JM// Innocently Unplugging Pt1

After a heated debate between catching the first train at 0620, and heading off around midday, 9am was the determined time that Comp-A-Tent and friends would head off to Borough Green Station, to get to Innocent Unplugged.

Now in its 2nd year, Innocent Unplugged offers digital natives the excuse to leave their phones behind, spend time with friends and drink smoothies.

And super-smoothies, and coconut water. And carbonated fruit drinks – basically giveaway a ton of freebies to sample, whilst creating good times and helping to nurse hangovers – the devious good samaritans!

The House Of Molkie

Off the back of a Friday night Molkie Party, which saw a number of classics, such as beer pong and Reij Keij, this Comp-A-Crew raised surprisingly early, with breakfast cooked by 0830, and everyone on the road by about 0930 – unbelievable given that there were 7 of us!

13351087_10153570724345667_1482957637_o

Within an hour and half, we saying our last goodbyes to society, stocking up on supplies from the Co-op and off to the festival on a Yellow Lemon. The universe was kind, the 2000 in attendance had not all gathered at once, and after having all 4 of my bags thoroughly searched (a flash back to being the one who was constantly drug and explosive tested in Australian airports) we were through and setting up our tents next to the bacon van; a cruel irony given we were taking turns cooking this weekend to save money.

Either through good fortune, or Amanda’s observations, we ended up pitching the Comp-A-Tent 10m from the forest entrance into the festival area, creating our own camp cluster with the rest of the group.

Next up on the Sofa is…

With lilos and B.’s air-trapping sofa, we looked quite the pros, the high footfall of the area guaranteeing a constant flow of n00bs who would comment on the Comp-A-Tent and sofa. Then they’d come sit with us, much like watching the Graham Norton, or for our American friends, James Corden, including our very own Camp-e-oke!

There was Sam, part of the Innocent Technical staff who joined us early on, cooler bag full of drinks we greedily devoured; Ian with his brightly coloured trousers; Tom and Helen, of whom Tom had quite the gift for accents and at this point it looked as if we were in danger of never getting into the Festival! Not necessarily the worse thing, given we the company we were attracting.

However, Sam had mentioned that Dan, aka Dan Germain, one of the Innocent Founders was doing a talk. Naturally, we had to go!

So off we went with the crew, through the woodlands pass, through a maze of ginormous bushes, thick with sweet, golden flowers that formed almost a maze and divided the performance spaces into distinct areas – it was beautiful, like a festival in a mad, rich, green-fingered uncle’s mansion – probably.

Alas, our student-style tardiness left all but the tightest spaces at the very front of the tent. Weavingly, slyly, we snuck to the front, taking up an ‘oops upside your head’ style formation, just as Dan walked on stage.

Having spent the week preparing for a 30 minute talk on the Comp-A-Tent journey, it was exciting and strange to hear a 17-year history condensed to fill the same time!

For me, and Amanda most likely too, it was inspiring to hear a success story from the early, difficult start-up days. Seeing and hearing the passion, belief still there after such success and time, delivered in a relaxed, entertaining way, devoid of the distraction of a Powerpoint Deck.

In the following Q&A, I managed to ask Dan what were his 3 ‘Watchouts’ for early stage start-ups.

The Gospel of Watchouts, according to Dan Germain, of Innocent Drinks

Don’t hire too quickly.

Hire for culture.

Start.

I think we’re doing well so far!

Exploring the Site

With an hour until laughter yoga, the site needed exploring!

  • Fire pit?  – Check
  • Cider stall? – Check
  • Banquet hall (we can’t afford to eat in)? – Check
  • Main stage? – Check
  • Pub? – Check
  • Delicious 7.5% cider Amanda loves? – Partial check (we get one pint before they run out!)
  • Oysters? – Yuck!
  • Food area with deliciously tempting food we’re avoiding, entirely, because we’re all poor and are cooking ourselves – Check!

By now the sun is high in the sky, kissing my skin with red lipstick, as my shoulders turn the same shade as the hands of a person licked by kittens, but allergic to their saliva.

En route the crew splits, new friends are formed, drinks are consumed, some innocent, some not-so, and then we are onto laughter yoga.

Via the toilets.

For the Gods have turned my bladder to that of an excitable chihuahua who pees every 5 minutes.

The tardiness this creates forces me to sneak round the back of the tent, tiptoeing like an evil meerkat over the laying bodies to my friends. The event starting, I turn to see who but the instructor of my very first laughter yoga class at the Museum of Happiness!

By the middle of the session, either through laughter, or the dancing, I am sweaty! The worse time to have to lie down and rest your head on someone’s belly – to that person, you know who you are from the sweat stain still on your shirt, I am SOOOO sorry!

