Our Story in a Nutshell
15 years ago I had an idea, as many do. This was a new invention to solve the problem of backpack access, after seeing a struggling postman and my own frustrations. Although I'd collected an engineering degree way back, after a long career in media companies I had no expert knowledge of industrial design, backpacks or inventing. So on and off over the years the idea became a design doodle and then a couple of failed prototypes and then got filed away in a box. It collected dust but never left me, until I reached a turning point. After 2 intense but rewarding years as Group Finance Director of HMV plc I decided to start something new. As I relaxed on a beach that old backpack idea popped into my head along with a totally new design. I came home, built a new prototype and this time, to my surprise, it actually worked. I was then faced with a choice, either 1) commit to a project with major costs and uncertainty where I had no experience but saw a big adventure, or 2) leave the idea alone, live a comfortable life but never really know what might have been. So I turned my living room into a workshop, filed for patents, teamed up with some great designers and built 14 generations prototypes.
1999: The Lightbulb Moment
I've watched my local postman struggling with a crude grey nylon sack and rope, constantly stopping to drop his sack to get at his bundles of letters. It looked really bad for his back and totally inefficient. There has to be a better way to carry stuff ergonomically on your back, but still be able to get quick and easy access.
2000: The First Scribblings
I'm working at the BBC in a nice job, and long meetings provide the ideal opportunity to doodle. Before long my favourite doodle becomes focussed on that idea about a way of carrying stuff on your back but still being able to get access to it. The doodle gets more and more elaborate the more those meetings go on.
2002 SUMMER: The First Prototype
I leave the BBC to join the internet powerhouse of its time, AOL. Before I start the new job I decide to turn my design doodle, 2 years in the making, into the P1 prototype. With great excitement I buy all the raw materials and give it my best shot. It’s a shocker and I can't see how to make it any better. The P1 goes into a box in the loft.
2007 AUTUMN: A Second Attempt
After five amazing but breathless years at AOL it is time to leave and think about what to do next. I tell people I'll have another go at that backpack idea, to some interest. The P1 prototype comes out of the loft and I buy more raw materials. The P2 is another shocker and probably worse than the P1. Both the P1 and P2 go back into the same box and into that same space in the loft. I hope nobody asks me what happened to the backpack idea.
2012 AUTUMN: The Catalyst
After two rewarding and intense years at HMV Group plc as the Group Finance Director I decide it is time to pass the baton and start something new. On a family holiday I take one of those self-help career books where they tell you how to brainstorm about what to do next. On the beach that long forgotten backpack idea comes back into my head. I start doodling again in a Moleskine notebook, going back to first principles. I forget about the P1 and P2 and I come up with a new approach. It looks different, and it might just work.
2012 DECEMBER: The Turning Point
Back from holiday I buy a couple of backpacks from my local market to build the P3 prototype, following my fresh Moleskine drawings. B*g**r me, but the P3 actually works! I’m brave enough to show my mother-in-law who says I should get it patented. What am I going to do now? Whilst trying to figure out what this means, I go I see a brilliant patent attorney. He says it is much better than he was expecting from our phone call (I guess he hears from a lot of crackpots) and that I should get it patented. He would say that, wouldn't he?
2013 FEBRUARY: Discovery
I start doing serious research to see of this idea has legs, frantically checking whether anyone has ever invented a backpack like the P3. Amazingly, it seems there is nothing like it out there. I start intensive work on prototype development in my workshop: the living room. With no garden shed or garage, I have to spread tools and materials all over the carpet, hoping I don't injure anyone. The P4 prototype is a step backwards, but the P5 makes some huge strides forward. Although long ago, my Engineering degree from Cambridge University finally proves incredibly useful in visualising solutions and building working models. Things are really taking shape.
2013 MARCH: Patents
I file for the first of a series of patents with the P5 prototype. It is a major milestone. I’m now Pat Pending, like the famous professor on The Wacky Races. Nearing the limit of my own engineering capabilities I arrange to meet some industrial designers. Two different design studios tell me they’ve seen nothing like it and it's the biggest commercial idea they have seen from an individual inventor. I'm really starting to think I might be onto something.
2013 MAY: Teaming Up
I meet Edward and Richard at the award-winning industrial design studio Goodwin Hartshorn. They're also engineers but with a design pedigree, and have worked for an old friend in the world of high-end audio. We hit it off and start work out of their cool but crumbling studio in London's East End. With the addition of Luke, plus his years of experience in backpack manufacture, and James, plus his bag design portfolio, the team starts to really come together.
2013 JULY: The First Tests
More prototype development and we decide to put the P7 to the test. The first consumer focus groups pick over the prototype. It’s clear from the enthusiastic reactions that we’re addressing a real need in an innovative way. However, it is also crystal clear that there is a huge amount of work to do to make the user experience live up to the vision, and I realise that the original budget and timetable were hopelessly optimistic.
2014 JANUARY: Making Product
Intensive development in the studio and repeated testing continues. With all the feedback from the P7 focus groups, the P8 improvements are worthy of another formal round of consumer testing. The feedback is positive again and it is clear we should move to the next stage - finding a manufacturer. Luke's experience of bag manufacture is invaluable and we have introductory meetings with 3 strong manufacturing partners. The intense collaboration begins with our chosen partner and we start the process of building real samples of the backpack from a real factory.
2014 SUMMER: A New Stage
We cross a threshold as we see CAD-generated 3D printed prototype components work in real life situations. Bag samples to our exacting design specification emerge from the factory looking like attractive, sleek backpacks. The logo and website start to take shape. We are getting closer to the moment when the wolffepack, the revolutionary backpack, has the covers pulled back.
JUNE 2014: Out on the Streets
A great proposition and the P11 prototype works well, so we think. But the only way to truly test the concept and the product is to show 'the man in the street'. I hit the streets of London and ask people directly. Stopping busy Londoners is not a walk in the park, but outside St Paul's Cathedral holding up my sign, I wait for engagement. People's feedback is consistently positive, some of it exuberant. Messages about price are taken on board, but we come through the street jury with a clear endorsement. We are on course.