Episode 22 - Rob Ward

  

  

In this episode, I talk to the Director and Co-founder of Annex® Products, Rob Ward.

Annex® Products designs and creates products that aim to integrate technology into an active lifestyle. The company, a Melbourne based startup created off the back of two successful Kickstarter campaigns, produced the lightest, strongest and most secure phone mounting system on the market - the Quad Lock®. Their award-winning product is available worldwide and has been sold in over 100 countries.

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In this episode we cover: 

  • The story of how Annex® Products started and how Quad Lock evolved
  • The future plans for Annex® Products
  • The growth of the business and the changes they’ve gone through
  • Rob shares Interesting stories about people using their product
  • Untraditional sponsorships given by the company
  • The reason they chose Kickstarter to kick-off their campaigns and how it worked for them
  • How they are managing the worldwide distribution of their products

Links


    Transcript:

    FELICITY:

    This is episode 22. Welcome to the All Torque podcast, where each episode we interview an inspiring person to share their story with you. I'm your host, Felicity Dales, managing director of Body Torque.

    I have here today, Rob Ward, the director and co-founder of Annex Products that produces, created and designed Quad Lock.

    Annex Products is a Melbourne-based startup that was created off the back of two successful Kickstarter campaigns. Their goal is to provide the very best products that enable the integration of technology into an active lifestyle. Quad Lock is the largest, strongest and most secure iPhone mounting system on the market. Its patent-pending, dual-stage locking mechanism makes it possible for a single case to provide a mounting solution for cycling, running, driving and much more. Quad Lock is now available worldwide and has been sold in over 100 countries, winning many awards such as Power Retail Top 100 Online Retailers 2017, BRW Fast 100 2016, Deloitte Tech Fast 50 in 2016, Smart Company Smart 50 2016, BRW Fast Starters, Deloitte Tech Fast 50, Smart Company Smart 50, CEBIT Innovation Award and also the Shopify Build a Business Competition.

    Welcome, Rob.

    ROB:

    Thanks. Thanks for having me.

    FELICITY:

    You're welcome. Your background began as a toolmaker for over six years and then you worked as a sales engineer with an international laser and plasma cutting manufacturer and supplier for a year, then you went as a sales manager and marketing manager for HG Farley Laserlab Co for three years and as a director of Origins Systems as a supplier of small format laser-cutting and engraving machines with entry-level 3D printers, to then starting Annex Products with your business partner, Chris Peters, and produced the Quad Lock.

    Tell us about your story. How did a cycling product originally to now being an active sporting product and even extending beyond that, evolve? We'd love to hear it, Rob.

    ROB:

    Yeah. Well, it's pretty good background on myself and Annex as a company and it probably just a leads in to Quad Lock as a brand. We started doing our thing around the Origin Systems time, which was the small format laser cutting and then 3D printing and then rolled that into Annex when we did originally kickstarted one of first Aussie kickstarters which was called Opena case, which was an iPhone bottle opener and then mould that into Quad Lock case, which people know today as we're the best bike mount solution out there from people with smartphones on their bikes.

    How that came about was, I suppose, what it all has in common is we were just looking for opportunities and not necessarily opportunities in a specific space. Just spaces that we liked and seeing the technology that was available at the time, barriers to entry coming down around us, for crowdfunding, the ease of getting a website up, transactioning online, globally 3PLs, being able to deliver products to people globally and we used all of those.

    Social media access to people, Web 2.0 was a massive one, which we used all of those technologies to leverage the ideas that we had and Quad Lock was one of those ideas, and it happens to be in the cycling space, but now it's much more broader than that, but we've always, I rode to school every day through primary school and things like that so it's always been on bikes. My business partner, Chris Peters, actually came up with the original Quad Lock idea, when he moved to Sydney, he was working in Sydney, had one of the first iPhones and it had Google Maps on it, that was when Google Maps was a new thing, it's like, jeez, it'd be cool if you could just use Google Maps on your bicycle.

    And that was before Strava, or any of the other Map My Fitness, Map My Run, style apps.

