10 May 2017

INTERVIEW: AC Worldwide's Karl Grimsey

Recently we welcomed Star Wars' C-3PO into Test Pit Towers. However, instead of translating conversations between us and Jabba the Hutt, instead he just played excellent music (and gave one us a cuddle in bed - see the video review). We chat to Karl Grimsey, the guy behind that, and other, cool Bluetooth speakers.

Hello. Who are you?

Hi, great to be talking with you, I’m Karl Grimsey (also known as Papa G) and I’m the founder and CEO of AC Worldwide Ltd.

And what do you do?

I design and manufacture licensed audio products from the movie and gaming worlds. Our current range consists of the award winning, fully licensed Star Wars speakers, C-3PO, Stormtrooper and Darth Vader himself, along with our latest speaker which is Master Chief from the Halo Universe. That one is special because Steve Downes, the actual voice of Master Chief in all the games, has given us permission to use his voice in our speakers. This is the first time his voice has been used outside the game, so it’s extra cool.

Tell us how you got started in that.

I have always liked designing things and coming up with something new. I initially created a few renders and set up a meeting with Disney and they really liked the ideas. I sourced the money we needed to be able to bring these designs to life, Disney gave us a License, and we set about making the first two designs, C-3PO and Stormtrooper. We’ve since followed up with the ultimate bad guy Darth Vader and signed further licensing deals with some great organisations, such as 343 industries for the Halo speaker.

What is an average day like for you?

Very long :) Not enough hours in the day as they say. I'm usually up by 5.30am and sorting out any emails that come in overnight- we have a factory in China, so I make a call daily to my team and look over current state of any new projects we are working.

Most mornings are taken up working on designs – we’re always working on things to come and tinkering with new ideas. I’m currently adding the detail and checking the CADs on a new project - the CADs allow for each piece to actually be assembled and enables us to work on the inside layouts to ensure air flows correctly to generate the great sound we make.

After lunch we look at the sales channels and talk with distributors and look at ways in which we can drive demand. Just because there are 100+ million fans out there it doesn't mean they will all come to you to buy - you have to go to them and speak to them via routes they are comfortable with: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Community Forums etc.

Where do you see licensed audio products going in the near future, and how might you have to adapt?

Licensed audio covers so many products from speakers, headphones, ear-phones to name but a few. I predict that there will be an increase in different versions of the same characters as License holders look for greater revenue from their licensee.

We’re proud that we are the first in the world to have speakers like ours - iconic characters with massive fan bases. Our attention to detail and great sound are key to having success - if you make a speaker that looks like the character but does not have the exact details then you lose credibility - if you do get all the external look exact then you cannot let the customer down on sound.

ACW are an awarding winning company for innovation - to maintain being the best at this we have to make sure we are head of the pack - Bluetooth functionality is now standard spec – WI-FI is now a sensible rather than optional feature to include. Speaker technology is changing, now you really can get a decent sound out of a small unit - but you need to understand how the air moves around a speaker to make great sound.

So how do others and ourselves need to adapt? Just don't rely on one license - always remember you are borrowing someone else's brand/character - make sure you keep a very good relationship with all of them.

What advice would you offer to someone keen to follow in your footsteps?

Ha Ha, I’d love to actually say ‘Don’t do it’. But if you’re going to do it, here’s my top tips:
Buy the right license

Know how to make what you are designing.

Have a creditable factory - all licensees must have an ethically approved factory.

Make sure the factory never own any of your product - many will offer you a one stop solution and agree to make the moulds for your product - if anything happens to that factory - all you assets will be lost too.

Make sure you get a lawyer from the country where you’re going to be making the product. A lawyer that understands the law of that land and can draft up any contract for you. Remember it costs money to get legal advice when agreeing a deal with a factory.

Don't assume every retailer will want to stock your product.

Don't take on all the work load yourself - ensure you have support and resources.

Apart from your own products, what kind of gadget would you like to see being reviewed on The Test Pit.

A waterproof saddle for riding a walrus with built in sat nav and distance tracking! Mmm, now where do I get the license for that from?

Ha, cheers Karl!

Check out everything AC Worldwide makes at acworldwide.cool

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