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Executive Talk

Headphones with a jewellery touch

Swedish fashion tech entrepreneur Andreas Vural has conquered the world with Happy Plugs headphones. Since 2018 he has been living in Hong Kong to be close to “where it’s all happening”.

TEXT: Jan Hökerberg
23 OCTOBER, 2019

“We’ve added ‘Stockholm’ to our logotype to show how proud we are to be from Sweden,” says Andreas Vural.

One day in August 2011, Andreas Vural was looking for a pair of colourful headphones for his then girlfriend who wanted a pair that matched her outfit. When he didn’t find what he thought she would like, he bought a pair of white ones and painted them himself in different colours. His girlfriend liked them and so did many of her friends.

“It made me think that headphones like this would be possible to sell to a wider market,” Vural says. He managed to get a meeting with a Swedish consumer electronics distributor and they were impressed.

“They said that they could buy up to 100,000 headphones if they were delivered before Christmas. I said yes, even if I didn’t know anything about how and where to source and produce them. But I went to China in November and we managed to deliver 30,000 on time and the brand Happy Plugs was born,” says Vural.

He admits, however, that the quality of the rushed job was not good enough: “That made me realise that you have to be close to the production in China to ensure high quality, so we started to hire people in Hong Kong to take care of that.”

Vural describes himself as “an ordinary guy” from the small town of Sveg in Härjedalen province in Sweden, where he was born in 1980 in a multicultural family. His father was one of the first Turkish immigrants to Sweden, his mother is Swedish, and Vural has three younger brothers.

“I grew up in a creative environment that stimulated entrepreneurship. My father painted and wrote music, one of my brothers has launched a lifestyle high-end toothpaste brand, a second brother works for Spotify and the third one works with me,” says Vural.

He moved to Stockholm when he was 18 years old and regards the city as his hometown. But, in the summer of 2018, he decided to move to Hong Kong.

“Since 2011, when I founded Happy Plugs, I have frequently visited Hong Kong and I feel very much at home here. It’s close to the production and a convenient place to live in since I travel 250 to 300 days a year to cities such as Tokyo and Los Angeles,” Vural says.

70

The number of countries worldwide where Happy Plugs headphones are available.

Happy Plugs is his third journey as a tech entrepreneur. The first one was an online lifestyle store called G Life, where he was a partner between 2003 and 2008. The second was a charity tool called Sharity that aimed to increase online donations through viral marketing and for which he worked between 2009 and 2011.

“Before I founded Happy Plugs, I’d wanted to work with a physical product, something you can use every day. When I was looking around at headphones, I found that they were often big, only in black or white and with technical specifications that, as an end-consumer, I didn’t understand. I felt there was an opportunity to do something stylish but still affordable,” says Vural.

He managed to convince family and friends to be part of the journey and share the risk of starting a company in an industry in which competition is very tough.

“We were able to grow very quickly, despite the competition, since we found our own niche and were able to present good technology that is also good-looking. Our products are not only functional, they could also be described as pieces of jewellery,” he says.

“We use trendy patterns from the fashion industry. Most of our customers – around 75 per cent – are women. Previously, when our competitors wanted to reach women they only produced pink headphones and thought that would be enough,” he says, adding that the pink categories in Happy Plugs’ range of products are the least popular.

Try and fail but never fail to try, that is my philosophy.”

Today, Happy Plugs is a global market leader in fashion tech and the products are available at over 10,000 retailers in 70 countries worldwide, including prestigious stores in Paris, London, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles and other big cities.

“If you name a company Happy Plugs you don’t want to be called Unhappy Plugs, so we work hard with not only quality but also code of conduct. For example, we are involved in several different charity projects,” says Vural.

The company has grown substantially year after year and its turnover this year will be in the range of SEK 150 million (CNY 108 million). In 2018, the European investment fund Scope invested in the company, which has 15 employees in Sweden, 10 in Hong Kong and a handful around the world plus distributors and agents.

Happy Plugs use trendy patterns from the fashion industry.

Happy Plugs headphones come in different colours and shapes.

Vural has also founded YEVO Labs, a company that is used for testing new technology before it goes to the market. YEVO stands for “your evolution”.

Recently, the French luxury fashion house Saint Laurent (YSL) launched its first selection of headphones and charging cables, produced by Happy Plugs and YEVO.

YEVO has also launched headphones made of powdered metal from destroyed illegal firearms. The material is called Humanium Metal and it is a project initiated by IM Swedish Development Partner, an NGO that works with governments in Latin America.

“The material was a bit difficult to work with so we had to spend some time to find a solution to using it in the best way. Then we presented our product at a big tech show in Las Vegas and it got very good reviews,” says Vural.

Happy Plugs’ headphones are designed in Sweden. “We want to be associated with quality as Sweden is. We’ve added ‘Stockholm’ to our logotype to show how proud we are to be from Sweden,” he says.

Vural’s recommendation to other entrepreneurs is to dare to make mistakes: “Try and fail but never fail to try, that is my philosophy. Also, there are no shortcuts. What it’s all about is having big dreams and expansive vision and working hard. Furthermore, you can’t do everything yourself. You have to be surrounded by people who are smarter than you,” he says.

“That’s also one of the reasons why we are located here in Asia. Here is where it’s all happening and here is the future,” he adds.