“Hands up, hands down, I can’t hear you”

After a couple of beers, a few new friends, a chit chat and sit down, what better is there to do than exercise with Mr Motivator?!

13351047_10153570723880667_2093782291_o

Using her festival expertise, Amanda leads us around the back of the tent, down the far side, and then, there he is, the time-travelling Mr Motivator! Seriously, the dude has NOT changed!

For a full 30 minutes the crowd whoop, cheer and lightly bash into each other as we flick our limp wrists and gyrate – it was quite the experience!

Dinner to follow as we gather the crew once again, settling down for a dinner of risotto, with peas and chorizo. After a long cook, it’s greedily devoured, the envious glances of fellow, less-organised campers feeds my glee almost as much as the food!

Ging Gang Goolie Adventure Time

Finn and Jake hats at the ready, we get changed. I’m all dolled up in my universe legging, iridescent, 90s windbreaker jacket, and after a few drinks and chat with new and old friends a like, campfire time has come!

Regretfully, no Ging Gang Goolie, and despite good intentions, not even Wonderwall gets sung fully, as verses are remixed, rehashed and decimated by the out of tune, out of time and out of it wailings of 40 or so party revellers.

Then, like the accidental letting off of a half-blown balloon, the crowd is racing, stomping and fighting its way to the People’s Stage to hear and see none other than DJ Yoda. Again I walk to the toilet, conscious that my grasp of my bladder may not survive two hours of flailing to hip hop.

I think it was awesome.

I feel like it was awesome, on a deep internal, guttural level. No cuts on my hands confirm that my rave gestures have thankfully failed to connect with any faces, and I find myself surrounded by friends, on the opposite side of the tent from where I started.

Once again, my moves have broken down dimensional barriers, transported me through the bodies of a crowd and delivered me to my friends – good job!

Noticing the cries of my aging body, I retire from the campfire, brush my teeth for 10 minutes as I make friends with exiting festivalers, slide beneath my survival blanket, and sleep; knowing that if I died tonight, I had danced my all, and would leave a beautiful corpse.

JM// RA Eng Showcase

The lecture theatre looked familiar, then it hit me. The Royal Institution Christmas lectures are given in this very room! The steep wood panelled room steeped in history and tradition and Amanda was getting to pitch from right at the front!

The rain was pouring it down as I packed up the ⅓ model, changed into my suited finery, and began the unenviable task of carrying the 1m x 1m model base the 20 minute walk to the station. Between the rain and the sweat and I was worried I looked like an entrant into a wet t-shirt contest, but smelt like a rugby player!

The day was set to play out at the Royal Institution, who would be housing today’s Royal Academy of Engineering’s Showcase event. An event to showcase and introduce their Hub members, of which Amanda and Comp-A-Tent were one, to their Fellows and distinguished guests.

Exploring the book-lined rooms, scattered between pillars were 17 early stage start-ups and University spin outs, prototypes overshadowed by pull out banners with smiling faces and company descriptions – and we got to keep it!

13235905_10153544526715667_1219495182_n

It was super cool chatting to the entrepreneurs/inventors – there was a heavy slant towards medical prototypes and it was nice to see my fellow Lufbra Product Design & Tech alumni, James Roberts, with his MOM inflatable incubator.

When the pitching came round, well, I never been so nervous for someone else!

Thankfully we had drafted the pitch 2 weeks earlier, which allowed us plenty of time to annoy people on buses and trains by reciting the pitch over and over again. Ten minutes in the lecture theatre during a break was plenty enough time for Amanda to map the pitch around the room and she was good to go!

But before the pitching could begin, there was the keynote speech from Gerard Grech of Tech Nation, enthusing the crowd with talk of how the UK is absolutely the best place for Tech startups, with diverse expertise developing across the country, coupled with generous governmental support and allowances.

Sitting through the first 13 pitches only added to my nerves for Amanda’s pitch. She had a tough act to follow, positioned after James’ Inflatable incubator to help save pre-mature babies across the world.

Thankfully, Amanda did great, getting laughs throughout the pitch, even ones we hadn’t anticipated, and got through the pitch perfectly – at least to the audience and me, she knew she had skipped an entire section!

Lesson learned? Just keep going through the pitch, and DON’T PANIC! Now, where’s my towel?

The after event introduced us to a range of people, with many and varying ideas and issues around Comp-A-Tent. We’ll spending the next few days chasing up!

So all-in-all, a superb day, both inspiring and helpful to Comp-A-Tent’s development. Onwards and upwards!

