Beatrobo raises $1.1M, has ambitions to replace the CD

Beatrobo raises $1.1M, has ambitions to replace the CD

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Beatrobo Inc. has announced today that it has raised $1.1 million from Lawson HMV Entertainment and Genuine Startups, in order to further develop and expand its PlugAir business [1]. Our regular readers are likely aware that Beatrobo, in addition to operating a really fun streaming music service, has developed its PlugAir technology that can be used to share and distribute digital content. It doesn’t have to be music, but it could also be used to share videos or ebooks, for example.

This partnership with Lawson, who is very active in the entertainment and ticketing business, is an intriguing twist in Beatrobo’s progression. The startup’s CEO and founder Hiroshi Asaeda explained to us how that tie-up came about:

They have connections to the entertainment business, and a channel for distribution, HMV Japan and their ten thousand stores. One of our focuses was to find a distribution channel because our product is physical. Our initial idea was to distribute it at concerts like merchandise, and when we were talking to [Lawson HMV Entertainment], they eventually said they’d invest in us.

Asaeda elaborates that Beatrobo will, in fact, license their patent to Lawson so that they can manufacture the device. Obviously if the startup were to manufacture PlugAir devices on their own, they’d burn through their funding very, very quickly. So this arrangement brings assistance on the manufacturing side, and also assures reasonably widespread use of the app, which is required by anyone who uses a PlugAir device in order to pull content from the cloud.

A physical, digital key

As you can see in the video below, using PlugAir is almost the same sort of experience as using a USB key. But the technology doesn’t actually store content on the device. As I understand it, it instead receives soundwaves from your phone which are then turned into electric power, launching the device’s microcontroller to get its serial number [2]. They then send that data back to the phone using its microphone input, which unlocks access to cloud content.

I asked Asaeda about the challenge of making people understand that a smartphone’s headphone jack can be used in this way. He affirmed that this indeed an critical challenge:

That’s our goal for this whole year. Techy people will think if it is a gadget that goes in the earphone jack, then it’s a credit card reader. We need to change the whole idea of the earphone jack, and make people understand that you can get content from there. That’s why we started with entertainment. But some people have even asked about medical use, and storing patient or prescription information. It’s a key.

If you think about what Beatrobo has done here, they’ve quite elegantly made it possible for physical limitations to be applied to digital content. I emphasize the word possible here, because whether or not those limitations are actually applied is a decision that the content provider will make themselves. PlugAir could enable limitless copying to your friends’ smartphones, or it could be limited to, for example, giving your friends 90 second samples that expire in 24 hours. Sharing could even be incentivized, with musicians giving you a bonus track if you share samples with three friends.

Asaeda explained what they learned from working with Linkin Park using PlugAir over the past year:

What I noticed from Linkin Park that they didn’t really want the email addresses of fans, but a rather contact point where fans can buy or experience their content.

So if you think of PlugAir as a fan community device, (paying) members of a fan club could receive updated content over and over again in the future. I understand that push notifications will be on the way soon, which will enable fans to stay up to date with the latest content.

There’s a ton of potential in this idea, and Asaeda says flat out that his ultimate goal is to replace the CD:

We want to change music, we love it. Somebody needs to change the industry. Nobody is trying, so I’m going to do it.

The Linkin Park PlugAir
The Linkin Park PlugAir

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Beatrobo will soon move to a new office. Asaeda nice enough to meet with me as he was packing up his old office.

  1. Lawson HMV Entertainment is one of the three main businesses of Lawson’s larger holding company, which of course, includes its convenience store business. Genuine Startup is a fund spun off from Movida Japan.  ↩

  2. There’s also a security chip onboard to prevent copying the device.  ↩