Audiojack CEO David Tobin: “Don’t lie to yourself; You can pretend and imagine, but never pretend you’re something you’re not.”
Don’t lie to yourself. You can pretend and imagine, but never pretend you’re something you’re not. The only way you become something great is by building. If you build on emptiness, you’re gonna fail. — someone once came up to me and said: “you’ve never run a tech company before, how are ya gonna do this?” I said, “first, we’re not a tech company. Second, who cares? I don’t need to have done something before to be able to do it. There’s a first time for everything.” They looked dismissive at me and I went on with my day. Later, at the event, someone came up to me and said, “I want to interview you. You’re not like the others. We need more of that.” If I had tried pretending to be a tech exec, not only would this person not have been inspired, but I’d be a fake version of something I never want to be.
I had the pleasure of interviewing David Tobin, CEO and creator of Audiojack. David comes from the world of TV production has brought to life over 45 shows that have been seen on every major network. In addition, he ran On the Rox and helped manage the Roxy Theatre on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. He currently works with education and health programs around the world about the importance and use of imagination. Through his efforts, he created Audiojack, which has gone on to become one of the most revolutionary sonic experiences ever.
Tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve been a fan of sound since I was a little kid and it’s all my parents' fault. My Grandma took me to see Tony Bennett in the park in Chicago when I was 4. A while after that, my parents took me to see Louis Armstrong. And then the Eurhythmics when I was 10. But it’s my mom’s fault you’re reading this.
You see, my mom made me take drama my freshman year in high school. I didn’t want to, but she said to give it a shot. I thought it was lame and truly had no idea what it really was. She substitutes taught for that class (before she was teaching full time) and knew the instructor as well as what would be in store for me if I took the class… I hemmed and hawed, but… I guess my mom knew me pretty well.
I took the class and spent all four years of high school in a theater which set me on this path into the world of imagination. I acted, I played in metal bands, I learned how to direct and produce, but it was being around my mother, the educator for over 22 years, that led me to create something combining it all, and in turn, I created Audiojack.
Her passion to make the world a better place and unwavering ability to handle a room of rowdy high school kids showed me something special. It inspired me and I fell in love with education. I wanted to contribute and help, so I volunteered, helped coach programs, and even though I’d be a teacher one day. That never happened. But I always wanted to find a way to give back and help educators and students connect and help evolve the way we connect.
One day I came up with Audiojack and played it for friends. They were blown away, and it became something fun to do at game night, or just to relax. Meditation for the rest of us. However, when my mom had me bring it into one of her classrooms with a lesson I refined with her help, everything clicked. The results were amazing and right then and there I knew I found my way of making a substantial contribution to the world.
Thanks, mom. You’re amazing.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First, can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
While creating Audiojack, I worked a full-time job in TV. I would supervise story on competition, build and docu-reality shows. Its an intense full-time job in its own, but every night and weekend I would work on Audiojack. I’d even take chunks of time off working in TV to focus on Audiojack alone.
The tricky thing is, I live in LA, and taking a month or three off can get expensive, quick. So, it was back and forth until the wheels lifted off the ground and things took off.
The hard times were eating one meal a day, trying to figure out how to go out and have a social life with no budget, to stay sane while working crazy hours. And that’s really the crux of it all. When you start something from scratch it’s not just creating product and sales — It’s business management, legal, advertising, message control, outreach, demos: it’s doing every single possible job at the same time… for years!
And that’s just it. You never know when things are going to work out. So, you have to get into the mentality that this is just how it is. It’s f***ing depressing. It’s tough. It’s hard to keep going when you don’t know where the light at the end of the tunnel lies. You just have to keep going.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The thing that kept me going day and night with Audiojack was that I saw how it helped people. Something that I created was having a significant impact on people around the world. Families were using it at home to connect with each other with the activities, blind users connect with sighted over the images they create in their mind, I watched memories come to life in senior care centers, I had patients going through chemo reach out and say that they felt like they were somewhere else and at peace during their treatments. Emails came in from people around the world saying they use Audiojack to fall asleep or take a break from their screen during the day at work.
Knowing this was helping people, got me up every day. Knowing that no matter what I was dealing with, there was someone out there having a better quality of life because of it. I owed it to them and the countless others out there that could benefit from my work.
Audiojack combines everything I’m passionate about and was actually helping people around the world through imagination. If that kind opportunity doesn’t drive you to go through hell to see it come to life, I don’t know what would.
So, how are things going today? How did Grit lead to your eventual success?
