A Chicago-based speaker startup has raised $7.5 million in funding — and it got its start at a Hesburgh Library whiteboard.
Now headquartered in Chicago, Resonado Labs was founded by Peter Moeckel ‘20, Brian Youngil Cho ‘19 and Erikc Perez-Perez ‘19 while they were studying in the Mendoza College of Business.
Since then, the company has raised millions from investors including Catapult Ventures, Queen City Angels and Lofty Ventures. A recent round in 2021 was led by Crush Ventures, the VC arm of Crush Music, a talent management firm that manages artists like Sia, Lorde and Fall Out Boy.
Resonado has secured one-time partnerships with big names like Hyundai and Notre Dame Athletics. It also developed RV and marine-focused segments of its speaker business that Lippert acquired earlier this year. Today, Resonado is working with Klipsch, a subsidiary of Audiovox (VOXX), and with the U.S. Air Force and Special Operations Command to craft tactical audio products using their patented sound technology.
Making (sound) waves
The technology that’s catching the attention of national defense experts is brand new to the industry. Co-founder and chief of marketing Perez said that as speakers have evolved to be slimmer and thinner, the sound technology inside them has often remained unchanged. Resonado strives to be different from the inside-out.
“We’ve built a speaker architecture from the core out that’s tailored for modern products,” Perez said. “The conventional speaker has literally been around for 100 years, and if you break apart any product, you’re still going to find that same architecture in it, but I think the entire landscape of the audio world has completely shifted.”
Dubbed Res-Core, Resonado’s patented Flat Core Speaker technology uses two parallel bar magnets, a planar voice coil and a flat, racetrack-like diaphram. Other speakers still use a traditional cone shape that is difficult to fit into thin and sleek designs.
“What a lot of these companies out there have done is they’ve taken that conventional speaker motor and just applied it to slimmer and thinner speaker types, so they’ve just retrofitted this super old motor on to new factors. That’s just inefficient,” Perez said. “We’ve completely redesigned the motor to be perfect for these form factors.”
Assembling the team
The idea for to re-engineer the speaker began with Cho and his father, Lee Hyun Cho, former head of research and development at LG.
After studying speaker innovation with his father in South Korea, Cho began to look for a team in South Bend. He met Moeckel at the Subway formerly in LaFortune Student Center, and the two finance majors hit it off. The pair joined forces to launch a startup and compete in the IDEA Center’s McCloskey New Venture Competition for a shot at a share of the $350,000 in prize money.
Despite high hopes, Moeckel and Cho didn’t see instant success. Their 2017 business-to-consumer speaker company debut fell flat on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. Then, Moeckel and Cho met Perez, a junior living in Siegfried Hall with an affinity for marketing and design.
A former architecture major, Perez knew he wanted to be involved in the creative marketing process from the beginning stages of a company. He switched his major because of the “freedom that comes with business” and ended up working for a speaker industry disruptor.
“I knew that I didn’t want to do a conventional track within marketing pretty early on,” Perez said. “The startup world was something that was super enticing to me, having the ability to actually do everything at the groundwork from the marketing side.”
When Perez officially climbed aboard, the speaker startup was called Flato. Perez quickly got to work rebranding. His first move? Changing the company’s name from Flato to Resonado. The task was more difficult than Perez first thought.
“I was just like that seems like an easy thing,” he said. “And then it ended up being so much work to find something that you can Google, that’s going to be the top result and that you can get a trademark on.”
Perez next took the lead on product photography and content creation. Notre Dame and the co-founders’ friends became the backdrop for their product promotion. With the new name and photos, Resonado started selling speakers on Amazon.
In 2018, Resonado pitched a business-to-consumer speaker company in the McCloskey Competition. Placing sixth, the team was still hungry.
Soundproofing the pitch
The co-founders dreamed of making Resonado a full-time job after graduation, but that aspiration wasn’t tangible until the group leveraged Idea Center connections to make the trek to Silicon Valley that summer.
“Just working on something as a side thing, it’s hard to see what it could be, but I think especially after spending time in Silicon Valley and raising money and just getting that exposure to that world, we were definitely like, ‘Okay, this could be real,’” Perez recalled.
Just as they were embracing their status as the big fish in a little campus pond, Resonado was suddenly reduced to a little startup minnow in an ocean of Silicon Valley technology companies.
“It was a pretty huge culture shock. I remember we went out there, and we started doing pitch competitions and talking to investors, and maybe like the first 10, we would just get shredded, totally, completely shredded by investors,” Perez said. “It was super eye-opening. We were now just one of a million startups that were vying for these investors’ attention, but it ended up being super healthy. We ended up learning so much in such a short period of time.”
Despite the competitive nature of the trip, Perez said there was an energy of innovation about the place that inspired him and his co-founders.
“It’s awesome just being in an environment where you would go to a cafe and the person next to you is just like, an executive at Microsoft, and the person to the other side of you was talking about their next startup,” Perez said. “Just so much buzz and such a great atmosphere of building things that you just simply don’t have anywhere else.”
Perez said his favorite part of the startup process was when the tide turned in Silicon Valley, and Resonado started receiving positive feedback in the pitch room.
“That’s when we knew we had something … now comes the exciting thing. We have a direction, and all you have to do is execute, and I think that was kind of the most fun part,” he said.
One last encore
Back at Notre Dame for their final year together, Resonado had one more shot at the McCloskey Competition in 2019. Reorganizing into a business-to-business model, the team walked away tied for first and with a fresh $25,000 in their wallets.
With Notre Dame as its first investor, Cho and Perez graduated that year. Diplomas in hand, the co-founders entered the post-college world as their own employees.
“We were able to give ourselves that first paycheck maybe like a month after we graduated,” Perez said.
Mitchell Kokko, an IDEA Center student analyst who helped Resonado build connections in its early stages, said the team’s ability to see beyond the college campus allowed them to turn their student startup into a full-time gig.
“They were what you hope Notre Dame students will be. They were all very passionate about the product,” Kokko said. “What was really exciting about Resonado was that they were looking so much bigger. That type of vision is really uncommon while still a student in college.”
Perez decided to attend Notre Dame for the architecture program. He left with a marketing job at a startup and the confidence to walk into a room full of multi-millionaire tech investors.
“I think my biggest [advice] would just be, if you’re able to get yourself into a room, you deserve to be there,” he said. “When we were starting out, we would be in rooms and in meetings with 45-year-old executives who we were trying to land as a client or hire for our law firm … and it’s super easy to get caught up in imposter syndrome.”
He says that would be his advice to current students who have a big idea.
“If you were able to get yourself in that position, and you’re going to school at Notre Dame, you have the intelligence, you clearly have the ambition to not only hold your ground in interactions like that but also get what you want out of it,” Perez said.
Contact Maggie Eastland at firstname.lastname@example.org