JM// Plastic Fantastic [2] Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect – “My Mother makes me mash my Mini M&Ms on a Monday Morning”

There are rare moments in life where I feel like I’m channeling Eminem – today was one of them.

We had the pitch nailed, ah dog it was tight

We were running at 5.30 as we spat lyrics the previous night

Legs crossed, hands steady, thoughts turned to what might

Happen if I choked on stage, or like dropped the mic…

But before we could deliver the pitch, was the networking event.

Speed dating style, I was fortunate to speak a farmer partnering with super markets to grow food on their rooftops; a member of a team developing polymers on a nano scale that could trap light inside a nano-sized ‘box’; and a legal guy who was providing advice and standards to food shops to tackle illegal waste disposal and a certification scheme – very cool chaps!

Following on from this, was the Plastic Round table – discussions lead by experts, which would develop as the teams moved around the tables, designed to stimulate conversation tackling plastic waste; Tech vs. Consumer behaviour to create change; Is Biodegradable ‘good enough’?; How can we stop plastic waste in the Oceans?

It lead to some very heated debates, I could hear Amanda on another table educating her table on various terms like ‘biodegradable’, ‘biopolyer’ and the propoerties of cornstarch/PLA/PHAs.

You Only Get 1 Shot

Stepping up into a fresh, new threads, Amanda and I began our vocal warm ups, and jumped around to dispel our jittery energy and unite as a team; much like Power Rangers.

Coming up third in the order, the first two pitches flew by, and before I knew it, the tent was 8ft tall on the screen and Amanda was opening with the lines,

“When I was 16 years old…”

______

I don’t choke.

The words flow, almost as well worded as the script squished reassuringly in my pocket.

We’re ¾ of the way through when the screen starts flashing at us. Are we gonna get cut off?

I blank and turn to look at Amanda. She sees my terror and picks up the slack, and transitions into the final part. I sigh inside with relief, grateful she’s taken the time to read over my parts, and now I know we’re on the home straight.

I step in,

“We are Comp-A-Tent”

Nailed it!

“And we believe Festivals need not cost the Earth”

Oh my God we’ve done it!!! We need to hi-five, let’s hi-five, I think.

Raising my hand, I see a fist, a fist coming straight at me, but like a pro, I transition to a fist, make us look cool…

Shit…

Amanda hi-fives my fist, and the crowd laugh.

And so we wait…

12953286_10153460932655667_299453557_o

Still 7 groups to follow, we sit anxiously in the room, taking photographs and videos for our new friends, but I’m now too anxious for the result to give it my full attention – my bad!

The judges retire, for something just short of eternity, before coming back in.

In true X Factor style, I’m just being to get to the chase.

Did he, did he make a tents reference? Is that to us? Is he talking about us?

“Runner up is… Comp-A-Tent”

Shock, relief, flood my system. I can’t lie, I’m a little saddened, especially with my parents in the room, and knowing I have to face them in a minute.

The eventual winner is Marco, whom I shared a room with, with his urban mining project, who will distribute shares in the venture, to every person in the Hague area of the Netherlands for every 1Kg of e-waste brought into the centre.

Our prize is a place on a future Accelerator programme to be run by Enviu, towards the end of the year, all things permitting.

Reflecting on the competition, it’s obvious we got so much value from the expertise we were able to put our questions too, and all the direction we’ve been given going forward!

With this competition, marks the end of fund hunting for the next few months, as we concentrate on our deliverables for this summer at the festivals. I’m quite sure somebody once said, and if not, I’m claiming it, that desperation is the home of true innovation, so as we tighten our metaphorical belts and get leaner as a business, I’m sure that we’ll achieve our objectives, spot new opportunities and laugh at the frivolous nature of our previous plans, much like we do now at our grand and more costly plans from when I started 7 weeks ago!

JM// Plastic Fantastic [1] Prep

Plastic Fantastic was the buzzword this week, with everyday day dedicated to the fast-approaching 3-day boot camp and pitch for €10000.

Reworking our Business model canvas, financials and validation during the week would prove super handy during the boot camp, whilst Thursday was largely spent (or so it felt) waiting for the tee shirt transfer print out at the print shop (nearly an hour for one sheet!)

Love Plastic, not waste

By late Thursday evening we arrived at The Ship on Kennington road, the large mix of accents in the smoking area outside negated the need for a big sign saying ‘Plastic Fantastic’ and we had found our people!

Perhaps unsurprising, the topic of conversation was very much dominated by talk of our business ideas!

Expert Talks

The work began as we left at 0715 for New Zealand House, home to the NZ embassy, as well as Impact Hub Westminster.