    FELICITY:

    Right.

    ROB:

    So, it wasn't probably, as viable product then, and then later, years later when we saw the opportunity, we thought let's give that idea a run. But let's flesh it out, let's build it out, to something a bit bigger than that and that's when it became Quad Lock and the idea was, yeah we launch with cycling in a big way, but we had the idea that it would be for running, and for different applications down the track.

    FELICITY:

    Yes, you could translate it to other industries.

    ROB:

    Yeah. Yeah, good.

    FELICITY:

    That's fantastic. And I wondered if you were a cyclist, I was wondering how that happened, in there. Because I find that most people in the cycling industry are really passionate and so they tend to, you know, they evolve from that passion in cycling and so I find it quite fascinating, sometimes, when the people I interview perhaps don't necessarily come from that foray, or that industry. You know what I mean? That background.

    ROB:

    I think when you're doing a business, your passion can be in multiple facets of that business. Being, we do, we ride a lot, we like riding, but we also like technology and we like business. We have entrepreneurial side to us with our personalities, naturally anyway. So, that is all part of running a business. Like the widget and the space that you're in is a part of it, but you need those other parts, as well, so.

    FELICITY:

    That’s right.

    ROB:

    If we were only focused on cycling and that was the only thing we cared about, it may have been harder because we're not as passionate about learning how to use the latest tools and the new ways of getting to people and that kind of thing. So, I think you need to have passions on different parts and building a community, that kind of thing.

    FELICITY:

    Absolutely, yeah, there's so many aspects to it, isn't there?

    ROB:

    There is.

    FELICITY:

    So that's just one piece of the puzzle?

    ROB:

    Yep.

    FELICITY:

    And how, what do you know, what to do next? Like where do you progress from here?

    ROB:

    From where we are now?

    FELICITY:

    Yes, from where you are now.

    ROB:

    We're always growing, like just before I jumped on this call, we're filming new products that will be released over the next month or so. And we've been working a lot on products over the last couple of years and then, bit bigger, be more built out process that will take us a lot longer to get to market. But, they're at that initial launch stage now, so getting them ready to share with our initial community and then, hopefully, go and get new customers with those new products, as well. So, always, iterating or working on the next thing, the next space, and the next way to take that product to market.

    Most of everything we're working on now, everything actually, all comes under the Quad Lock brand.

    FELICITY:

    Right, okay. So, evolved and transitioned from say just cycling, you're doing riding, sorry. Obviously riding, but running, moto-drive and lifestyle.

    ROB:

    That's correct.

    FELICITY:

    Application? But now you're actually increasing your portfolio with other products, as well?

    ROB:

    Expanding the range, yeah.

    FELICITY:

    Excellent. And are you able to share that with us yet, or?

    ROB:

    Probably not the brand new stuff, but it's not far away and we're also always expanding, because we're adding in new phones and things like that as well, so the new model iPhone has just come out and we've got all those, ready to go. Doing more in Samsung, that kind of thing as well.

    FELICITY:

    Fantastic, so you're translating it into the other phone?

    ROB:

    Yeah, yeah.

    FELICITY:

    Great. Awesome. So how has the business changed for you as it's grown?

    ROB:

    That's a good question. Well, I suppose as we've grown obviously, we've done all the nuts and bolts things. Which is, we’ve moved a couple of times, into bigger premises. We're now here on Greville Street in Prahran, we’ve got a nice space and built that out and we continue to build out the team. We just hired someone new, looking for somebody else new at the moment. There's almost, probably fifteen of us now. All here in Melbourne and then also, the people that we work with, we outsource a lot, we're looking at new manufacturers, new factories, new yeah, a lot of different bits and pieces to the puzzle and I suppose the big thing is when you start as a bootstrapped startup, it's two co-founders. You're doing everything between you and then you plug in people and you have to keep giving parts away and then training people up and letting them run with their new thing and that's a whole new part to the business. It's not just simply make something, go get a whole heap of customers.

    FELICITY:

    That's right, yeah. There's all the human factor involved, as well. Personalities.

