- Buyer's Guide
Extended Forms: Let’s Build a Brand, Together
Ever wanted to help build a brand? To have direct dialogue with the designer and your feedback help shape new gear? Well, this is an article (and a journey) you might want to dig in to. Because that’s just the beginning…
Like you, my world got spun upside down when COVID hit our shores. After nearly five years, my time at Tortuga came to an end. Temporarily, at least. People buy a Tortuga when they plan a trip. Nobody was planning trips in March 2020. To save the business and the team, we were furloughed. When the news came, I frantically canceled every account and automatic payment, then searched for job ads. No one was hiring – go figure.
I knew what I had to do: I needed to start my own brand. Again. And this time on my own.
Well… kinda, because I’m going to bring you all along for the ride. We’re going to build a brand together, and I’ll ‘open source’ the whole thing too, so people can use their talents and skills to serve their communities and to help overcome the economic hardships they’re suffering due to coronavirus.
I’ve spent almost 15 years helping makers answer the question: What is the right thing for me to build right now? Now, I have to answer that question for myself.
The best place to start? People. Great brands are founded by makers who use their “superpowers” (AKA their unique combination of skills, relationships, and experiences) to serve their communities.
Second, these founders make products that they want to buy, in the hope that other like-minded folks do too.
And third, great brands listen to their customers. The first prototype is never it. Great founders build, listen, iterate, then repeat the process until they run out of time or money and are forced to launch.
We’ll combine all three. We’re going to start by building some bags together. Along the way, I’ll teach you to do the same.
Lead By Example (The Brand)
When I help an entrepreneur build a company, I try to shape the brand to their team. To set an example, I decided to build a brand that’s matched to me and all my flaws. If I can make that work, I might be able to show you how to do the same.
I’m annoying. I like to dive deeply into a question, prototype an answer, test it, then move on to the next thing. People who pay me think that’s wasteful. Slowly building out a permanent product line is just not right for me. Most of your work becomes marketing, operations, and logistics. I’m a designer. I want to practice my craft.
So, let’s try something different.
Marketing visionary Seth Godin suggests the best way to create a brand is to build a “Purple Cow,” or something that is both remarkable and meaningful to your community. As makers, we can do many things that big companies can’t. We can build niche products for communities that care. We can make each item different in ways impossible to replicate in mass production. We can use materials and manufacturing techniques that are just too expensive for big companies. We can offer personal, human experiences instead of treating everyone like a cog in a machine.
Where can’t we beat them? Price. Trying to beat them on price is a recipe for disaster because big brands, like Amazon, are happy to sell products at a loss to put you out of business.
Let’s take these insights and build our brand.
Our brand will build experimental, high-performance EDC. We’ll launch one product at a time. Each product will be a limited-edition experiment produced once, but we’ll revise and retest some ideas. Once we make a prototype we like, we’ll produce a single run using next-level materials like Dyneema fabrics, Fidlock buckles and AquaGuard zippers.
But wait, there’s more!
When our production run sells out, we won’t let our work go to waste. We’ll build a “makers market” that gives you the tools you need to re-create or remix the designs on your own. Typically, that’s tightly held intellectual property. I think we should share.
Start With One (The Product)
What do we make first? This question often consumes makers. The list of 43 bag ideas on my wall suggests I have the same problem.
I’m doing what I suggest you do: start with one. Which one? Make the thing you really, really want, but can’t find on the market. I haven’t found the right EDC backpack for me in a while. Let’s start there. If I can create something I love, it should be easier to convince you to try it.
I want it to be sleek and small, ~20L. It must have a dedicated laptop compartment, a large, simple main compartment, and a small accessories pocket. I don’t want much else. Just an interior zip pocket, two exterior water bottle pockets, a few compression straps, and a handle or two. Maybe a place to shove a jacket if I get too hot? It’s definitely gotta be lightweight and comfortable.
From there, I get to work. Typically, I test as many ideas as my team will let me before I send designs to a sample maker. This project is a little different. I’ve been tinkering around with it for years. I don’t need to find the right direction. I already have it. Instead of building a range of ideas, I break my own rules and pick one. From there, I send a tech pack to my sample maker and hope that reality matches the vision in my head. Too often, it doesn’t. That’s part of the struggle and why we’re best served by testing multiple concepts.
We’re Better Together (The Process)
Then, I got lucky. I’m a member of Carryology Classified. There, members share pictures of new bags and tell stories of how they hope to use them. When I unboxed the first sample of our backpack, I found something far better than I expected. Anxiously, I shared it with the Carryology community. They graciously offered incredible feedback in return.
Together, we worked through some challenges in the design to create a solution that would work better, not just for me, but for us. This is where I might lose some of you. You may think you know best. You may believe that to ask for feedback is to compromise. I hate to break it to you, but every design is a compromise. Our goal as makers is to improve the lives of others in some small way. If we don’t listen to what our audience has to say, how can we do that? We’re not making art here. We’re serving our communities. We have to let them show us what they want.
The feedback from the members of Carryology Classified made our bag better, not compromised. At the start, this backpack was somewhere between a packable daypack and an EDC backpack. The community showed me through their feedback that my original idea didn’t make much sense. So, we revised the shoulder straps, added a frame sheet, and swapped out the Dyneema on the back panel for something more comfortable.
They also showed me that I, perhaps, went a little too far towards minimalism with respect to interior organization. The community didn’t necessarily want a prescriptive solution, but wanted to be able to adapt the bag to fit their needs. So, we added a Velcro panel and webbing loops that let you add a control panel or an extra pocket when you need it.
My idea for an ultra minimalist, unpadded laptop pocket? That REALLY didn’t fly. We swapped out our suspended stretch mesh pocket for one with some extra padding. Don’t worry, it’s still suspended.
From there, it was all about the details. Fixing pockets that weren’t quite working. Swapping out zipper pulls. Making the handles easier to use when the bag is full. This is the day-to-day design work that can make a good idea great.
And Away We Go! (The Future)
Where do we go from here and why the hell did Carryology invite me to write this post?
Well, we realized we stumbled upon something interesting and that you might like to join us on this journey. Normally, bags are just released and you have the option to buy one or not. Rarely are you invited to join in the design process. If you are, you may play a small role by responding to a survey or, if you’re really lucky, testing a sample. The process, though, that’s a black hole. We want to change that by giving you the opportunity to truly participate and learn.
Our experience with Carryology Classified has shown us that there is an opportunity to do things differently. We can work transparently to build products together. Carryology Classified was the testing ground. In our next iteration, we’re going to get the entire Carryology community involved. I’ll walk you through the process of coming up with an idea and developing a first sample. From there, we’ll refine the bag together using your insights as a catalyst. I’ll show you how I sort through feedback and make decisions about what to change and what to keep. Together, we’ll take our idea from concept to production.
With that in mind, stay tuned for our next installment: Experiment 002 – the iPad sling.
Until then, head over to ExtendedForms.com so you can be the first to know when our first experiment drops.