It’s pretty rare that I have a chance to write about several topics of interest in one post: guitar gear, a founder story, stellar customer service, and sharing a great gift idea for your guitar-shredding loved ones. Looking for an awesome gift for a guitarist? I highly recommend the NOMAD ISO Battery Powered Pedalboard by Outlaw Effects. Please note that I’m nothing other than just a huge fan of their products. I also thought this would be an opportunity to not only talk about an amazing piece of gear, but also to share my customer support experience, and introduce you to another music startup founder whose story is truly inspiring.
A few years ago, I wanted to upgrade from a pedal board that had fallen victim to an errant beer at a gig. For those of you who have performed live onstage in front of audiences, it is highly likely you have experienced the hardship of poor or dirty power — the result of poor circuitry on many stages that have been trampled upon by hard-working musicians. In the past I’ve had the unsettling experience of showing up for a gig only to realize that I can’t get proper power at the front of the stage for the myriad of pedals that I use for my sound. The nerves are already ablaze prior to a show and it’s never helpful to add the extra stress of hunting for power right before your performance.
After some research I came across the Nomad battery-powered board by Outlaw Effects. The ISO-M model (pictured above) is large enough to handle my wah pedal; delay, distortion, boost, and compression pedals; a tuner; and the wireless transmitter for my guitar. In addition, it also has the proper power connectors, alleviating the need for batteries. After I plug all of those pedals into the top of the board, I’m ready to go. The layout of the board is simple, and is clearly designed by a performer. After charging the board I can play for about 4 to 5 hours before needing to plug it in again. It’s pretty awesome and there’s really no other board on the market like it. Believe me, I have tried multiple boards over the years and this is hands-down the best.
While the product is awesome, what has really stood out for me is the customer service. As a serial entrepreneur and founder, I have learned over the years that despite best intentions, I didn’t always deliver the flawless product that I had hoped. Customers often seem to have slightly different needs, and unforeseen circumstances arise. Sometimes, these situations are out of your control (sometimes it’s your own damn fault and you have to own up to it), but it’s important to communicate and partner with your customer to help solve problems. It’s never easy, but responding quickly and developing a plan is critical.
This time, I was the customer and I was in a bad situation.
I had less than two weeks to prepare for a gig. It’s an exciting time for any musician — trying to perfect a song, or fine-tune a portion of the set. But there is nothing worse than equipment failure. For some strange reason, my Nomad board would not take a charge. In a panic, I went online to my usual spots: Guitar Center, Amazon, Reverb, etc. to try to find the product. To my horror, I saw that it wasn’t available anywhere and it was on backorder. I assumed this was because the product was so popular it was sold out. I learned later that the reason was because a new and improved version was soon to be released.
I was in a tough spot because even if I could contact Outlaw Effects, there was no way that I could get them to fix it in time, and I was out of the warranty period. Keep in mind, most gear companies do not sell directly to consumers — they sell through large retailers. My only choice was to buy a new board from one of those retailers. I couldn’t find what I needed and was concerned that I would have too little time to set up and learn a completely new board before the show.
In desperation, I went directly to the Outlaw website and found a contact email buried at the bottom of a webpage. As most of us know, these email addresses typically lead to a black hole vortex. Nonetheless, I sent an email and went to bed with low expectations.
The next morning I awoke to find an email at the top of my inbox responding to my panicked need for a replacement board. I scanned the email quickly and saw that the email was written by none other than Doug Nestler, the CEO of Music Ship LLC, the company that owns Outlaw Effects.
I couldn’t believe it. Herein begins a masterclass on customer support.
Doug’s email was friendly and upbeat with a definitive, problem-solving tone. His email was almost surgical in nature as he was ready to get into specific detail around what he thought the problem could be. Most importantly, he was not defensive in any manner whatsoever. Moreover, he had clearly been thinking seriously about my issue, as he sent a few more emails responding to my initial email before I even had a chance to respond. Doug was running through possible solutions to the problem based on my initial description. This is a good reminder to be detail-oriented in support requests as customer support professionals often need to replicate the error or problem so they can debug or solve the problem.
