Andrew Fallshaw is a true design and entrepreneurship chameleon. So far Andrew has consulted in design and engineering in Melbourne and London, worked his way from designer all the way to head of two major divisions of Rip Curl’s global surf-wear empire, started an investment group, founded several successful and diverse companies (his latest is Bellroy, who make amazing wallets - available in the Design Droplets Store) and along the way he has still had time to surf and enjoy life with family & friends. In this interview Andrew discusses design, innovation, founding a business and much more.
1. Andrew, Welcome to Design Droplets. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me, could you please give a quick introduction on yourself.
Thanks for asking Raph. I’ll give it a go…
I’m Andy/Ando/Roughnut, and I do a bunch of things these days to help establish and run really good businesses, while also hopefully contributing a few useful things to this world.
2. You started out as a designer at Rip Curl and eventually ended up as Global Chairman of Men’s Equipment and Board Shorts. Can you tell us a bit about this progression and transitioning from design to a more business focused role?
Haha, yeah, I guess there was a bit before Rip Curl that helped with that transition. I grew up in a family of wheel makers, where we’d talk business most nights around the dinner table. I then studied industrial design and product design, before finishing with a product design engineering degree.
So all of that, as well as some design and engineering consulting in Melbourne and London, gave me an almost completely irrelevant grounding to start designing hats, belts and accessories at Rip Curl. Basically, after returning from London, I approached Rip Curl because I really wanted to work for them. With no obvious openings for my direct skill set, they found a position that would let me get started with them, on a junior salary, but with a foot in the door.
I designed a couple of seasons of these apparel accessories, before an opening came up for a Product Manager of Bags and Equipment for the Australian division. Product Management is basically like being Steve Jobs for your division (although with 1/20th his talent). You work on briefs, marketing, strategy and sales, trying to grow your successes and improve your offerings. So if you are a pretty diverse designer who is used to getting involved in the business and marketing aspects, it can be a nice transition.
Our Australian team did well, so we scored more of a global gig. We then did well globally, so I was also asked to help with the global boardshort program. Because boardshorts are the lead product category for a surf brand’s marketing, that role involved loads of global coordination to get agreement on key trends and directions between all the Rip Curl regions. Then boardshorts was doing well, so after 4 years in the company, I thought I should go and become a novice again, at which point I left to become self employed.
3. There are plenty of Design Droplets readers who would love to work at Rip Curl, can you give us an insight into design and company culture at Rip Curl?
It’s diverse, depending on the division and the region you’re in. All the cliche stuff is there… you go to work in shorts and flip-flops, and if you score a good position you get to travel the world, with regular meetings in Bali, Hawaii, California, and the Basque coast, and sourcing trips throughout South East Asia. You surf at lunch, you surf with your boss, and if you don’t surf, you sometimes feel a little left out.
But like any successful company, there’s also long hours and shitty jobs to get done. There’s 4 seasons to get out each year, so it’s fast paced design without much down time. Some regions are more rewarding than others, and some divisions churn through the staff faster than others. But what seems to be the special part of a surf company is that you’re surrounded by crew that love the surf lifestyle, and so you don’t mind a few late nights or stress monkey situations, because you know you’ll get to go surf tomorrow.
4. Since leaving Rip Curl you have founded and been a director of several companies and you also run Investling, a small investment group that loves building value from good ideas. Can you tell us a bit about your experiences founding and growing businesses?
Yeah, it’s a pretty massive change. A few of us founded Investling together, so thankfully I’ve had some awesome talent to lean on. We started with Electrodrive, a business that helps people move heavy loads with the help of battery powered goodness (from moving heavy hospital beds to small aircraft). We then also bought into the IT business that my brother had started, and we began to look for opportunities that would fit with our skill sets and staff talents.
We thought opportunities might be hard to find, but they started flowing really quickly. Either from clients we worked with, friends we rated, or ideas from along the way, we pretty quickly started spotting gaps that really should be filled. My bro and Lina (the other founder) are really switched on with supply chain, business systems, and programming, so it’s a really neat fit with my design, marketing and brand skills.
The risk side is not too bad, because we’re pretty lean with the way we start our businesses. We try to get something simple and focused to market, and if that proves there’s a gap that we’re filling, we start to scale up the resources behind it. We make sure that any business has a switched on leader who can spend at least 51% of their time on that business, and then we bring the network of resources in to support them.
So I feel really lucky to be able to work from home, work on businesses rather than just in them, and get to see our joint decisions leveraged by great teams. Happy days.
5. At Investling the focus is on building value from good ideas, what is your process for identifying a good idea?
I guess each of our businesses has been built around an insight, and those insights are usually about identifying an unmet or wrongly met need. But that’s only a tiny part of it…
For strong value to be added, you need the right business model, resources and processes to come around that idea. OK, so that’s sounding like wank. Ummm, go to http://investling.com/approach , and you’ll see how much time we spend trying to understand patterns in this world. We read, discuss and seek out ideas from loads of sources, so that when we look into the world, we can sometimes see when there are incomplete systems that we might be able to improve. Darn, that still sounds like wank…
6. What advice would you give to designers who are considering starting their own companies/business?
Design is only a tiny part of the picture. Unless you fluke it, you need lots more skills that just design to make a successful business. Either go out and get those skills (marketing, sales, business, etc), or find some partners that have all that and need a designer like you.
