Making a splash

Two brothers turned a swimming problem -- and a cheeky way to solve it -- into a $3 million product line.

By Dave Powers, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- THE PROBLEM:Jerry Mix loved swimming, but he had trouble staying focused: Either his mind flooded with thoughts about work and family, or he'd get bored staring at the black line on the bottom of the pool. Like a lot of swimmers, he wished he had a music player to keep him pumped in the water, just as his iPod Shuffle did on dry ground. But unlike most swimmers, Mix was in a position to do something about it. He's the chairman of Finis, a swim-gear maker based in Livermore, Calif., so four and a half years ago, he teamed up with an engineer to develop a waterproof music player.

THE EUREKA MOMENT: Their early attempts to make swim-friendly earbuds were disappointing -- water in the ear canal made music sound muddy. Then they had an idea: Why not send sound through the skull, using a technique called bone conduction? They built a prototype that used cheek pads connected to goggles, and after the first test-swim, Mix knew they had a winner. "It's f---ing unbelievable," he recalls thinking when he came up for air. Instead of ruining the tunes, the water in his ear sealed in the sound -- and Mix heard clear audio.

THE PAYOFF: Two years and $250,000 after development began, SwiMP3 was ready. Mix handed the project over to his brother John, CEO of Finis, which began selling the music goggles through specialty stores and websites for $249 apiece. In 2005 the device brought in nearly $2 million in retail sales. Last year SwiMP3 did even better -- about $2.5 million at retail, making up 20 percent of Finis's revenue. This spring it arrives in Dick's Sporting Goods stores. With 15 million Americans swimming for exercise at least once a week, it's a market that won't dry up anytime soon.

Dave Powers is a freelance journalist in Silver Spring, MD, who authors the New Music Nation blog. Top of page

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