After a brief Q&A, Doug figured out that the problem most likely wasn’t with the board, but with the adapter plug. Basically it seemed like the faulty adapter wasn’t pulling the right amount of power to charge the board. I was amazed that the CEO of the company made MY problem HIS problem. He then asked for my address and immediately sent me the replacement adapter. He never asked for payment for the adapter, nor even asked me for proof of purchase, as the board was completely out of warranty. Instead, he simply executed and sent me the adapter which I received a day later.
However, he wasn’t completely sure that the adapter was the source of the problem. Given that the gig was now less than two weeks away he wanted to make sure that I had a backup in case the faulty adapter wasn’t the problem. Here I was in a situation with a person whom I’ve never met before, who immediately stepped into my shoes, showed empathy, and worked with me to find a solution.
He then shared that there was a new model that he was just about to release on the market with several new improvements. He insisted on sending me one of the first production models. As you can imagine, just about any gearhead would love to try a brand new product before it’s released to the public but I tried to hide my excitement. I told him it was unnecessary and that we should just wait to see if the adapter replacement solved the problem. But he reminded me that there wouldn’t be enough time unless he sent the board immediately. He was concerned that his quick fix might not work.
A day later, I received a large package in the mail. It was the Nomad ISO. The packaging was beautiful. The board was pristine, and everything looked like it was sent from a high-quality manufacturer.
At this point my responsibilities as a decent human being kicked in and I begged him to allow me to properly compensate him for doing this. He adamantly refused and said this is the way to pay it forward.
This is when I became interested in him as a person and learned an incredible story about perseverance, survival, and seizing opportunities when they present themselves.
Doug is the current owner of northeast U.S. rep firm Reflex Marketing and CEO and founder of Music Ship LLC. He has been involved in music for over 40 years, having worked at Korg, Marshall, Vox, and several music retailers and distributors. What’s also interesting is that he became a founder at age 58. Here in Silicon Valley, you are hard-pressed to find a founder older than 30. Doug clearly demonstrates that you can be a successful founder regardless of age.
I have been writing about founders and their super powers for quite some time. One of the critical super powers that each successful founder has is uncanny resilience, and the ability to overcome challenges no matter how difficult they may seem. Doug has this in spades.
Doug describes himself as the black sheep of the family. He dropped out of college to pursue his dreams of being a rock star on stage, but unfortunately that never panned out. When things fell through with the promised record deal and an upcoming tour, he had to figure out how to make ends meet now that he was unemployed. Instead of giving up and living with his parents, he was able to convince a local music store to give him a shot at working behind the counter and selling keyboards. Thus began a lifelong career in the musical instrument retail world. As most of you know, being in retail is not easy, particularly in music. He’s had his ups and downs, which even includes getting literally hit by a truck at the National Association of Music Manufacturers (NAMM) conference in Anaheim, California.
None of those challenges compares to his most recent challenge. A few years ago, Doug was delivered some terrible news: he had a high-grade carcinoma in his bladder. This was an advanced cancer that had possibly metastasized to other parts of his body. The news devastated him as well as his family and he was told that his time on this planet may be cut short. But Doug’s resilience and perseverance kicked in — this time it was a life-or-death situation.
Fortunately, Doug underwent radical surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, where the skilled chief of urology worked his magic, and helped keep Doug with us on this planet. A second surgery was required in 2021, and between the two procedures there were 18 days in the hospital and months of recovery time.
Doug is now in remission and is thankful for every day that he is alive. When meeting people who have overcome overwhelming obstacles, I’ve realized that they focus only on things that truly matter.
I am proud to call Doug my friend. He is a remarkable individual, demonstrated in particular by how he treated me when I was a complete stranger. I have a lot to learn from Doug. Maybe we can all learn something from him, his approach to life, and his world-class customer service for a product I love and depend upon.
Doug publishes a music industry blog at https://sound-marketing.com/.