Episode 26 - Andrew and Letti Melbz

  

  

Andrew and Letti Melbz, founders of Venture Pod Australia, joins us in this episode. Their company aims to create organisation and purposeful homes for sports whilst using robust but sustainable raw materials for their products. With Andrew’s background in industrial design, Letti’s mindset for organisation, and the couple’s love for the sport, the business of building hand-crafted, specialized, and premium build quality furniture was born.

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In this episode we cover: 

  • The couple’s journey to creating Venture Pod.
  • The creation of the Velo Design.
  • Other products they create and their plans for expansion.
  • Letti’s experience in sports and how this led them to produce sports furniture.
  • Future plans for the Venture Pod team and products

Links


    Transcript:

    FELICITY:

    This is episode 26. 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, Andrew and Letti Melbz, the founders of VenturePod Australia. VenturePod is a handcrafted, performance sports specialised furniture business created in Adelaide, South Australia, which launched in August this year with the VenturePod, VELO. Andrew's background includes studying a Bachelor of Industrial Design in 2009 and a Bachelor of Property in 2013, both from the University of South Australia. And operating a freelance design firm named Evoke Living, who worked with a large retailer to contract design domestic products, such as kitchens. Andrew also has a vast experience in communication and interior design, customer service, sales, finance, and logistics warehousing. His philosophy is, “If you're not pushing yourself to that next hurdle, you're not living. To be a champion you don't sit still, it's the thrill and drive for living every minute that makes it special.”

    Letti has spent the majority of her life devoted to assisting the performance and fitness of others. Letti's career focus primarily at the elite sports level as a soigneur for professional men's and woman's world-class cycling events. At the elite level, she's been headhunted for high performance roles in varying disciplines including road/track cycling, and rugby union, rugby sevens within national and pro teams for Australia, USA, Canada, South Africa and Ireland. For numerous years, Letti was with Cycling Australia and the Australian Institute of Sport where she was part of the staffing team behind the Australian track cycling squad for World Cups, the Commonwealth Games, and the 2012 London Olympics.

    Letti has spent over 20 years helping others achieve their potentials, but when it comes to her own performance she feels it’s more than a passion, it's an obsession. Each and every time she sits on a bike every run or event she's inspired and motivated without question, excuses are not an option. Life is one chance only. For Letti being organised is essential, from many years on the road packing multitudes of items into small spaces for teams, she believes there is a place for everything. It makes life easier when you know where everything is and can place your hand on it in an instant.

    Luckily for her, her husband Andrew is of the same mindset and together they created VenturePod. Letti feels sports furniture is the next logical step for performance. They build book cases to store books, trophy cabinets to store medals, and draws, wardrobes to organise our clothes. When it comes to sport on or off the track why settle for less? To perform we need to be just as organised.

    Welcome Andrew and Letti.

    LETTI:

    Good Morning.

    ANDREW:

    Good Morning.

    FELICITY:

    Good morning.

    You're both sports fanatics and love doing various sports, so it's fair to say that you are both very passionate. Tell us about your journey on how you evolved from doing what you are doing, to creating VenturePod together?

    ANDREW:

    Hi Felicity. Thanks for having us.

    VenturePod really started for us as a project, we've got so many sports that we love enjoying, that our garage was just a whole mix of different pieces everywhere. We really underwent a project just to clean it up and just bring it back to a livable space and tidy home again. Because of my history in industrial design and just being all the tools and that sort of stuff I decided to make some furniture pieces to store it all away. It was only when we really had some friends over that they were a bit in awe of what I had created, and realised that there wasn't an actual commercial platform or there wasn’t a concept where for making a furniture piece for sports furniture.

    FELICITY:

    Yes, it is unique. Generally, we just throw everything in the garage, don't we? Or perhaps just a room in the house, but it doesn't really get stored in a unified manner.

    ANDREW:

    No, and it’s often being in the garage as well, it's not something that can be front and centre. It's not something that can be in the office, in the lounge or anything like that, so to make it a display piece when we spend so much on the bikes as well.

