For This Music Tech Team, Good Listening Starts with Good Questions

As an acclaimed producer, Bosko Kante was able to ask musicians like David Guetta and T-Pain for feedback on his updated take on the talk box. This is how he and his wife and cofounder, Maya, got valuable insights — and a head start on sales.

Dec 10, 2018 · 5 min read
Bosko and Maya Kante created ElectroSpit, a portable talk box instrument.

This profile is part of Processing Power, a series about how tech creators are taking their Kickstarter projects to the next level.

When Bosko and Maya Kante show people their ElectroSpit prototype for the first time, they usually talk through some of the songs that feature traditional talk box technology. “It’s still not an instrument that people recognize by name, even though it’s a very popular sound,” explains Maya. Since the 1970s, artists from Bon Jovi to 2Pac have made their voices musical with help from a bulky device that runs an amp’s signal to a vocalist’s mouth through a plastic tube. In 2018, six Grammy Award-winning songs featured a talk box.

The ElectroSpit team is building a small app-connected wearable that lets users creatively modulate their voices.

The team also often shares the story of the frustrating moment that prompted Bosko to develop a more portable version. At a performance with Kanye West, with whom Bosko won a Grammy in 2004, Bosko was forced to lip sync his parts because his talk box was too cumbersome to carry around the stage. He decided he wanted to invent something more user-friendly.

The Kantes really get a reaction when they start the demo. “We encourage people to try it themselves, and they’re usually in total awe,” says Maya. “Especially if they’re musicians or kids, they’re almost trying to take it out of our hands before we can offer it over.”

But getting to this prototype was no easy task. Though Bosko has a degree from USC’s mechanical engineering program, he had never created his own product from scratch before. As the couple shopped their idea around the Bay Area maker community and their music industry friends, they discovered that getting helpful feedback comes down to asking good questions.

Sketches of some of the many ElectroSpit prototypes.

They quickly learned that as much as they could turn to more experienced inventors for advice, they would still have to pave their own path. “When you’re building something new, nobody else is the expert,” says Maya. “That’s what we found, over and over, no matter how much people might think they’re the experts. People can share their own limited experience, but they really won’t know what will work best for the new invention you’re bringing into the world.”

They were still very appreciative of the communities at the Zoo Labs accelerator and Ace Monster Toys, a nonprofit makerspace, who were eager to test ElectroSpit’s earliest prototypes. “We were embarrassed at first,” says Maya. “The prototypes worked, but they didn’t look that great. In the maker spirit, everyone was so encouraging, though. Maker events have been a great way for us to pass around low-res prototypes and get feedback.”

But even in accepting communities — maybe especially in accepting communities — you can’t just ask someone if they like your invention. Maya attributes much of ElectroSpit’s success in getting feedback to The Mom Test. The book’s main thesis is that your mom, your close friends, and really anyone who cares about being nice will tell you that your business is a good idea. So if you want helpful, actionable feedback, you have to design strategic questions that get at why and how your invention might be useful to customers.

“You want to get honest feedback from people and understand how you can improve the prototype,” says Maya. “First off, you want to focus on people who are customers or people who have bought something similar, because if you get feedback from non-customers it doesn’t help you.”

“If you created the greatest mousetrap and you show it to a mouse, they’re not going to like it. You have to find somebody who can appreciate your product to get real feedback, and then you have to ask real questions.”

“Sometimes people will say, ‘Oh, it’s a great product,’ but they’re not necessarily going to use it or buy it. Making a sale actually gauges somebody’s interest, and gets beyond the bullshit that they might tell you because they’re your friend or your mom,” says Maya.

“As soon as it does something cool, you can try to sell it. If they won’t buy it from you in person, they’re probably not going to buy it from you online. It means you need to change something.”

Bosko at the Zoo Labs workshop with some of his many prototypes.

Maya and Bosko were pleased to discover that people did want to buy the ElectroSpit, even their rough prototypes made with PVC pipes. Then they sold a 3D-printed version. With each set of improvements, they got a little closer to their ideal product — and learned what price point customers would buy at. Most importantly, they got comfortable “being able to sell somebody on the vision of your creation, even if it’s not complete yet.”

And once they got the prototype and the vision more polished, they started trying to get social momentum going. “Once we got to the stage where we had a really good-looking prototype that sounded on par with the traditional talk box, and in a lot of instances performed better than the traditional talk box, that’s when we started reaching out to our more professional contacts that Bosko had in the music industry. That’s when people started to reach out to us as well, asking Bosko to use it on their projects,” says Maya. David Guetta, T-Pain, and P-Thugg of Chromeo have all sung its praises. “I think that having those relationships with influencers really elevated our product from being a prototype to being a viable product that people sought out.”

Now, as the team prepares to show the more advanced version of their product at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, they aren’t trying to get feedback anymore; their focus is on demonstrating the exciting piece of technology that all this feedback has made possible.

“People flock to CES to see the newest technology. Our new technology lets people create an interesting sound without years of practice playing an instrument,” says Bosko. “That’s the kind of thing that interests me as a music producer — and as an inventor.”

— Katheryn Thayer

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