Raghav Somani is dashing guy. Who is he you ask? He’s the reason behind Headphone Zone - the enthusiast headphones, earphones and personal audio devices space which offers personalised advice to one’s audio needs. It exists as an online and an offline store as well. We ask Raghav as to why he started something like this, is it passion, money or is he just a rich brat? Read on to find out about his interesting journey and what makes him tick.
What made you start Headphone Zone? What inspired you?
After a degree in Business Management from Singapore Management University in 2010, I was keen to try my hand at entrepreneurship. From my years in Singapore, I could clearly see a big contrast when compared to India, the sheer number of people from all walks of life using essentially earphones, be it on the trains, while waiting for the bus or just sitting at the café. With the smartphone boom, every Indian had the means to listen to music in their pockets. The missing link I felt were a good pair of headphones between the ears. Seeing everyone in Singapore wear one inspired me to look further into this as a business opportunity.
When we first started, I was simply distributing and wholesaling headphones and earphones to organised retail chains in India mushrooming all over India’s malls and high streets. Everyone from Croma, Reliance Retail and Big Bazaar were convinced that Headphones category had a large demand.
But the biggest problem? They were terrible at selling good quality headphones to an average Indian consumer. Most had no idea how to even begin. Lack of information and passion for the product, coupled with the lack of priority for such a low ticket category meant that consumers had a lousy experience in-store and simply bought the cheapest earphone they found. That’s really where the opportunity for Headphone Zone emerged.
How far do you think you’ve gotten since your beginnings in 2010?
We’ve done a lot of things right. The way I think about our journey, we don’t have to be India’s ‘biggest’ online store to be the ‘best’. Since we don’t care about being the biggest, we certainly are working hard every day to be the best at what we do.
We started as a retail store and pivoted eventually to becoming an Online Retailer. But, being at the store dealing with customers every day, taught us the importance of great customer service and being personal in our interaction with every customer. Treating every customer just the way we would like to be treated, is key to building a great, impersonal and trustworthy buying experience for something as personal as a Headphone.
I am proud of the fact that Headphone Zone has built a very passionate fan base who above all, love our direct and personal customer service. Be it in the way that we talk to customers, helping them choose their perfect headphones, the accessibility of the entire team including me, surprise chocolate cakes delivered every time we want to apologise or surprise gifts to our biggest fans whenever we launch a new product, have now become trademarks of Headphone Zone.
Being an online store means that enthusiasts cannot truly “try before you buy”. How do you address that?
Buying a headphone is a sensory experience, and being able to listen to earphones/headphones/audio devices is certainly extremely important.
We started our first retail store in Bangalore precisely to address this requirement. However, we found that to be able to allow everyone in India to listen to our vast range of Headphones, we would have to open stores everywhere, almost like Café Coffee Day outlets. Eventually, with time, I realised that this was impossible in a country like India.
Opening dedicated stores that doubled up as listening centres was just too expensive, and would obviously reflect in the price. As you know, we Indians love good deals, customers would demo in our stores and buy the cheapest online. It just didn’t work.
An online retail model allows us to cater to a much wider audience, offer better products at substantially lower prices, and offer a consistent customer experience to everyone.
We had to address the challenge of offering customers the ability to listen to Headphones, especially high-end headphones, and that’s where Headphone Connect was conceptualised. Allowing both serious audiophiles, as well as first-time headphone users the ability to listen to some of the best and widest selection of headphones under one roof was our way of replicating the experience of a listening centre. Moreover, it would allow everyone the ability to meet and talk to the Headphone Zone team, including me, and see us as people who are passionate about what we do, rather than just look at us as a website or a shop. This could be done in an unlimited number of towns and cities across India, and at a fraction of the cost. Our focus to make listening experiences to everyone in the future would be to have many more events at a far more regular frequency across India.
Being in this business, do you see any companies sharing the passion for audio rather than seeing consumers as mere numbers on the screen?
Oh, you’d be surprised. I was very inspired by the customer service and passion of a relatively small British audio company called RHA based out of Glasgow. Not only do they offer an industry leading 3 years warranty, their products are designed and manufactured with a lot of passion. Their promise of quality and durability is reflected in their customer service from half way across the world, where they replace products with rare manufacturing defects in the fastest and most customer friendly manner I’ve seen in the industry. This ultimately comes from their confidence in their own products. Headphone Zone has modelled its own customer service philosophy inspired in no small part by RHA.
What gear/equipment do you personally use to listen to music?
My personal music setup evolves from time to time as I get my hands on new and exciting gear. Right now, I’m using an Astell&Kern AK300 Hi-Res Audio Player, along with an Audeze Sine Planar Magnetic On-Ear Headphone. On other occasions, the RHA T20i In-Ear Headphones are my favourite to carry on a quick business trip.
But the truth is, I listen to most of my music in the car while driving up to work and back. That’s hardly a high-end listening experience.
Is there something you’d like to share with the community / consumers / audiophiles / enthusiasts?
One of the biggest disappointments is that people still listen to terrible quality MP3 files on high-end headphones. It simply does the headphone no justice. The music industry, record labels, changing technology and online piracy is responsible for quality being compromised for convenience.
We work very hard to try and encourage both audiophiles, and first-time headphone listeners to use better quality files to experience the full capabilities of every headphone. Once someone experiences the difference a Lossless or High-Resolution audio, there’s no going back to MP3. Popular music is easily available on the Internet to both illegal downloaders and those who pay for their music. I deleted my collection of 500 GB of music in an instant when I realised how much I was missing out on!
Last year, we decided to launch our own curated collection of Lossless and High-Resolution Music from Independent artists across India under the name Headphone Zone’s Mixtape HD. The music from India’s best musicians like The Raghu Dixit Project, Shillong Chamber Choir, Swarathma or Bhayanak Mauth, is made available to all our customers in the highest recorded resolution and quality to download for free. We think this should encourage people to make the big switch, and in turn help them better appreciate the value of a great sounding headphone.
A little-known fact, you had entered the Guinness Book of Records at age 13 for your collection of 469 different tags from 115 airlines. Do you still collect baggage tags as a hobby? What’s the count now?
Yes, I still do collect Airline Baggage Tags which is a hobby that I am very passionate about. The collection is now close to 2000 baggage tags. Planes fascinated me as a kid and Airlines were the most glamorous companies while I was growing up. Now I am curious about the history of commercial aviation, and looking at how baggage tags evolved through time is a reflection of not only the history of the airlines but also the countries they represent.
I obviously have a lot of catching up to do because there are so many airlines now around the world. I do not give my collection as much time as I once could and hopefully, I’ll be able to make up for it in the future.
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Updated Date: Sep 09, 2016 17:50:28 IST