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Avrev: When Oliver Bergmann and yourself founded Olive in 2005, did you think 6 years later you would have 3 wondeful music servers and a multi-room player as part of the product line?
We already had a pretty clear vision of where we wanted to go when starting Olive, but of course the digital music market is changing constantly and we had to shift gears quite a few times. With the Olive Symphony and Musica --our first line of products-- we basically tested the waters. We wanted to find out where such a product could fit in, what features customers requested, and what price points we needed to hit.
To get feedback from the market quickly we started selling the products directly to end-user customers in the USA. The feedback we got from them, and from press editors and analysts, helped us to shape our 2nd and 3rd generation of products, and the new products that we are currently working on. Our current product line is a direct result of what we have learned from our customers over the last years, and we are very grateful for that. Today we sell our products in more than 40 countries world-wide. Not too bad for a company that is barely 6 years old.
Avrev: Robert, you mentioned to me that you use customer feedback to help with product development. I think this is very interesting. Can you tell us more about this process?
When we started developing our first products we mainly relied on our own gut feeling what we thought would be a great product. Of course we analyzed market trends and technology developments to see if there would be a viable market, and if we could technically realize our vision. However you really only know if all this works out when customers have your product in their hands, and hopefully like it enough to recommend it to others. We wanted to make sure we can react quickly to the feedback from the people that really use the product on a daily basis, and that is why we exclusively sold direct at the beginning. We do quite a lot of research with our end user-customer base, which allowed us to improve the software very quickly right from the start.
We also got great new feature ideas, which we either were able to offer for free in software updates, or in subsequent hardware revisions in new products. As we always try to be fair with our customers we usually offer them upgrade offers once a new product comes out. Last time we even asked them how much they would be willing to pay for an upgrade, and we could accept 98% of their offers. It is a good feeling to see that customers value what you do, and I think our customers appreciate that we listen to their input and continuously improve our products.
Avrev: In your literature you mention that Olive products are for music lovers Can you tell our readers how Olive servers allow them to enjoy their music collections in an unprecedented way?
Beside of the great effort we put into sound quality I think our products, and music servers in general, offer a great advantage over other solutions that compete for a similar market. We usually separate the market into four categories. The first category are streaming clients, i.e. products that use a PC/Mac/NAS as the hub for your music. The second category is a PC or Mac with an external DAC. Then there are the users that simply connect an MP3 Player to a docking station/speaker. And last there is the music server category where we are in.
The advantages of Olive and other music servers over the first three categories are that we offer a standalone solution that eliminates all the problems and inconveniences that are inherent with a PC-based solution. A music server like ours provides a dedicated device to store and manage your music, where it is safe from viruses, system crashes and other malware. It also eliminates the need for any software installation or integration into a network. The music is right at your stereo system and playback will not be interrupted by microwaves or other devices that interfere with all networking technology. So safety of your music collection, simplicity and convenience is clearly a big plus of music servers.
Sound quality however is an advantage that is more specific to Olive. We have always focused our developments to maximize the sonic performance, using only the finest audio components available today. To achieve a comparable sound performance you have to look at some of the very high-end external DACs. Within the music server category we pride ourselves that we offer the best sound quality and greatest feature set at each price point. And I think we are the only ones that still hand-build products in the USA, right in downtown San Francisco.