IMG_2113

On a side note, Impact Hub Westminster is AWESOME! Open source furniture, a WikiHouse, and so much focus on interacting with people, with help from Community Host Floree.

Throughout day 1 we had the opportunity to speak with a number of experts; Malek on the consumer proposition side, checking over the BMC and Validation board; Alex for over viewing the financials and our EU conquering plans; and Phillipos for strategy and to discuss seed/crowdfunding.

As if that wasn’t enough, we had to develop our company vision, imaging a newspaper front page and  headline that showed our goals.

Bill Murray did an outstanding job of portraying Michael Eavis, Glastonbury founder, in our hypothetical story that the major festivals had transitioned to a ‘Zero landfill policy’ with the help of our compostable tents.

Day Two: Telling Stories

Tall, confident, power, Ingrid took to the stage.

Delivering her story; her inspiration and her rock bottom point. The narrative hung in the air, the pauses in delivery, adding weight, poignancy and authenticity, as the crowd drew quieter, urging on the story…

For me, it was a real highlight of the day, I love presenting, and oral naration and story telling, so to have an entire workshop of tips was inspiring! Check out her work at Women with Voices.

Alex, Financial Samurai, scared the poops out of us with his 5 page, Excel spreadsheet, that very quickly helped you plan out your P&L, Balance sheet and Cashflow – Cashflow down to the month and sessional variation!

We felt as though the carpet had been ripped out from under our feet, that tonight would be a sleepless night crunching numbers and preparing a pitch…

Thankfully this work to be done, but not by the event tomorrow, and so, my bowels were restored.

‘Comeby, comeby lad’ –  All the Experts in the Pen Please

What would have cost us thousands in consulting fees, Plastic Fantastic had arranged for a staggering number of experts to come in, and offer 20 minute windows of consulting to each business.

We had;

  • A plastics guru in the form of Rick, with his background in product development and green polymers;
  • Legal genius in the form of Neil, who gave advice on IP, such as Design Rights and Trademarks, as well as business contracts;
  • Ankie with knowledge of retail and how to deal with the big boys;
  • Emiel, communicator, SM’er and marketer extraordinaire who reflected on our targeted market vs. the eco-market
  • As well as further discussions with Malek and Philipos on our approach to product, market and funding.

What turned out to be a stroke of genius, was placing all our experts meets with a free slot between them. In every single session we over ran, but fell into an empty window, giving us 40 minutes of pro bono advice!

The day ended and our thoughts turned towards the pitch tomorrow, and our first ever pitch delivery as Founder and Chief Design Officer…

JM// Game ON!

Week 6 of my 8 week trial period saw a mix of work – my own, Comp-A-Tent and PPL PWR, an eco-collective of sustainable businesses we’re going to Festivals with this summer!

One such festival is Brainchild. Having been to their launch party a few weeks, it’s a super cool team, and they’ve offer PPL PWR some display space at their festival. The organisers wanted to offer festivalers the chance to stay in our tents! But we compromised by using the space as the PPL PWR team’s accomodation – such good friends!

Further to this we’re producing a unique chillout zone for the festivalers, including a large hang-out structure-come-acoustic stage – it’s gonna be super cool and super budget!

My involvement with PPL PWR has increased this last week, not only producing the graphic work for it’s competition to help develop sustainable business ideas – check it out here – but sourcing printing and working the website – it’s nice to have a project outside of Comp-A-Tent and somebody to work with that’s not Amanda! (Heeeeey! Take that back!)

Talking of sites, we’re migrating Comp-A-Tent.co.uk from GoDaddy, to Amazon AWS in the coming days – so bear with us if we have some slight technicals issues – Thanks to Amanda’s sister for setting up all the backend – it looked hideous!

Besides continued development on the tent, this week saw us become less like hermits and make new friends – WeGeek threw a gamer night at our BaseKX offices, bringing in huge numbers of gamers for a LAN party, Mario Kart tournament, some retro video and board gaming – with excellent drink courtesy of Platform 103 – it was a super night, and we can’t wait for the next event on Friday 3rd of June!

Maybe Amanda will have time to brush up on her Tekken before then…BURN!

The second opportunity was a UCL Advances social, connecting a number of businesses from their The Hatchery building, with businesses at BaseKX to network and help problem solve.

Thanks to a table tennis game, I nearly lost Comp-A-Tent to another entrepreneur, only to bring back the match and win their business. I didn’t get their contact details, or what the business did, but I’m sure the contract winging its way to the office and I type!

JM// Bringing the D [esign]

Off the back of an awesome weekend of handball fun, I was ready to tackle more of the design challenges of Comp-A-Tent and prove my value as the Chief Design Officer.

