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A Tour at KOMA Elektronik, Maker Music Company in Berlin

KOMA Elektronik is a small company creating musical instruments and based in Berlin. It was co-founded by two musicians who are now able to live from their passion. While in Berlin, I spend a few hours with Wouters Jaspers who gave me a full tour of KOMA’s offices and answered my questions on running a product company.

Wouter Jaspers’s dark ambient style is based on an expert use of electronic devices.

The beginnings

After studying sociology, Wouter moved from the Netherlands to Berlin in Germany to follow his passion for music. Interested in new sounds, he can’t find instruments that fit his needs.

To achieve the type of sounds he is looking for, he spent time making his own instruments, learning about electricity, soldering and circuits. In the process, he makes friend with Austrian musician Christian Zollner who happened to share very similar vision and passion for electronic music. They are now associates and co-founders of KOMA Elektronik.

KOMA-Elektronik-team

The team behind KOMA Elektronik. Photo: MakingSociety.com – CC BY 4.0

KOMA Elektronik offices are located in Berlin, in Neuköln area, a few blocks away from the cool Tempelhof, a park growing in an abandoned airport. From the street, you can see a few of their machines by the window. It’s an old building in a cobblestone street surrounded by trees and passing bikes.

On an afternoon of mid-August, I pushed the doors of KOMA headquarters and spend two hours with the team, who told me about their product, how they make it, and the wonders of running a small and profitable hardware music company.

Wouter has no formal background in engineering or product development. Self-taught, he and Christian were able to take their devices from homemade to actual products sold to thousands of musicians and amateurs in the world.

KOMA makes analog gears that let musicians create innovative sounds. Their main product is the BD101 Analog Gate/Delay. It loks like this:

Analog Gate/Delay. Photo: MakingSociety.com - CC BY 4.0

KOMA BD101 Gate/Delay. Photo: MakingSociety.com – CC BY 4.0

And sounds like this:

The logistics

Let’s take a tour of KOMA Elektronik’s offices, a great example of how a small hardware company runs its operations.

The team works closely every day. Office is very pleasant. It’s a big bright and quiet room with a large open desk, a work bench and a kitchen area. This is where they develop their next products and take care of the day-to-day operations of the business.

KOMA-Elektronik-offices

KOMA Elektronik Berlin headquarters. Photo: MakingSociety.com – CC BY 4.0

KOMA-Elektronik-offices (2)

The team at work. Photo: MakingSociety.com – CC BY 4.0

KOMA headquarters counts two more rooms: the assembly room and the storage room.

The assembly room is a very clean and organized space where the team assemble devices, test them and prepare them for shipping. The whole process is designed to be very fluid, from gathering parts and assembling them on the left desk, to testing them on the center desk and packaging them on the right desk.

KOMA-Elektronik-assembly-room

KOMA Elektronik carefully organized assembly room. Photo: MakingSociety.com – CC BY 4.0

KOMA-Elektronik-assembly-room (2)

Parts ready to be assembled. Photo: MakingSociety.com – CC BY 4.0

KOMA-Elektronik-assembly-room (3)

Latest KOMA Elektronik’s devices orders ready to be assembled. Photo: MakingSociety.com – CC BY 4.0

KOMA-Elektronik-assembly-room (4)

Testing bench at KOMA Elektronik offices. Photo: MakingSociety.com – CC BY 4.0

The storage room is also neatly organized, with labelled packages and a specific area for each parts.

KOMA-Elektronik-storage-room

Wouters shows me the storage room. Photo: MakingSociety.com – CC BY 4.0

KOMA-Elektronik-storage-room (2)

Storage room. Photo: MakingSociety.com – CC BY 4.0

KOMA-Elektronik-storage-room (3)

Parts in the storage room. Photo: MakingSociety.com – CC BY 4.0

Practices

Quality is the priority

Wouter insisted many times on how much attention they spend to the quality of their product. Customers’ level of satisfaction is very high, and very little time is spend solving problems.

Competitors are not competitors

When I asked him about his competitors, he almost seemed a bit surprised. In a very open source way, he doesn’t think of other companies in the field as competitors but more as members of the same community. In his experience, when your market is small and made of passionate people, there are no competitors, but rather a thriving group of companies working together to build a market. Small indie companies in the field keep in touch with each others and avoid duplicates. Their main goal is to offer something new or different, not to copy.

Main competition could come from bigger companies who can produce faster, and have the mean to launch big marketing campaigns. It’s actually a chance for Wouter’s company that the analog modulor device market is too small yet to interest bigger companies.

Building a community

The team answers all emails and customers’ questions themselves, they do everything in-house. As a result, they are close from their community of users and get to know personally many of their customers.

They organize events all year long, that don’t necessarily feature their products but are more a way to support artists and enjoy.

KOMA’s website: http://koma-elektronik.com/

Thanks for the visit,

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