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Dr. Wei-Shin Lai, Family Doctor Turned Entrepreneur Is Making Waves In the Sleep Sector

Harry Stevenson

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Dr. Wei-Shin Lai

How did you start your business?

Being a family doctor, I needed a way to get back to sleep after taking patient calls in the middle of the night. My husband, computer programmer Jason Wolfe, suggested listening to soothing music to fall back asleep, but headphones were bulky and earbuds were extremely uncomfortable. Since there were no headphones specifically designed for sleeping on the market, we invented our own.

We came up with the idea of putting soft speakers inside of a headband. I wore it that night, was able to fall asleep faster and was amazed to find that it had stayed on all night. The idea actually worked! As a doctor, I saw so many patients taking sleeping pills, so I thought that maybe we should make some more to see if it could work for other people too. 

We set up a website (www.sleepphones.com), and even before we were done putting it together someone stumbled upon it and emailed me. I asked him how he even found the page – there was no shopping cart, and we didn’t even advertise it. He said that it was because the name just seemed to fit. He typed in SleepPhones.com on a whim! That was all the validation we needed for our product name. When we made him one, he loved it. Then the orders started coming in from all corners of the world. Since we were hand-making each one individually, we were busy just fulfilling orders along with working in our day jobs.

I sewed and my husband soldered the first 500 sets at our kitchen table. Now, we are winning multiple regional and national awards, and my husband and I are committed to ensuring people all over the world live and sleep better. Because of this, AcousticSheep has been at the forefront of the sleep industry for the past 13 years. SleepPhones® has helped over a million people all over the world sleep and live better.

SleepPhones® features a luxuriously soft headband that contains thin removable speakers to play music, audiobooks, meditation, white noise, or talk radio. SleepPhones® are fully padded with nothing sticking into the ears and are so much more comfortable than other headphones out there. 

 

What have you learned about starting a business?

One of the things we’ve learned is to follow our gut rather than fully trusting “experts.” There are many people who speak very confidently and want to sell you their services. If they didn’t really listen to you when you were telling them your needs, they probably can’t really help you. 

Over time, our success has attracted people who want to either ride our coattails or push us down. Our knockoffs are a problem, but we can also choose to view it as flattery. Ultimately what motivates us is simply that we are really helping people throughout the world get better sleep.

What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur?

The best thing about being an entrepreneur for me is having full autonomy over Why and How. Our company goal is simple – to help people sleep better so they can live happier and healthier lives. I don’t need to worry about working for an employer who is not contributing positively to the world. I know what we do is good, and I’m happy to lead a team of people to that end!

 

What makes you stand apart from your competitors?

Everything about our products is different from knockoffs. Actually, knockoffs have to be fairly similar to be called knockoffs. We don’t really have knockoffs, we have really bad imitators. They have the headband idea, but the fabric, the sewing, the speakers, the Bluetooth, etc. – everything is different. We know who our copycats buy from and how. We know the factory they work with is unethical, that they don’t have process control, and that they fake their reviews. We understand that we don’t have the lowest prices, but we do have the best products.

I believe that there is so much waste with cheap stuff in this world that it’s worth making the investment in working with THE brand, the innovators, the people who stand behind their product, the small business that is ethical and believes in benefiting the world with improving sleep. We are ethical, we use the best materials, we have the best manufacturing processes, we run our own full-circle quality control department, we support our local (Erie, PA) economy, we innovate, we truly care about your sleep, and every one of our dedicated employees stands behind our products. We still sew our speakers together instead of using glue which splits apart and gets slimy with normal use. Every part of our product is carefully considered. The design, materials used, and the processes to integrate everything have been intentional. We don’t buy anything off-the-shelf. Everything is custom. For the past 5 years, all of our factories are locked down tightly, so there are no “similar-enough” imitators out there. 

 

What’s been the best lesson you’ve learned in business or your career and why?

The most important thing I’ve learned is to never stop asking questions. Even if they might be the wrong questions, they will lead you to the right path. It’s okay to not know all the answers; that’s normal. Also, staying humble will help direct you to acquire the knowledge you need to move forward. 

Harry Stevenson is an award winning digital marketer from the United States, having worked closely consulting with Fortune 500 companies.

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