Design Challenge

One key job left over from week 1 was the Design Challenge; a user centred statement of what we were trying to solve, broad enough to allow us to generate future product ideas and designs.

After defining Core Functions, user problems, we settled on;

“Create the means for me to worry less, and live on my terms, at festivals”

This lead to a flurry of new product and service ideas which we noted for future development, whilst going on to focus on our compostable tent.

Life Cycle Analysis

As a sustainable business, we know it’s essential to provide quantifiable evidence that Comp-A-Tent is a lower impact product than a regular tent, and to define the circumstances in which users should choose a Comp-A-Tent.

To do this, we utilised Loughborough University’s eco-design tools, to begin evaluate qualitively a number of competitor tents, in order to see the opportunities and room for Comp-A-Tent to explore.

We would love to work more closely with material scientist to make this process more rigorous – so if you’re interested, please get in contact here!

Product Design Specification

With all the outputs generated this week, it was time to generate the Product Design Specification!

via GIPHY

This documents outlines practically every aspect of the product, defined in terms of ‘should’s and ‘must’s, using quantitative definitions. These definitions are based on research performed, but also help you to identify gaps in your knowledge (we only had a few – I promise!)

Though it is a live document, so it is subject to change, now we have a hard document that ensures when we can compare our final design against a set of specifications, and know when the product is ‘there’!

JM// Starting at Comp-A-Tent

Well! Talk about a baptism by fire!

Not only did Founder, Amanda, turn 24 (her present? My arrival of course!) on the day I arrived back, but I now understand why Amanda’s days were so long and her sleep so little whilst I was co-working from Japan – there is a lot to do, all the time!

Despite a promise to myself to really focus on the design work, keeping the business ticking over really tested my resolve.

Between applying for 3 competitions, investors meeting, mapping our the yearly schedule, setting up my computer details and ping pong, we still manage to dedicate a day to making the tent, and a day of design workshop and design opportunities.

I think we’re going to need more post-it notes!

Key things done this week:

  • Outlined key activities for each festivals and the work required
  • Costings for Year 1 inc. research and marketing at Festivals
  • Design workshops to share stories and insights of the Festival Experience
  • Discussion and development on how to mechanise tent manufacture
  • Cheap, quality pizza tested at Pizza Union

Here’s to week 2.

JM// Sayonara, Japan

Come 12th February 2016, Comp-A-Tent officially becomes a two-person operation – hurray! Despite having my crotch doused in a fine ale during my first meeting, my journey with Comp-A-Tent is official, marked by my resignation and migration from Japan back to England; Sayonara, Japan!

I have thoroughly enjoyed living in Japan, with my adventures in learning the language, making new friends and generally living my life up here! It’s a crazy place, but definitely not in the way those uninitiated imagine it to be.

Jumping before I’m pushed, I would have left Japan come August in order to avoid becoming a jaded ex-pats who loses sight of the positives of living here.

As I mark the one month countdown to my departure, even the mundane has a hint of a rosy glow, coloured by the knowledge that the sands of my time here is down to the last teaspoonful – anyone for a cuppa?

JM// Seeing the Office and my Wet Pants

The day to impress was here, our first Comp-A-Tent meeting. A chance to see progress, check out the office and to see what made Amanda squirm.

My backpack laden heavy with portfolio goodies, I felt like the first day of school, though far happier about heading out than I had ever been as a student (though the first day of secondary school I did feel rather spiffing in my maroon jacket!).

Meeting, and strolling along the canal around Kings Cross, I was welcomed to the offices of UCL Advances Incubator, BASE KX.

It has a ping pong table, so I knew this place meant business.

A recent addition to UCL’s facilities, it had all the raw, exciting, concrete/wood aesthetic I had lived for at the Loughborough Design School. The creative passion was palatable, even… smellable?

Who wouldn’t want to work there! Though, no doubt, I kept my cool; the offer was on the table, not in the bank.

After selling me a vision, showing me the ‘patent pending’ tech, and the coffee maker, it was my turn to impress.

Nine months of product development, of blood, sawdust and poly-filler, laid bare on the table. I had forgotten what it was like to speak so passionately and fiercely about design, I found myself fascinating!

As did Amanda, I think… Well, we went out for lunch, so must have been going well.

Or so I thought, until mid dinner, in a moment of what can only be described as, a mouse biting through a electric wire, Amanda sent her pint flying off the table, her spidey reflexes enabling her to catch the glass mid fall, only to redirect the glass and its contents directly onto my crotch.

Much to the amusement of our fellow diners.

It seemed like the spark of the partnership had been extinguished by a pint of Jolly Holly before it had had even the chance to light the kindling.