising (we featured them on our EIS page earlier this month) and 2017 looks like being a great year for them already. We sat down with the company’s Steve Jones to find out more about every Star Wars fan’s must-have Christmas present.

As far as I understand it, your background wasn’t in speaker systems or Star Wars. So how did this idea come about?

The idea came from the two founders. Karl Grimsey, the CEO, has been making quality speakers for many years, latterly with the licensed element. He and his cofounder, Catherine Callow, had the idea of making speakers in the shape of Star Wars characters and enlisted the help of Kelvyn Gardner who is the MD of LIMA, the UK branch of the worldwide Licensing Trade Association. Kelvyn agreed to come onboard as non Exec Chairman and the company then managed to sign up the license with Disney.

Who do you have to work with to get permission to make this kind of thing, and how easy was it to get it off the ground? Presumably George Lucas isn’t approving every idea that gets run past him?

A few years ago, Disney acquired Lucasfilm, the maker of Star Wars. It may not surprise you to hear that Disney earn more revenue from Licensing than any other company. However, in order for a startup company like ours to win a license is not easy.  Karl prepared some CADs (computer aided designs) demonstrating the product and they so impressed Disney and Lucasfilm that they agreed to give us the license.

Why just C3PO and the storm trooper? Is this just the beginning of your Empire?

We chose the first two products because they were both iconic but different, and one from each side of the Star Wars universe. C-3P0 looks amazing with the electroplated finish and Stormtrooper has so much detail – he is constructed from 48 separate pieces. And yes, there are more to come. Keep reading!

As models, they’re incredibly lifelike. How were they put together? Did you design them yourselves, or does Disney have an input?

The C-3PO designs are based on CADs supplied by Disney. However, for Stormtrooper, there were no CADs available. So Karl contacted a member of the UK Stormtrooper Garrison and scanned his helmet! Karl then designed the physical product based on the CADs, using 3D printing along the way. He is a perfectionist. We want to blow away our customers with our attention to detail. The speaker design is all Karl. He builds them from the ground up, leveraging his 15 years experience in developing speakers.

What plans do you have for the release of Rogue One? Anything in the pipeline? Do you get to go to any sneak previews?

(Drum roll, please!) And the next product is… you guessed it… Darth Vader – in time for the release of Rogue One on December 16th. And just check out the detail, right down to the screws, bolts and microchips in his neck (underneath the helmet, at the back). Until the end of this month you can pre-order Darth from our website for an advanced price of £139, which is a £30 reduction. Plus, you can get it in time for Christmas.

How is the business going? We posted about you on our EIS page last week, and things look pretty promising. Can you tell us where you’re at, and what you’re hoping to achieve? 

Our core value proposition is combining quality audio and licensing. We have a license for Halo, one of the world’s biggest video game franchises, and our first product, Master Chief, is launching in time for the release of the next game, Halo Wars 2, in Feb 17. We also have licenses for the BBC’s Top Gear, Sherlock and Dr Who.

So we are looking to raise investment to continue to selectively acquiring new licenses and developing product. Our plan is to increase turnover from £1million at the end of this financial year by 9 times in 3 years. To do this we plan to release four new products a year.

A successful fundraise will allow us to target these goals. We are halfway to reaching our target already but it’s not too late to invest and get the accompanying tax relief. Please contact me at [email protected] if you would like any further information.

You’re a My Accountant Friend client, aren’t you? How has MAF helped in growing the business? What have you found useful that you wouldn’t have received from a traditional accountant?

I was introduced to MAF by a neighbour. Having been an accountant myself, I love the product. The online systems are so simple to use and the tools and reporting are great. At the same time, I have someone to speak to if I have any questions.

My company now supports multiple clients with minimal effort from my side. The package and the price are an unbeatable combination in my opinion.

Last question, then: what’s the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren? Now that you’re a part of the Force, surely you must know… 

Kylo Ren is the secret enforcer for an intergalactic buy-to-let landlord. This landlord evicted Rey’s family (when she was three years old) when they complained about Marnocks cutting into their apartment’s electricity supply.

Rey doesn’t know, though her fledgling powers over the force have inclined her to think less-than-favourably about Ren. But he knows this, and fears his commission from the landlord may be at stake if Rey ever finds out, so he is determined to kill her to protect his secret (and pay cheque).

Er, thanks Stephen. Glad we asked. 

Always a pleasure.

See also…