If you want a comfortable and predictable life, don’t start a business. Just go and work for someone. If you still want to give business a try, please don’t start a T Shirt brand. Or a magazine. Start with something that doesn’t have 3000 other people starting that every second of every day. Look for the niches, the things that are not so obvious. It will be much easier to succeed.
7. How important is organisation and focus to developing a business or bringing your designs into the world? Any tips on being organised and keeping focused?
Someone has to be organised. It doesn’t have to be you, but it really helps if it is. Too many designers think it’s OK to be all scatter brained and ‘arty creative’, when it’s just not (you create headaches all around you). Designers should deal well with constraints, and that means they need some structure. Read Getting Things Done. It’s a cracker, with some nice zen appeal. When you learn to get the simple things in life organised, it frees you up to be more creative. Strange but true.
8. You have a fair amount of experience in the manufacturing area, if a designer is looking to get their products manufactured what 5 things are most important for them to consider?
Without the right marketing ideas, business model, distribution model, supply chain and business ecosystem, a product is a paper weight. Design is only one small piece of the puzzle, and you need to get most of the other pieces sorted for a design to work commercially. So having said all that, here are 5 things that might help with the design part of the puzzle:
1. To borrow a line from IDEO, prototype, prototype, prototype. A CAD drawing does not count as a prototype. You really want to be holding and playing with physical prototypes that trick your brain into thinking they are using the real thing.
2. Chose trustworthy partners. You’ll need loads of help and guidance, and you want someone that will stop you before you charge ahead with a dumb decision.
3. Don’t spend all your money on the first cut. We rarely get things right the first time, so save some coins for when you realise the changes you should have made.
4. Bust your gut working and reworking the design, but don’t let pursuing perfection paralyse you (paraphrasing Churchill). There’s a great Kent Bec quote that I think every designer needs to understand:
“By far the dominant reason for not releasing sooner was a reluctance to trade the dream of success for the reality of feedback.”
5. Customers rarely pay extra for ‘eco’, but it helps get them across the line. Some good first steps in achieving more responsible design seem to be make the design better (so people use it for longer), and eliminate the worst toxins (like PVC phthalates).
9. What are your thoughts on the current state of Design education? What do you think designers coming out of University really need to know?
Ummm, I hope I don’t piss too many designers off with this call, but I think big chunks of the graduating Product Design world are stuck in the 80′s (when their lecturers last worked). The 2 biggest gaps I see in lots of new designers are fashion and product humility.
By fashion, I mean a great understanding of current trends. Products are sold into marketplaces, and you need to understand what is going on in that marketplace. What are crew wearing and reading and thinking and digging? What are the cool brands and why are they cool? Sometimes you can rebel against this, but only if you really understand your user.
Sony has not been cool for years, because they are stuck believing ergonomics matter, when the whole world has shifted to User Interface and Experience. If you still think Sony is cool, you need to get out more. Time in retail is awesome for this. You graduate believing that designing a product with a dolphin as inspiration is cool, then you get in retail, and realise that no-one gives a shit about the designer’s inspiration. In fact, no one cares about the designer full stop.
Which leads me on to product humility. Our world is full of stuff. If you look at Japanese design (other than their sports cars), products are generally styled really minimally so that they fit with all the other products in your world. Nothing clashes too badly, as most products are clean and geometric. Then look at US design, where every product is trying to be a hero of curves and effects. Everything clashes with everything else, and the consumer’s world becomes garish and confusing (don’t get me started on Dyson). Graduates often try to put too much design into an object. We shouldn’t see the designer in a product. That’s distracting.
10. In terms of current trends are there any companies or people that you think are doing really great, innovative and interesting things?
Yeah, there’s a small wallet brand called Bellroy… sorry, couldn’t resist. Ummm, yeah, for sure. Nike continues to blow me away with their resistance to mediocrity. Some of the stuff they are doing in Japan and the NSW and ACG stuff is still amazing, in a way that few big companies manage to maintain.
Apple is stupidly incredible, but everyone knows that.
And a huge hero is IKEA. To produce so many reasonably desirable products at such radically low prices is just awe inspiring. They have to massage so many constraints, and yet they still manage a creative and interesting output. Big heroes.
I haven’t mentioned any ‘star designers’ there. I guess that gets back to product humility. I don’t want a Marc Newson or Phillipe Stark design. That ends up more like art than design. I want products from a great brand that connect with my values. The designers should disappear into that brand, and contribute to products that heighten that brand’s appeal.
11. Andrew, thanks for taking the time to talk with us here at Design Droplets. Do you have any final thoughts or advice for Design Droplets readers?
Do more: Design more. Make more. Fail more. Get feedback on those failures. If you raise your output, your quality will rise faster than if you remain precious with it. That’s what I’ve found anyway