    ROB:

    That’s it.

    FELICITY:

    What is the most interesting thing or funny thing that you've seen happen with people using your product? Is there a story you can share there?

    ROB:

    There's so much. There's just, we've got thousands of stories. Interesting stuff, we've had lots of people do things, amazing things, like ride around the world, like, a tandem man, like riding round the world on tandem bicycle, getting the world record, or Naresh with the Freedom Seat, riding across New Zealand. Or, all the amazing IndiPac riders and Race to the Rock people that, are all run Quad Lock, all the latest Trans Am, oh there's just so many cool people, doing so many amazing, amazing feats really, just, blows our mind. Where the product goes and where they take it.

    I remember with the tandem man, we were in Mumbai and they were riding through there and the iPhone got stolen. Case on the back and we're like got a new phone, but we just need a new Quad Lock, so we could get a new case, so we had to get a case to the mates that where they were riding around to finish the rest of the journey. So yeah, there's so many amazing stories. To just your average person, like obviously the new iPhone came out just recently and with you can do a pre-order to the sale and people are tweeting at us and Instagramming us, saying, "I've got my new iPhone, but I can't use it until I get my new Quad Lock case". So, that's just pretty awesome as well. It really does become part of people's life and they use it throughout their daily life and they don't know what to do without it. So, it's cool that we've made something that connects with so many people and they keep coming back and they keep supporting us, so we're really grateful for that.

    FELICITY:

    Yeah, that's fantastic. I noticed that your YouTube video actually, about the new iPhone and I've got a new iPhone and I wondered how you talked about the case actually. How do you get the, with Apple, for instance, they develop their product, you know, a fair way in advance, so how does that affect you? When you're doing the Quad Lock and then, you know they're bringing out their new products, so..?

    ROB:

    We just, we get data on it and we hope it's right and we make a lot of them.

    FELICITY:

    Right.

    ROB:

    So, yeah.

    FELICITY:

    Yeah. Okay, So, it's not like they give you the heads-up, or anything like that?

    ROB:

    No, no. It hasn't really worked like that.

    FELICITY:

    No.

    ROB:

    Even though they sell Quad Lock, you can buy Quad lock from Apple, they don't really give you the data or anything. I mean, they develop what they develop in secret and then they put it to the world with a big press conference, so I see why they do it.

    FELICITY:

    Yes, I understand. I just thought, you know it's interesting if there's, if you can collaborate with some of those sorts of companies. Because obviously, it helps their product, as well, it's, you know?

    ROB:

    Oh, it does. It does. But Apple, it's not the way they work. Other companies do, we have people send us phones, asking us to make it for their specific handset, but we're probably less likely. Without the volume.

    FELICITY:

    Yes. I understand. Do you sponsor any athletes at all, Rob?

    ROB:

    We don't have official sponsorships, we do, inadvertently help people out, in different endeavours that they take on, or fundraising, or be it giving people products or just sharing people's stories, so we don't actually have an official athlete that we sponsor in, I suppose the traditional old-school sense of the word.

    FELICITY:

    Yeah.

    ROB:

    But we do have a load of, we say, we call, Friends of Quad Lock, I suppose. We deal with regularly.

    FELICITY:

    Fantastic.

    ROB:

    We do, we've been lucky when things like, when you have people like Chris Froome riding around on his training rides with his Quad Lock on his handlebars, that's er..

    FELICITY:

    Great endorsement.

    ROB:

    Yeah, it's pretty good endorsement.

    FELICITY:

    Yeah, That's right. So, Rob, why did you go with Kickstarter when it came to getting your campaigns kicking off? Why did you choose them?

    ROB:

    Yes, it's pretty basic one as at the time, going into a consumer product and trying to get something off the ground, when we're not sure if people even like the idea, was a bit risky, so and we didn't have a lot of money. So, I suppose it was, let's twofold, one, validate the ideas, see if people are interested? See if people care? Share the ideas, show what we're doing and learn from that. And the other one is get the money to pay for it, or at least some of the money could pay for it. And effectively, both time that's what we did, validated the idea of it then, as you can tell we're now, probably six years on and we haven't done another one. We've just been funding it ourselves through the growth of the business.

