The enormous popularity of Beats by Dre headphones have made cofounders Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine billions of dollars. They also provided a jolt of inspiration for inventor Greg Blonder, who saw an opportunity to create a similar product that would not only cost less, but offer something that Dr. Dre and other headphone manufacturers hadn’t thought of—built-in speakers.
Since hitting the market in 2013, Blonder’s Flips headphones have had millions of dollars in sales at stores like Walmart and Target and online retailers like Amazon.
Blonder, a College of Engineering professor of the practice of mechanical engineering, holds more than 100 patents for green energy technology, medical devices, and more. Before coming to BU last year, he was chief technical advisor at AT&T Bell Laboratories, worked as a venture capitalist, and was CEO of several start-ups. He teaches classes on product design and product engineering at ENG.
Inventing, he says, requires not just ingenuity, but patience. “I probably design 500 versions of something, because I can visualize objects in three dimensions. Then I will design the assembly sequence, and then I’ll come down to my workshop and build the physical object.” That workshop is in a small, neat room in the basement of his Brookline home. Hanging on the wall are screwdrivers, saws, and drills, and neatly stacked on metal shelves are wires, metal and wood scraps, and even a toaster oven. It’s here he builds all his prototypes.
No matter how good a new invention is, Blonder has learned the hard way that it’s not going to take off unless it hits the market at just the right moment. “A great product requires perfect market timing to be successful,” he says.
Inventing is a compulsion for Blonder. He freely admits that he can’t stop himself from working on “the next idea.”
“I think inventing is a little bit like a disease with no cure,” he says. “If you want to invent, you are going to do it no matter what. If you don’t want to be frustrated, you have to learn how to make your inventions real, so you can share them with other people.”