We are delighted to introduce you to inventor, entrepreneur, creative mind, solving problem person, start-up manager, and marathon runner Rob Moncreiff. A story that we can all relate to. A ten year journey about a driven ideas man with a passion for inventing. A truly inspiring story about a man who took the leap and went for his dream never looking back. The first product idea (of many) that he decided to pursue is a unique backpack design that takes the all weight off your shoulders.
Welcome Rob, we are so delighted to have a peek into your journey as an inventor, as an entrepreneur that decides to take the leap and make his dreams a reality. Can you tell us a bit about the ten year journey from working for Shell to starting your own business, how did it all start?
Things were going well, I was working for Shell at the time, but I had at the back of my mind that it wasn’t really what I wanted to do, and I always had a dream, to be able to create something and be able to point at it and say
“I made that, and it made the world a better place.”
I thought that I wasn’t going to get that accountability and ownership working for a big company, things were a bit slower in Shell. If I wanted to be happy with who I was and what I was doing and what I was achieving, staying in that career wasn’t going to do it. So I sat down and I did some thinking. I wanted to stand on my own and I wanted to create something that is going to change the world. I had a few ideas to look at and I thought that I had a nice set up there. So I took the leap, I jumped out of that career to start working on my own ideas.
At the time I didn’t know which one was going to work. But I wouldn’t know until I set on my own and start to look at them– So that’s what I did. I thought that there was a risk that I will never take this leap unless I just do it.
“If you spend too much time looking over the cliff you are never going to make the jump.”
I understand that it can be scary. But I like to think about what the explorer Alastair Humphreys says, he says something like this:
"When people are talking about what stops them form taking jumps, and going for adventures, is always things like money, or lack of time, or too much on their plate. But no one is scared about being eaten by an anaconda in South America.”
It is actually just getting off the sofa in the first place. I think we live in a wonderful society. Our lives are very comfortable and it makes it more difficult to fulfill your dreams, because the day to day is more comfy. There will be problems, there will be unexpected things. But it is so much better than wondering, and looking back thinking, maybe I could have done something better, maybe I could have done something incredible! And I never made the first step, I never got up from the sofa on the first place, I never took that leap of faith and risk.
You have a broad successful business career, from working for multinationals to creating your own business. You always seem to be active and involved in many different sports from running marathons, skiing, playing tennis and you seem to do all this with an air of ease. Can you tell us more about how do you juggle all of this?
With difficulty, to be honest, so I’m flattered if you think I make it look easy. I think it’s all about prioritising and realising that everything we do is a choice. We live in an age of incredible technological advancement and social freedom. That means we are hugely fortunate in the array of opportunities presented to us but the question is what we do with those opportunities. Social media is a classic example. It offers huge benefits in terms of connections and sharing ideas, but it can also suck you in. Being aware that looking at your phone is a conscious decision to stop looking at the world around you makes finding that balance much easier.
It’s the same with the bigger questions and you can’t beat thinking what would make you genuinely happier, assessing what you could do to get there, and then going ahead and making it happen. Can it be scary? Sure it can, but one of the stupidest questions I hear is “Do you regret your decision?” That’s a very unhealthy way to look at life. We have no idea what would have happened if we’d made different decisions in the past.
I think a healthier question to ask yourself is “Am I making the most of wherever I am today?" Once you start doing that you take control of your life and start heading towards meaningful goals. Then life becomes simpler.
You have always been coming up with creative and innovative ideas, I remember before we started working on the MotionLab Bag discussing numerous other product ideas of yours, like the tennis training device. Can you talk a little about the 10 steps to designing, creating and selling the most innovative product in the world* as seen on your website. What is your creative process?
Ah that’s an interesting one. I don’t have a formulaic approach, but I think the key for me is to start with a problem that needs solving, and never give in to the 99% of people who say “It can’t be solved or someone would have done it already.” I like to break a problem down into the simplest parts to really understand what the core issue is. Then it becomes manageable and I mull that specific issue over in the back of my mind.
Sometimes you come up with something, and sometimes you don’t but the real work is that solving that issue will create a whole bunch of new, practical problems. Breaking each one down and solving them all bit by bit until it looks like you might have an idea to solve roughly the whole puzzle is where the real work starts.
The important thing I learned was that having an idea like this is worthless.
You might show your idea to your circle of friends, your family and they might think is very cool. But until you do something with it the problem is still there.
The value comes in designing, developing, testing it yourself and handing it to customers to test, and understanding why your original idea will never work.
You then have to adapt your thought process, iterating the process over and over again, solving each new problem as they arrive and modifying, redesigning, retesting to get to an end result that really is a practical solution.
In designing the Motionlab Active Commuter bag I went back to the drawing board 7 times, each time wondering if the problem was insoluble, until I realized there was a way around each of those roadblocks. It’s a hugely frustrating process, especially when you hit dead ends and have to abandon months of work, but I think it's the only way to have confidence in your final product solution.
“Remember all that work you put in, understanding why this design works but that one doesn’t, is the value that you add, and means other competitors will struggle to copy you.”