    FELICITY:

    So, when you did the first one, what was that to qualify? And then, why did you do the second?

    ROB:

    That was for, that was for Opena. Opena Case. Just to test, how do you sell a product online? If we advertise something on Facebook, would someone click on it and buy something? Would, do people. Are people even interested? Do people, will people even use, I mean you've watched our first Kickstarter video? And half the video is explaining what crowdfunding is. Because people didn't know what crowdfunding was, back then. We're one of the first products to be crowdfunded in Australia especially, so it was very, not very well known. Also, I think that product, we needed like 20 something thousand dollars for it and that was one of the top products the whole time it was on there. It's changed a lot, yeah, it's changed a lot.

    And then secondly, when we did Quad Lock, it was a new idea, something that we thought would be bigger than Opena, and that's why we did it a second. And we're more interested in seeing what do people believe this is a good idea? Do people want this? And it turns out, they wanted it. It wasn't a big project, really in kickstarter terms, campaign level? But it was bigger than Opena and it's gone on to do very well.

    FELICITY:

    And so those two campaigns were enough to launch you and propel yourself from then on?

    ROB:

    No, definitely no. We see that a lot. Anyone who thinks like a Kickstarter campaign is gonna solve your issues going forward, that's not gonna be it. But, and I think the most important thing, the thing I see most Kickstarters probably get wrong, is they rely on Kickstarter as a marketing tool, and a way to convert customers, because when you use a Kickstarter, you've got all the things you need to make a sale. You've got a bit of a deal, you've got a story and you've got urgency with limited time and I think companies need to be able to work out, okay we did, that's a launch to validate the idea.

    Now, we've got to build a proven business model, where we can get up every day and have people want to just buy the product, on its own merit just without an extra special deal or anything like that and that's what we put a lot of effort into. And we've done quite successfully, so successfully that we've been able to self-fund the rest of the business growth trouble from there. It is effectively acquiring a customer and then acquiring another customer, and using those customers to acquire more customers.

    FELICITY:

    And you're in over 100 countries now, which is you know, amazing and in really quite a short space of time, so how do you manage that?

    ROB:

    We sell in over 100 countries, in about the first three months of launching. So, it means, it depends, are you talking about, how do we acquire the customers in those countries? Or how do we actually get them the product?

    FELICITY:

    Oh, both actually.

    ROB:

    Both? Getting the people product isn’t too hard, there’s using our network of 3PLs third-party logistics. So, it's easy, but it's not too hard. And then, initially getting the customers is through advertising on social media and things like that. Getting people interested and then convert them into customers and then you like adding them to our community effectively.

    FELICITY:

    Well, speaking of social media you actually do, you are on a few platforms, you do have some great followers. I notice that you're on Facebook, so people can find you on Facebook at Quad Lock Case. You're on Insta at Quad Lock Case and also you have a YouTube channel, which is Annex Products and you're on Twitter, so you're very proactive.

    ROB:

    The main website is www.quadlockcase.com.

    FELICITY:

    Is it? Okay. Cool. So, people can find you on all those platforms and also purchase a product or contact you there or follow you on those platforms and see what you're up to and also see the exciting new news on new product. I'll look forward to hearing about that.

    ROB:

    Not too far away. Not too far away.

    FELICITY:

    Absolutely. Well, I'd like to thank you for joining us today, it's been really interesting learning more about your product and the expansion and we look forward to your future success and growth.

    ROB:

    Great, well thanks for having me Felicity.

    FELICITY:

    You're welcome. Thanks, Rob.

    ROB:

    Cheers.

    FELICITY:

    Thanks for listening to the All Torque podcast. We'd love it if you would leave us a rating and review on iTunes. This helps us to deliver content you want to hear about. Please take a moment to share it with your friends and family on Instagram and Facebook. I'm Felicity Dales, see you next episode for another story of inspiration and motivation on the All Torque podcast.

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