    FELICITY:

    That's right and of course bikes take up a fair bit of space really, to be fair, so they are a bit of an obstructive piece sometimes, piece of equipment.

    ANDREW:

    You don’t want to damage any of them.

    FELICITY:

    No, that’s right. Definitely not.

    LETTI:

    Well that depends on the models that you get.

    FELICITY:

    That's right, I love my carbon fibre bike and I actually hate taking the wheels out. I have a station wagon car and I love just popping the bike in the back, I really don't like dismantling it, I have to say.

    So you launched your brand with VELO design, and what factors where there that you needed to consider in design, functionality and construction and materials that you used etcetera to create that? How did you go about that?

    ANDREW:

    First and foremost, we wanted to create a platform that was sustainable as possible, because that's really important to us. We feel that we are such a consumption community that we wanted to make our products as environmentally friendly as possible. The bamboo that we chose to use is a perfect choice, because it is renewable, it’s fast growing and all that sort of nature.

    FELICITY:

    Okay.

    ANDREW:

    In actual fact the bamboo plywood that we use, it actually does have a higher tensile strength when we compare it to steel, so it would be a very robust medium as well.

    FELICITY:

    I know of a school actually, built in Bali out of bamboo so it is very strong as you say, it's a unique fibre or plant.

    ANDREW:

    Yes, it is a very quick growing plant and very strong, it's very underrated I think.

    With so many sizes of bikes we needed to do a medium that was flexible so you could have the roady bikes, the gravel runners, and that sort of stuff. Whether it's a small bike or an extra large it has the space to fit in that so the height was very specific on that. So, you would throw a new bike into it and it would fit okay.

    Also, we kind of needed to deliver a range to the customers as well that we felt that handcrafted was a better way to do a joinery because it has little nuances that we take care of it and it’s made personally to create something for you. I think we’ve lost a bit in going towards a flat pack culture these days that a lot of it’s thrown more on the customer than the creator.

    FELICITY:

    Yeah, definitely, you need a degree to put some of those Ikea things together, I feel sometimes. You should see me reading the instructions.

    LETTI:

    This was also born out of because we could have gone and got a flat pack option I guess and you know stored things away and it would have looked nice, but whether it would have lasted, put together rightly, particularly by myself, I have no idea, I'm complete clueless when it comes to putting things together. For us, it was the beauty of it but also the fact that it's sustainable, it looks good but it’s really strong and robust, I know for a fact that we can do chin-ups on these constructions and they won't fall over because we have tried.

    FELICITY:

    Right.

    LETTI:

    We try these things.

    FELICITY:

    Well I think your design is very apple-ish, it’s very clean and simple but effective and classy.

    LETTI:

    Yeah, I would agree actually because it is beautiful. It looks good in pictures but up close and personal to it, you just see all the little differences in the wood grains and the joinery and it's just beautiful.

    ANDREW:

    If anyone else is, we've got our primary display down in the bike station at home in South Australia. I do encourage everyone to have a look at because it is a beautiful bespoke piece up in person.

    FELICITY:

    Great, so you have one at bike station in Adelaide?

    ANDREW:

    Yep, we have one at the bike station in Grove, we've got set up with Nell down there.

    FELICITY:

    Great! That's great that you've got one in store so people can actually go and have a look at that and especially if they are over there for the Tour Down Under, that would be ideal to have a pop in and have a look.

    LETTI:

    Prime time, absolutely, so many people come over for the tour and it's a great atmosphere here, so come anyway and then while you're here, go down and have a look!

    FELICITY:

    That's right, absolutely because everyone loves a bike shop so why wouldn't you and you can look at your VenturePod VELO at the same time!  

    So you've also got some other products available online, such as the Boo Boards which is the chopping block and the storage box and a tv mount bracket. Do you expect to expand on that range as well?