That’s my process but I would never suggest that my way of doing this is somehow the “right” way. I think it’s suited to the problems I like to solve which are tangible, real world issues that I have experience of, but we’re all of us unique and if you find a way that works for you then go for it, and good luck.
You have managed to conceive, design, patent and successfully launch your own product! Can you tell us a bit more about the commute backpack that takes 100% weight of your shoulders and how it all started?
It all started when I was still working at Shell and I tried running home from the office because the gym was shut. I just had clothes and shoes in a small bag but it was bouncing around on my shoulders and was horrendously uncomfortable. Playing around with the shoulder straps improved things and I ended up with the left shoulder strap in my right hand and the right shoulder strap in my left hand, and pulling them across my chest. I guess that was my first experience of the wraparound harness concept. It was definitely more comfortable although I was now running down the street with my elbows sticking out like a chicken, but I immediately felt I had something valuable. I thought maybe a wraparound harness could remove the need for a hip-belt altogether.
So, I took my brother’s rucksack, ripped off the straps and hip-belt and sewed them back on in a different configuration. It was an absolute disaster. BUT I could still see the wraparound harness had some benefits.So then I sewed the hip belt back on and started researching how the body is designed to carry load. I learned a lot from Google and physios and osteopaths about the natural way to carry weight in the human body. My testing started showing me how traditional backpack designs were preventing this from happening. That’s how I learned the need for the flexible and extending spine and the BreathEZ buckle system.
All that time I was also talking to potential customers, getting feedback on what they looked for in a bag, what problems they faced, and getting some feedback from them after giving them my prototypes to try on. These discussions in the end led to a complete change in the direction of our launch product from a 70 litre bag to a running backpack to a commuting backpack, simply because so many people highlighted the need for a bag that allowed them to go running to work.
I was doing all this in the kitchen of my London flat with tools I had from my dad, and my concept prototypes just looked awful. That’s when I followed up on a chance meeting with some friends to get in touch with James at Idea Reality. They were able to take my concepts and figure out how to build this into a practical design. We worked together to continue with the learning process, each iteration getting better and better and allowing us to give the bag to consumers to get further feedback. We learned entirely new problems and had to put our heads together to figure out solutions like the retracting hip-belt. It’s been a long, long process, but I’m really proud of what we have today.
You have turned your idea into a business and successfully funded it via kickstarter.com. The first batch of products is shipping to backers as we speak and we can’t wait to receive ours. Can you tell us about your product launch experience and any advice you have for those wanting to do the same?
Yeah, this is all really exciting. Crowdfunding on Kickstarter and Indiegogo enabled us to effectively pre-sell 230 bags which gave us the funding for an initial production run. It also gives us access to a community of people who are really excited to see this product come to reality and are really engaged so we’re looking forward to getting a lot of feedback. That’s super important because the best feedback is from someone who has actually paid money for the product.
Crowdfunding is a great way to launch a product as you get orders and the money up front so you can hit the minimum orders for production runs. However a lot of people see the crowdfunding success stories hitting double or triple their targets and think you just put your product out there and it sells. No way. You need to really work on your Kickstarter page to explain your product well, do a lot of marketing before and during the campaign, and keep fighting for every sale. Realistically you’re doing well to hit your target on your first campaign. From what I see it is only a few products (and nearly always the second or third campaign for a particular product) that go stratospheric.
Also allows lots of time to do your research on production. Go meet with the factory and make sure you have good control of costs. There are some products launched very successfully on Kickstarter that have since gone bankrupt because their costs increased and they were losing money on every sale.
For us this is an exciting time. Finally launching validates everything we’ve been working on all these years, but this isn’t crossing the finish line, it’s more like crossing the starting line. We plan to use Kickstarter again to fund our next production run of the Active Commute bag in summer 2019, and meanwhile we’ll be working with Idea Reality to put our innovative technology into a 70litre backpack for trekkers and travellers.
The bag has also won an award! Can you tell us more about this experience?
This was great actually. Idea Reality put this design forward for the CreativePool Design awards in 2018. It's a very prestigious award and I must say, I wasn’t expecting much to come of it. However we were delighted to take Gold place in the Industrial/Product category! A really great night, surrounded by some huge names in design, and it was great to have our product recognized for its innovative design by some really big names in the industry. However confident you pretend to be, that sort of accreditation really helps to think we must be doing something right.
We think Motionlab is a truly innovative product and it seems that there could be many more applications for this technology. What do you have on your sleeve for the future?
We cut our teeth on the Motionlab Active Commute bag because it satisfied a very relevant, niche community of people wanting a more comfortable way to commute to work and fit in their exercise at the same time. However, we’re really excited about the broader opportunities for this technology. It can be applied to any load carried on your back and we’re currently looking at the big 70 liter bag for trekking and military use.
After that I’m excited about developing our product range to a skiing and snowboarding bag, a climbing bag, a baby carrier, schoolbags, MTB bags, and anything else you can think of. We’re even discussing how we could help firefighters with their need to carry heavy breathing apparatus without constraining their movement. If you think of a sport or activity where carrying a load more comfortably, with greater stability and freedom of movement counts, and avoiding damage to your back and shoulders then drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.
Read the Full Case Study
Read about the project plan and design challenges along the way!