Once upon a time, US basketball star LeBron James took a 1 per cent stake in a headphones startup, Beats by Dre, in return for promoting its product.
The arrangement paid off, big time, when Apple bought Beats in 2014 for US$3 billion, and James pocketed a reported US$30 million.
Nura chief operating officer Morgan Donohue relishes telling this story - and it's something of a model for his company's new deal with the All Blacks.
Melbourne-based Nura has just had its product become the official headphones for the ABs under a three-year, "multimillion-dollar" contract.
The deal involves a cash element, both sides say, but is primarily centred on NZ Rugby taking an equity stake in Nura.
NZ Rugby chief commercial officer Richard Thomas won't put a dollar figure on it, but says his organisation is now one of the largest shareholders in Nura after its founders, Dr Luke Campbell, Kyle Slater and Dragan Petrovic.
Thomas volunteers that it's NZR's second deal involving equity, following is recent renewal of its five-year contract with Sky TV that involved, in part, the union receiving 21.8 million shares in the pay-TV provider that, at the time, represented a 5 per cent stake in the company worth just over $20m.
That October 2019 deal has so far been a downhill ride. Sky shares cratered as Covid decimated the sports calendar, and have remained around 15c - valuing NZ Rugby's stake at $3.27m.
And the union also got a business lesson in May as Sky issued new shares at a discount to raise $157m in new equity. It would have cost $7.4m for NZR to participate to a level that kept its stake at 5 per cent; it declined.
Thomas is unfazed. "There are short-term investors and long-term investors," he says. "We're long-term."
Regardless, Nura is at a very different stage in its lifecycle from Sky.
The Aussie startup first hit business headlines in 2016, when it sought to crowdfund US$100,000 on Kickstarter, but ultimately raised a record-setting US$1.8m as around 8000 people signed on to be early customers.
A A$6m seed round followed in 2017, followed by a A$21m Series A round in 2018.
Both rounds were lead by Australian venture capital company Blackbird Ventures (most recently seen co-investing with the NZ Super Fund on its Elevate VC initiative]
But the seed round was notable for including US NFL team the San Francisco 49ers.
Don't look for 49ers players wearing Nura cans as they step off the team bus; the team was purely a commercial investment by the club; rival headphone maker Bose has all NFL teams wrapped up in a league-wide sponsorship worth a reported US$100m (which is actually small beer compared to the reported US$1.2b paid by Apple to secure Beats' NBA deal).
The NFL banned players from wearing Beats headphones after signing with Bose, and Donohue confirms that under his company's deal, the All Blacks will wear only Nura.
Will that be difficult to police?
"That's the beauty of it, they're shareholders," the Nura COO says.
He hastens to add that he met with "six or seven senior players" earlier this year to take them through Nura's product line, and wouldn't have taken the deal any further if those senior ABs hadn't been impressed by the product.
And the product itself is rather unique.
We're used to headphones or earbuds, but the case of Nura's signature Nuraphone, there are earbuds surrounded by earcups that deliver fuller sound and active noise cancellation.
The first time you put on a pair, a companion Nura smartphone app takes you through a hearing test so you can personalise audio settings for your ears.
And unlike Beats' Dr Dre, Nura co-founder and chief technology officer Luke Campbell didn't add "Dr" to his name because of alliteration - he's an actual doctor or, more specifically, an ear, nose and throat surgeon with a PhD in the field of objective hearing tests and cochlear implants. The audio technology and tests he created for Nura to "learn how you hear" is protected by five patents.
Unlike Beats, Nura's branding is subtle, and its signature features like its metal frame and buds within its cups aren't visible beneath its padding.
But Donohue says they'll be other signage when the All Blacks play the Wallabies at Eden Park this Sunday, including a Nura logo near the try line.
If NZR has any unsold inventory for any match, then it will be natural to throw a little love toward its Nura investment.
But in the scheme of things, the Eden Park faithful are a relatively small part of Nura's plans. Donohue says his company contacted NZ Rugby primarily because it sees the All Blacks as a vehicle for global branding.
Nura has recently been expanding its lineup, with the early-stage company adding the NuraLoop (an over-ear bud) and a gaming mic.
And next year, Nura will release a new product developed in partnership with the All Blacks - likely to be a design that will appeal to those who like to listen to sounds as they train.
The product will further intertwine NZ Rugby's fortunes with those of its new sponsor - and both sides say that's how they want it.
Donohue won't comment on sales for his company's high-end kit (its Nuraphone headphones sell for A$549), but says many come from a new monthly subscription service that costs from A$9 per month and gets new an upgraded pair of cans every 24 months.
At this early point in time, he doesn't see a Beats/Apple-style trade sale in Nura's future.
An IPO is more likely, he says.
But that's all down the line and it will depend, in part, in the All Blacks' performance.
Postscript: The long commute
Nura chief operating officer Morgan Donoghue is no stranger to the audio and music industries.
Before joining the headphone startup he was variously label manager for EMI/Virgin, global head of music for Vodafone and chief commercial officer for homegrown DJ software maker Serato.
And beyond Nura, he's managing director NZ for inMusic, whose stable of hardware, instruments and software includes Denon and Marantz's professional ranges.
After joining Nura, the Auckland-based Donoghue commuted to Melbourne every week for a Monday to Thursday shift.
But with the forced experiment with remote working offered by Covid, he's discovered, like so many others, that many tasks can be dispatched, just as effectively, from afar.
Once borders, reopen, he says it's likely he will commute to Melbourne only once a month.