    LETTI:

    Certainly, in terms of the Boo Boards, that's something that will continue and then I suppose depending on what people want and need for their pods and things like that, then we might add some extra bits and pieces into it down the line. That's going to be based on market research obviously. In terms of the Boo Boards that wasn't something that we’d set out to do, but from the construction of the pods, there was waste bamboo that would ordinarily end up in landfill and that really wasn't sitting right with us. We're going down the environmental and sustainable route, and we’re thinking, “Well we’re just filling up the landfill with our waste products now, so what's the point?” Andrew taught me how to handcraft and rout and do all that kind of stuff so I've been making chopping boards, food boards, butchers blocks. Whatever you need them for, that's what we're making as well.

    FELICITY:

    Great, so you're actually getting full use out of the bamboo. Getting your product.. there's no waste whatsoever practically.

    LETTI:

    Well we’re trying not to, yeah and even I suppose the stuff that we sand off, all those chippings go into our garden at the moment so the garden is thriving.

    FELICITY:

    Nice!

    LETTI:

    We've got food after our ride and we can store our bike.

    FELICITY:

    That's awesome. Where do you source the bamboo from?

    ANDREW:

    The supplier that I use is over in Melbourne actually.

    FELICITY:

    Where does bamboo get grown and where do they cultivate that and process it?

    ANDREW:

    I believe it is a material that is sourced through a Chinese manufacturer but it does have all of the processes and certification and that sort of stuff, to be sustainable and stuff like that.

    FELICITY:

    That's interesting because I mentioned that it’s grown here so I don't really know a lot about bamboo other than, like for instance the green school in Bali. That's an amazing building that they built. Now obviously they've got the climate as well so it's an indoor, outdoor situation with the classrooms if you know what I mean, so that is on the sustainable premise as well, it's a fantastic school.

    Have you heard about that at all?

    LETTI:

    I haven't actually. Might do after this venture actually, yeah.

    FELICITY:

    Yeah you would find it really interesting, I think it's amazing what they have done with bamboo as well and I think it is coming into the fore more and more, generally speaking, it's a bit like hemp I guess.

    LETTI:

    Well great, we're making clothing and all sorts of things from bamboo now. It's a great product.

    FELICITY:

    Would that be able to translate into your other products that you're looking at developing for the future?

    ANDREW:

    I suppose the next module that we've had, a little bit down the track but we are going to be releasing the VenturePod SNOW. Not to re-invent the wheel, it's the same pod structure but it’s then a closet to have all your snow gear all organised in one place. The aged old, “Where did I put that again?”, just kind of disappears because it’s all nicely organised.

    FELICITY:

    Yeah, so that's because you're a snowboarder, you're quite experienced with that, aren't you?

    ANDREW:

    Yeah, and I need it. Being a seasoned snowboarder myself, I love the snow.

    FELICITY:

    So you have a favourite? Is it the bike or the slopes, Andrew?

    ANDREW:

    Oh!

    LETTI:

    Oh!

    ANDREW:

    I have to admit, I've done many, many seasons in the snow and I do, my favourite place actually is in Niseko in Japan up in Hakkido.

    FELICITY:

    Okay.

    ANDREW:

    That is the world best powder I’ve ever been in and we go there quite a lot and, funny enough we actually went there on the winter section of our honeymoon. If I had to put them together, I have to admit, I am bit more of a snowboarder than a cyclist. I love my cycling and my training in that regard, but little bit more and that sort of stuff. And I was snowboarding for a lot longer than we've been together.

    LETTI:

    You’ve got the Yin and the Yang in a marriage. So you've got the cyclist with me and the boarder with him.

    FELICITY:

    That’s right.

    Absolutely, well it’s good to have some variety so you get a mix, don’t you and at least you like cycling, it’s not like you don't, so that's all good.

    ANDREW:

    Absolutely.

    LETTI:

    He's managed to get me on the slopes too.

    FELICITY:

    Good cross training, Letti.

    LETTI:

    There's something to be achieved.

    FELICITY:

    So Letti, I'm fascinated by your experience as being a soigneur previously for professional men's and women's world class events. Tell us more about your experience and what that involved.

