UC Berkeley undergraduates Luofei Chen, Noah Adriany and Aayush Tyagi launched Oki Karaoke in September 2018 — a startup that aims to bring Asia’s soundproof karaoke pods to the United States.
In China last summer, Chen — a freshman in the UC Berkeley Management, Entrepreneurship and Technology program — went into a karaoke pod while waiting for his flight at an airport. He expected to sing for 15 minutes but ended up using the pod for an hour and a half. In Berkeley, Chen often goes to karaoke with his friends, but he noticed how “inconvenient” it was compared to the pods in Asia.
“We figured out it was a really horrible experience in terms of them not having music videos on their machine — it’s not even touch-screen song selection,” Chen said. “We just thought the whole experience was horrible compared to what I have in China and my hometown, Vancouver. So, we thought we were just going to make something ourselves.”
Adriany, a campus freshman studying architecture, works primarily on design and product development. Chen manages business development, including negotiating contracts and securing financing. Tyagi, a campus junior studying electrical engineering and computer sciences, works on the software side of things, bringing his technical experience to the team, according to Adriany.
According to Chen, a karaoke pod prototype was tested for two months in Unit 2’s Ehrman Hall. He added that the karaoke machine had an average daily usage of about an hour and a half. After this test, Chen and his colleagues began the manufacturing process with their design.
The startup also received support from the Haas School of Business community and alumni, according to Chen. Their mentor Stephen Torres, a lecturer and industry fellow at the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, introduced them to Charles and Kai Huang — campus alumni and the founders of RedOctane, the company that created Guitar Hero — who aided in the initial process of testing the pod. The startup also received a $5,000 scholarship without equity from Haas’ Trione Student Venture Fund.
“We believe that the American market is ready for a music entertainment product like ours, given the recent popularity of products that merged music and entertainment, like TikTok,” Adriany said. “The new format of karaoke that we bring, namely the more intimate and spontaneous experience of a booth, makes karaoke more palatable for the American market, where privacy is a bigger concern.”
The startup is currently working to install its first booth in Westfield San Francisco Centre in mid- to late June, according to Adriany. Chen said the booths will operate by charging customers by the minute.
“I think they’re a great idea, as they allow for people who may not feel comfortable singing publicly to participate without worrying about others overhearing,” said Ellie Mann, a campus junior exchange student. “Additionally, it may also encourage people to go on their own for fun rather than waiting to go with a group.”