The enthusiast's audio webzine

Jim Hagerman on the KickStarter experience

Jim Hagerman with the prototype Bugle 2

Jim Hagerman with the prototype Bugle 2

I was intrigued a few months ago to notice that Jim Hagerman, of Hagerman Technology and Hagerman Audio Labs was running a project on KickStarter. The Bugle 2 phono preamp needed an influx of funds to develop the casework, and Jim had decided to use KickStarter to raise those funds. I decided to ask Jim about his experience.

JR: Hi Jim, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by HifiZine. Perhaps we could start with some background – you’ve been into audio/hifi since…?

JH: Well, like everyone else, it hit me in my teen years and my story isn’t any different from yours or the next guy. It happened at an audio shop in downtown Minneapolis when I was 16 or 17. A dealer welcomed us into a room with Klipshorns, put the needle down on Crime Of The Century, cranked it up and stepped out. Our jaws hit the floor and we stood there in amazement, unable to speak. I then gathered up all my savings from a summer job and invested in an Advent 300, 2W speakers, and a Dual turntable. It was small and underpowered, but fed me for years. 

JR: And at what point did you decide to turn your hobby into a business? What triggered that?

JH: I started with the original inverse-RIAA filter kit and sold it through Old Colony Sound Labs, the store associated with Glass Audio at the time. That would have been in the mid-90’s and coincided with their publication of my article “On Reference RIAA Networks”. A few years earlier Allen Wright had proposed the 50kHz corner in a phono preamp, and I realized he was correct, so I backed him up as best I could.

Interestingly, my next product was not a phonostage, but the VacuTrace. That was the true launch of my audio business. It was still a side job for me at the time, and I had just moved to Hawaii. I didn’t sell too many of them, but it bought me enough time for the development of the Trumpet, which took a lot of work. I had just learned tubes and phonostage circuits, so was rather amazed when it attained the Stereophile class A recommendation.

JR: I understand that until now you sold what you call “half kits”, which are the instructions and circuit board. And as well of course, your fully-built high-end items through Hagerman Audio Labs. The Bugle2 is a full kit though – what motivated you to do a complete kit?

JH: I didn’t think the Kickstarter crowd would go for the half-kit concept. I was guessing they wanted the full package. The audience was no longer limited to audiophiles. It made sense to me at the time. But I have to confess, I have no marketing skills whatsoever and my business plans have been entirely haphazard from the beginning. There have been many mistakes and failures along the way. 

JR: Where did you get the idea to use KickStarter for fund raising?

JH: I had been aware of Kickstarter, but it was really a customer who suggested it in an email, linking me to the U-Turn Orbit project. I realized this was the perfect way to re-launch the UFO, which requires a very large up-front investment. I decided it would be safer to experiment first with something easier – the Bugle2. It turned out to be a perfect fit.

JR: From the KickStarter project page, you raised over twice the target amount. So it was definitely successful! Did you anticipate such a response at all?

JH: No, I would have been happy just hitting 100%! The impact and reach of blogs like Fremer and Guttenberg made all the difference. I was really lucky to get their support.

JR: Did you have a plan for what you would do if the funding hadn’t been successful?

JH: I didn’t, actually. I suppose it would have been simple enough to launch with the standard black case and drill holes myself (as I did with the HagUsb).

JR: The advantage of KickStarter, I’m assuming, is that not only did you raise the funding necessary for the casework but also got a large pool of orders to launch the product and get units “into the field.” Would that be fair to say? Do you think you will use KickStarter again?

JH: Most definitely! In fact, the next one is ready to go. All I have to do is write the script and make the movie. I’ve already built two prototype UFOs using 3D printing technology. It looks really cool and works perfectly. The only hurdle is getting the $12,000US to pay for the tooling. After that I hope to do a Kickstarter for a new Cornet (tube phono) and Piccolo (step-up) using the same enclosure family as the Bugle2. I have prototypes of them also up and running.

JR: Do you think other audio products could be launched this way? What parameters do you think would characterize the type of audio product that would be successful on KickStarter? (eg cost, coolness, ?)

JH: I think the key is to offer it as a kit for the DIYer and “Maker” crowd. It has to fit the motif of Kickstarter. They like artistic endeavors and anything “open source”. My stuff is not exactly open source, but I come close by publishing schematics and parts lists. Oh, and the project also has to be low cost and appeal to a wide audience. I think a USB stick DAC or something like that could also be successful.

JR: Having sent out about… well, at least 127 kits and 112 assembled units so far, what sort of feedback have you received from the project “backers”?

JH: So far so good. The response has been very positive. I was not too worried, as the original Bugle was quite a hit. Plus, the circuit improvements I made were not trivial, and really stepped up the performance to a much higher level. It sounds amazingly good.

JR: What are some of your favorite or most cherished records?

JH: I’m not actually much of a collector (shhhh!). I often use the same Patricia Barber LP for doing circuit comparisons and analysis. When I do get some down time, I like to listen to trumpet players like Severinsen, James, Hirt, Alpert, etc. My new favorite is Sandoval, but don’t actually have anything on vinyl. Yet.

JR: Thank you, Jim.

Postscript: The Bugle 2 phono preamp is no longer available on KickStarter, but can be purchased directly from Jim at Hagerman Technology, either as a kit or fully-assembled.

My assembled Bugle 2

My assembled Bugle 2


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