    LETTI:

    Okay, so that went back many years actually, so it was a bit after 1996-7 around that time I was working as a personal trainer, fitness consultant at the time. Was working in international rugby. I had dabbled in the whole bike thing done a couple of races myself at the local level and just started to like the whole feel of the sport. And just fell into the whole role of riding support in the races, so it was all on local level originally. Went off and studied a little more and did some massage courses and sports therapy, physical therapy, things like that and ended up very quickly, actually, working with physiotherapy. But primarily in the United States and Canada. And that then just evolved into bigger and bigger races and ended up on the European circuit. South America and yeah, I’ve had a grand old time, actually. I have to say I have been very, very fortunate, very fortunate.

    FELICITY:

    Is there anything that you noticed amongst the athletes as far as organisation? Were some really organised and some disorganised and you had to help them with that? Or were they generally on their game and on to it?

    LETTI:

    How do I politically correctly say, that's what they paid me for, to be organised. I mean, in fairness the last thing as an athlete you want is to worry about what is happening to your bag, your bike, your belongings, you need to focus on your game. And to perform at your best, you need to rely on those around you. So, I guess that's where me and the other staff would come in, we worry about the logistics and playing Tetris with your bags and your bikes and your boxes and all that kind of stuff. Deal with cars and boots of cars and fans. So you get good at organisation, you get good at logistics and as an athlete you just focus on your game.

    FELICITY:

    Yep. So, you'd be good at organising them and I guess you read their personalities as well, you'd know what some would need more than others and so you'd navigate your way around that and know how to support them.

    LETTI:

    Yeah, for me I think it's definitely something you need to get to know your people. You need to know all of the small little nuances, what they like, what they dislike, need to know when to be on top of them, when to back off. You just have to make things run fluidly, to have an atmosphere that is perfect conditions for the athlete. You have to read people and that's also within your staff team as well, you need to know when to support staff team and when not to support them. You learn a lot about people, from what they say and what they don't say, you learn to read body language and know when to be there.

    FELICITY:

    Yeah, and leading on from that, do you hope to grow your team with VenturePod? Is that something that you want to do?

    LETTI:

    Yeah, absolutely. We obviously have this vision of organisation and beauty, I suppose. At the moment we can run it ourselves with a little help from our friends occasionally, whether that's with a bottle of wine or a pat on the shoulder. Eventually we would like to grow this and we've obviously got the VELO up and running, the SNOW would be the next. A little down the track we're hoping to have the custom up and running as well. If there is little small design needs that people have that we can incorporate, we will work with the personally to provide that for them.

    FELICITY:

    I definitely think that there will be a need there because obviously every person’s home is different. I'm sure the VELO will fit into a lot of homes, but if people want something a bit more elaborate or perhaps they’ve got even more activities, like if they do have a snowboard as well and do have two or three bikes, that's an opportunity there. I have quite a few friends with multiple bikes for instance so that could be something that they would need a custom outfit for.

    LETTI:

    Absolutely, it’s something we’re definitely planning for. We can't say exactly when that will be yet. You take small steps at the start and then as we grow and as people get to know who we are, and build trust in us as well, then we’ll expand a little bit further. But we still want to try and keep that personal touch going and do things ourselves because that's what's it’s about, it’s about us and putting that personality into it.

    FELICITY:

    Our listeners can find you on your Instagram. The Instagram is @Venturepod and also your website, which will be in our show notes it is www.venturepod.com.au  People can follow you on those platforms and also I’m sure you’ll have your updates on there, then they can see when you are doing custom and when you are introducing the SNOW to keep up to date and also touch base with you. You are based in Adelaide, if anyone's going to the Tour Down Under check them out, I'm sure that you'll be out and about on your bikes yourselves.

    LETTI:

    Absolutely.

    FELICITY:

    I'd like to thank you both for joining us today, it’s been really interesting learning about your new venture and it’s exciting times. I'm sure it will just grow and grow for you, because I have one, it's fantastic.

    I'd like to thank you both Andrew and Letti and wish you all the best. I'll come and visit you, actually, when I come over to Adelaide, come and say hi and have a coffee.

    LETTI:

    Absolutely, thank you for having us this morning and thank you for sharing our story with your listeners.

    FELICITY:

    My pleasure.

    ANDREW:

    Thanks, Felicity.

    FELICITY:

    Thank you.

    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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