Things are on fire. But that’s how it always is. I’m going a mile a minute, getting the word out about Audiojack. I’m doing exactly what I did before, with different obstacles in my way. The grit is what gives you callouses so when you keep going, you don’t get as distracted by the pain. The grit is your badge of honor. The grit is what collects in the corner of your smile and adds to the sparkle in your eye when you pull off another win, and what keeps you standing when the battle is a loss.
The grit is what’s in your core and soul. It’s the packed in weight of your work that’s more like coal for the engine on your train to the finish line.
The saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is pretty damn accurate. Learn from the pain and keep going. Rocky said it best, “It’s not about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep going.”
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Audiojack is a one of a kind experience. It’s verticals reach all walks of life. Our content has no language, race or gender barrier. Audiojack is used in schools, at home for game night, to help people sleep, in PTSD programs, with the blind, autistic programs, wildlife education. We make custom content for brands, for celebrities, for movies and TV shows, in yoga studios. Audiojack is used for people going through dialysis, chemo, and other therapies.
Everyone uses the same app because we are helping you take back your imagination. Audiojack exists with you and can be whatever you want it to be.
I always knew Audiojack was special, from the way my family reacted, to the way people would come up to me and tell me how it affected them, but there’s one moment that made me realize this company was not like others.
It happened just recently at an event I was at with Emily Davis, my Director of Engagement. Someone came up to me and said, “You two are not like the others. You care. You’re having fun. I’ve been at this event for a few days and met the biggest heads of companies and none of them have this energy. You not only make a great product, but you both are happy and you’re not selling. You’re just excited to be a part of what you’ve created. That’s special.”
It stopped me cold. I never thought about that. I always just loved what I did, but when he mentioned that it was both of us and that he felt something from it I started to think back and all those that work with us and who have helped in the past… They all were happy, no matter the workload or the issues. Even those that we let go, we're still in a good place. It made me realize that when you do what you love and create something positive in the world, everything connects.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Please for the love of all that is holy, take care of you! Be strict with your regimen and set boundaries and stick to them, no matter what. You will want to work later than you should, you will want to do things to push yourself, and there are a time and place for that, but it’s not as often as you think.
You see, mental and physical health is key. If you’re not well, your company won’t be well. This path is not something for those who aren’t disciplined. You are going to be up late, you are going to travel, you’re going to deal with those you’d rather not, you’re going to deal with fans that want you just because you’re doing something new. You have to know all of this and make sure you stay true to yourself and keep yourself focused and in the right state of mind.
I stay active and workout almost every day. You don’t have to be a gym rat, but do cardio, do yoga, eat healthily, take care of your machine. Your mind needs a healthy vehicle to get it where it needs to be to make your dreams a reality. If you’re strung out and not sleeping or eating poor, that will corrupt your thoughts, your actions, and in turn, lead to you crushing your own dreams.
The deck is already stacked against you, you’re gonna need all the help you can get, so don’t make it tougher than it already is.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’ve had the fortune of being around amazing people in my life. Passionate and smart and caring people. Standing on the backs of giants got me here.
I did not do this on my own.
My mom helped inspire my creations and passion, my friends supported my crazy ideas time and time again, and my brother always kept me honest when things were not correct. But it was my dad that told me to focus on my bedrock. That sentence has stuck with me to this day and I think about it often.
Yes, think big, look out and hustle for everything, but if you don’t have a foundation… everything you create will fall at some point. The more you do, the bigger you get, the stronger that bedrock has to be. So, no matter how fast you grow or how big you get, stop and get that foundation in place. Build it with mud and dirt, get messy. Put the stones in place. Line up the bricks and build something that will last a lifetime.
Often, I didn’t want to do little elements in creating a company. They took time and were less than exciting. They weren’t sales oriented, they weren’t creative. It just worked. But it has to be done. And you learn a lot when you handle those elements. You look at your business differently. You see it from all sides. And it was a chat with my dad one afternoon that made this all make sense. Now it’s a part of everything I do.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Our motto at Audiojack is “Take Back Your Imagination.” The imagination is the one tool we all have that makes us unique and connects us to a bigger world. It’s where our dreams come from, its where we build empathy, it’s where we escape. By using your imagination, you reduce the stress and anxiety in your life, you get to connect to yourself. The Audiojack app is used globally in health and education.
