Written by Deena Douara
Parents: If your kids are breaking things apart at home, it might mean they’ll put things together one day.
At least, that was Derek Mascarenhas’s experience.
He shows me where his vintage-style MIKA Audio speakers are built by hand in Toronto’s King West neighbourhood. He includes real leather, chrome artifacts, and wood in the body, and excellent bluetooth reception and impressive volume in the guts; a sleek aesthetic, with an eye on superior quality.
One can imagine Mascarenhas as a six-year-old using similar tools when he broke the brand new cassette player radio his parents bought him for Christmas, just one day after receiving it. “I still remember it had LEDs, it had little speakers and a little battery compartment. I remember everything but the model number.
“I remember it vividly, actually.”
And then again, with another.
“I probably had about 15 stereos as a child,” he says matter-of-factly. “If there’s one person in the world to design stereos, it would be me.”
He explains he has an engineer’s mind. “That curiosity of when you don’t know the answers then you want to go find out.”
An engineer’s mind, perhaps, but an entrepreneur’s spirit, never quite at home at traditional workplaces or schooling, though he’s a “huge fan” of the city’s Starter Company program — which he says helped him overcome production issues — as well as of the program’s instructor, Andrew Patricio, “the best guy to run that program.”
“The nice thing about the Enterprise Toronto program is the minute you make problems known to anybody else, something comes out of the woodwork. Someone’s like ‘hey, I know a guy who knows a guy.’ And it’s really nice to have the city’s infrastructure and some of the highest city officials on your side of the ring, which is really, really valuable.”
“I tell every young entrepreneur I meet to do it.”
When he was 23, Mascarenhas launched his first stereo repair business and new he would return to entrepreneurship.
Focusing on audio was a “no brainer” for the sound fanatic and musician (bass, percussion and keyboard). Case in point: When Mascarenhas rents a car, he spends two days “tinkering with the audio system to get it perfect.” Nightclubs too become an exercise in decoding the speaker system.
“It’s an obsession,” he admits, laughing at himself.
His goal was to create a great speaker that would work both at home and outdoors, which is not as readily available (at a reasonable cost) as it might sound. He explains that most speakers are designed for one or the other and don’t sound good when taken out of that context.
His first design was actually built for personal use. “I’m a cyclist and I wanted something to be loud and obnoxious on the street — a portable speaker I could put in my basket and take to the park with friends. That same day I got lots of questions from people.”
He explains that larger companies build to a certain price point, while MIKA builds to what audiophiles want from a speaker — including longevity.
MIKA speakers include a special equalization in the amp – “giving you better bass at low volumes and maximized loudness at high volumes.” The website also boasts of phenomenal bluetooth reception, three times the volume of other speakers in its price range, and 15-hour continuous play (for Mascarenhas, that’s a lot of Dire Straits, Sting, AIR and Zero 7).
He’s proud of his speakers but his ambitions go beyond, including developing “the future iPods of the world.”
“I want to develop different products and commercialize them through validation. Develop intellectual property around how things can sound louder than they actually are, have batteries last longer than they actually should.
“Ultimately the goal is to do what BlackBerry did in bringing email to phones — a complete game changer.”
MIKA boomboxes are available for preorder in two styles on their website.