business

Small-Business Success Story: AcousticSheep Headphones

They’re soft and lightweight, and they let you rest easy on your pillow.

Kiplinger's spoke with Dr. Wei-Shin Lai (pictured above), 39, the cofounder and CEO of the Erie, Pa.-based company AcousticSheep, about why she left her private practice to focus full-time on her line of headphones. Here's an excerpt from our interview:

What are SleepPhones?

They’re like pajamas for your ears. We put very thin speakers inside a headband made of a soft, stretchy fabric. You have this nice, warm feeling while you listen to music, nature sounds or a comforting podcast. SleepPhones come in corded and wireless versions and work with most media devices.

How did you finance your business?

As a doctor and software developer, we could buy what we needed with our own money. We were profitable from day one, and we’re still self-financed. We did open a line of credit so we can build up inventory in the third quarter of each year in anticipation of the holidays. We have a really big fourth quarter.

Are you making a living?

In our first year, we had about $30,000 in sales. In 2008, we wrote a business plan aiming for $1 million in sales in five years. In 2012, we made more money from the business than from our jobs, and we reached our goal by early 2013. In 2014 we quit our day jobs and moved to Erie, near my husband’s hometown. We did about $5 million in sales in 2016, and we have 25 employees.

Erie isn’t known for tech, is it?

It’s kind of a Rust Belt community. Jason always talked about coming back to the region to bring better jobs and a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, and that’s what we’ve done. The business community has been incredibly supportive. But we’ve struggled to find the right local talent with experience running a fast-growing company. Our advisers here tend to be old school, and sometimes they don’t quite know what to do with us.

What’s your greatest satisfaction?

Customers have told us that they could finally come off sleeping pills after taking them for a decade. We’ve saved marriages, too. Despite one person snoring, the other person can finally get some sleep.

Most Popular

The Perfect Storm for Retirees
retirement planning

The Perfect Storm for Retirees

Today’s retirees could face a perfect storm because they are living longer and spending more time in retirement, while at the same time losing access …
April 18, 2021
The Wrong Way to Achieve Wealth
personal finance

The Wrong Way to Achieve Wealth

For some down-to-earth, basic advice on money and life, I have a book to recommend: “Your Total Wealth: The Heart and Soul of Financial Literacy.”
April 17, 2021
Child Tax Credit 2021: Who Gets $3,600? Will I Get Monthly Payments? And Other FAQs
Coronavirus and Your Money

Child Tax Credit 2021: Who Gets $3,600? Will I Get Monthly Payments? And Other FAQs

People have lots of questions about the new $3,000 or $3,600 child tax credit and the advance payments that the IRS will send to most families in 2021…
April 14, 2021

Recommended

COVID-19-Weary Business Owners Can Win by Adopting the Right Mindset for a Sale
small business

COVID-19-Weary Business Owners Can Win by Adopting the Right Mindset for a Sale

Your business has survived the pandemic, but it’s taken a toll. Here are some reasons why now may be a good time to sell, and some points to keep in m…
March 31, 2021
PPP Loan Basics for Small Business Owners
Coronavirus and Your Money

PPP Loan Basics for Small Business Owners

Although uncertainty and confusion have surrounded the Paycheck Protection Program since its launch, that shouldn't stop small business owners from pa…
March 30, 2021
Add a VPN to Surf the Internet Safely
Technology

Add a VPN to Surf the Internet Safely

To help you fight identity theft, consider adding a VPN.
March 20, 2021
4 Ways to Keep an Employee's Divorce from Hurting Your Business’s Bottom Line
Divorce

4 Ways to Keep an Employee's Divorce from Hurting Your Business’s Bottom Line

When one of your workers goes through a divorce, like it or not, your company can get pulled into the fray. It’s in your best interest (as well as the…
March 16, 2021