Do you ever wish you could play the drums but don’t have space to store them or time for lessons? Specdrums is revolutionizing the way you think about playing music. The eLab graduate company developed a ring that detects the color of objects it touches. The ring sends a signal to your mobile device and plays a corresponding sound for hours of musical exploration. Sounds range from traditional drum sounds to animal calls to your own recordings.
Steven Dourmashkin is at the head of Specdrums. He graduated from Cornell twice – once in Spring 2015 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, and then in again in Winter 2015 with a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering. Dourmashkin shares his adventure with the company below:
How did you come up with your product?
The idea of Specdrums started out of my frustration of not being able to bring my drum set around with me growing up and when I got to college since it’s so big and has so many pieces. I met Matthew Skeels on the Cornell Rocketry Team that he co-founded and convinced him to help me develop a portable, wearable device used to play drum beats anywhere. After we were accepted into eLab and did more customer development, we began to realize that our product could be used to play all types of sounds – not just drums. And kids liked our rings the most because they loved banging them on things and making fun sounds, while their parents supported the rings for getting their kids excited about music, having the potential for learning, and taking their kids off of the screens of their mobile devices. So now it’s evolved into a new instrument that lets anyone make music, regardless of musical background.
Who is your target market?
For our current design, we’re targeting teenagers 13-17, with the idea that younger children (5-12) will aspire to be like their older siblings and classmates using them. Targeting this market will allow us to get our product out sooner, since musicians and drummers may expect a higher level of performance out of the rings. Nonetheless, we’ll be launching our Kickstarter soon, through which we believe musicians and drummers will support our vision and will want to experiment with our current design. After we receive funding through our Kickstarter, we’ll be working towards our “pro” model, which will be higher quality and will in turn attract more advanced musicians to use Specdrums as a new type of instrument..
How did you build your team?
Before we got into eLab, Matt and I were just working on Specdrums as a side project. Then we were able to use eLab as a way to build legitimacy, and had two other mechanical engineers help us out as volunteers. Then in the Spring, we took on three iOS developer interns — Lavanya Kannan, Sophia Zhu, and Alvin Zhu — who just came out of the CUAppDev program and were looking for real-world experience. This past summer, when we were in NYC working with the Burns Group and also in Ithaca at Rev’s Hardware Accelerator, we took on two Android app developers, Kevin Zao and P.J. Finlay, to build our Android app from scratch.
How do you see Specdrums growing?
How did eLab contribute to your growth?
eLab pushed us to do a great deal of customer development – something Matt and I weren’t used to doing as engineering students. This really helped drive our design into something that people actually wanted, and helped move our rings past the drummer market alone. eLab also helped us connect with other entrepreneurs and mentors at Cornell, eLab alumni, and guest speakers – many of whom we continue to keep in regular contact with. Also, by having regular class meetings, eLab kept us on track and set deadlines for us. Matt and I tended to use our meetings as a deadline for our next prototype (and often ended up pulling all nighters to get it working).
Tell me about the transition of working on your startup at Cornell to where you are now.
There are a ton of resources at Cornell, such as other entrepreneurs, mentors, classes, and events, and everyone wants to help you out. Now it’s difficult because we need funding to really move things forward; people aren’t as willing to volunteer and help you out for fun and/or experience. But I think it’s really important to keep the connections made at Cornell, which is why we continue to meet with mentors and others we’ve met through working on Specdrums. We’re also looking to keep a presence at Cornell, since we grew a substantial following and also Cornellians are really passionate about supporting each other; we’re currently looking for a Specdrums campus representative. If interested, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!
What advice do you have for Cornell entrepreneurs?
My advice would be if you have an idea for a product or business, find a partner and start working on it right away. If you put it off, it’s much less likely to happen. And also, don’t be afraid to tell others about your idea, regardless of how big you think it is. Other entrepreneurs have their own ideas that they usually think are better than yours, and in the end it’s all about execution; it’s likely that other people already thought of your idea, but couldn’t make it happen. Last, I would say that college is the perfect time to try to do a startup. You have a lot fewer responsibilities now than you will when you’re older and have a full-time job and family, you’re used to not getting paid a full-time salary, and if it fails, you’ll at least gain some really good experience without necessarily setting yourself back.