MDHUB member Flare Audio is a disruptor in the sound technology sector. Millie Green talks to co-founder and co-CEO Davies Roberts about his work, and an exciting new product launch scheduled for 2024.
Davies Roberts is an inventor. Naturally, this meant he turned up an hour late to his interview. Full of apologies, he blamed sound technology company Flare’s latest project for his forgetful- ness. Later on, he’d tell me he’d put this new device in his ears for the first time the day before, and had “had trouble concentrating since” because he was so excited by what he had heard.
Flare began life 13 years ago as a high-end speaker designer and manufacturer working with artists like Skrillex, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, and Mark Ronson. Since then, the company has evolved, producing commercial earbuds for a time before “the big switch” in 2019 brought about by their in-ear device Calmer. These little buds, originally designed to improve the listening experience for music fans, had an unexpected benefit. During R&D, Davies discovered that they significantly reduce stress responses to annoying noises.
All these changes have meant Flare’s tone of voice has evolved too as they learned to communicate with a new-found, noise-sensitive audience. Flare’s position as a sound company makes communication even more important for Davies. As he put it: “If, as a sound company, you’re not listening to what people are saying, and aren’t being sensitive to what people are saying, you’re not going to develop sound technology that’s meaningful to them.”
The challenge of marketing sound technology is well met by Flare, which employs incredibly successful influ- ence-led marketing to sell its products. Unlike other companies, however, Flare doesn’t pay people to make content. Instead, it seeks out genuine reviews and pays to use this content on its own socials.
Flare wants to “encourage meaningful engagement whilst supporting the influencer community. Integrity and honesty is of huge importance to us.” This tactic has led to a single advert reaching over 100,000 likes and tens of thousands of comments, all related to how Calmer has helped real people to live less stressfully. Flare is a case study for doing marketing right, all by generating a community around its products.
All this success has led to growth, including changes in Davies’ role as co-CEO and co-founder with his wife Naomi. Their careful teamwork, focussing in on the skills they are best at, has led the team to become what it is today. Davies defined this allocation of skills in a simple phrase: “if you don’t ace it, don’t own it.” Focus on what you’re good at, and hire people to fill in the gaps.
As part of this growth, Flare has had to expand its team, but this experience wasn’t easy. Davies tracked the company’s growth with a slight grimace on his face, because it went “from three in a garage to 40 overnight, then down to 20 through redundancy. You’ve got to be really mindful about how all those relationships work together. Is your new hire going to drive the team forward at the expense of everybody else’s happiness?”
After this tricky period, Flare spent time consolidating its core team of 21 employees, focussing its recruitment on character rather than purely skills- based. This has led to a happier, more productive team whose skills compli- ment rather than grate against one another.
As a small company, sometimes Davies felt like it was “us against the world,” but beginning to speak with other business owners at networking events and work- shops opened up a world of support. This eventually led Davies and Naomi joining MDHUB at the beginning of 2023, attending workgroups, receiving coaching, and engaging MDHUB to work on a Strategy Team Day.
“It was overwhelmingly good.” For Davies, MDHUB is “really valuable because you start to learn things you haven’t learned in isolation.” Having a space which is both communal and confidential helped Flare to bring its ideas to a wider audience for discussion, without the fear of public scrutiny.
Another benefit of MDHUB’s groups is that, for Naomi and Davies, who are both noise-sensitive people, there is an online option. In comparison to the buzz of networking events, Zoom sessions mean that Davies can “go into a room with ten or 20 people and enjoy it a lot more, talk with other people, absorb who they are and really listen to them without all the distractions in the room.”
The whole MDHUB team has been impressed by Flare’s efforts, – so much so that by the end of the year, Davies had scooped up our Disruptor Award. Asked about what this meant for him, Davies said “to be recognised as a disruptor is humbling for me because I want to leave a mark. My drive is that I hope to leave some- thing behind.”
Being a disruptor is not just about memory, though. Disruption has informed Davies’ approach to invention, challenging him to think critically when approaching huge problems in the sound tech industry. Taking the guess- work out of Flare’s technology, Davies broke down sound to a molecular level enabling him to develop and invent technologies that work to eliminate the irregularities in our ears, solving the long existing HRTF issue.
In 2018, the World Health Organisation published documents revealing sound pollution as the second biggest killer after noise pollution due to the stress it adds to people’s lives. Davies explained this in more simple terms, “Everybody gets stressed by sound, but a lot of people blank it out.” Finding ways to reduce noise stress is not just a way to improve comfort: it will save lives.
This is where Flare’s new project, comes in. Davies explained more, “after 13 years of research, we will be announcing a new technology that is going to disrupt every sector involved with sound. This product is going to be affordable and will deliver game- changing and disruptive audio quality for everyone.”
With a March 2024 launch in the diary, Flare is bracing itself for what could be its busiest period yet. Davies, while “punch-drunk” by his invention, was apprehensive ahead of this big reveal. “We’re just 21 people in Lancing, and we’re going to need all the support we can get from MDHUB.”
I can safely say from the whole MDHUB team that we’re behind Flare every step of the way, and can’t wait to see what this new era of sound technology brings.