This post is part of a series in partnership with Oslo Innovation Week, which takes place October 12-16th in Oslo. The Oslo Innovation Week 2015 program includes over 60 events on Startup, Tech and Creative. The events range from keynote talks to pitching competitions to investor meetings. The events are organized by different event partners and are held at venues across the city of Oslo.

We had the chance to catch up with Jesper Kouthoofd, the Founder, CEO, and head of design at Teenage Engineering, a Swedish electronics company founded in 2007. Based in Stockholm, the company designs and manufactures synthesizers. Its core product is the Teenage Engineering OP-1, a synthesizer, sampler, and sequencer. Although the OP-1 targets a high price point, Teenage Engineering has also introduced the less expensive Pocket Operator series, a collaboration with the Swedish clothing label Cheap Monday. In addition to synthesizers, Teenage Engineering manufactures the OD-11 cloud speaker, a recreation of the 1974 Sonab speaker of the same name, and accessories for their other products.

Tell us more about Teenage Engineering. What made you start the company, what problem were you trying to solve?

As most good things in life, it just happened. Our dream was not to start a company, but to make products for ourselves.

It’s all about that, the world changes and your own behaviours change so you have to constantly re-invent.

You had great success with the OP-1 and OD-11 what made you want to build the Pocket Operator?

One of our biggest missions is to grow the synthesizer population. We did that by making the OP-1 very simple to use, but it turned out to be quite expensive as it was built as a “no compromise project”. The Pocket Operators are our solution to that. Our goal was to make a $49 synthesizer for everyone. We failed that, as it’s $59, but we still consider it a success – we still sold a lot of them, so we are moving forward….


How do your final products typically change from your initial product prototypes – have you experienced any big surprises in the development phase?

We have a phase in development that we call “the fuzzy frontend” which is when anything can happen, it’s like the creative phase. We build a lot of models and prototypes, research components and technologies. This is an ongoing process that never stops, and sometimes we discover ideas that we move to production. When this happens we polish and tweak the idea until it has a good balance. Then we freeze the specs and work for 6 months up to 3 years, depending on the products complexity.

You have a very active community sharing how they are using your products – do you have a current favorite you’d like to share?

This is great, and I think it’s because all of our products have built-in limitations, so people try to push the limit of what our products can actually do. This limitation is a feature that we think a lot about…now we also provide cad-files and other tech specs that make it easier for people to be creative with our products. The Pocket Operators are a good example as we didn’t provide a case, so people started to build their own.


How has being based in Stockholm shaped your business? How would you describe the startup scene.

I believe it’s good, but also a bit sad that people adopt the silicon valley way of thinking when running/starting a company. We can do better than that. Be more creative, more crazy and not to think of it as a business, but as an arts performance. I think of Teenage Engineering as a great experiment. The “No plan” approach, just be here and now. That’s the best way to enjoy life.

What are you working on right now that you’re excited about? What’s coming up in 2016?

A lot! I am super excited about all our coming projects. We have our fingers in every can or jar when it comes to multimedia at the moment and also have started a band called teenage engineering sound system that will work as a test platform for our experiments.

We will show some crazy stuff at the NAMM show in Anaheim California Jan. 2016!

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs looking to build a hardware startup? (something you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out)

Be realistic about development time. Do not promise anything before you have a working product from the first batch,

The Makers Nation is introducing a “Business of Making” section to our Maker Spotlights so that we can get a better sense of how projects get off the ground. Each spotlight will now include the following three questions.

How are your projects typically funded?

We fund everything ourselves. But initially we did a lot of consulting to fund our projects.

What materials/tools do you use in order to manufacture and prototype your product?

We use all tools and materials available. CNC, 3-d printer, laser cutter, vacuum former… we also go straight to production for some components that are critical for functionality.

Have you partnered with any organizations in your city (Makerspaces, small-batch manufacturers, schools) that have helped you in your process?

Everything above. We love collaborations with organizations, other companies (even competitors…) and factories.

Find out more about Teenage Engineering at their website and Facebook page, you can also follow them on Instagram, Twitter, and SoundCloud.