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How Tinsel founder Aniyia Williams built a hardware startup from scratch while pregnant


Stashed in: Founders, Awesome, XX, Technology, Extraordinary People, Women in Tech, Corporate Diversity, Diversity

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This is the toy I want the most, and it was dreamed up by a pregnant Black woman who was the head of marketing for a voice startup. A perfect example of how diversity grows markets.

You're right, how she was able to make great sounding earbuds in necklace form is inspiring!

Tinsel was born out of a simple premise: headphones have a very necessary utility to them in listening on the go, but are neither fashionable or particularly easy to keep track of. It was a thought that niggled at her during her time at Voxer, where she was head of marketing.

So she thought it would be perfect to house great-sounding earbuds in a necklace like structure to keep them both ready-to-use and inconspicuously fashionable. But, aside from the idea, she had little else to go on — she had never started a business before, let alone created audio hardware.

But the idea for Tinsel never left her mind, so she decided to be bold and chase after that dream.

“My headphones get buried at the bottom of my purse, which is a black hole,” she explained. “I just thought, ‘Man if I could wear my headphones like a necklace, without them looking like headphones, that would be awesome.”

It turns out that her passion for the idea that would become Tinsel quickly became something others rallied around, starting with her former boss, Voxer CEO Tom Katis. What initially began as a simple brain-pick — she’d asked if he knew anyone who would be able to help her achieve her hardware goals — turned into an initial investment and an opportunity to network with Katis’ decades of experience in the Valley.

“So much I’ve learned from this business is about the network,” she explained. “Knowing the person who can introduce you to the person who can make it happen. I was introduced through Tom to Ed Kilduff, our advisor who is also an industrial designer.”

From there, Williams said she put together the leanest startup she could to just get a baseline Minimum Viable Product ready. She rapidly learned aspects of audio engineering to ensure that quality sound and aesthetic, and brushed up on hardware principles to promote efficient manufacturing. She took business meetings to create partnerships and funding opportunities while Santinello kept rigid and judicious control of the budget.

Finding the right other people who can help is key.

Not easy to do, as we often hear the stories of people who were able to do so, instead of how often finding the right people is a struggle.

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