All of this has been my driving force. I’ve always wanted to use my powers for good, and this is the outlet that allows this young Jedi to bring a little good into the world. And as Audiojack grows, I can share how I ended up here by creating something that helps us all, and hopefully, inspire others to do the same. I’ve been asked to speak at schools, giant corporate events, on TV, radio shows, this article! I get to share my passion and stories to show you that it can be done.
There’s a lot of negativity in the world and I keep hearing how things are no good, but that’s all bullshit. There’s more good than you know and we need more people out there sharing it. This is my way of doing it, and as Audiojack grows, it allows me to reach more people and get them out of their shell, and fighting with us to put evil back in its place.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit?
There is no way to go out and get “grit.” It’s not like that. It’s about connecting the dots backward and seeing where it evolved from in your story. So, here’s some unsolicited advice instead…
- Get uncomfortable. Try new things, test your product out in ways it shouldn’t. Be present in person for reactions to your work. Don’t take the easy path because you’ve seen it done before. You’re creating something new. Skip the path and go run into the brush. — I brought Audiojack to an event for mindfulness. Everyone there said it was too wild for this path. I ignored them and played it for the audience anyway. When it was done I got flooded with people coming up to me saying that they felt like this was a meditation for them. They didn’t need the fancy mindfulness stuff, they just wanted to have fun with their imagination and in turn, felt way more relaxed than they did with the other programming. It was on their terms.
- Don’t lie to yourself. You can pretend and imagine, but never pretend you’re something you’re not. The only way you become something great is by building. If you build on emptiness, you’re gonna fail. — someone once came up to me and said: “you’ve never run a tech company before, how are ya gonna do this?” I said, “first, we’re not a tech company. Second, who cares? I don’t need to have done something before to be able to do it. There’s a first time for everything.” They looked dismissive at me and I went on with my day. Later, at the event, someone came up to me and said, “I want to interview you. You’re not like the others. We need more of that.” If I had tried pretending to be a tech exec, not only would this person not have been inspired, but I’d be a fake version of something I never want to be.
- Hold others accountable for their actions. People will try to screw you over, try to bring you down and those in high places will try to take advantage of you. -Call them out on their s**t. No one has the right to walk all over you and they certainly aren’t who you need to impress. You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone other than you.
- Have fun. Seriously. Have lots and lots of fun. Your competition will hate seeing you smile while grinding it out. If you can be in the middle of a crazy moment where everything is falling apart and still have fun in the chaos, you’ll do just fine. — at SXSW in 2018 the Audiojack app was featured in a famous publication. We got a TON of attention and the app started to fail. It wasn’t ready for this level of action and s**t went haywire across the board. I embraced the chaos and went for the ride. I could have freaked out, started drinking, given up, but instead, I thought to myself… “This is pretty f***ing awesome. We will get it fixed. In the meantime, I’m gonna see how hard we can push this baby!” And we did. The app got thousands of downloads by the hour and the crash reports piled up, it was awesome.
- Don’t take your work personally. You may be connected to it. It might be your financial stake for all you have, but you can’t take it personally. If someone says something bad about your product, then you’re gonna take offense, but let that s**t go. You can’t let that happen. If Audiojack crashed and burned, I’d go on. Sure, I’d be sad as hell, but that would pass. You are not your job.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
TAKE BACK YOUR IMAGINATION.
That is our motto, our campaign, our mission at Audiojack, and it’s my personal one as well. It’s my quest for all to embrace and learn and share. Our imaginations are what helps us create empathy, it helps us learn, innovate, grow. Without our imaginations, we would do the same thing every day. We never would have evolved. We would be stuck in Plato’s cave. We broke out of that space to imagine what possibilities were out there, and then we made them a reality.
I use my Instagram often to talk about this, share with others and highlight what people are doing to get humans engaged with their imagination. We are in this “always on” generation and its crushing us. Get off the screen, get out and create. Inspire, lead, work with others across the planet. Work together so we can reach the stars.
I’m here to show you that whatever you want can be done. I was told “No” so much in my life and that I wasn’t good enough for so many things, but it came from people that were trying to keep me down. I imagined greater things for myself, for my friends, for my family members. I wanted to make this place better and I wasn’t going to let anyone decide my fate other than me.
The movement I want to create is one of action. One where people are not afraid to fight for good. Where they aren’t afraid to be themselves, to go out and get the life they want, to use their imagination as a weapon to bring us all together and unite this planet so we can reach the stars over and over again.
We get one life and now we can all talk to each other. The boundaries are gone. We imagined a global community and now we have it. Let’s show our ancestors that we can do something great when we ALL work together.
Take Back Your Imagination… It’s more important than you know.
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