Ross Kemp is a young product inventor from Loughborough University as well as a budding entrepreneur. He invented ASAP while at university and since his recent TV appearance with Richard Brandson, it is safe to say that he is an upcoming celebrity. We got in touch with him to find out more. Be inspired!
I have always loved making things, from the thunderbirds Tracey Island I made as a child to the motorised water crafts I now make. At school design technology (at the time) was one of the only subjects I could see a real application for - the sketches and models we made could be products people use and that improve their lives. I loved it, so I went on to study Industrial Design Technology at Loughborough University, where I graduated with first class honours. I then began working as a product designer at the vacuum cleaner brand Vax.
What inspired you to start your business?
My product, an electric water craft for lifeguards and the leisure market, was my final year project at Uni. I trained as a lifeguard with Loughborough Lifesaving Club and realised how incredibly difficult it was to tow and move a body in water. I spoke with lifeguards and realised in sea conditions this is made even more difficult. So I set about designing a small powerful water rescue craft for lifeguards. It became clear that the craft would also be great fun as a toy in the water.
I was given the chance to turn this product into ASAP water crafts the business when Loughborough Enterprise supported me after I graduated. They helped me in figuring out how I could make and sell the products - I made the first one in a tent in my garden, when the orders come in this was not going to work!
What inspires me most to keep working on ASAP water crafts is that it could save a life. Surely if it helps lifeguards save one extra life it is worthwhile - the most rewarding part of product design. It also helps that the leisure product is something I'd love to play with in the water. At least if all goes completely wrong I'll have something fun to take out on the water.
What was your initial step and what were the challenges you faced?
The hardest bit of Asap water crafts was starting, honestly. Once I started each step lead to the next, with difficult decisions to make at each. My biggest mistakes always came when I tried to do everything myself. I soon realised that I can't do everything - and very often other people can do bits better than me!
A challenge was knowing who to trust and whose advice to take. I talk through decisions with lots of different people to get various angles, but in the end big choices (like whether to give away 50% of my business) came down to following my heart and a gut feeling.
What efforts did you take to stand out in the market?
I realised if I was serious about making a go of ASAP Water crafts I needed to shout about it, even though the product wasn't ready - and I needed to shout loud.
Applying for a BBC tv show called Be Your Own Boss allowed me to do this on a national level. I was selected from over 5,000 applicants to intensively develop the water craft and business over six weeks, with the cameras following me. I pitched the product and business idea to Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent smoothies - who then introduced me to Richard Branson!
This incredible journey had led me to be sitting face to face with the Virgin Boss, talking about my ideas - how amazing!! This was a real defining moment for me, when I realised those difficult decisions I made took me down a path which crossed with two entrepreneurial heroes of mine.
Most importantly the BBC show reached a large audience. As soon as it aired the big contacts I had been struggling to contact...came to me!
How do you see yourself and the business growing in the next 3 to 5 years?
I am talking with these fantastic contacts who saw the TV show and we hope to have the product ready to sell at the start of 2014. The development leading up to then will be the hardest part - lots of funding is required before we have even sold anything! There are big risks in product development, but equally as huge rewards when the product is complete.
I hope to be able to grow the business enough to work on it full time, then look to continually grow internationally both with a lifeguard and leisure water craft. The nature of the product means we must sell internationally from the start. This means a big launch of the product in the first few years - "go big or go home" springs to mind.
From your experiences what attitude has contributed to your success?
I've got a poster above my desk which says "work hard and be nice to people" - I try to live by this. My success has been simply through taking opportunities when they came my way, and saying yes. I try to look for positive in everything, even when things are really tough.
A few strong cups of coffee helped too.
How do you cope with the pressure of running your start up and working for VAX?
In answer to your question, it is very difficult doing both. Progress can often be slow on my own product, which is frustrating.
I am always having to balance both to make sure I am putting as much as I can into both. It is exhausting to maintain this though, so this can only be for the short term! However I would urge entrepreneurs to hold on to their day jobs as long as physically possible whilst setting up a new business. If you can continue your day job until your own business generates enough cash to pay you wage, this is the best scenario! There are many other benefits to holding on to your day job also, such as access to contacts, meeting rooms and stationary!