Interview: B&W Acquired by Owner of San Francisco 49ers, a Super-Geeky Audiophile
Silicon Valley start-up Eva Automation, co-founded by 49ers president Gideon Yu, acquires leading audio firm Bowers & Wilkins. Leadership packed with Harvard MBAs, venture capitalists, digital gurus and audiophiles.
The vaunted audio brand Bowers & Wilkins has been acquired by Silicon Valley start-up Eva Automation, whose CEO Gideon Yu is president of the San Francisco 49ers and an unapologetic “geek that really loves audio/video, technology and sports,” he tells CE Pro.
Yu is a Stanford-educated engineer with a Harvard MBA and a rich career in venture capital. He served as CFO for both Facebook and YouTube. His co-founders and colleagues are equally accomplished, with strong academic credentials and successful careers in consumer electronics, digital media, user experience (UX) and venture capital. Eva’s investors and advisors represent the who’s who of technology, finance and UX, from the likes of Yahoo!, Alibaba, YouTube, National Semiconductor, Facebook and Sequoia Capital.
But Yu doesn’t want us to care about all of that. He wants integrators to know that the acquisition of B&W, including sub-brands Classe and Rotel, was born of a “sincere enthusiasm” for high-quality audio and a long-term adoration for B&W in particular.
To be sure, Yu and his start-up Eva have broad-market aspirations but he promises, “You won’t see any changes whatsoever in audio quality. All the audiophiles out there have nothing to worry about.”
Who is Eva Automation?
Eva is a two-year-old firm operating in stealth mode to create the ideal multiroom audio and video system . Yu has been seeking such a thing for decades – something that combines high-end A/V with a “really fantastic user experience.”
Despite improvements in both areas over the years, “What I want for my own living room has not been created,” he says. “There’s components, like some good interfaces and really good high-end audio/video. If I could buy it, I would, but it hasn’t been created.”
Yu says Eva has already developed the core of a multiroom A/V system, developed with the expertise of digital gurus and UX experts from the ranks of Apple, Facebook, YouTube and others. But the solution, aimed at discriminating users, was incomplete without the power of a beloved brand and the craftsmanship of true A/V artisans.
“We went out to talk to a lot of the brands you [CE Pro] cover,” Yu says. “We asked: Is there a way to take our technology, our user experience, our expertise in apps – things we’re good at – and help you guys or partner with you guys?”
When Yu met B&W owner Joe Atkins and the team, “It was a whirlwind romance,” Yu confesses. “I’ve been a fan for decades and a customer recently. Their views of where they want to go in the future is just amazing.”
Like virtually every big brand in high-performance audio, B&W has contemplated its role in the multiroom-audio business, especially in the broader market served by … broader-market consumer brands.
“They [B&W] were saying there’s a lot of good technology out there, but still not the quality that B&W will put its name on,” Yu explains. “When we talked to Joe about their product roadmap, their passions, their dreams, it made a lot of sense for them to partner with us.”
He adds, like a giddy school girl going on a first date with the quarterback, “The opportunity for us to partner with a brand like that is just a dream come true. … From the minute I thought there was a possibility, I was bouncing off the walls.”
As such, don’t expect to see Eva dismantling the fundamentals that made B&W great. There won’t be any “real changes” at B&W in the near term, Yu says, and definitely, “You won’t see any changes whatsoever in audio quality. We plan to invest in quality. Otherwise, why would we acquire B&W? … All we want to do is find a way to deliver the next level of user experience that meets the quality expectations of the B&W customer.”
Also, don't expect to see much from the "Eva Automation" brand itself. The business now is all B&W and the company's new products, expected to ship in Q4 of this year, will be worthy of the brand, Yu says.
He emphasizes the acquisition is part of a “growth story,” not a cost-cutting scheme nor an evil takeover plot.
A big part of that “story” is the specialty A/V channel, which Yu and team “absolutely appreciate.”
B&W is a perennial favorite among home-technology integrators. In the 2015 brand preference survey of the CE Pro 100 highest-revenue integrators, B&W ranked #2 in the in-wall speaker category, with 29% of the CE Pro 100 saying they specified the brand (compared to 52% for Sonance). B&W was #1 in the floorstanding-speaker category, with 30% of Top 100 integrators specifying the brand for their installations. In the 2016 brand-preference survey (to be posted soon), B&W slipped slightly, losing ground to Klipsch in both categories.
While Yu is not at home cheering on the 49ers, you can be sure, “This channel will see me a lot.”
Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org
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